Sabriel

Sabriel

Sabriel_Book_Cover

I am not good at remembering things. Maybe I “live in the moment too much,” or am just oblivious. Maybe there’s a little something wrong with me. Whatever it is, I have very few memories, when I compare myself to those people who seem to remember everything from their past very vividly. One of the things I do remember, and love remembering, is the way I felt when I first read one of my favorite books.

I therefore remember with great fondness my first reading of Sabriel by Garth Nix. It’s one of the books that served to cement my love of reading. I first read it in eight grade.  My parents had just split up, and the library was a refuge that felt consistent and safe when everything in life was (I felt) crashing down around my ears. These were the formative years, when I began to really understand what growing up meant: life is hard. I was going to have to eventually make tough choices. I was going to have to decide on a direction. I was going to have to say yes or no to bigger things than pizza for dinner. The books I read and loved at this point in my life were very important, and each one was a stepping-stone on the path to the person I am today.

Enter Sabriel: spine crackling with the plastic protection of hardbound library books, smelling faintly of dust and age. Only maybe seven years old, but already showing the first faint red spots of foxing. It would be very difficult to describe the way I felt when I first read this book. Perhaps it was the shiver at the first mention of the darkness of Kerrigor, or the swelling feeling of my own adventure and heroism as I read of Sabriel’s courageous exploits. Perhaps it was the first feeling of being a grown-up, seeing the words “penis” and “sex” written blatantly on the page. From the first page to the last, I loved Sabriel, the girl and the book, and have always held her in the back of my mind.

On a recent excursion to Half Price, I found a relatively nice mass market copy of Sabriel hiding on a shelf in the very top corner (being tall has its benefits), with the original gold foil title and gorgeous painting of the original cover. Immediately, seeing her name on the spine and Kerrigor’s dark form lurking behind her blue-garbed figure, I felt the shiver of adventure-to-come, and knew I had to have it. Just a day later I learned that Nix was just about to release the 4th book in the series, and I knew it was time to re-read.

The reading was twice as good as an adult. I’d forgotten all the details and nuances that make it such a lovely book, in the decade plus since I’d read it last. Mogget, the sardonic white cat who is much more than he appears. The stoic yet handsome Touchstone, the faithful Paperwing, and the ever-present buzz of fear that lurks with the dead in the shadows. The magic of the Charter. The perversion of necromancy, and the benevolently protective power of the Abhorsen. If you’re looking for an adventure that will stand out both for the beauty of its prose and the creativity of its story, this novel is a great place to start. And if you do fall in love with the world of the Old Kingdom, there are three more books to enjoy when you finish Sabriel. Good news for lovers of magic and adventure.

13.32–Her

13.32–Her

her

I love memoirs.  They read like fiction but they’re true stories.  Something about their being true makes the story incredibly engaging.  It’s almost enough to pull me away from fiction.

Until I read flops like this one and get discouraged from that.  Though it had so much potential (despite the tragedy of it, the author’s life has given her great writing material) this was a terrible memoir for two main reasons:

A: It’s choppy.

There’s no coherence to it.  It’s almost impossible to know in what order the events she’s describing happened. Her story sounds like a drunk person who tries to tell a joke but ruins the punchline because she says it first.  Reading it was not in any way enjoyable.  Perhaps it’s morbid to expect to be entertained by a tragic memoir. Don’t judge me. You all stare at car wrecks, too.

B: It feels fake.

This is supposedly a story about grief.  Christa’s twin, Cara, goes on a downward spiral of drug addiction and self-hatred, and eventually dies of an overdose.  Christa is a mess.  But when she writes about Cara when she’s alive, it’s almost like she can’t stand her. She never has anything flattering to say.  There is very little appearance that they love each other, frankly.  They’re portrayed as close, but it always seems like it’s almost reluctantly–at times, cruel or vindictive. It makes her grief seem embellished and fake.

