Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Ivory and the Horn by Charles de Lint

Title: The Ivory and the Horn
Author: Charles de Lint
Pages: 318
Finished: December 10, 2019

Summary: A collection of short stories set in de Lint's fictional town of Newford. Later in chronology than Dreams Underfoot.

Thoughts: I'll start with thoughts of the collection of a whole followed by thoughts on the individual stories for those who wish to read a wall of text.

There was a significant increase in continuity, call backs, and further exploration of familiar characters in this collection than any other de Lint I've read so far. Six of the fourteen stories specifically continued or related to stories from the first collection, Dreams Underfoot. Two others were vaguely connected to each other. It was neat seeing the connections and finding familiar characters. For two books that were read quite far apart from each other, I was surprised at how much I remembered of the previous iterations with these characters.

One thing that shook me, for some reason, I always though of Newford on the west side of the continent. In at least two stories, it was made clear the city is on the east side.

The stories I liked, I really really liked. The ones I didn't... yeah. While I appreciate that de Lint explores the dark side of humanity, I don't particularly enjoy reading it. Particularly now that I'm pregnant. I like things lighter. So, as with any collection, there are stories that really stick out as some of my favorites, and others that I just read and want them to be over.

Anyway, onto my thoughts on individual stories.

Waifs and Strays - When I started reading this, I recognized the characters, which meant I had to go digging through Dreams Underfoot. Sure enough, there they were. Obviously, getting back on one's feet is not so easy as we see in this continuation.
Mr. Truepenny's Book Emporium and Gallery - One of my most favorite stories in Dreams Underfoot is the story "The Moon is Drowning While I Sleep." In "Mr. Truepenny," we meet Sophie again. Now she's discussing a man she seems to have brought into being by dreaming him. Perhaps due to her fairy blood that she's not sure she believes she has. I like that she still has Jeck in her life, even if it is in the world of sleep. Wherever that is. Also, this feels similar to the creatures in Memory and Dream who come across when an artist paints them into being.
The Forest is Crying - First story not to harken back to characters from Dreams Underfoot. In fact, I'm fairly certain all the characters in it are new. Interesting use of time travel or spirit walking. I'm not sure which. I like when things come out all right in the end.
The Wishing Well - This is one of the stories that I was done with. As someone who has been through dark times, not like this but my own version, and has come out the other side with the help of therapy, I find it difficult to be around people who aren't ready to accept help yet even though they so clearly need it. I'm not a good person to help. And as I read this one, I found myself continually thinking, "You need therapy. Now. Please go get help." This is also the longest story.
Dead Man's Shoes - So totally de Lint. Creepy exactly what I expect out of him.
Bird Bones and Wood Ash - I feel like we're getting to the dark point in the book. Story after story is dealing with really tough and depressing topics. Which is part of what makes de Lint so effective. We meet Dennison from earlier again in this story.
A Tempest in Her Eyes - I like this one. Call back to Dreams Underfoot and just a good, old fashioned fairy encounter.
Saxophone Joe and the Woman in Black - Hm.... short and to the point. But not my favorite ultimately. Callback to a character from one of his darker books I read earlier this year.
The Bone Woman - This feels very de Lint-y. I suppose all his stuff is de Lint-y considering her wrote it, but this one has the right ratio of Otherwordly, real, and emotion.
Pal o' Mine - ... Another sad one. And one of those ones where you feel like there's nothing you can do because you can't help someone who doesn't want to help themselves, even when they're crying out for help. Just super tough.
When Desert Spirits Crowd the Night - Another Sophie story! I love Sophie stories and her dream worlds! I just hope she learns to accept them.
Dream Harder, Dream True - Sophie again! But not... this one is how Sophie's parents met. And for as short as it is, it's lovely.
The Pochade Box - Ooooo, connections and continuations. Jilly meets Tommy and Maisie from our very first story of the novel. Sometimes I feel Jilly is almost too good to be true. How can she be so wise? How can she know so many people? But when I read stories where she's more of the center, I realize I don't care. I just love her. Also, I want to read more with these people. I need Maisie closure.
Coyote Stories - This one went above me. I'm not entirely sure if Albert and Coyote were the same person or... what. Perhaps I'll read it again and come back to edit this. Or maybe just sitting with it will bring the knowledge I'm looking for.
The Forever Trees - An interesting study of friendship and what happens when you break it with a hint of Otherwordly in the Hundred Acre Woods. Also a sad ending to to set of stories.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Ombria in Shadow by Patricia McKillip

Title: Ombria in Shadow
Author: Patricia McKillip
Pages: 298
Finished: December 2, 2019

First Sentence: While the ruler of the ancient city of Ombria lay dying, his mistress, frozen out of the room by the black stare of Domina Pearl, drifted like a bird on a wave until she bumped through Kyel Greve's unguarded door to his bed, where he was playing with his puppets.

