The way into my parlour is up a winding stair. And I have many curious things to show you when you are there.
I still have to meet a librarian who can...moreThe way into my parlour is up a winding stair. And I have many curious things to show you when you are there.
I still have to meet a librarian who can visit a foreign country without making at least a super quick dash into the second-hand bookshops or local libraries he or she comes across. I believe for most of us digging through shelves stuffed with never-seen-before titles or editions is an urge as compulsive as picking flowers in the forest is for Little Red Riding Hood.
Last week my colleague returned from a week-long trip to Ireland and slapped a battered something on my desk, that looked like a slightly misshaped record cover, saying possessively "I’ve brought something for you – but just to look." I gingerly picked up the scary looking black booklet with the glowing, white, scratchy letters on the cover and fell in love. Under the grinning gaze of my fellow picture book connoisseur I turned the pages of Tony DiTerlizzi’s The Spider and the Fly, squealed in happy delight again and again and pointed out all the little extras that make this all black-and-white illustration of the well-known, moralistic poem written in 1829 by Mary Howitt so perfect:
- The eerie, dark and dusty attic atmosphere - The greasy, smoothly cajoling, fat spider who weaves his web of cunning compliments around the naive and vain, young fly with the half-closed eyes and the cocky smile of a successful underground ruler, while elegantly resting his many watted-house-suit-clad, spindly legs on a ladybug footstool. - The silly, but beautiful heroine herself: She uses her four arms so coquettishly and bats her lashes under that pretty twenties’ hat. She reminded me a little of Blanche DuBois in her hunger for attention and flattery.
- And, most of all, the props: The thimble wine-glass, the soap-box bed, the book titled "The Joy of Cooking Bugs", the fly-and-spider-themed wallpaper, the bottle cap mirror and, last but not least, the butterfly wings that stand in as a bedroom curtain. Half-hidden and wonderfully macabre!
Before I was finished answering the library's patrons’ e-mails that morning I had nicked enough time to slip behind Amazon’s well-polished doors to order my own equally battered copy and felt very pleased with the way I had just spent my money.
I have to admit, though, that I would not have been brave enough to revel in a story that quite unprettyfied shows a vain, yet lovable heroine stuck inside a heap of spider silk thirty years before. I have been one of those kids who scream their heads off in an amusement park, because the tottering old kiddie-train just passed a couple of grim looking wooden Indians, or who would not go to bed before their mother promised to permanently glue shut all the pages of the Struwwelpeter. So, if your kid is as easily impressed or affected by nasty antagonists and gory details as my younger self had been, I suggest you savor this gloomy gem in secret. (less)
"'What's so funny? […] That you take a little spill from a horse and everyone wants to rearrange the world so you don't suffer a moment of inconvenien...more "'What's so funny? […] That you take a little spill from a horse and everyone wants to rearrange the world so you don't suffer a moment of inconvenience?' 'No,' she said, and her voice was even. 'That I would wait a month in agony just to hear you insult me. I'm a miserable girl indeed, don't you think?'"
The lion’s share of my rating decision is always based on my own personal enjoyment of a book. And my ability to enjoy a book certainly depends on the characters and how they manage to move me, the world-building, the believability, the writing style, the pull, the absence or existence of certain things, but expectations and my reading history play a great part, too (This is, by the way, also one of the reasons why I want the option to rate each book more than once).
I loved-loved reading this dystopian young adult adaption of my favorite Jane Austen novel so much that I went on reading on my walk from the train station to my workplace, and that I did not mind the embarrassing stares from other commuters, when I soaked tissue after tissue in plain view, because feeling so sorry for Elliot North hurt almost as bad as feeling sorry for Anne Elliot does. I would not say the book is perfect or flawless. Persuasion is, in my eyes, but I did not expect perfection. But what did I expect? Obviously my expectations were somehow met, but apart from the fact that they were astonishingly high in spite of my extreme dislike for Diana Peterfreund’s unicorn experiment Rampant, I did not press them into a shape before starting to read. But maybe I can reconstruct them so the still undecided potential reader can compare them to her own.
