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The Ladies of Grace Adieu

“Above all remember this: that magic belongs as much to the heart as to the head and everything which is done, should be done from love or joy or righteous anger.”

I was in love with this book from the first line. The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke is a collection of fairy tales. The title story returns to the world of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, a book I have gushed about in a couple of other blog entries. I see a lot of reviewers comparing Clarke’s style to Jane Austin, and I think that is accurate. If you like classic sounding English literature sprinkled with magic, these are the books for you.

Now, I must admit, I am a bit of an Anglophile. I have been enjoying English books since my days of Paddington Bear. Just before I started writing this, I watched an episode of Escape to the Country­– a show where people look for homes in the English countryside. And when I recently discovered that the English think Americans are barbaric for microwaving water for tea, I decided to get an electric kettle.

 The Ladies of Grace Adieu is very English. The introduction claims this book to be a collection of tales selected to educate readers about the history of magic and fairies in the British Isles, as brought to you by a Professor James Sutherland, Director of Sidhe Studies at the University of Aberdeen. This is very in keeping the spirit of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

Clarke maintains a similar style and humor throughout this collection as well. My favorites include the title story, which teaches the lesson that lady magicians are not to be trifled with, and “Mr. Simonelli or the Fairy Widower,” a tale told by a man discovering his father was not Italian but was, in fact, a fairy. As an added bonus, Neil Gaiman fans (like myself) will enjoy a story set in the town of Wall, from Stardust.

I also enjoyed reading about the Raven King, a magician who figures heavily into Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell. It would be fun if Clarke were to do a collection of stories just about the Raven King as a companion piece.

I hope, most dearly, that Clarke publishes another book. This collection of tales will have to get me through until then, and I am glad that I have them.

Rating: ★★★★★

Bookish Eats #2: Books & Brews

B&B sign

I like books. I like beer. What genius thought of combining the two? In a nondescript building next to a home improvement store on the north side of Indianapolis is Books & Brews.

It is an unusual space. You first walk into a storefront with the books for sale and seating that is their under 21 area. Behind that is the bar and another room with a stage set up. That area looks like it was converted from warehouse space.

The store has a fairly decent sized selection of used books. I was also excited they sell Out of Print book t-shirts. I restrained myself from buying one because I already have a fairly extensive collection; however, I am thinking about going back to get the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy one to go with my socks.

They also have an impressive collection of board games. I would love to go back and play one because this is what happens every time you try to play a game at my house:

Pullo

This was my second visit to Books & Brews. The first time I met a friend for dinner after work. The menu consists mostly of sandwiches, including a wide selection of grilled cheeses. I had ordered the Pig in the Iron Mask grilled cheese which features bacon from Smoking Goose, a local smokehouse with fabulous cured meats. While that was delicious, the potato chips from the Broad Ripple Chip Company really won me over. It makes for a vicious cycle of potato chips, followed by beer, followed by more potato chips, and more beer.

This past visit, my husband and I just had a beer after work. The beers also have bookish names. I got the Winnie the Brew, which is (of course) a honey brown ale. My husband got Nancy Brew and the Hoppy Boys. Other beers included Clifford the Big Red Ale, Cream and Punishment, and Charlie and the Chocolate Stout. Their list changes frequently, and they keep you apprised of new tappings on their website.

On both of my visits, I got the strong impression that much of their business is made up of regulars, and I can see why. It is a unique little spot that offers a lot for everyone: books, live music, games, food, and conversation.

Stay tuned for the last installment of Bookish Eats: Porter Books and Bread

Bookish Eats #1: Woody’s Library Restaurant

I live in Indianapolis, Indiana. It’s not exactly known a literary mecca, but there are some wonderful bookish things going on here. In addition to reviewing books, I am going to do a few series highlighting local book-lover hotspots.

I first heard about Woody’s Library Restaurant when I was looking up local Carnegie Libraries. There aren’t many still functioning as public libraries in Indianapolis and a few now operating as different businesses. Woody’s is located just north of Indianapolis. According to their website, it opened as a Carnegie library in 1914 and was in service until 1970. I had driven by it several times but somehow totally missed it. Now I realize what I have been missing! It is a beautiful building that has been well maintained.

