My volume of Andersen's Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen is a 1945 edition illustrated by Arthur Szyk. The book has gorgeous endpapers, 10 full-p...moreMy volume of Andersen's Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen is a 1945 edition illustrated by Arthur Szyk. The book has gorgeous endpapers, 10 full-page color illustrations, and several black and white illustrations. It is an absolutely lovely edition. The stories within are a mixture of the very well-known--such as "The Princess & the Pea," "The Ugly Duckling," and "The Snow Queen"--as well as lesser-known stories such as "The Fir Tree," "The Storks," and "The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf."
I believe there may good reason why some of these tales are not so well-known--some of them are barely two pages long and don't have much of a story at all; others are longer and don't have much of a story at all either. The stories that are good are very, very good. I remember reading "The Snow Queen" in a different collection of fairy tales when I was very young. I enjoyed it immensely and I loved the way Gerda's dedication to Kay and her love for him melted his hard heart and broke the Snow Queen's hold over him.
There is something about reading fairy tales when one is young. It is so easy to believe that storks and even the necks of wine bottles could talk and have lives like our own. Birds not only sing for emperors, but they can talk to them too. Most of the stories are fun or interesting and nearly all of them have a moral. In fact, I never noticed how very prevalent Christian references and symbolism were in Andersen's tales before. I'm not sure if the versions I read previously removed those references or if I just missed them. But it is very obvious that a lot of the "magic" in these stories have to do with faith in the Christian religion.
It was nice to revisit childhood and read some of my favorite tales. It was a shame that not all of the stories were of equal weight and interest--but a good solid outing, none the less. Three stars.
Short version of my review of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: Cotton candy for the mind. Tastes good at the time, but no lasting substance. I am...moreShort version of my review of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: Cotton candy for the mind. Tastes good at the time, but no lasting substance. I am quite sure that if, as in the years before I began blogging, I did not take the time to record my thoughts on this novel then I would not remember a thing about it before very little time had passed. Except that it's about a circus. But that's obvious.
Longer version: So, the hype on the book is that Morgenstern has written this awesome, magical, "spell-casting novel [that] is a feast for the senses and the heart." We have a circus that arrives without warning in towns and cities all around the world. No notices, no advertisements. Just one day you have an empty field and the next there are black and white striped circus tents all over. And, supposedly, lurking behind all this is an ultra-fierce, deadly competition between two uber-magicians. For high stakes--only one can win and the only way that person can win is for the other to give up....permanently.
But the two older magicians who set the competition in motion, don't take into account one tiny, little fact. That two magicians so closely tied, so evenly matched, so absolutely complementary in every way might fall in love. But will their love destroy everything--the game, the circus performers, the patrons....and even themselves?
Yeah, so okay. This was a particularly intriguing premises. An honest-to-goodness great idea. With marvelous descriptions of the circus and scenery. The writing managed to keep me riveted every time I sat down with the book. It was like eating cotton candy at the circus--it read so yummy when I was scarfing it down, and yet I didn't feel like I had much to show for it after ward. The story seemed good at the time, but there were all these niggling points. Like....
Why the heck did we bounce all over the place time-wise? That made no sense whatsoever. This wasn't a time-travel book. The plot would have flowed much better if we could have followed the story straight.
And why the heck is told in the present tense? Why are so many recent books I've picked up written in the present tense? It doesn't go down quite as well (threw the flavor of the cotton candy off just a tad). And why did Morgenstern tell more than she showed? That's a big rule in writing--show, don't tell. There were lots of sentences that read, "And then [fill in character's name] told [other character] all about it [whatever we're talking about]" And we, the readers, get to take it as gospel truth. We don't actually see a lot of it happen. When Morgenstern actually does allow the characters to interact and show us things, the story is beautiful--it's just not sustained.
I cared more about Bailey...one of the minor characters throughout most of the book...than I did about either Celia or Marco, our two dueling magicians. The most feeling I had about either one of them was over the unfairness of these two old magicians using anyone they could to play out their own personal duel--without getting directly involved themselves and without caring who gets hurt along the way. I was much more interested in Bailey and his friendship with Poppet and Widget than I was on the "a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands" that's supposedly going on between Celia and Marco.