I am one of those young adult fiction readers who rather embrace both the still raging dystopian trend and the slowly rising science fiction tendency as long as the world building is not so vague that my reading process slows dangerously down towards a full-stop, because of all the question marks in my head that beg to be dealt with, or so silly and illogical that little Miss Sneer gets comfortable on my shoulder and starts whispering atrocious ways to make fun of the whole mess into my weary ear. When I encountered the first descriptions of For Darkness Shows the StarsI hoped for “Persuasion in Space”. Some reading experiences later I shifted my hope in the direction of something like Landry Park by Bethany Hagen, also an Austen-like love story set in front of a neo-feudalism future, which shows a lavish elite in a small, autarkic America exploiting and oppressing the the descendants of those people, who supposedly caused the nation's fall, by forcing them to handle nuclear waste. That second expectation has been fulfilled to the dot: Peterfreund's post-apocalyptic structure is quite similar, although the upper class' mindset is different: The heroine's ancestors survived with their genes and brains intact, because they condemned genetic enhancements and prosthetic organs on principle, while the majority of their high-tech-loving society involuntarily “reduced” their own and their offspring's brains to something functioning on toddler-level. The conservative survivors felt that their reluctance to play God had been rewarded. Consequently they shunned the non-bio-technological progress that had been made shortly before the so-called “Reduction” as well - including solar lamps and solar-powered vehicles. They embraced their new god-given superiority and kept their mentally reduced subjects alive by feeding and clothing and controlling them in exchange for hard labor. The recent increase of mentally healthy born “Children of the Reduction”, who call themselves “Post-Reductionists”, demand being granted freedom of choice and equal rights and are not afraid to tinker with forbidden technology, shakes up the regressing system of wealthy, God-fearing slave-owners and crumbling, rusty machinery. Although not much is said concerning where on our globe this small, secluded island is and how life looks like in "Channel City" or other places outside the large estates, I was very content with the world-building. I am aware that others might find fault, but I thought that the situation on the brink of a possible revolution was the perfect back-drop for a "forbidden" romance.
Romance. Oh yes. In a novel that is meant to be reminiscent of Jane Austen's work I expected romance. Preferably some that swelters and slowly burns and involves misunderstandings, old wounds, clever bickering, heated discussions about morals, love, society and the burden of being part of a family, musings about having to do the right thing, and letters and haughtiness and involuntary touches and the angst to be too late or to have made the wrong decision. A romance between a heroine I thoroughly adore and admire - in spite of her little flaws - and a swoon-worthy guy, who has his pride or his aloofness, who struggles with his feelings, but who is ultimately the good guy. That expectation was very well met.
I think I tentatively wished for a reincarnation of Persuasion's cast. Not only because Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth are my favorite Austen couple, but also because the Musgrove family, specifically Charles, his mother and Anne's younger sister Mary are such a fabulous breeding ground for Austen's trademark wicked fun and for the emergence of squirm-worthy encounters between Anne and Captain Wentworth. In For Darkness Shows the Stars no clones are to be found. But true to her Post-Reductionist protagonists' mind-frames Peterfreund did not hesitate to mix and match, to experiment with Austen's best outcrop: You will find a lot of Anne and more than a half of Captain Wentworth; Elizabeth and Mary are conglomerated into still-unmarried Tatiana, Baron North is at first as silly and vain and self-centered as Sir Walter, but surprises us later with additional character traits. The Admiral, his wife and Captain Benwick play a much greater role, while Lady Russel, Mrs. Smith and the older Musgroves are absent. Louisa and Henrietta work beautifully as one person, Mr. Elliot has a new shell, Charles is still available and not embarrassing at all and Mrs. Clay has been completely remodeled and relocated. Due to the focus on the new dystopian setting previously unknown characters are introduced. In this aspect my expectations have not exactly been met, but apart from craving a little dose of satire I did not suffer any want. For I learned to my own surprise that I really loved to hunt for traces of the well-loved characters in the newly created ones and I discovered that the chemistry and the relationships between Elliot and Kai, Elliot and her sister/father, Elliot and her neighbors and tenants strongly resembled the ones of the original. And that the repercussions of Elliot's decisions affected me as much as Anne's decisions and Anne's feelings of right and wrong did.