I love how the restaurant has paid homage to the building’s historical origin. The decor is  a book lover’s dream. I am envious of their beautiful shelves, but I can imagine the amount of dusting the poor staff must have to do on a regular basis.

When I told my husband I wanted to go to Woody’s, he said I just wanted to go because it used to be a library. I said, “Duh.” It took some convincing because a book theme was not enough to persuade him the food would be good. I had also heard rumors of potato chip crusted chicken. That was more than enough for me, and I found a few other things on the menu to sway him.

IMG_0633

It turns out that potato chip crusted chicken is as delicious as it sounds. My husband liked his pot roast sliders too, but there is no photographic evidence because he thinks taking pictures of your food silly.

If you are a local or visitor to Indy, this is a fun place to visit. Let me know of other places I should try! I get to travel from time to time, so I like to know where the best restaurants and bookstores are.

Stay tuned for Bookish Eats #2: Books & Brews

The Watsons and Emma Watson

The Watsons and Emma Watson– Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, completed by Joan Aiken

Let me start off by saying I’m a Jane Austen fan. I’ve read most of her books, a couple more than once. When Love and Friendship came out, I went to see it wearing my Pride and Prejudice t-shirt. Most people picking up The Watsons and Emma Watson are likely reading it because they are looking for more Austen. I, however, chose this book primarily as a fan of Joan Aiken.

I was a fan of Aiken before I ever discovered Austen. She is one of my favorite writers from childhood whom I continue to read. I have quite a few of her books I have collected over the years, and I am continually looking for more. While I prefer the excitement of discovering books like this unexpectedly on shelves of used bookstores, I was almost as excited to discover The Watsons and Emma Watson on Amazon. It is fortunate Aiken was such a prolific author because I still occasionally have some luck finding something new. This was my first acquisition since her collection of short stories, The Serial Garden. I have quite a few of these stories scattered in other books, but I was excited to see them published together in one volume.

Serial Garden

After devouring every book of Aiken’s I could find in the children’s and YA sections as a child, I turned to the adult shelves. Among her adult works I found Mansfield Park Revisited and Jane Fairfax. I actually read both of these before I read Mansfield Park and Emma. I have Aiken to credit for the Austen reading binge I went on in high school.

Jane Fairfax_Fotor

Aiken seemed to be the ultimate Jane Austen fan. There are several other books I have not yet found that are also based on Austen’s characters and stories. The Watsons and Emma Watson is a little different because Aiken actually finishes Austen’s piece of novel that was published after her death as The Watsons. Austen gets as far as establishing some of the characters and a familiar sounding scenario. Emma Watson, raised by her aunt, returns to live with her father and her remaining unmarried sisters. Austen’s story makes it as far as Emma’s debut in town at a ball, some interactions with her sister Elizabeth, and the introduction of some other siblings.

At this point, Aiken takes over. The transition between Austen and Aiken is indicated in the book, and Aiken makes a point of the shift. The scene opens with Emma and Elizabeth having a conversation while doing laundry. This is quite at odds with the typical drawing room scene. I think Aiken does this deliberately because the shift seems to prepare the reader for the idea that Austen is no longer in control of the characters she created.  Being familiar with Aiken, I know things are going to get worse for our heroine before they get better. She never takes it easy on her heroines.

Beginning with Aiken’s continuation, the characters start to interact in more candid conversations. They wear their emotions clearly on their sleeves, as compared to Austen’s often more subtle interactions. Aiken also adds exposition setting up scenes in a way you don’t see in Austen’s writing. This puts me in mind of the many film adaptations I’ve seen of Austen’s works. Directors take some liberties to interpret scenes in a way that will translate well to the screen, adding sighs and meaningful glances not scripted explicitly by Austen.

The essence of the characters introduced by Austen is largely maintained after the transition. Poor Emma is plagued by an unpleasant lot of relations. In the tradition of Austen, she remains at their mercy for most of the book. In some cases, characters’ disagreeable qualities turn into something more nefarious.

