Book Talk: I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

i-shall-wear-midnight-pratchett-fan-art-tiffany-aching-illustration

I finished Terry Pratchett’s I Shall Wear Midnight last week, and it was the perfect salve to a week of terrible news and family crisis. Pratchett is always the right move when you’re facing difficult times and need to feel like the world isn’t entirely, completely against you. And I got around to another #ReadtoDraw illustration (above) as a result.

I Shall Wear Midnight is the fourth book in the five-book Tiffany Aching Adventures series, and is one of his Discworld books. But, as is the case with Discworld books, each book stands on its own. The others are referenced here and there, but they aren’t required reading to get what’s happening.

I’m going to read the last book, The Shephard’s Crown, next because it’s the last book Pratchett ever wrote. Predicting that my heart will break, I can then go back to the beginning and read the book I missed–The Wee Free Men. Somehow, I think that will soften the blow and make the final book seem less … final. That’s the strategy.

Here’s the Goodreads blurb, in case you’re interested in reading it (you really should):

It starts with whispers.

Then someone picks up a stone.

Finally, the fires begin.

When people turn on witches, the innocents suffer. . .

Tiffany Aching has spent years studying with senior witches, and now she is on her own. As the witch of the Chalk, she performs the bits of witchcraft that aren’t sparkly, aren’t fun, don’t involve any kind of wand, and that people seldom ever hear about: She does the unglamorous work of caring for the needy.

But someone or something is igniting fear, inculcating dark thoughts and angry murmurs against witches. Aided by her tiny blue allies, the Wee Free Men, Tiffany must find the source of this unrest and defeat the evil at its root before it takes her life. Because if Tiffany falls, the whole Chalk falls with her.

Chilling drama combines with laugh-out-loud humor and searing insight as beloved and bestselling author Terry Pratchett tells the high-stakes story of a young witch who stands in the gap between good and evil.

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Book Review: The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye

The Djinn ByattAnother book review so soon? YES! I told you I was going to blog more. This was a quick read–I finished it a few days after The Corrections.

If ever you were a lover of fairytales, of sleeping princesses and dragons woken from deep slumbers, of three sisters and genies in bottles; if you don’t mind a modern take on traditional folksy tales without losing the warm, fireside coziness of said tales, you should pick up A.S. Byatt’s The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye.

If the title alone doesn’t grab you, the stories will. In this collection of five tales, Byatt presents her reader with stories that may elicit faint recollections of books read as a child, but which take some unorthodox departures from the templates of yore, most blatantly illustrated by “The Story of the Eldest Princess” (every older sister should read this one).

I enjoyed the title story but my personal favorite was “Dragons’ Breath.” The dragons here bear no resemblance to the proud, regal creatures depicted in cartoons and in Medieval art. My favorite quote in the book is also taken from this story:

Such wonder, such amazement, are the opposite, the exact opposite, of boredom, and many people only know them after fear and loss. Once known, I believe, they cannot be completely forgotten; they cast flashes and floods of paradisal light in odd places and at odd times.

The title story is set in modern times, mostly in Turkey. It mixes academic essay, history, mythology and modern fiction, taking the three wishes trope and turning it into something unexpected as the relationship between an English narratologist and a centuries-old djinn develops. Byatt’s voice in this story is exceptionally strong. This was one of few times where, as I was reading, I distinctly sensed the author’s personal story and personality beneath the fiction. This wasn’t a bad thing at all. What I liked best about the title story was getting a rare taste of nonwestern mythology. It makes me want to read more nonwestern stories, alerting me to the fact that my reading lists are grossly limited to western tales. This needs to change.

If anyone has recommendations for mythological, fairytale, or fantasy fiction from a nonwestern perspective, please do make your recommendations in the comments section (other than One Thousand and One Nights/Arabian Nights, which I plan to pick up—it was over my head as a kid).

Review, Perfume, Signing–Everything Books!

Book Review: Snow Crash

Something about the look of sci-fi novels always put me off as a kid. I was much more a fairies and sorcery kind of girl. But when my friend recommended Snow Crash with the promise that it would be good, I decided to give sci-fi a try. That is, after letting the book sit on my shelf for almost half a year.