Summary: Trying to summarize this is difficult. It's a book of political intrigue as a ruler dies and people clamor to figure out who has the crown next. It's a book of fantasy as the regent, an evil woman with possible sorcery spies on everyone and ensorcels. Underneath the city is a whole other city where spirits and shadows live. And through it all is the threat of the city changing. Of the Undercity becoming the Upper City and vice versa.

Thoughts: Reading an McKillip novel is like floating on a river. You have to let the experience take you, otherwise you're going to flounder. Her writing is lyrical and poetic. Often, I really enjoy her novels, but I have to admit once I'm done, I forget them. It's like I got to experience Faery, but then it fades. Does that make sense?

Anyway, this was interesting timing. I read this after finishing a DeLint novel and before starting a collection of DeLint short stories. I feel like I keep mixing the two up. Oh, the styles of the two writers are completely different. But the way the Shadow City interacts with Ombria feels very similar to how Otherworldy Beings interact with Newford. Having just finished DeLints Memory and Dream where paints step out of their painting and then to encounter something similar happening in this book was an odd moment of dejà vu.

That's not to say I didn't like it. I really enjoyed the journey with this one. It's been a while since I really found myself wanting to read. This book pulled me back to reading. I found myself bringing it with me everywhere so I could snatch a paragraph or two whenever there was time.

Read for the TBR challenge. 

Monday, November 25, 2019

Memory and Dream by Charles de Lint

Title: Memory and Dream
Author: Charles de Lint
Pages: 400
Finished: November 24, 2019

First Sentence: Katharine Mully had been dead for five years and tow months, the morning Isabelle received the letter from her.

Summary: A book of artists, magic, memory, and abuse. Isabelle has turned her back on her previous work, her abusive mentor, and most of her friends. But when a letter from her now dead friend shows up right around the same time that that same friend's books are about to be republished, Isabelle's past comes roaring back.

Thoughts: Whew. This is the first "normal" de Lint I've read in a while. His normal stuff is lighter than the books he wrote under his pseudonym, but they're by no means light.

The story is engaging and the characters really multifaceted. While you get the idea that the bad guy is the bad guy, the amount of mind games he plays and the way he plays them really makes the reader second guess what's happening. In fact, there was definitely a point where I didn't feel I could really trust anyone. Of course things come around again.

The non-linear storytelling is interesting too. The story starts in 1992. The reader knows little other than Isabelle has received a letter from her friend Katharine, something bizarre considering Katharine died five years ago. The reader also knows Isabelle's painting style has taking a 180 degree turn and she has reservations about painting in her old style. Then the story shifts back to 1973 and we start to see Isabelle's beginnings with her mentor, the controlling and abusive Rushkin. From the beginning, we hear about various events from Isabelle's past in the "present day" section which are then slowly revealed in the past section.

Isabelle, herself, is an odd person. Throughout the novel, things happen, and it becomes clear that she may or may not be telling the full truth about stuff. She may be rewriting history. Whether she truly believes it, or not, it in question through much the story.

The book was published in 1993. It always amazes me just how sensitive and completely properly de Lint manages to peg things like abuse and sexual assault. He writes the characters so convincingly. He writes the feelings so convincingly. There's a point where a girl is dealing with the after effects of reporting a rape, and it could have been written today.

We met quite a few of our favorites again though. Jilly plays a role, which makes sense considering this is a book about artists. The Riddell brothers have a passing role. I really like how characters keep showing up in Newford. And the geography. It's fun to hear about the same streets or restaurants. The world building is fun. Also, he namedropped Jane Yolen. It is interesting to me, too, how he usually has a character that in some way seems to be an extension of himself. Very meta.

I did find one thing about the writing to be... I wouldn't say annoying... but it pulled me out of the story. Let me just quote a bit to show you what I mean. To give some context, Izzy's mentor hit her in a fit of rage, but then they talked about it. Then the following happened:
She was in such good spirits as she took the bus back to the university for an afternoon class that she completely forgot about what had happened in the studio earlier that day. Until the next time he hit her.
de Lint used this technique a lot in this book. A foreshadowing of types, but it felt clumsy. Or something. Like I said, it took me out of the experience the few times I was reading. 