I hope I’m not spoiling anything by saying things work out for our heroine in the end; they just don’t take a predictable path on the way there. Overall, I enjoyed the story and look forward to renewing my search for Austen inspired titles missing from my collection.

Rating: ★★★★

 

 

 

Red Rising

Red Rising by Pierce Brown was not on my radar until someone lent it to me with the description, “It’s like Hunger Games for guys.” That was all I knew about it going in.

That description is somewhat apt.  It is, indeed, a dystopian future with a male main character. In fact, if someone from the Hunger Games were to imagine an even more dystopian future, this might be it.

When I started the book, I thought it felt. . . familiar. I definitely got the Hunger Games connection right away, but that’s mostly because it shares many of the tropes common to this genre: a complex caste system; an immoral ruling class that thinks its invincible; a 16-year old angry, badass protagonist; a sacrificial character who motivates the protagonist on their quest to end oppression; a crazy, violent contest the protagonist must try to win.

I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get past this, but I kept reading. The society is a color-coded caste system. The narrator belongs to the lowest caste, the Reds, who live and work under the surface of Mars. Darrow and his family are told they toil to make Mars habitable to the people living on the dying Earth. He is comfortable with his place in society, only thinking as far winning a competition with a neighboring community for a reasonable amount of food and luxuries like antibiotics. When he does not win, he begins to feel dissatisfaction with his lot in life. His wife reveals that she has also harbored some discontent.

Now, I’m not really spoiling anything by saying his wife dies early in the story. You should have that figured out the second they introduce her character. She’s like the red shirt sent to the surface on a mission with Kirk and Spock. Or it reminds me of that episode in Downton Abby when everyone starts gushing about how wonderful Matthew is; it’s only a matter of how they are going to kill him off at that point. In this case, it is also evident how his wife is going to die; Brown bludgeons the reader with foreshadowing.

Following his wife’s death, Darrow is recruited by The Sons of Ares, a resistance organization. He soon discovers everything he has been told about his life is a lie. They give him a chance to infiltrate the Gold ruling caste and bring down society from within. This leads to his enrollment in a Gold school where he learns all sorts of violent, horrible things.

I did find I was able to get past my initial issues, and I was rewarded with some well written characters and a compelling story line. I like that Darrow isn’t perfect and he has constantly warring motivations. He struggles to keep his mission at the forefront of his mind because he begins to get caught up in his present reality as a Gold. He discovers that not all the Golds are vapid and soulless and finds friends among his competitors. His character continually learns and grows as the story progresses.

There are two other books in the series, Golden Son and Morning Star. I plan on finishing the series and had to stop myself from getting the next one the day I finished the first. If I bought the second one, I would think I might as well buy the third, and then since I borrowed the first one I would need to buy that too so I have a complete set. It gets expensive.

I would recommend this to anyone else who likes violent dystopian fantasies and can get past a few cliches.

Rating: ★★★★

 

 

 

The Fate of the Tearling

Before I get to the book, I have a confession to make. I’ve gotten a bit behind in my Young Adult reading. I say this with shame because I was once able to converse extensively on the latest series and award winning titles. Now I can’t even name the current Newberry Award winner, let alone say that I’ve read it and some of the nominees.

When I was teaching, my students were always ready with suggestions of their favorite books, and the school librarians were endlessly helpful. When I talk to people currently in schools, I ask what they recommend and then I add it to my Goodreads. I recently got to visit a school in New Orleans with some amazing bookshelves. I hesitated only a few moments, slightly embarrassed, before I started recording titles.

I wish I could remember where I found the recommendation for the Tearling series, because I owe someone my thanks. I decided to read it in an effort to get up-to-speed on some contemporary YA titles. The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen is the last in the trilogy. I read the first two books in the series, The Queen of the Tearling and The Invasion of the Tearling, just before I started this blog and I was glad to find the last title as an ebook from the library.