I finally dusted it off before my cruise in August because I hadn’t had time to purchase or borrow vacation reading. I’m so glad circumstances worked out that way–it’s been a while since I’ve had so much fun reading a book, and author Neil Stephenson invented my new favorite female character.

Snow Crash follows the adventures of hacker and pizza deliverer Hiro Protagonist (clever, eh?) and his pseudo-sidekick Y.T., a courier, as they try to trace and cure the source of a virus that’s infecting other hackers in a virtual world called the Metaverse. Reality in Snow Crash is actually an alternate reality where the mob and massive conglomerates run the world and the government is too flaccid and bureaucracy-encumbered to run anything…sounds vaguely familiar.

I always thought the strong female character was contrived, but Stephenson does it right with Y.T. She’s so bad-ass she upstaged Hiro in my opinion. Y.T. is this punky skateboarding chick who can’t even be intimidated by the mob–or, at least, she doesn’t show it when she is.

The whole book is chock full of memorable characters. Even the bio-mechanical animals in the book have depth.

Read this book. It’s been picked up for a film adaptation by Attack the Block director Joe Cornish. It’ll be really interesting to see how they translate it, especially some of the admittedly bulky Sumerian myth exposition scenes. Good luck with that!

Now to finish Sagan’s Cosmos and Harkaway’s Angelmaker.

Smell as Bookish as You Feel

It might seem random to bring up perfume on a blog about writing, but CB I Hate Perfume’s In the Library scent is actually extracted from the pages of a book!

You know how some scents advertise their kiwi, strawberry, floral, amber, etc. notes and when you spray some on it smells like something made by a lab coat? This is not that kind of scent. I bought a tester and dabbed some on. I was skeptical even as I purchased it, but I had to try it. After about 10 minutes I kept catching this familiar, haunting, addictive aroma; I realized it was books and it was me. Oh it’s so good.

I’d probably pair it with another quality (albeit typical) perfume to give it some mystery and intrigue. I don’t know about you, but books definitely smell like mystery and intrigue to me.

Book Riot has a great interview with the scent’s creator here.

Identity Thief Book Signing

Last week, I went to my friend Meaghan O’Keefe’s book signing. She did all of the art for Identity Thief, a suspenseful graphic novel. I’ve watched Meaghan’s progress on the illustrations for some time and it was gratifying to see her hard work finally come together in a cohesive, visually stunning book. I’m so grateful to be in the company of such talented people.

Her book can be purchased here. She also has some great tees with art from the graphic novel.

Book Review: Abarat

The early Hellraiser movies have long been favorites of mine and so Clive Barker’s name always means good things to me. I’ve long thought of Barker as a great mind in horror but, terrible fan that I am, I didn’t realize his work went beyond the one genre.

Needless to say, I was intrigued when I randomly learned he’d written a series of Young Adult fantasy novels, starting with Abarat. After reading the summary on the back of the book, the title immediately went on my summer reading list. Here’s the summary:

A journey beyond imagination is about to unfold…

It begins in the most boring place in the world: Chickentown, U.S.A. There lives Candy Quackenbush, her heart bursting for some clue as to what her future might hold.

When the answer comes, it’s not the one she expects.

Welcome to Abarat.

That little blip took me back to some of my favorite childhood movies and stories with the common theme of young person struggling to find his or her purpose, and then discovering it in a fantasy world (particularly the Harry Potter books, Labyrinth, and the Adventures of Baron Munchhausen the movie). These are the stories that have influenced and shaped my own writing.

The Review

It’s been a long time since I read YA fiction, which is bad news since it’s my novel’s genre. I think the last YA book I read was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when it had just come out.  It was a little jarring returning to it after so many years. Along the lines of my earlier adverbs post, some prevalent literary rules are broken in the genre but that sort of thing doesn’t bother me much, especially while traveling through a gorgeous world like Barker’s Abarat. He really is a master when it comes to creating unique creatures and settings; he doesn’t hold back. I might as well have been in Abarat as I read about Candy’s adventures.

I also want to note that there’s more diversity in Barker’s novel than I’ve seen in YA lit in general. This made me happy.

Barker’s prose captivates. I was taken on a ride right from the start with the first sentence.

The storm came up out of the southwest like a fiend, stalking its prey on legs of lightning.

So simple, so telling.