I also cared more about Friedick Thiessen and was pretty angry about what happens with his character.
There is very little explanation of anything for 99% of the book. Why we're battling, how long it's gone on, what exactly will satisfy the old guys ('cause it sure isn't the demise of one of their players--that's happened before and we just start a new competition), how exactly Bailey with NO experience is able to suddenly take up the reins when needed (when you consider that Celia and Marco had years of training.....). I could go on.
And yet....there is something about the book. Something addictive that made me keep reading and made it hard to put down when I needed to. Which would be why I'm giving it three stars instead of less (which I keep feeling an urge to do--must be the magic overpowering me).
Adam McOmber's This New & Poisonous Air is my first installment in the R.I.P. Reading "Challenge" and he starts me out with a strong four-star out...moreAdam McOmber's This New & Poisonous Air is my first installment in the R.I.P. Reading "Challenge" and he starts me out with a strong four-star outing. McOmber's stories are not strictly scary, but they do have a very unsettling, Gothic feel. The atmosphere ranges from the dark and unusual to the enigmatic and uncomfortable. McOmber takes us from the beginnings of Madame Toussauds wax museum to the days of the Black Plague. He also uses everyday settings--from a movie theater to the threshing floor of an old barn--to give us a case of shivers. The variety of these stories is delightful--and it is easy to see influences by Poe, Shirley Jackson, and Isak Dinesen in many of the tales.This is a thoroughly enjoyable collection--more atmospheric and psychological than down-right scary--and even the weakest stories are quite, quite good. My favorites are "The Automatic Garden," "Fall Orpheum," and "Beneath Us."
"The Automatic Garden" is about a man who creates a mechanical garden full of "automatic" animals, plants, and even people. Ostensibly, it has been designed to delight the public--but there behind this creation there is the love story between Francini, the creator, and a dancer named Cornazzano. The love affair is long over, but Francini invites his old love to see the tribute he has created--with unexpected results.
In "Fall Orpheum" we have a normal small town--normal except for the occasional missing person. When David and Kitty (brother & sister) visit the Orpheum movie theater, Kitty disappears through a door in the theater and David realizes that the Orpheum has been the source of all the disappearances.
"Beneath Us" follows the researches of a British woman who has been employed to map the forgotten graveyards of Britain--graveyards that have through fires or other means become disconnected from their sponsoring churches. The effect these researches have on her is quite....disturbing.
I found Ahmed and the Oblivion Machines sitting on a display honoring Ray Bradbury. I'd never heard of this one before and Robin over at the 52 Books...moreI found Ahmed and the Oblivion Machines sitting on a display honoring Ray Bradbury. I'd never heard of this one before and Robin over at the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge gave us a mini-challenge to read something by Bradbury this month--in memory of one of the great writers. So into the library bag Ahmed went.
It is the story of Ahmed, a young boy who stares at the stars a little too long one night as his father's caravan is crossing the desert. He falls from his camel and is lost in the desert. He is certain that he will die and begins weeping in sorrow. His tears awaken an ancient, forgotten god Gonn-Ben-Allah. Gonn-Ben-Allah takes the boy on an amazing journey through past and future to teach him wisdom and the power of dreams.
This is a very short, lovely little fable about man's quest for flight--into the air and to the stars--by one of the 20th and 21st centuries' great wordsmiths. The language of Bradbury is a delight to read (and to hear--because the language echoes in your mind as you read). Bradbury was probably the first author who taught me what good writing was. I read his Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man long before I ever ventured on any of the standard classics of literature. Not that his books aren't classic--they are. His stories are timeless and his language takes the reader outside himself in the way that all good literature does.
This is a lovely story for children of all ages with delightful illustrations by Chris Lane. One thing I did not get...the use of "Oblivion Machines" in the title. I'm not sure how oblivion machines = flying machines, or even if they're supposed to.... Three stars.