I went into the series without knowing much about it. I would recommend the same approach to anyone else planning to read it. I will keep my summary pretty basic: Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn is raised in seclusion, out of the way of potential dangers of an unstable government. On her 19th birthday, she is claimed by the Queen’s Guard to take the throne. Few expect her to survive long enough to have much of a reign. Her trials begin before she even gets to the keep and intensify as she discovers disturbing things about kingdom. Readers going into the first book without knowing much more than this get to discover several mysterious pieces of the plot that I really don’t want to spoil. I enjoy the unexpected.

I won’t spoil the ending either, but I do have cautions for potential readers. This book, like the others, lost me several hours of sleep because I had trouble putting it down. While this is a good thing, it got me to an end that was. . . I must say. . . somewhat unsatisfying. Many things that seemed to be leading to something important in the plot didn’t lead anywhere and left unanswered questions. Overall, I still very much enjoyed the book and the series as a whole.

Now, for those who have already read the book or like spoilers, I have a more detailed review of the end of the series with more specifics about those unanswered questions.

Rating: ★★★★

Beware: Spoilers Ahead!!!

 

The Fate of the Tearling starts with Kelsea in the custody of the Red Queen and Mace sitting in as ruler of the Tear. Things are not going well. While in custody, Kelsea begins reliving the memories of a girl, Katie, born after The Crossing. In these memories, we start to see the origins of The Fetch and The Orphan. Many questions are answered, but many are also raised that are never resolved.

Here is what we still don’t know:

I expected to learn more technical information about The Crossing. Where are they? Are we talking a different planet? Different dimension? Different time?

And what’s the deal with the sapphires? We find out William Tear’s sapphire was passed down through generations, but we still don’t know the origin. Tear came from a place that seems like our world, but the sapphires are found in this post-Crossing world.

We get  background about the vampire/zombie children, but they also don’t make a ton of sense. There is a missing piece to this as well. There are also hints about Mace’s past that are never developed. There is so much more I want to know!

I have read that Johansen is not done with the world of the Tearling, even though this is the end of this trilogy. I’m hoping that means there are explanations in the future.

 

 

The Unwritten

The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the War of Words

I became a fan of the graphic novel with The Sandman series. I admit they take some getting used to if you are not a regular reader of the genre. I always have to remind myself that much of the story is told in pictures because I tend to focus on the words. If you are a big reader and graphic novels aren’t typically your thing, this may be a good series to get you started.

Tommy Taylor and the War of Words is the 6th book in the series. There is a lot going on, with stories told within stories.

Don’t let a familiar sounding story fool you . . . a bespectacled young wizard and his two friends fight an evil figure threatening the world . . . you have not wandered into the wrong book, though that is entirely possible in this series. In the world of The Unwritten, Harry Potter is popular, but Tommy Taylor has the real super series.

Tom Taylor is the son of the author, Wilson Taylor, and the namesake of the boy wizard. His father had mysteriously disappeared a few years before, leaving Tom to support himself by attending cons in place of his father. The story gets interesting when the question is raised ­– Is Tom just the loser human son of Wilson Taylor or the character from the books made flesh? A mysterious ancient cabal then takes an interest in Tom in such a disturbing way that it makes him question what he thought were facts about his existence.

The lines between reality and fiction are blurred. Much of the action of the series takes place in other books. As someone who likes books, this obviously appeals to me. Tom’s friend, Lizzie Hexam, has origins in the Charles Dickens novel Our Mutual Friend. Frankenstein also makes a few appearances.

Tommy Taylor and the War of Words has Tom and his friends finally confronting the cabal that has ruined Tom’s life and poses a threat to the rest of humanity. I have heard people say the series can be a little slow, and I can see that in places. However, I have been totally pulled in as I keep reading. This book starts to answer a lot of questions.

As with the other books in the series, this one contains many smaller stories within the larger story. Different artists illustrate each of the mini stories, and I really enjoy seeing the range of styles.

Rating: ★★★★

P.S. I would not recommend this series for kids. Despite the Harry Potter-ish qualities of the Tommy Taylor books, the world of Tom Taylor is not child friendly. The series is pretty violent.