If you’re looking for a story that’s unlike anything you’ve ever read before and breaks the boundaries of structure and form, or a story that deals with issues rarely broached in literature, this probably isn’t the book for you. If you think “serious” literature is the only “good” literature, this isn’t the book for you.

I was looking for a book that reminded me why I love YA fantasy and inspired me to work harder on my own novel. This was the book for me.

What I Learned

Abarat gave my imagination much-needed exercise. Many times as I read, I wanted to run to my laptop and think of ways to make the world in my WIP richer. World-building is supposed to be fun, and I think I forgot that. Here’s a description of one of the islands in Abarat–the Yebba Dim Day, an island shaped like a big head:

It was a city, a city built from the litter of the sea. The street beneath her feet was made from timbers that had clearly been in the water for a long time, and the walls were lined with barnacle-encrusted stone. There were three columns supporting the roof, made of coral fragments cemented together. They were buzzing hives of life unto themselves; their elaborately constructed walls pierced with dozens of windows, from which light poured.

There were three main streets that wound up and around these coral hives, and they were all lined with habitations and thronged with the Yebba Dim Day’s citizens.

I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book in the series.

Book Review: Swamplandia!

Synopsis

Thirteen-year-old Ava Bigtree has lived her entire life at Swamplandia!, her family’s island home and gator-wrestling theme park in the Florida Everglades. But when illness fells Ava’s mother, the park’s indomitable headliner, the family is plunged into chaos; her father withdraws, her sister falls in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgman, and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, defects to a rival park called The World of Darkness. As Ava sets out on a mission through the magical swamps to save them all, we are drawn into a lush and bravely imagined debut that takes us to the shimmering edge of reality.

Review

I decided to read Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! because it was one of three books snubbed by the Pulitzer board for the 2012 fiction award. Not only did I want to learn more about the kind of book being suggested for the Pulitzer these days; I also wanted to understand the board’s decision. After reading Swamplandia!, I can’t say I do understand. If this book had been selected to win the prize, I would have applauded the decision.

What can I say? This book made a home in me. Maybe I’m biased because I saw myself and my own family in Russell’s story, but isn’t that something a great book is supposed to do? Niggle into your brain and heart, tell you something about yourself, plant something significant?

Swamplandia! is the unique telling of how one family deals with tragedy and loss. Russell turns grief and mourning into a multifaceted diamond. She rightfully gives them a complex, layered treatment. The settings are almost hyperbole–crisp, tangible hyperbole that plunks you right into the Everglades and The World of Darkness–but the characters are so real and honest, you’re convinced you know these people.

Russell’s prose is something of a wonder. It’s the opposite of put-on. Her language and metaphors are so spot-on, they’re almost frank.

I’m pretty sure you have to read this book.

What I Learned

I learned that realism and magic can be blended seamlessly. That part of the synopsis from the back cover about the story taking us “to the shimmering edge of reality”–I couldn’t have said it better. Even though there are some truly mystical moments in the book, there was never a point where I thought, well this could never happen in real life. I struggle with this in my own writing, maybe because believability is so important to me. I almost think of it as the golden key.

Reading this book also compelled me to go with my gut when describing setting. I sometimes think nobody will understand what I mean when I describe things as I see them, but it’s so important to trust your mind’s eye when writing.

Excerpt

I’m sharing this excerpt with you because it’s a great example of the effortless beauty of Russell’s writing.

All day the horizon was inches from our noses. We’d been poling the leafy catacombs of the mangrove tunnels for hours. Any changes–palings of the sun that dropped the temperature a degree or two, or a brilliant lizard hugging the bark–felt like progress. More than once I’d think a tunnel was truly impenetrable. We’d pole into the green cone of water lapping at the trees’ wickery roots: the end of our journey! I’d think. And then we’d slide through a stew of crimson propagules, duck through a wishbonelike mangrove root, pop out. At one point an osprey’s nest crashed onto the poor red Seth’s carrier, knocked loose by our boat; that time we had to pole out stern first.

The Bird Man could always find us a way through. Often it took several tries: a tunnel would appear to be plumb shut and he would lift a branch, pull the skiff into sudden darkness, and slingshot us forward into the undergrowth. Blossoms dropped in a delicate static around us.

Past Pulitzer Fiction winners have included Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex (one of my favorites), and Toni Morrison’s Beloved.