I am always excited to find a great author. As I said in my previous post, I liked a pep talk written by Holly Black for Nanowrimo, and I checked out several of her books. I am overjoyed to announce that White Cat, the first installment in The Curse Workers’ series, is getting a place of honor in my favorite books’ list. White Cat is narrated in the first person/present tense, which is a tough one to pull off, by Cassel Sharpe. He is a lonely teenager, coming from a family of curse workers and aspiring only to fix his sleepwalking problem to be reaccepted at his private school. Cassel refuses to have normal social relationships because he is hiding a terrible truth, and doesn’t think he deserves more from life than misery. Being the only non worker in his family he feels rejected by his own brothers, and would like more than anything else to be trusted by them. With his mother in prison, and a grandfather who doesn’t seem completely reliable, Cassel is left to fend for himself while he tries to make sense of how he could have killed Lila, the girl he loved. The whole story takes place in an alternate universe where curse workers, people born with magical powers, are outlawed and hunted. Everybody is forced to wear gloves, since the curses are worked by skin touching. I particularly like when an author is able to create a universe that is structured by specific socio-economic rules, and Holly Black has done an excellent job with the curse workers’ world. The scene where Cassel blushes at the sight of his sister in law’s naked hands is a perfect example of how deep is said world. White Cat has witty dialogues, a smart plot, and an incredible ending that will make you talk about it long after you have finished reading the book. Waiting impatiently for Red Glove to come out next April.
Every year accomplished authors write pep-talks for Nanowriters (Nanowrimo’s aficionados, slightly cuckoo in the head) like me. This year one of the pep-talk I liked the most was written by Holly Black. Driven by sudden inspiration I checked out few of her books and I found the Good Neighbors’ series. I have already read Kin and Kith without blinking my eyes once, and I can’t wait to read the third and final installment that just came out, Kind. I didn’t know that they were comic books, and I was pleasantly surprised by discovering Ted Naifeh, who is the illustrator. The Good Neighbors narrates the story of a teenage girl, Rue, who has always seen things out of the ordinary, but has never thought about it until tragedy wreaks havoc in her life. Rue’s mother disappears for several days after an altercation with her father. Her father is accused of having murdered his wife and another young woman who was one of his student. Rues discovers the truth behind her mother’s disappearance when, while trying to put together bits and pieces of her scattered life, the fairies reveal to her that she is one of them. Rues is forced to confront blood ties she would have never thought real, and a reality which is not a fairy tale. As if being a teenager isn’t hard enough by itself. I particularly liked Holly Black’s dark narration and the eerie qualities of Ted Naifeh’s art. I am now officially hooked on fairies’ stories. But only if they are bad, the fairies, not the stories.
Rainy Monday! My choice for the week is an absolute masterpiece, Archangel by Sharon Shinn. This novel is one of my favorite books. I have a list of ten books that I compile every year,and Archangel has been there for a good while. I read it several years ago, and I have been rereading it at least once a year. It’s my comfort reading. Archangel is the first in a series of five set in the imaginary planet of Samaria. A complex array of human beings populates the variegated geography of the planet. The Manadavvi are sophisticated landowners from Gaza. The Jansai are greedy merchants from Jordana. The peaceful Edori are composed by nomadic tribes hunted by the Jansai and forced to slavery. Above them all reign the Angels, superior human beings who can fly and communicate directly with the god Jovah by singing. The angels sing to Jovah to keep Samaria’s erratic weather pattern under control. They sing to ask for medicines that fall from the sky. The angels live separated from the humans in three hosts that divide Samaria in as many regions. Raphael, the current Archangel, is also the leader of the host in Windy Point. Ariel is the leader of the host in Monteverde. Gabriel is the leader of the host in the Eyrie, and the next appointed Archangel. The story is set in motion when Gabriel seeks the Oracle Josiah to ask the god for the name of his bride, the Angelica. Gabriel has delayed the task as long as possible, but the mass gathering singing of the Gloria is only six month ahead. To his surprise, the god Jovah has selected for him an Edori slave. Rachel is headstrong and not at least awestruck by the arrogant angel who proclaims to be her chosen spouse. She refuses to believe Gabriel, even when her “kiss” (the colored piece of glass most of the Samarian children get implanted during the Dedication Ceremony) illuminates to match his own. Rachel, daunted by her feelings toward Gabriel, runs away from him at every turn, looking for the comfort of the Chievens, the Edori tribe that adopted her when she lost her family. At first Gabriel is forced by the circumstances to follow her. It is his duty to make her listen to reason. Without the Angelica by his side during the Gloria, the annual gathering where everybody in Samaria must sing in harmony, the life on the planet will be annihilated by Jovah. In his journey across Samaria Gabriel realizes the depth of his sentiments toward the renegade bride. He understands where she comes from, and what she has endured to become who she is. Gabriel and Rachel