Tales from the End of the World

Occasionally, I get stuck in a genre. I go on binges reading fantasies, biographies, or historical fiction. I often have author binges or series binges. One time I read so many Murakami books, I had to switch to nonfiction for a while just to get back to a more solid reality.

Recently, I unintentionally got stuck on a theme: the end of the world. It is a theme I can’t escape. It seems there has been a resurgence in the popularity of books about the apocalypse and dystopian futures. Can’t imagine why . . .

The first book I read, Station Eleven, kept popping up on so many reading lists and recommendations with books like 1984 and Brave New World that I had to read it. Next, I knew I needed to make progress on the Dark Tower series before the movie comes out this summer, so I read The Waste Lands. Finally, from my stack of books I got from Christmas, there was Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights. I didn’t think of any connections at first. Before I started reading the book with the very long name that I am already tired of typing, all I knew was there were genies. All of these titles take very different approaches to the end times, but here they are, united by happy accident.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This book was terrifying to read while traveling. A superbug seems so probable a way for most of humanity to get wiped out. Prior to reading this book, my first bet would have been a robot apocalypse, but now I get jumpy when someone sneezes. Unlike my other selections, this novel takes a very realistic approach to telling the story of those who survive. Despite the horrors of a new world left devastated by a plague, a group of traveling actors and musicians put on concerts and perform Shakespeare at settlements amid the ruins of the world that once existed. Painted on the side of their caravan is a line from Star Trek: Voyager – “Survival is insufficient.” The story is told through flashbacks between the pre and post time of the cataclysmic event. Flashbacks can go badly, but this book manages them well. Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)

The Waste Lands by Stephen King

This is the third book in the Dark Tower series. I struggled through the first half of the first book in the series because so much of the plot is unclear, but I know King to be such a masterful storyteller that it would ultimately be worth it. It most definitely is. The Drawing of the Three pulled me in even further, with the introduction of two amazing new characters. The story is about the end of a different world that overlaps sometimes with our own. The world is “moving on” and Roland (aka The Gunslinger) and his new gunslinger recruits are in search of the Dark Tower. Reasons for this search are still unclear, but following along on the journey is fun. There is even an insane train. I recently learned King has published a vaguely disturbing children’s book inspired by The Waste Lands called Charlie the Choo-Choo and I WANT IT. Rating: ★★★★★

Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

I am a fan of magical realism, which draws me to many of Rushdie’s books. However, this one may be making that step into full fantasy. I also think I like Rushdie’s books so much because his sense of humor seems similarly warped like mine. This book maintains its sense of humor as humanity is destroyed in the wake of some vengeful djinns. The book is narrated 1000 years into humanity’s future, so not everything is a total loss. This is thanks to a djinn princess who found love in humanity. Her love of a human long ago led to birth of many, many children. Through the progeny of her progeny, she is able to assemble an army of humans who get in touch with their genie genes in order to fight back. Rating: ★★★★

I just realized as I was writing this, Norse Mythology (recently reviewed) also deals with the end of the world. All of the stories build to Ragnarok. Hmmm . . . now to figure out what to read next. I’m thinking historical fiction or a graphic novel.

Do you have any apocalyptic recommendations? Or how about books with cheerier themes to balance out all the doom and gloom?

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Movie

In an earlier blog, I made a list of my top five film adaptations of books. Now is time for my worst five. These may not be the worst adaptations of all time, but they are especially painful to me because the books are so wonderful. You can probably tell from the state of the spines in the picture that these are well read books.

