Friday, November 6, 2020

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik



Title: A Deadly Education
Author: Naomi Novik
Pages: 313
Finished: October 18, 2020

First Sentence: I decided that Orion needed to die after the second time he saved my life.

Summary: El (Galadriel) is a junior at the Scholomance, a terrifying magic school where it's easy to end up dead if you aren't careful and don't have people watching your back. And El... well, she has a hard time making friends because the school is determined that she is a malificare, a magic user who uses people's life force for destructive means. Except she refuses. And oh, by the way, the star pupil of the school has taken notice of her.

Thoughts: OH MY GOD. It's like the adult's Harry Potter! OK, so El's a little hard to fall in with at first. She has an understandable chip on her shoulder... a similar chip to the one I had on my shoulder at her age. But more than a decade past it, I just want to shake her and tell her to get over it. Maybe I should reexamine these feelings before my own child becomes a teenager... Perhaps the other issue is of the three Novik books I've read, the main character has a similar attitude. Outsider with a chip on their shoulder. Perhaps it's because it's just a really common feeling to have. 

The school sounds interesting and terrifying at the same time. Unlike Hogwarts, I have no desire to go there. But Novik does an admirable job building the world. Characters feel realistic. It's a quick read. 

And yes, it feels like a mature Harry Potter in some ways. So it was not all that surprising when the author thanked someone in her acknowledgements for reminding her who this book is for and how she can't believe they're in their 30s.

It was a quick read and I'm really glad I found it. Definitely looking forward to the next one.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Sanditon and Other Stories by Jane Austen - Volume 1



Volume 1

I've decided to read Austen's unfinished works and juvenilia as I've not done so before. As this is a long book, I will be breaking it up into it's three volumes. 

Sanditon - The first unfinished piece in my collection. Fans of Austen's work know that she was working on this novel when she died. What we get is the story of Charlotte Heywood visiting the seaside resort of Sanditon with a family whom her father helped. She seems to be a girl of intelligence and good sense who see people for who they are. Unfortunately, the story only gets up to the point of introducing the primary cast of characters including the man destined to be the hero before it abruptly stops.

My version is unedited and the one thing that struck me when I started reading it was the sheer number of dashes throughout. At first I thought this was just an author's mark to add more here as some of the thoughts seemed less polished than I'm used to. However, further research led me to the fact that Austen used many dashes in her manuscripts that were subsequently purged by her editors. Many people seem to prefer the dashes, though I will admit, I found them distracting. 

Like any Austen novel, the characterization is key. We have Mr. Parker who's clearly a bit of a fool. Mrs. Parker who has much more sense but is also a deferential wife. Lady Denham who is selfish. The Parker siblings who are clearly hypochondriacs. Charlotte Heywood, intelligent and sensible it seems. We were also just introduced to Sydney Parker who I assume is Charlotte's love interest, a family from the west Indies with a young woman who was like to come into play, and a ward of Lady Denham who has a bit of a clandestine love life. 

I am curious how this story would have played out and do very much wish Austen had been able to finish it. As of yet I've not looked at any continuations nor have I watched the series that came out a while ago. At this point I don't plan to. 

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The Watsons - After her uncle dies and her aunt remarries, 19-year-old Emma Watson is sent home to a family she hardly knows. Almost immediately, she's sent to a ball where she catches the attention of one Lord Osborne as well as his former tutor, Mr. Howard.

Reading this brought to mind Mansfield Park. Similar to Fanny, Emma was taken in by her aunt and brought up in a much more refined manner than her family at home. She seemed very certain of her convictions and a quick study on the people around her. That being said, she's a little more forward than Fanny ever was. 

The story clips along at a good rate. We're introduced to almost all the major cast in only 81 pages and already have an idea of a love triangle between a a few different couples. We also already know who Emma's preferred suitor is. While a part of me is interested in what would happen next, I feel like she used many of the ideas here in future novels, which is probably why she never completed this one. 

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Lady Susan - Austen's Novella with the villainous Lady Susan Vernon. Perhaps because it's a novella or perhaps because the main character is so thoroughly unlikeable, people tend to not mention this when they talk about Austen's completed works. Maybe part of it is due to the fact this work tends to be published with unfinished works, juvenilia, or at the end of another book. The point of those very poorly put together sentences is to say that I have only read this novella once. 

Unlike any of Austen's published novels, Lady Susan is written as an epistolary work. The widowed Lady Susan writes to her brother-in-law to announce her coming to stay after a misunderstanding at a friend's house. The Lady Vernon is unenthused as she's heard Lady Susan is a massive flirt. Her brother agrees and comes to visit... only to be completely taken in by Lady Susan to the horror of Lady Vernon...