united will save Samaria from the destruction caused by Raphael. What I liked the most about the cosmos Sharon Shinn has created is the absolute coherence of the characters and their environment. While I was reading the book I found myself more than once imagining about the places Shinn described. The blue city of Luninaux, where the craftsmen live, vibrant with life and shining with art. The white city of Semorrah, built on a small island in the middle of the river Galilee, where Rachel is brought as a slave to serve a family of river merchants. Gabriel’s beloved Eyrie, a place where celestial music is sung day and night, perched over the busy city of Velora. The bleak peak of Windy Point where Raphael commits his acts of hubris against the divinity. And as detailed is the description of the geography in Samaria, so is the description of each character. From the two protagonists, Gabriel and Rachel, who are both strong and weak at the same time, to the secondary characters who propel the story. Nathan and Magdalena are a good example of the quality of the subplot in Archangel. They are both angels, respectively brother and sister of Gabriel and Ariel. In Samaria angels, both men and women, are strongly encouraged to bed as many human partners as possible to ensure angelic progeny. Angels are difficult to be conceived, and the union of two of them is prohibited because it doesn’t normally end up in healthy babies. Nathan and Magdalena fight their sentiments, but their “kisses” come alive the first time they kiss. Every character in the novel has a story, and all the stories come together beautifully in rendering a well drawn picture of a whole universe. Sharon Shinn commented that the first scene she envisioned when writing Archangel was when Gabriel shields Rachel in his wings. It’s the same scene that makes me come back to the book again, and again. Rachel wakes up, after a traumatic experience, fully embraced in a white cocoon of feathers. The scene is breathtaking because of the two characters involved. Sharon Shinn is very good at creating conflicts that transform a mere embrace into something more. Something that makes you read a novel several times. Each book in the Samaria series can be read as a stand-alone, but I suggest to read them following the chronological order of the story line (even though is not the order Sharon Shinn wrote them). Angelica would be the first one, set one hundred years before the events narrated in Archangel. Archangel would be the second one, followed by Angel-Seeker set few years after it. Jovah’s Angel is set one hundred years later. And finally the truth about Samaria and it’s vengeful and mercurial god is uncovered in The Alleluia Files. A final consideration is due about John Jude Palencar, who is the artist behind the ethereal covers of the Samaria’s books. Before I bought my copy of Archangel, I picked up one at my local Library simply because my eyes were caught by the clean beauty of the art cover. Love at first sight. It exists serendipitously.
Have a glorious reading.
Lately a young author, Lauren Willig, caught my attention. I was looking for some romance, and while scouting at my Library Express, I picked up one of the Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation novels. This series falls under the chick-lit genre, well written chick-lit, but, I am happy to report, with a twist. The main character, Eloise Kelly, is an American historian who is trying to unveil the secret identities of a group of English spies who try to stop Napoleon Bonaparte’s plans to destabilize and invade England. Eloise, after having left Harvard and a boyfriend with a tendency to put his tongue in other girls’ mouths, ends up in London to pursue her research where her spies lived and loved. In London she meets Mrs. Selwick-Alderly, who not only opens her private archives to Eloise, but introduces her to her great-nephew, Colin Selwick. Lauren Willig cleverly splits the narration between nowadays London, where Eloise tries her best to conquer Colin, and 1800’s England, where flower-named spies find their soul mates in the long forgotten diaries and letters perused by Eloise. I am on my forth Pink Carnation novel, and the one I liked the most is The Deception of the Emerald Ring (the third one in the series). Eloise has come to terms that she really likes Colin, as in falling in love head over heels, and she is following the fate of the Pink Carnation through the scraps of information left behind by Letty Alsworthy. Letty’s misadventure starts when she tries to save her sister Mary’s reputation, and she finds herself married to Lord Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snape, who is the man her sister was eloping with. I particularly liked the premises of this novel. Letty is forced to marry a man who is in love with her beautiful sister. Unbeknownst to Letty, Geoffrey is also the second in command of the League of the Purple Gentian, now helping the Pink Carnation to put an halt to an Irish rebellion against England led by the cruel French spy known as the Black Tulip. Geoffrey and Letty are reunited in Dublin, where, while being forced by circumstances to cooperate in a secret mission, they slowly start knowing each other. Appreciation between the two follows, and as a result England is saved, again, and Geoffrey and Letty discover that they were meant to be. The novel ends with nowadays heroine, Eloise, finally getting a date with her shiny English beau, Colin. Lauren Willig’s style is fresh and humorous, her characters are funny, her dialogues highly entertaining. It is also noteworthy that the author knows a great deal about the fascinating era she is writing about. The Pink Carnation series is the kind of reading that goes well with a steaming cup of tea, and a nice misty day.