This review was first posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting any portion. Thanks.(less)
Soooo, once upon a time I put The Lady in the Loch by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough on my long TBR list. I'm thinking I probably did that because it was b...moreSoooo, once upon a time I put The Lady in the Loch by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough on my long TBR list. I'm thinking I probably did that because it was billed as a historical/literary mystery. 'Cause, you know it's set in the late 18th century and stars Walter Scott before he became a "Sir" and before he had written/published most of his best known work. And I do love me a good historical mystery. I'm sure the basic synopsis grabbed my attention too.
Because Walter Scott has just recently been appointed as a sheriff of Edinburgh. He expects the job to be a pretty simple one--giving him a nice steady income and time to work on his writing. But shortly after taking office he is called to the banks of the half-frozen loch where workers who have been draining off the water have found the bones of some poor soul who was disposed there. Before he has time to really investigate this find, a young gypsy woman named Midge Margaret comes to him with a story of missing women from the gypsy camp. One young girl disappeared while gathering wood for the fire and another was snatched from her very bed during the night.
Midge Margaret gets more attention from Scott than most townsfolk are willing to give the "tinklers" as the gypsies are called--in part because their paths had crossed years earlier in one of Scott's first encounters with sheriff duties (more as a bystander than a law-enforcer). At first it is thought that body snatchers or "nobbins" as the gypsies call them are responsible for the disappearances. Because after all, nobody will miss a few gypsies here and there and the university can always use extra bodies to learn medicine and anatomy from. Scott promises to look into the matter, but before he can make many inquiries Midge Margaret and her brother are attacked in town and her pregnant sister-in-law is taken as well. Now the race is on...for the attacker is working to a schedule and for a design of his own and Scott and Midge Margaret will have to be quick if they are going to prevent Jeannie (the sister-in-law) from becoming another body in the loch.
All that sounds like the basis for a pretty good mystery story, don't you think? But nobody told me in the various synopses that I read that we'd be dealing with ghosts and dead people sitting up and talking. Nobody told me that a sheriff would have the mystical power to call upon a murdered girl and ask her who her murderer is--and that she'd answer. Nobody told me that we had the belief (and reality) that if murdered people are touched by their attacker then their wounds will bleed afresh and proclaim the guilt of the killer. Nobody told me that we'd be dealing with spirit possession of living people. And nobody, after getting me to suspend my disbelief long enough to swallow a historical mystery that contains such things, can tell me why a murdered man later in the book doesn't jump up and proclaim the murderer when he's examined by him/her. Oh....but that would end the book about two chapters too soon and we can't have that, so that whole murdered people can identify their murderers thing only works when it's convenient for the plot.
So, that's my major quibble with this book. After getting me to travel back in time and making be believe in the Walter Scott (and the gypsies and the other characters...) of the time period and making me believe that all this mystical stuff is true, Scarborough does not use the paranormal trappings consistently. Or at least doesn't give a very good reason why it only works part of the time. If it works, then it works. Period. Not just when the author needs it to.
The characters are great. I don't know Sir Walter Scott's work and I don't know much about him, so I can't say whether Scarborough's Scott is true to life. But I like her portrayal of him. And I like Midge Margaret a lot. She's a very intelligent and brave young woman--and the reader is rooting for her and her companions. The plot itself is an interesting one. All pluses. I'm not sure if Scarborough meant the identity of the killer to be a big secret and the reveal to be a surprise--but it wasn't. It didn't take me long to figure out who was behind the disappearances and deaths. Overall, a fairly decent story--not quite what I expected and not as consistent within its own world as I would like. Two and a half stars--mostly for character development.
This review is mine and was first posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting any portion. Thanks.(less)
Fredric Brown was a master of the science fiction short story form...and even more so of the short short form. Angels and Spaceships is a fantastic co...moreFredric Brown was a master of the science fiction short story form...and even more so of the short short form. Angels and Spaceships is a fantastic collection of stories--over half of which were published in Astounding & Unknown between 1941 and 1949. The book starts out with an absolute stunner--a work of supreme science fiction irony that does its magic in a page and a half. Brown does more with that page and a half than a lot of writers could do with an entire novel. He goes on to tell us about the linotype machine (a printing line casting machine used until the 60s/70s) that comes alive and makes a slave of the printer. And how the earth was surrounded by aliens that fed off of electricity and forced everyone to go back to the horse and buggy and steam-powered engines. And the little boy who defeated Satan with a water pistol--and some very special water. And the spaceman who kills an alien and finds that the death sentence isn't quite as bad as he first thought. Oh...and the heavenly typesetter who missed a typo or two and made things difficult for Charlie Wills. All this and more in one place!