I cannot say for sure, but when I look back at my recent reading habits - the occasional, self-prescribed re-reading of all-time favorites and the huge craving for something new, preferably fresh from the printing press – I am convinced that I did not really wish for a in-minute-detail-retelling of a story that I have read approximately eight times in the last 20 years and that in my opinion cannot be told in a better way than it already has been told. In my opinion that would have been the equivalent of a Shakespeare play translated into sparse, modern language and acted out on a Battlestar Galactica set. Diana Peterfreund uses the Persuasion storyline as an inspiration and rewards the reader now and then with scenes that make our inner detective snip our fingers in appreciation: "Ah! That will turn into 'The Long Walk', probably ending with some touching," or "This is probably the equivalent of the weekend in Lyme". I can only say I loved that feeling. To me rushing unexpectedly into these scenes felt like being surprised by old friends visiting. My expectations concerning the plot have been exceeded, so to say, although I have to admit I guessed the Innovation's party's big secret much too early and am not completely satisfied with the ending. (view spoiler)[How can Elliot feel suddenly so at ease leaving the lives of hundreds of workers in the hands of Dee, who is trustworthy, but inexperienced in managing an estate, and who will be defenseless, if Elliot's father chooses to attack in an imaginative way? (hide spoiler)]
And finally I can say that this is the Persuasion retelling that I loved best of the three I have faced until now. I also liked Melissa Nathan's contemporary chicklit version Persuading Annie, but I loathed the change of point-of-view in the fan-fiction-like None But You.
What are your expectations, when you are faced with a retelling or an adaption of a story your adore and the decision whether to go for it or not?["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
“ALYCE: 'Gracie's got brown hair, like me. She's about the same height, too. People notice her. I think it's her voice. It's always louder than you ex...more“ALYCE: 'Gracie's got brown hair, like me. She's about the same height, too. People notice her. I think it's her voice. It's always louder than you expect and covered with laughter. I was surprised when she said she didn't want to work with me. I don't know Gracie very well, but I remember once in Year 3 she gave me an invitation to her party. She spelt my name right. Everyone always spells it with an 'i', even the teachers. Ever since then I thought she would be nice. I never thought she'd look at me like I was nothing.”
The blurb on the cover of my paperback edition of Cath Crowley’s YA debut says "A novel about scoring the perfect goal ... and the perfect boy" and the back cover text starts with “Goal-kicking supergirl, soccer star”. In combination with the rather bland design and the simplistic title I imagined the book to be a middle-grade story about a girl who has to keep her balance between starring in a mainly male domain and being just a girl in love. A story about gender, thinly coated with a layer of romance. A story like Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, but aimed at a younger audience and told with a lighter, fluffier voice. A story I might like.
My conclusions turned out to be very wrong. I would say The Life and Times of Gracie Faltrain is a book about relationships. It depicts how what we do and say and feel affects others and how others affect us. I never would sort it as middle-grade (Gracie is in Year 10), and although it contained more than a few laugh-out-loud-moments and a truckload of hope, 'fluffy' and 'light' are words I wouldn’t tolerate to be used around it. Gracie Faltrain is a very short book. Most of its pages are not even half-way filled with words. But the sentences are on the spot, heart-wrenching and almost poetic. I want to quote them all. I want to read them again. I do not like the book. I love it, fiercely. I treasure it even more than Graffiti Moon and I immediately went over to the Fishpond to order the sequel, Gracie Faltrain Takes Control.
Soccer team striker Jake Morieson complains about Gracie that "She plays soccer like she’s out there alone. And that’s no way to play." Gracie herself claims that "The game’s won when I get on that field." Statements like these do not paint a pretty picture of the main character – or of any other character either. The narrator flips the point of view from head to head and treats the reader mercilessly with the repercussions one person’s behavior has on the others. If you tend to judge people you meet very early you might quickly decide to dislike Gracie for perpetually hogging the ball, for mooning about a shallow boy, for being upset about her best friend’s departure to Europe - without even once asking her how she dealt with being relocated to a far away and unknown country - and for being mean to her classmate Alyce. You might cluck your tongue because Martin Knight’s mother left her kids without a goodbye and because Gracie’s father Bill returns less and less frequently home to his family on the weekends although his daughter and wife need him. But if you patiently wait for the respective opposite point of view, it almost audibly clicks inside your head you begin to feel and root for everybody, because somehow you get their emotions and you find a bit of yourself in most of them. But at no point the interwoven thoughts and fates turn the story into something soppy. The book always felt incredibly real and honest to me.