And on and on and such. This is a very quick read but also particularly obnoxious. Lady Susan is spiteful and annoying. She has the charisma to bend men to her will in ways that feel very frustrating. I found myself angry at Reginald for knowing what she was and then completely falling for her stunts. Lady Vernon gets it but she doesn't seem able to do much other than complain to her mother up until the end. Frederica might be worthwhile though we hear little of her own voice other than the fearful letter she wrote to Reginald. 

Not my favorite. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix



Title: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London
Author: Garth Nix
Pages: 393
Finished: October 3, 2020

First Sentence: It was 5:42 A.M. on May Day, 1983, in the west of England, and a sliver of the sun had edged above the ridge.

Summary: While searching for clues as to her father's identity, Susan Bauer walks in on the dashing young Merlin killing her "Uncle" Frank with what looks to be a silver hatpin. Suddenly, the room starts filling with a black fog and Susan follows Merlin into the world of Booksellers, both left and right handed who help keep the Old World from spilling too much into the New World. The Old World that seems particularly interested in Susan...

Thoughts: Wow, this is a fast paced novel. I think the entire thing takes place in the course of a couple days maybe? This has a bit of a Neil Gaiman or Charles Delint feel to it with the whole Old World encroaching on the New World bit. Characters felt mostly realistic. It says it's a young adult book, but I'd say it's more geared towards the 18 - 25 year old crowd. Susan is 19 I believe, but feels older in many ways. The world was fun, particularly anytime they slipped into the Old World or the Bookshops. And really, anything about bookshops or booksellers is fun. 

The plot itself is fairly simplistic though. The antagonists are broadcast pretty early on, but the characters frustratingly don't clue in until super late in the novel. Susan's origins are fairly obvious from the start as well... which again takes a long time for the characters to figure out. Still, it was really nice to have a quick, engaging read. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow



Title: The Ten Thousand Doors of January
Author: Alex E. Harrow
Pages: 371
Finished: September 24, 2020

First Sentence: When I was seven, I found a door.

Summary: January Scaller, Ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke struggles to feel at place in his house of curiosities. In fact, she feels closer to a specimen rather than a human being. And though she struggles to be a good girl, she can't quite shake the memory of stepping through a door into another world when she was seven. And then she discovers a book. A book about doors, other worlds, and the people you find there.

Thoughts: While writing up my review of Piranesi, this book arrived at the library for me. This and Piranesi could be cousins. The plot is similar, the conceit of other worlds is similar though this one involves doors and many worlds and centers around a coming of age story as well as a love story. 

Harrow uses a double narrative. A book within a book. I found both stories so compelling that I just kept reading until it was suddenly midnight, the book was over, and I was crying as I came down from the reading high.

January is a little frustrating at times. At times seemingly helpless and overly whiny, though one understands as the story continues and discovers just how much she was gaslit in her upbringing. The book takes a bit of time to get going. We get a lot of backstory as January catches us up to the current moment. But once she finds The Ten Thousand Doors, things pick up. 

One of the things I'm discovering about myself is that I like books where things come out all right in the end. Even as the tale gets more heated and things look as though they'll never come through, if I know things will be OK, I'm pretty willing to keep going. All that to say, it's easy to infer everything will be all right as the story is written as though January were writing a history of events. 

This is a compelling though somewhat complex tale with a lush writing style.

Read-alikes - Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, 

This covers a couple of challenges, though I'm not really following or entering anything into the forms anymore.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke



Title: Piranesi
Author: Susanna Clarke
Pages: 245
Finished: September 19, 2020

First Sentence: When the Moon rose in the Third Northern Hall I went to the Ninth Vestibule to witness the joining of three Tides.

Summary: Piranesi's World is a vast house of infinite rooms housing statues, oceans, clouds, and birds. He shares this world with The Other who visits with him twice a week to discuss their findings on the Great and Secret Knowledge. But one day, Piranesi finds evidence that someone else is in this world.

Thoughts: This was not the book I expected it to be, but that's okay because it was amazing!

Some background. Five years ago from the writing of this review, I read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I was hooked. I immediately started looking up read-alikes and stumbled upon Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I loved it just as much as I loved The Night Circus. So to have works by both these authors come out this year has been quite the treat.

That being said, Piranesi is a completely different book from her previous work. I struggle to write my thoughts without spoiling anything. So we'll start with The House.

The House reminds me a lot of the Library from The Starless Sea what with it's statues, oceans, and even a mention of bees. For a moment, due to the cover of the book, and the mention of minotaurs, I thought this was a retelling of Theseus and the Minotaur. It wasn't. But the House is stunning and now I want to visit. 