I enjoyed reading this though. Yes, there was darkness, but in general, things turn out okay in de Lint novels. I like how he sets up the fantasy in a real world setting. In fact, because the rest of the world is so real, it makes it all the more believable. While Dreams Underfoot is still my favorite so far, this was quite a good addition to the world of Newford.

Read for my Newford challenge.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Emma by Jane Austen

Title: Emma
Author: Jane Austen
Pages: 495
Finished: November 14, 2019

First Sentence: Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

Summary: It's a Jane Austen story. Social graces, foibles, happy ever afters. The specific story for this one includes Emma, the rather spoiled daughter of the hypochondriac Mr. Woodhouse. She has a very high opinion of herself and will happily stick her nose in other people's business. And in the end, she happily finds herself a husband.

Thoughts: This is my least favorite of Austen's completed novels, and even with that distinction, it's still one of the better books I've read this year. The social commentary is on point as ever. So many of the characters are utterly ridiculous. Miss Bates and her constant chatter, which Austen writes out quite will to show the point. Mrs. Elton and her hypocrisy. Mr. Woodhouse who is endearing even in his silliness simply because of Emma's devotion to him.

This is one of those books where iI feel the side characters are better than the main. I don't like Emma. I just... don't. She's very reminiscent of a friend I had in high school. Unlike the other main characters in Austen novels, she's incredibly selfish with little to recommend her. Of course she comes 'round right in the end, and I suppose her devotion to her father is endearing, but how little regard she shows to others is frustrating. On the other hand, it perhaps makes her one of the most believable Austen heroines around. She's 21 after all. Hasn't had full brain development yet.

I did feel like I caught way more subtext this time around. Of course, I do know the story, so it was much easier to catch. I really wish I could read this again for the first time NOW rather than when I was a teenager. I think I'd catch so much more!

One of my favorite books this year so far. Read for Classics Club and Austen Challenges even though I've pretty much given up.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Daniel Deronda by George Elliot

Title: Daniel Deronda
Author: George Eliot
Pages: 800
Finished: October 29, 2019

First Sentence: Was she beautiful or not beautiful? and what was the secret of form or expression which gave the dynamic quality to her glance?

Summary: Two separate stories intertwine with each other through the book. We start with Gwendolen Harleth, a spoiled young women who's always had everything she wants. She flirts shamelessly, and doesn't seem to care how she hurts people. And then her family loses all their money and she's forced to accept a marriage proposal from the sleazy Henleigh Grandcourt. What follows is an unhappy marriage and a woman who clearly wants and NEEDS out.

At the same time, Daniel Deronda struggles with who he is. He suspects Sir Hugo is his father, though he isn't sure. One day, he saves a woman from committing suicide in the Thames. The young woman, Mirah, happens to be Jewish. As Deronda helps her find her brother, he starts learning things about himself, his past, and who his people are.

Thoughts: Like most Victorian literature, this is a book with a whole lot of pages to discuss few plot points.

Interestingly enough, when the book started, I was very much done with Gwendolen. I found her to be completely unlikeable and really didn't want to read anymore about her. Daniel's story was significantly more interesting. He also had a better temperament that made him more likeable. However, around book 4, the story line became bogged down. I found myself thinking, "Yes, we get it." more often than not.

The final two books sailed by pretty quickly though. I don't know if it's because the plotline picked up or because I realized I was close to done and just wanted to get there.

In general, I liked the bones of the story. The individual hooks caught me. It was interesting to read a Victorian novel viewing Jewish people in a sympathetic light. However, the wordiness without the Dickens sarcasm to temper them a bit made the book difficult for me to get through. Of course, I'll admit that could simply be due to basically my entire brain this year. I feel like most of my books have been duds.

This book counts as my Classic by a Female Author in the Back to the Classics Challenge AND it also knocks another book off my Classics Club list. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

Title: The Secret Commonwealth
Author: Philip Pullman
Pages: 633
Finished: October 24, 2019

First Sentence: Pantalaimon, the daemon of Lyra Belacqua, now called Lyra Silvertongue, lay along the windowsill of Lyra's little study-bedroom in St. Sophia's College in a state as far from thought as he could get. 