The stories range from screwball fantasy to hardball science fiction and everything in between. Brown's writing is delightfully straightforward until the clever curve ball that he manages to throw at the end of every story. A fun and intriguing collection. Four stars.
I love Doyle. I love Sayers. That would be a major reason why I picked this up from the library. I did not enjoy this nearly as much as I was apparent...moreI love Doyle. I love Sayers. That would be a major reason why I picked this up from the library. I did not enjoy this nearly as much as I was apparently supposed to.....(less)
The Arrow by Christopher Morley is his first book to disappoint. Up till now I had thoroughly enjoyed each book I had read by him. There is little of...moreThe Arrow by Christopher Morley is his first book to disappoint. Up till now I had thoroughly enjoyed each book I had read by him. There is little of Morley's wit and humor in this telling of the fable of Cupid and Psyche.
What we have is a young American man headed by steamship to England as a Rhodes scholar. Aboard ship he becomes very susceptible to the moods of the sea and especially entranced by a little grey dress. "It was an exquisitely attractive thing, a sort of cool silky stuff with crisp little pleats. Its plain simplicity made it admirably piquant. Somehow I had the feeling that anyone who would wear so delicious a costume must be interesting." He thinks about the dress often during the journey, but never manages to meet its owner. Once in England, he is sampling the delights of London before heading to college and is suddenly stuck by an arrow while in the middle of Picadilly Circus. It is an arrow that only he can see...but which is quite sharp and he must be careful how he stands or walks lest he jab others without meaning to. He has, quite literally, been struck by Cupid. He spends some time trying to remove the thing, visiting a doctor about it, and finally appealing to his Embassy. He is sent to a lecture (to take his mind off his troubles) and there he meets a young woman in a similar predicament.
This is a somewhat interesting story of what happens when Cupid's dart strikes home. As a fable itself, it's not bad. But it definitely lacks the usual Morley pizazz. After Kathleen and The Haunted Bookshop my expectations were quite high. The excitement and adventure just were not there. Two and a half stars.(less)
I read this when my son got interested...just so I could see what it was like. It's okay. But personally, I think J K Rowling is way over-rated. The c...moreI read this when my son got interested...just so I could see what it was like. It's okay. But personally, I think J K Rowling is way over-rated. The characters are good and likeable...but not good enough that I understand the frenzy.(less)
I've been working steadily on the Robert Louis Stevenson collection. I had forgotten how much I loved The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. T...moreI've been working steadily on the Robert Louis Stevenson collection. I had forgotten how much I loved The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. This is Stevenson's classic tale of man's inner struggle between his "evil" self and his "good" self. The description of Jekyll's last few days and hours...how he tried very hard to get his old self back and vanquish the evil Mr. Hyde was quite effective. It showed exactly how difficult it is sometimes for our better nature to win out.
And I had forgotten Stevenson's descriptive powers--particularly showcased in the short story "The Merry Men." I could feel the sea spray on my face and hear the howl of the wind and mad, chanting of the "merry" waves. "The Body Snatcher" (the most recently finished) is a tale worthy to be included in one of Hitchcock's spine tingling collections...perhaps it has been. It has one of the best surprise endings so far.
*Later* Now, I return to RLS...next story: "The Beach of Falesa." I don't think I've heard of this one before.