The story is told through Piranesi's journal entries. It starts with just his daily life in The House. But the careful reader starts to spot holes or other unsettling things. We pick up what's happening well before Piranesi himself does... and then once he becomes aware, it's a race to the end to see what happens. 

After reading it, I looked up the name Piranesi and discovered there was an 18th century, Italian artist by the name of Giovanni Battista Piranesi who made engravings of elaborate, labyrinthine rooms. After looking them up, they definitely serve as some inspiration for the setting. 

All in all, this was an incredible book that I happened to devour in a weekend. It's been so long since a book has captivated me quite that way, and I really enjoyed reading this one. It hits all the right appeal terms and a decent frame for me, but I'm still struggling to figure out what those appeal terms are because in general, I'm very eclectic. (Also, I'm going to start flexing some new review muscles as we just had a huge Staff Training on readers advisory.)

My appeal terms for this book:
engrossing character driven story with a magical setting almost dreamy feel to the writing.

Read-alikes: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Twelfth Night by Shakespeare



Title: Twelfth Night 
Author: William Shakespeare
Pages: 200?
Finished: September 12, 2020

First Sentence: If music be the food of love, play on.

Summary: Viola, saved from a shipwreck, disguises herself as a man to serve Count Orsino. As a man, she becomes Orsino's messenger to the fair Olivia, who in turn falls for Viola/Cesario. Viola, of course, has fallen in love with Orsino. 

Thoughts: My only experience with this play was actually through an Amanda Bynes movie called She's the Man from when I was a teenager. So how did reading the play live up?

Do you ever read classics and think, "Huh... English teachers held these to some really high standards, but this is really a bawdy joke that I'd get in trouble if I made it in class in modern terms?" That's how I feel when I read Shakespeare. It's held high as this lofty thing, but it was meant for the masses. That's not to say it's bad, just not the high-brow literature we're led to believe.

Once you get through the Elizabethan language, the plot itself is fairly simplistic. I specifically picked teh Folger Shakespeare edition for the notes I know they add in, but found myself skipping over them once I got into the rhythm of the language. 

In terms of the storyline... meh. It takes a long time to set up, and then the end could have been resolved at least one act earlier if people had communicated rather than talked. I suppose that's part of the comedy though. 

Having not seen numerous movie version of this (the way I have with Much Ado About Nothing), I felt I didn't appreciate it as much as I could. As this is a play, it's meant to be a visual medium. Without that, I do feel like I'm missing quite a bit. I think, in general, I appreciate Shakespeare better when I've seen either a production or a movie version to go along with it. 

That being said, glad I read it and I'm happy to cross another book off my Classic Club list. I believe this counts for a ton of challenges, but at this point, I've basically decided I'm not even attempting to finish them with how my reading tastes have just completely diverged from what I was reading at the beginning of the year.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Time to Parent by Julie Morgenstern



Title: Time to Parent: Organizing Your Life to Bring Out the Best in Your Child and You
Author: Julie Morgenstern
Pages: 330
Finished: September 7, 2020


Summary: Professional organizer Julie Morgenstern sets out to define the parenting job description. Using catchy acronyms that help the reader remember, she divides parenting into two halves. Doing you P.A.R.T and taking care of you S.E.L.F. Each half is divided into further quadrants where she then gives tips on how to help. To avoid summarizing the book, I'll just name the quadrants. P.A.R.T stands for Providing, Arranging, Relating, and Teaching. S.E.L.F stands for Sleep, Exercise, Love, and Fun.

Thoughts: Thanks to Covid19, a new baby, and the rest of 2020, I've been feeling really stretched thin. This book popped out on our parenting display at work and I grabbed it. Was it earth shattering? Meh. The organization tools were neat, but the information was stuff  I knew. What I found helpful mostly was the definition of the P.A.R.T. and how it all fits in with your child. Essentially it's easy to fall into a Providing and Arranging role when the most important thing to your child is Relating with them. With that in mind, I did set some goals for myself this month based off the information in the book. But I have to admit, I didn't feel like I learned how to make things better.

The most useful parts to me were the definitions of the "job description" and the time management skills. There's also a self assessment which was interesting. I came out pretty balanced in all four parts but with super low scores. I didn't feel like there was anything in the book to help me raise those scores... but then there's a chapter at the end about what to do when you're in a time of crisis... and I feel like raising kids during a pandemic while my country hurdles headfirst into fascism may count as a crisis. Or perhaps that's the anxiety talking! Who knows?!?

Anyway, back to the book. Fine information but definitely more of reference book than a sit down and read book.