Last seven days were quite intense. Fool by Christopher Moore seemed the sensible choice to raise my spirit. I always think that it is funny when an author writes a warning aimed at dissuading the casual reader from actually reading a book. Fool comes with a full disclosure about language, topics, and other sins against society at large. I think that it is even funnier when readers, who had read the warning, write incensed critiques about such book. For the sake of being clear, I will repeat few of the jewels bestowed upon us, not so casual readers who take time to check beforehand what the book is about, by Mr. Moore. So, keep reading my review only if you like British humor. If, for example, you are the kind of person who buys tickets for the Eddie Izzard’s show at the Paramount, without knowing anything about the guy or the show, there are good chances you are going to run away from the theater, Seattle, and eventually from Washington State. My recommendation is to educate yourself. Always. And to stop reading my review now. Nothing good is going to come out of it. Also, stop reading immediately if you don’t want to know how Fool ends. My lawyers, aka my husband and my daughter, have just explained to me the intricate concept of the spoiler alert. Otherwise, please be my welcomed guest.
Remember King Lear, the one written by the Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare? If yes, good for you. You are a discriminate reader. If not, don’t worry. You are in good company. Mine, just to name one. Fool is King Lear narrated by Pocket, the court fool, hence the title, who is not an idiot. The little man, who has quite the naughty tongue, schemes and plots through the whole tragedy until the story is a tragedy no more. Pocket writes the letter for Edmund, who is aptly named the bastard for his origin and bleak soul. Pocket also leads Goneril and Regan in circles until they are both entangled with the bastard. Almost everything in the story happens because Pocket wants Cordelia for himself, and since he is smartest of the whole bunch, he succeeds. Princess Cordelia is spared the cruel, and unnecessary, death Shakespeare had decreed for her, and ends up marrying our fool. Pocket is the new king and everybody is happier with this version. Especially Cordelia.
I truly enjoyed reading Fool because it’s language is that kind of funny that engages the brain. When Taster says: “I am sick a lot.” Pocket comments, “Of course you are, it’s the bloody Dark Ages, everyone has the plague or the pox.” When in another segment the pox is mentioned referring to the bastard’s mother, one Shanker Mary says: “Unfairly maligned, the poxy are. Methinks a spot o’ the pox implies experience. Worldliness, if you will.” Feel free to try your conclusions about the Shanker Mary character. Pocket expresses his sentiments for Edgar, the bastard’s brother, with the following words: “I have never cared for the bastard’s brother Edgar, either. Earnest and opened-faced is he. I don’t trust anyone who appears so trustworthy. They must be up to something.” Pure genius. Pocket so describes the letter he has composed to trap poor trustworthy Edgar: “In a half-hour I had crafted a letter so wily and peppered with treachery that any father might strangle his son at the sight of it and, if childless, bastinade his own bollocks with a war hammer to discourage conspirators yet to be born.” Pretty strong image. And although I could keep quoting Moore’s Fool for hours, and I will end my critique with the one dialogue that made me laugh so loud and for so long that my husband bought his own copy of Fool for his Kindle.
Pocket asks Drool why he has slept outside on the horse dung again, and Shanker Mary intervenes to explain that Drool is not allowed in the great hall, where everybody sleeps rather promiscuously, because his snoring frightens the dogs. “For snoring? Not allowed in the hall? Balderdash!” Pockets says. “And for having a wee on the steward’s wife.” Mary ads. “It were dark.” Drool explains. “Aye, and even in daylight she is easily mistaken for a privy…”
Nice reading everybody!
The call of the wild is like the lure of a siren. When you hear it, you can’t ignore it. Chistopher McCandless, a determined young man, felt its impact and acted upon it. I have just finished reading Into the Wild by John Krakauer, and although the salient facts of Christopher’s life and death are now clearer, I am left with dozens of questions. I was his age once, and I remember how, back then, the world was colored in black and white. But while I verbally raged against society and its vices, Christopher, known as Chris, after graduating from college at Emory, sick of the middle class’ hypocrisy left his family and ended up in Alaska. It took him two years to travel through the western part of the United States, with a stop south of the border in Mexico, before reaching his final destination into the wild. Chris spent two years on the road, taking jobs here and there, living mostly at the fringe of society, but still connecting with men and women along the way. Chris’s capacity of leaving such a deep print wherever he went is probably the reason why his story is so compelling. I can’t help but think that I would have loved to read a version of Into the Wild written by Alexander Supertramp (Chris’s moniker). Since I live in this side of the universe, where Chris died, I am grateful that John Krakauer took his time to narrate the young man’s last journey. The book starts with the discovery of Chris’s remains inside the abandoned Fairbanks 142 bus, and goes back and forth in time following the author personal thoughts, the heartfelt contributions given by the persons Chris met before dying, and Chris’s notes and postcards. John Krakauer didn’t stop at gathering information, he also investigated the facts that led to Chris’s death. The author, who felt a connection with the young man, didn’t believe, as many others who dismissed the story as a tale of arrogance and stupidity, that Chris would have confused two plants and ate the seeds from the poisonous one ( as depicted in the movie directed by Sean Penn). Krakauer’s theory is that Chris was poisoned eating from the right plant by a toxic mold which grew on the wet seeds. While reading the book I could feel Krakauer’s tenacity in defending Chris McCandless’ actions, as a brother or a father would have done. Or maybe he was defending himself, who had survived youth and its pitfalls, where Chris had not.