Okay, so "The Beach of Falesa" wound up being a tad long-winded for my tastes. I know I said I like RSL's descriptive powers--and I do, but only when they are well-employed. This story took way to long to get to the point and the descriptions did not set the mood as well as had been accomplished in the previous stories. However, the "Story of the Young Man with the Cream Tarts" was bang on. Terrific, mood-setting descriptions and the denouement was perfect. And I love this quote: "There is every reason why I should not tell you my story. Perhaps that is just the reason why I am going to do so." As well as: "My acquaintance with French was sufficient to enable me to squander money in Paris with almost the same facility as in London. In short, I am a person full of manly accomplishments." Going from cream tarts to a Suicide Club is a superb move on the part of Mr. Stevenson. Following on the heels of the cream tarts story was "Adventure of the Hansom Cab"--a bit of a sequel and every bit as delightful as its predecessor. I have fallen for Prince Florizel and Colonel Geraldine. I hope that there are more stories out there that feature them. The final story, "The Isle of Voices," was a bit of a let-down. Good premise, but there's something about his stories on the Hawaiian Islands (and close neighbors) that I just don't get into. The best of his stories that revolve around this area is "The Bottle Imp"--but that one focuses more on the the story itself and less on describing the islands and inhabitants. (less)
So, I picked up Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals at my library's Friends of the Library Bookstore, 'cause, you know, it was all humorous and acade...moreSo, I picked up Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals at my library's Friends of the Library Bookstore, 'cause, you know, it was all humorous and academic and stuff. With wizards and orangutans and dwarfs and goblins and golems and who knows what other kind of fantastical creatures (some of them don't know what they are, so why should we?). And I'd heard a lot about how amazing Terry Pratchett is, so I thought, Hey, why not give this a try? And then the Terry Pratchett Challenge came along and I was all--this must be fate, so I should read it. (And it made me feel all whimsical--can you tell? Is my whimsy showing?)
And then I read the story. Which goes something like this: The wizards at Unseen University are bumping along just fine. Teaching potions and chants and magic and all that good wizard stuff. That is when they're not eating their three square meals a day, plus tea time, plus, like, oh, maybe 42 snacks here and there. Life is good in the halls of wizardly academe. Until Ponder Stibbons, the Archchancellor's right-hand man, general keeper-in-line of all university things, and most importantly, the keeper of traditions, discovers that the University has been falling down on the job on one very important tradition--fielding a team to play "foot-the-ball" (soccer to you and me). If the wizards don't get their pointy-hatted act together and play a game right quick, they will lose a substantial endowment....and all eating opportunities save three meals a day (with vastly reduced portions). Very few of the wizards have ever seen a ball, let alone tried to foot it--but by golly their cheese tray choices are at stake. And then Lord Ventinari, Ankh-Morpork's benevolent tyrant, gets involved and insists that not only must they play their game, but in order to keep their very special Archchancellor's pointy hat they will need to win a game...without using magic.
While the wizards are busy trying to sort themselves out athletically, down in the cellars of UU romance is budding and an answer to their quandary is brewing. Trevor Likely, a chnadler, and his fellow candle-dripper, Mr. Nutt, become involved with Juliet ( beautiful, fairly dim maid and kitchen help who also may be the greatest fashion model ever) and her friend Glenda, the University's night cook--who just happens to make the best pies and other pastry dainties ever. Trev is a handsome fellow and a darn good kicker--son of one of the town's most renowned foot-the-ballers. He loves Juliet who happens to be the daughter of one of the leading families in a rival team. He also believes that he's not fit to wipe her boots. Juliet thinks Trev is pretty keen as well--but can't understand why he doesn't even try to sneak on little kiss. Trev is friends with Mr. Nutt--a mysterious person who claims to be a goblin, but seems better educated than most of the professors at the university. At least he has a bigger vocabulary. But even beyond that he may not be what he seems. Events soon lead our foursome above stairs to mix with their betters and to show the wizards a thing or two about how the ball should be footed.
This book had its moments. There were some very funny bits. I particularly like Glenda and Mr. Nutt. I enjoyed some of the academic word-play and the satirical commentary on academic life (I always get a kick out of that--working in an English Department as I do. But it wasn't sustained. I found myself skimming the book and downright bored stiff in certain places (and that wasn't just when we were discussing "foot-the-ball" a bit overmuch. A fun read, a decent read. But not one that I'd highly recommend and certainly not one I'll read again. I understand from other comments that this may not be Sir Terry's best work...so perhaps if I come across an earlier book, I might give him another go. Not a high priority, however. Three stars for an okay outing. (less)