I was so incredibly frustrated by this book.  Perhaps I’m insensitive. It is, after all, the author’s way of dealing with her grief.  But for a memoir, it lacked the genuineness one would like to expect from a true story.  There are probably hundreds better memoirs you can find.  Pass on this one.


13.15–Anna Karenina

13.15–Anna Karenina

Sadly, I read the movie edition. It’s what the library had.

I did it!! I made it through a Russian novel! And believe me, I am definitely patting myself on the back.  I’ve never been able to make it through a Russian novel before (much too long and rambling, and too many names!), but while Anna Karenina had the same elements that make me dislike every other Russian novel, the story was enough to redeem it.

There is so much to this nearly-thousand-page novel that it is difficult to cram it all into one blog.  There are two main stories (and countless little side-shows) that occur over the course of the novel–the messy drama between Anna, her husband Karenin, and Count Vronky; and the story of Kitty and Levin.  It is interesting that the novel is named after Anna because there are a great many characters that feature prominently, and perhaps even make more appearances than Anna does.  In fact, Anna’s story is the most interesting, and I wish that Tolstoy had spent more time on her and paid less attention to Russian politics, agriculture, and peasantry.  It’s an interesting glimpse into the time period, but seems completely unnecessary (and totally boring).

The novel tells the story of Anna’s doomed love affair with Count Vronsky.  She is married to Karenin, but falls in love with Vronsky almost the moment they meet.  I was surprised at how quickly the events moved in their story line.  I expected the subterfuge to last longer, I suppose because it was such a long novel, and I did not know that there was an entirely different story happening simultaneously.

Where one story is tragic–that of Anna and Vronsky, a family torn asunder, a woman driven to madness by jealousy and insecurity–the story of Kitty and Levin is almost fairy-tale-esque in nature and seems to suggest that by “following the rules,” so to speak, of society and religion, one may find happiness, contentment, and security.  I will say that Kitty was perhaps the most enjoyable character of the novel for me.  She is kind and sweet, though she’s often given to fits of womanly airs.  Anna, however, becomes more and more disagreeable as the novel progresses.  I’d say that the reader feels pity for her, but it is difficult to like her. And even by the end, my pity had evaporated as I became increasingly more irritated with her digging herself into a deeper and deeper hole.  And yet…

Tolstoy has a way of capturing the nuances of life that other authors seem to gloss over.  He has an eye and attention to detail that at times can be tedious but, more often than not, is quite interesting.  More than once I found myself thinking about a characters actions, I do that too!  It is fascinating to read about the subtleties of your own character in a book over a hundred years old.  In Anna, I saw a little of myself.  She often reminded me of myself in high school, when I too felt that panicky feeling in my gut at the idea of losing the person I (thought I) loved.  She seems to live in constant fear that Vronsky is falling out of love with her; is seeing other women; is mocking her in his face and tone of voice.  I recognize that fear and madness in myself, and it was quite a disturbing mirror.  I can’t say I enjoyed the feeling, but it was impressive the way that Tolstoy is able to capture the emotions of a woman so well.  And somehow, it is comforting to know that I’m not the only woman who felt this way.

I confess, only parts of the novel held my attention.  Especially in Levin’s parts, I found my eyes glazing over, and I realized I had gone through a page or two without registering anything that had been said.  And I was strangely okay with this, because it didn’t detract from the story at all.  I say, don’t feel guilty for skimming.

The story is worth reading, for sure.  It is a classic, and with Tolstoy’s eye for detail when it comes to minute human traits, it is easy to understand why.  Though the politics and technologies of the book are now long out-dated, the themes, events, and feelings are things that could very well happen today, tomorrow, or a hundred years in the future.  It’s a novel that takes several different views at what it is like the be a human in any stage of love, and it’s quite beautiful.  I definitely recommend reading this book to the very end.

I’ve heard from numerous sources that this is the translation closest to the original Russian. READ THIS TRANSLATION.


13.14–The Lost Daughter

13.14–The Lost Daughter

This book was so beautiful.  It was tragic at times, but the overwhelming beauty of redemption and forgiveness and healing and family are themes that really elevate it to a level above novels that are sad for no reason to a novel that is inspirational and sweet.