  1. The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien- I think these movies took me by surprise because I liked the Lord of the Rings movies so much. They didn’t get off to a bad start. I was even fine with some of the additions to the plot. I liked Gandalf’s side adventures. But I really started to have problems when the Orcs started flooding the screen . . . and just kept coming. The scene on the river felt like a tedious bit in a video game that you can’t seem to get past. When I was in the theater, I could only yell at the screen in my head. I watched the third movie at home, so I got to yell and groan in disappointment all I wanted. Much of that movie was unnecessary. I was also disappointed by Bilbo’s interactions with Smaug. They cut out some of the best parts from the book.
  1. The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher- This is a lengthy urban fantasy series, so a TV show seemed appropriate. Harry Dresden is a wizard for hire in Chicago, and the book series follows his cases and his battles against personal demons (both literal and figurative). However, the TV series quickly started burning through the books in a very unsatisfying way. They barely scratched the surface, and they had ample opportunity to take advantage of the rich story lines. Even if it hadn’t gotten canceled, I don’t think it would have gotten better. It is a great, addictive series that deserved better. These books have been turned into graphic novels, and I just added the first ones to my Goodreads list. I’m hoping it proves a better treatment.
  1. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams- I just realized as I was writing this that this is the second book on my list with Martin Freeman, but I don’t blame him for the issues with either of these adaptations. I had high hopes for this movie because it had some good casting. Alan Rickman is the voice of Marvin! Alas, my hopes were dashed. It turned out to be one of those movies that only made sense if you read the book. I have read and love the book, so I got what was going on and was able to laugh at things that were only funny if you read the book, but I can’t help thinking about an adaptation from the point of view of someone who hasn’t read it. This movie leaves most people confused and not in any rush to go read this wonderful book. The movie version of anything should be able to stand on its own.
  1. Nightwatch by Sergei Lukyanenko- Most of my Russian literature experience is with the classics, but this is one of the few contemporary works I have read. It is the first book of a dark urban fantasy series that I have not yet finished (but really need to soon). Don’t let the “light” and “dark” sides make you think that this deals with good and evil in a strictly dichotomous way. In fact, it really challenges the idea . . . not that you would get that from the movie. If you never read the book, I would be impressed if you could get much of a storyline from the movie. The movie seems to take for granted that you already know the backstory to follow the scenes from the book strung together. It had been awhile since I read the book, so I got lost a few times. This is a complex book that may be better suited to a miniseries. I find myself often thinking that about book adaptations.
  1. The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman- Speaking of complex books, I had a bad feeling that this one could not be done as a Hollywood blockbuster. It is another one that would be better suited to the miniseries treatment. The CGI was good, but the plot really suffered. As with Nightwatch, the fantasy world is intricate. People’s souls manifest themselves as creatures called daemons, and the characters set off to seek an alternate universe. There’s a whole lot going on that can’t just be glossed over so the story fits neatly into a feature film. Daniel Craig and the talking polar bears could not save this one.

Norse Mythology

Traditional stories and myths are essential reading because they enrich your reading experience. I know my Greek myths fairly well. My husband’s college Greek mythology book has survived multiple purges of old college textbooks. However, I am less familiar with Norse mythology. I knew Odin, Loki, and Thor to some extent, but I couldn’t tell you a specific story about any of them. As I was reading American Gods, a book that features Odin as a main character, I regularly looked details up online or asked my husband (he likes Norse and Egyptian myths) what he remembered about certain gods. I was excited to hear about the release of Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman because these tales have clearly inspired him for a long time, creeping regularly into work.

myths

The stories are beautifully done, with the gods coming to life. Despite all of their godly feats, they seem very human. One of my favorite themes in classic tales is the self-fulfilling prophecy. Even with all of Odin’s wisdom, he doesn’t see how his actions towards Loki’s children are going to lead Ragnarok. And Loki, for all his cleverness, frequently causes his own problems that he is forced to solve. There is also Thor. A character of simple motivations, he chooses to solve his problems with his trusty hammer.

I knew I would eventually read this book, but it happened a little sooner than planned since I bought on an impulse in the Atlanta airport. I’m glad I did. It was a quick read, prefect for the short snatches of time I had to read for a week. I know I will reread stories from this book, and I definitely enjoyed it. However, I gave it four out of five stars out of greed. I wanted more. I felt like it was just starting . . . and then the world ends. It was a surprisingly satisfying ending, but I still wanted to read more. There must be more stories about Kvasir, Freya, and Balder. If anyone has suggestions for other mythological tales I should read, I will happily take them.