Tags: reading

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50 Book Challenge #23-27

I can't believe it's taking me so long to get through 50 books, remembering the days when I used to read 8 or 10 a week, never mind 50 in a year... At this rate, I won't succeed in this challenge :(

I think I need to spend less time online. Oh... maybe I'd better keep these comments fairly short.

Anyway - here goes Collapse )
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gorey dog and book

50 Book Challenge: #4

Kristin Cashore, Graceling

WHOOSH! (That's the book galloping by).

I don't know why it took me over a week to finish: possibly because much of last week I spent in a bit of a funk being tired and depressed and preoccupied and consequently was falling asleep over my book at night and not getting much reading done. But that's by the by.

It was thoroughly enjoyable. Likeable (why is LJ spellcheck balking on that word?) characters, a very intriguing system of magic/special powers, a believable romance. I was mildly underimpressed, based on the advance buzz on it. Much of the YA sf community seemed to be gushing about it, but it left me with a feeling that I wanted more, which is what I mean when I say it galloped by. The action felt rushed. The main climax (overcoming the Big Bad) was just "zap" and it was done. I'm usually grateful when a fantasy is a stand-alone and the first book in a series isn't all about establishing the characters and setting and creating a lot of suspense for the next two, but with this book I would have maybe liked a little more of that and less breathless action that once or twice left me flipping back through going "what just happened?" I liked it enough that I think I'll read the next one, except that I think I've read people saying that the next one isn't as good... Anyway. It was fun. I definitely liked it a lot; I just didn't love it.
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Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger

I mostly loved this, even though it sagged a bit in the middle. Some people seem to hate it because it's not The Time Traveller's Wife. Well, it's not. But it is a graceful, odd, faintly sad novel, populated by characters who are more subtle and have more complex motives than you might first suspect. It has the same kind of matter-of-fact fantasy; I'm not sure whether you'd call it magic realism, or a ghost story. One of the main characters is a ghost (and that's not a spoiler - she dies in the first chapter). I loved the world Niffenegger creates: the old house on the edge of a cemetery, full of the lonely and the slightly odd. There's something of the Moomins in characters like Martin, the obsessive/compulsive, trapped in his apartment, or the twins, Julia and Valentina, who when first we meet them sleep curled up together, dress exactly alike, seem to think each other's thoughts and dream each other's dreams. I haven't decided yet what I think The Fearful Symmetry is about - different kinds of love, obsession, power. I'm going to want to reread it, and it's one of those books that you immediately want to talk about with someone who has read it.
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Happy 80th Birthday, Ursula Le Guin!

I find it an almost overwhelming task to write about what Ursula Le Guin means to me. Perhaps you will get an idea of how I'm feeling if I tell you that when I had a chance to meet her, at a reading, and get my copy of Tehanu signed, I got tears in my eyes as I mumbled some incoherent thanks for what her work has been to me over the years. She gave me a sharp look, out of that canny, lined, intelligent face that somehow looks exactly as you would imagine her, and wrote spontaneously "with best wishes" along with my name and her signature. Collapse )
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Favourite AND Best: DWJ

Pursuant to my earlier post about best and favourites of children's lit - everything I wrote about there I read as a child, and, indeed, began reading at or before the age of seven. One author that I did not discover until I was in my late teens or early twenties, but whom I have continued to read and delight in ever since is, of course, Diana Wynne Jones. I feel as if I am part of an exclusive club - Those Who Know How Great DWJ Is!

Thus, I was thrilled to see Neil Gaiman's tweet this morning, announcing the lovely article about DWJ in the Guardian Book Blog. You can read it for yourselves, so I won't discuss the contents, except to say that she talks about how wonderful DWJ is and how difficult it is to choose an all-time favourite.

I have no difficulty choosing an all-time favourite ... well ... almost no difficulty ... maybe it's a tie. I think, if I were tied down and poked with sticks, I would plump for Fire and Hemlock as both my favourite and undoubtedly her best. I love it for its complexity, the dense intertextuality, the lovely relationship between Tom and Polly and indeed the unusual for DWJ emphasis on close human relationships of all kinds. And I've never found the ending ambiguous at all (but then, I'm a hopeless romantic and an optimist).

But, as a close second, by only a shade of a whisker, is Howl's Moving Castle, which for me is the ultimate comfort read: funny, irreverent, romantic, charming ... what can I say?

And then there's Dogsbody, with its remarkable presentation of the dog's point of view. And Time of the Ghost, and The Homeward Bounders, which I think is possibly my THIRD favourite DWJ book, maybe. But that would mean that I'd be leaving out Charmed Life, which was the first of her books that I read but still one that I love. Or The Ogre Downstairs which still cracks me up.

I can't wait for this summer's conference - All DWJ All The Time! What could be cooler than that?

PS: I need a DWJ icon.
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"Favourite" or "Best?"

This is my first chance to respond to and present some of my own choices in last week's discussion of favourite children's books. Five Children's Laureates were asked to provide a list of their top five favourite books. This was followed up by Guardian commentator Lucy Mangan with her choices . All six lists are very personal, and it's interesting to see that there's virtually no duplication, no clear single favourite, and no Harry Potter.

That, of course, brings me to my own list. Collapse )

Forgotten Favourites

lady_schrapnell wrote a post the other day about how so many books about Roman Britain are bad unless written by Rosemary Sutcliff. In a comment, I recommended Between the Forest and the Hills by Ann Lawrence, and was reminded not only how charming that book was, but how she's a subtle and often overlooked author (not to be confused with the Ann Lawrence who pops up if you Google the name - that one's the writer of bodice-ripper romances).

The lightest, and most amusing, of her books is Tom Ass or The Second Gift, which tells the fairy-tale story of young Tom, convinced he was going to Make Good, but too lazy to do anything to make it happen. A Fairy Godmother with a somewhat astringent sense of humour, gives him the magical gift that whatever he starts doing in the morning he will do until sunset. When he complains, after finding himself housekeeping all day long, he ends up in the form of a donkey. How he makes his fortune anyway, with the help of a sensible and enterprising young woman, makes a most enjoyable tale for middle readers.

Dealing with much more serious themes is Mr Robertson's Five Hundred Pounds in which a young apprentice loses the titular amount to a confidence trickster and then travels with his master to try to retrieve it. Set in Elizabethan Europe, it concerns itself much with the religious intolerance of the period; Mr Robertson and his apprentice travel to Spain, where the apprentice's drawing skills become useful in the service of the Queen. It raises many important questions and doesn't provide any easy answers, but does give insight to the complicated and complex loyalties of the period.

My all-time favourite, and one of my most reliable "comfort" novels, is The Half Brothers in which Ambra is the Duchess of a tiny kingdom adjacent to one ruled by four half-brothers. If one of them marries her, he will gain enough power to become the High King; which one will she choose? Each of them visits her; each presents his suit; each one offers her some new interest: music, learning, intrigue. And then there's her own delight in gardening... It's a lovely book, with a charming romance at its heart but full of thoroughly _nice_ characters. If you get a chance to read it, try it.

Ann Lawrence sadly died in 1987 at the age of only 45. In the great Heavenly Library that we'll all get to some day I'm sure there are many more of her unwritten books. But she has left a collection of subtle, humane and charming books that are well worth seeking out.

nablopomo 9

Three Books I'd Like to Read Again

And maybe you can help me identify one of them!

Because I've been cleaning and clearing and sorting, I've been thinking about what books in my collection to keep and what, if any, books from my youth are missing from the collection, and whether they'd even be any good if I could find them and read them again. I have in mind three very obscure books, two that I remember the titles of, and one that I only read once and have only a very vague recollection of.
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