“I have had a good life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless all!” Christopher Johnson McCandless, 1968-1992.
Sometimes plan B doesn’t go as smoothly as…planned. I set my mind to read Into the Wild by John Krakauer , after plan A didn’t work out to my liking. Plan A is a book that I don’t think is worth talking about. It is otherwise written by an author I think there are tons of good things to say. Therefore I decided that I wasn’t going to sully her splendid reputation as a story teller. The book in question is also her first. I have a soft spot for first time authors, as one day I hope to be one myself.
P.S. of the P.S.
My first encounter with anything sci-fi was at the age of seven. After having re-read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz several times, I was ready for more. Social circumstances, a father and an uncle avid sci-fi readers, made possible for me to get acquainted, at such an innocent age, with the incredible futuristic worlds penned by Isaac Asimov. Laying around the house there was this copy of a book with a brown cover. The art on it, my father explained to me, depicted a robot. It was shaped like a pile of conjoined boxes. Right then I didn’t think that the robot-thingy was pleasant to the eye. Thankfully my father went on on explaining what the word robot meant. I was swept away. I, Robot was a book that opened my mind, and freed my fantasy.
Kids studying at school. Beagles napping at my feet. Lovely husband gathering food for the family. I am looking outside at my window, and all I can see is green. Fall hasn’t happened in my backyard, yet. Olive green, sage green, murky green, frog green, emerald green. Few pale yellow leaves dot the shining sea of green grass. My mind goes back in time and I remember the first book I have ever read, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It was spring, a roman spring, white sun and windy clouds dancing on the sky, and I was in first grade. I spent three afternoons outside, sitting on the tiled floor of the terrace with that little battered book few centimeters from my nose (I discovered soon after that I needed glasses). I remember the powerful feeling of being able to read all by myself. I haven’t stopped reading ever since. What about you? Which one was your first?
I am listening on my red Zune, I’d rather be with you by Joshua Radin.
The best climate for a writer is in Seattle. It is a known fact. I am sitting on my couch, steaming mug of tea by my side, pastoral landscape (aka small suburban backyard with grazing beagles) outside my window, and there is nowhere else I would rather be. Unless it is Cancun. But I wouldn’t be writing in Cancun. I proved my point. Seattle and its idyllic surroundings are also conducive to extensive reading. It’s a common side effect to the greenery and the lack of vitamin D. On the bright side if you have access to a public library it won’t bankrupt you. The general appearance of your abode could suffer for it, but closing your eyes normally does the trick. It also helps to have a husband sympathetic to the cause. Bribing the said husband with liberal amounts of free time to finish Halo: Reach further helps the said cause. But enough of digressing about cloudy skies and lovely companions. Since it’s Monday, here is my suggestion for this week: Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies by June Casagrande. I have never had so much fun reading about grammar before. Like the author says, the book is a guide to language for fun and spite. And lots of fun it is reading about punctuation and conjunctions, when the chapters start with titles like Semicolonoscopy, or Copulative Conjunction: Hot Stuff For The Truly Desperate. On the shared possessive, Casagrande explains the rule asking questions about asses and crawling bugs. Although it sounds unorthodox, Casagrande’s approach to the intricacy of good grammar has its merit. After you have laughed for half an hour, I assure you that you will never forget the rule again.
I am listening on my red Zune, Rosas by La Oreja de Van Gogh.
Hi, my name is Monica and I am a book-addict. If it weren’t for the rest of the world barging on my personal space I could read for days without interruptions. Quite annoyingly the dishes need to be washed on regular basis , the kids need to be fed following a breakfast-lunch-dinner pattern, the dogs need to go outside to do whatever otherwise they would do inside. In other words, life gets in the middle of undisturbed reading. To keep reading without feeling a bad human being, I have decided to justify my addiction, publicly. I will write about what I read. One lucky book every week will receive my unconditioned attention. It sounds like a solid plan. I feel better already!
The previous writing has been sponsored by my husband’s dishwashing services.
On a complete unrelated note, the sky outside is cyclamen-violet.