Surprisingly the voices I liked best were the ones of Gracie’s parents, Helen and Bill, who love each other, but who feel their common ground and their reasons to hold fast to each other slip quietly away:
"BILL: I'm always looking for what will make me whole. What will make me happy? Somewhere along the way I started to think it wasn't Helen anymore. She hasn't changed. Her laugh is still the one I remember. Her finger is still the one I put the ring on all those years ago. I can't understand why I don't want to curve next to her, keep her back warm anymore. Surely you don't lose love like keys?"
”HELEN: [...] That’s when I see him again for the first time. Really see him. He is forty and tired and travelling everywhere with the books he loves so much piled in the back of his car. 'I forgot about your bookshop,’ I say. ‘Baby, you and Gracie are more important to me than books or a shop,’ he answers, and I think two things: when I get back I will find a way to give him his dream, but more importantly for the moment, he called me baby."
Cath Crowley managed to express their thoughts about each other and about their crumbling bond so achingly beautifully that I wished she would attempt to write an adult contemporary in the future. I am convinced she would ace it as well. She is simply that good at words and at understanding how a human being ticks – no matter how old or young.
”ANNABELLE: Did you see those undies? NICK: You have to admit, she has a great body.” (less)
FAIL!!!! This was supposed to be a read-along AND my copy had been given to me by my reading buddy Nomes as a present. But this morning I simply swall...moreFAIL!!!! This was supposed to be a read-along AND my copy had been given to me by my reading buddy Nomes as a present. But this morning I simply swallowed the thing whole, paper, cover, spine and story. I even forgot to mind my Skype appointment with my sister and her daughter. Luckily my sister is as much addicted to books as I am - so I suppose there will be a kind of grudgy absolution coming from her end. But, Nomes and Simcsa: I am so sorry. And I look forward very much to discussing everything with you soon and in detail.(less)
I had read the first 20 chapters for the first time from July 22nd to July 24th in 2010. I liked it then, but I liked it even better the second time a...moreI had read the first 20 chapters for the first time from July 22nd to July 24th in 2010. I liked it then, but I liked it even better the second time around, when the story enfolded its wings in its whole glory.(less)
I loved reading 'Bitterblue' , loved it even more than reading 'Fire'. It is very important for me to say that, because I had been extremely hesitant...more I loved reading 'Bitterblue' , loved it even more than reading 'Fire'. It is very important for me to say that, because I had been extremely hesitant before finally picking it up months after it had been delivered to my postbox. The decision to read a sequel to a story you believed to be perfect as it was is tough, so tough ... and irreversible: You cannot unread a book - especially the parts that bug you will stick like superglue to your otherwise forgetful synapses - same as you cannot unwatch the movie version of a favorite once its visuals have invaded your mind.To illustrate my point: I will always be sorry that I was too curious to ignore what happened after 'Twilight', I am not sure if I ever will read 'Linger' (I own the hardcover), and I had absolutely no interest in seeing anyone impersonate Elizabeth Bennett on screen until Keira Knightley came along.Now, the birth of 'Bitterblue', which I preordered as soon as it was possible, took long and was laced with rumors and speculations: Did the author suffer writers block and was forced to scrape together something unmentionably bad just to fulfill a three-books-contract she had optimistically signed aeons before? Was it true that Cashore's editors demanded that she started from scratch, because her original draft had been unreadable? A bunch of severely disappointed and apologetically outraged reviews by Goodreads friends whose views on books I value fueled the already crackling unease: ... a confusing plot, a lack of drive, unengaging characters, a bittersweet, but unmoving romance were mentioned and - what shocked me most - it looked like Katsa's and Po's hard-won love would fall victim to unpassable differences in opinion or to lack of honesty with each other. Luckily I overcame my apprehension, attributed more weight to the opinions of the readers who proclaimed themselves to be awed and enchanted and the author to have grown as a writer. I hesitatingly started, I got hooked and I kept reading and savoring. I don't mean to say that there was anything wrong with the negative reviews or that I should be weary of their creators' warnings in the future. How many precious hours