Summary: 20 years after the events of La Belle Sauvage, and 8 years after the events of The Amber Spyglass, we meed Lyra again. This time 20-years old. Things are not as good as one may have thought though. The Magisterium still has authority over everything, and now they want more. Policies are being put in place to make Lyra more accessible to those who want to hurt her. And oddly enough, rose plantations in the Far East are being attacked. On top of it, Lyra and her daemon, Pan, are quarreling. As things get more and more unstable, Pan leaves her, and it's up to Lyra to go find him, and figure out what Roses have to do with everything.

Thoughts: This is a complex book. Where as His Dark Materials was a bridge between Middle Grade and YA, The Book of Dust Trilogy is firmly YA. Politics play a much bigger part in this story. It's set so specifically in Lyra's world. And it just goes to show that, just because you stop one threat doesn't mean they're all gone.

I feel the need to start with the fact that now was not the right time for me to read this book. I really wanted to like it, and I think I would have if I had read it maybe three months earlier or ten months later than now. But being pregnant, it was just heavier than I find myself wanting to read at the moment. On top of it, there were things that mirrored what's going on in my world a little too closely that made it very uncomfortable. It wasn't an escape so much.

A few quotations:

"The other side's got an energy that our side en't got. Comes from their certainty about being right. If you got that certainty, you'll be willing to do anything to bring about the end you want. It's the oldest human problem, Lyra, an' it's the difference between good and evil. Evil can be unscrupulous, and good can't. Evil has nothing to stop it doing what it wants, while good has one hand tied behind its back. To do the things it needs to do to win, it'd have to become evil to do 'em." 
"Revealing the truth in the way I've described it would not work. There are too many habits, ways of thought, institutions, that are committed to the way thins are and always have been. The truth would be swept away at once. Instead, we should delicately and subtly underminde the idea that truth and facts are possible in teh first place. Once the people have become doubtful about the truth of anything, all kinds of things will be open to us."

Those two quotes were absolutely chilling. Here's the thing. As I am writing this review, Donald Trump is President of my country and there is a serious call for impeachment. And these two quotes just remind me of every bit of his presidency so far. Even if he's not smart enough to delicately and subtly change the idea that truth and facts are possible, those around him are. There was a whole thing about Alternative Facts at the beginning of his term. And that man is certainly bull-headed in his ideas that he is right. His side is right. And that there's absolutely no wrong way to go about it. Ugh. I feel gross just typing all this. Needless to say, the book was really close to home in a lot of ways, and I wasn't really up for that at the moment.

But let's get to the rest of the book, shall we?

One of the things that was rough for me, though I should have expected it considering, is that I wanted everything to be okay after the events of His Dark Materials. Lyra and Will allow the flow of Dust to keep going and learn how to close up the gates to other worlds. Except... and here's the thing I missed... it's great for the BIG PICTURE and does nothing to the nitty gritty of Lyra's world. the Magisterium still exists and still needs complete control over everything.

On top of it, there's the tension between Lyra and Pan. It was tough. Overall, I found myself wanted to shake Lyra and tell her to "just listen to what your other half is telling you!" For someone who was so sure of everything that happened, it was so hard to see her turn her back on it all for the "reason" of the philosophers she was reading.

Also, while I knew this was not the final book, I did find myself getting frustrated when nothing was answered by the end. It's an absolute doorstop of a book. Lots of ideas and issues were brought up. And there was always a TON of pages left. And then, all the sudden, the number of pages left weren't enough to tie-up the story. I get it. It suffers middle book syndrome. Still frustrating.

And all that makes it sound like I hated this book. I really didn't. I actually can't wait to read it again once I have some time away. And perhaps better headspace. Perhaps when the next one comes out, I should read it the way I read Harry Potter - reading all the ones beforehand. We'll see.

Not sure what I'm reading next or when another review will go up. I hope to get through at least four more books this year.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Good News!! And Updates

Guys! Guys!! I'm pregnant! Due May Day. !!!!!!! 

Which is completely, totally, and amazingly awesome! I'm finally feeling human again after the first trimester. My 4-year-old is so excited to be a big sibling. Really it's great.

Except one tiny little thing... my focus is absolutely nil. I remember this with my first pregnancy. I ended up reading what I would call popcorn literature because it was about all I could focus on. (Seriously, I ended up reading all the Sookie Stackhouse books.) 

So looking at my goals and my reading challenges, I'm calling it quits. I want to read all these books, but now is not the time. Even the book I was super looking forward to reading is taking a long time to get through. 

If anyone has any recommendations for light reads, I'm all ears.