have been saved, because to-the-point explanations of a novel's drawbacks convinced me not to spend my time or my money. And how many gems have I discovered just because lovingly worded praise on Goodreads made me want a certain book desperately inspite of its uninspiring cover or its boring official description. The discrepancy just shows with vehemence that there is no reader whose reaction to books exactly mirrors mine. In the midst of all the precious advice and the pro and contra of well-written reviews I have to make the decision whether to read or not to read on my own after all - filtering the given information .... and ... trusting my guts.For me 'Bitterblue' turned out to be great fantasy with great characters - in my opinion Katsa and Po were just ... well ... Katsa and Po -, some mystery, some romance and an extremely captivating study of a country that has to heal and rebuild itself after getting rid of a destructive, psychopathic dictator. You would think eight years are a lot of time - plenty to restructure the government, to allow the people to breathe out and enfold - but Cashore's tale effectively shows they are next to nothing. After having been freed from a cruel, poisonous and unpredictable ruler people still have damaged bodies, damaged souls, twisted minds, reduced families, built-up fears, unspeakable memories, strange self-imposed regulations and a lot of mistrust. Queen Bitterblue's band of oldish graceling advisors, her struggle with them and their hesitation to talk about the past and her question whether starting out with a young untried court would not serve her county better reminded me of my own country's last post-war era: The administration in the then recovering Germany had to work, the school system had to go on, things had to be minded asnd supervised. For those practical considerations a lot of the teachers who - whether out of conviction or conformation - had taught kids the Nazi doctrine during Hitler's reign, kept on teaching after the war and a lot of the administrative staff in the cities - the same who probably were responsible for i.e. sealing deportation letters in their former districts or seizing jewish property - served the new aministration. For somehow their expertise was needed; same as the experienced teachers were considered to be necessary to keep the crumbling civilization afloat. That is unsettlingly erie, in my opinion. No wonder most of the population prefered not to discuss their personal war histories and those of their next of kin during the 40s, 50s and 60s. They chose to ignore the past and put all their strength into building the future and getting physically comfortable instead. Consequently there remain a lot of scars under the surface - even after a handful of decades.Bitterblue, who had been a little - and because of her mother's feeble efforts partly sheltered - girl during King Leck's reign of manipulative terror and abuse, experiences a similar kind of unseen eeriness first hand, being an unsure and powerless puppet operating on half-knowledge at first. But she grows as a personality, as a woman and as a ruler. And that is a beautiful and exhilarating thing to behold - her personal sacrifices, throwbacks and the sometimes painfully slow progress nonewithstanding.Thank you, Kristin Cashore, for taking that special amount of time to construct a special story featuring a special - yet ordinary (="graceless") - heroine, who amazed me against all odds.(less)
I loved-loved it. Better than the first volume and in spite of an abundance of elements that usually irk me endlessly: An unsolvable love-triangle (vi...moreI loved-loved it. Better than the first volume and in spite of an abundance of elements that usually irk me endlessly: An unsolvable love-triangle (view spoiler)[I do think Tessa loves Will more, but it is clear, that she does not favor Jem only out of pity. She is attracted to him and genuinely likes him. I hope the author will not conveniently kill off Jem in one of the sequels, but how will she solve this? I need volume three now... (hide spoiler)], the uncomfortable dance around a private secret of one of the protagonists that is responsible for all kinds of pain and misunderstanding and the complete turn-around of one of the characters the reader has started to grow fond of - just to list a few. But never mind. Everything was truely pefect. I feel happy and am still bathing in that warm-stomached after-reading-bliss.
One more thing: Reading a book you really adore and unexpectedly fall in love with makes you be able to see other books you just enjoyed in perspective: After turning the last page I ran straight to my bookshelf, unceremoneously ripped out 13 books I had planned to keep and threw them on my swapping-pile. I love those moments in which I can feel the distinction between 'love' and 'like'. ["br"]>["br"]>(less)