Goodreads synopsis:

“Brooke O’Connor — elegant, self-possessed, and kind — has a happy marriage and a deeply loved young daughter. So her adamant refusal to have a second child confounds her husband, Sean. When Brooke’s high school boyfriend Alex — now divorced and mourning the death of his young son — unexpectedly resurfaces, Sean begins to suspect an affair.

For fifteen years Brooke has kept a shameful secret from everyone she loves. Only Alex knows the truth that drove them apart. His reappearance now threatens the life she has so carefully constructed and fortified by denial. With her marriage — and her emotional equilibrium — at stake, Brooke must confront what she has been unwilling to face for so long.

But the truth is not what Brooke believes it to be.”

It’s truly a story that proves that the things we do in our youth have a way of affecting us for the rest of our lives.  A decision made in her teenage years never ceases to haunt Brooke, until the events of the novel allow her to confront the past she has only ever suppressed and run away from.

What I loved most about this book is that there is a happy ending. There is a lot of heartbreak in it, which realistically reflects life at its most incomprehensibly brutal.  But despite mistakes, anger, and ugliness, the end is a ray of hope.

Brooke can be frustrating at times, as well as her husband.  They are both too stubborn and at times too afraid to talk to each other, and knowing the perspective of both gives the reader the opportunity to see that they could just heal their relationship if they would do ABC and say XYZ.  Obviously, fixing any sort of relationship is never so simple, as human emotions and insecurities get in the way, and Ferris keeps the reader dangling in uncertainty until the very end about whether or not Brooke and her husband will bridge the rift between them.  Despite the frustrations that the characters cause the reader, there is still something lovable about Brooke.  She’s a girl that any of us could be–had it all, was on the fast-track to greatness, but normal, happy, and loved–when one mistake made in fear changes everything for her.  The reader cannot help but rooting for her as she struggles to reconcile her past and her future.

Set in New England (such a beautiful backdrop), the novel is surprisingly lovely and well-written for an author I’ve never heard of. If there has been buzz about her, I missed out.  But it seems that there should be buzz about her.  She is excellent at creating both story and setting, and her characters are rich and believable.  I’d definitely recommend this novel to anyone who loves a good happy ending.


13.3–If I Stay

13.3–If I Stay

If I Stay is a beautiful novel, but incredibly depressing.  I enjoyed it immensely, but it’s definitely something you have to prepare yourself for.  It is the story of Mia, who, caught between life and death, must choose if she wants to return to life and a world utterly changed, or drift softly and easily into death to escape the pain of the reality that awaits her in life.  As she makes her decision, she flashes back to the happier moments of her life–moments with her family, friends, and boyfriend.

Again, I am struck by the overwhelming sadness of a novel. Why do we like to read these things? At the end, the reader is left with a bit of hope, but the second novel sounds depressing as well.  Is it the feeling of Oh, thank God it isn’t me? Or do we identify a bit with the griefs and losses of the characters?  In any case, people write these novels, and we read them and enjoy them, as is the case with this one. I read it in one sitting. It’s a quick but heavy read, and left my heart a bit sore.  It also gave me a very strong desire to hug my family.

Mia is an interesting character, one I couldn’t figure out.  She is neither popular nor nerdy.  She is a cello enthusiast, though I’d stop short of saying prodigy.  Perhaps others view her that way, but she does not think that of herself, and since it is her narration that creates the story, we’ll stick with her version of things, making her neither less nor more than she is.  She is shocked when the cute punk musician boy, Adam, shows interest in her, despite the fact that he is not popular either.  She has a fantastic relationship with her family, which is unusual for novels these days.  She seems like a loner, and doesn’t like hanging out with her boyfriend, Adam’s, friends.  Instead she mostly hangs out with one friend, Kim.  She and Adam, honestly, seem a very strange couple, but his grief at her condition is incredibly real.  For some reason, I just didn’t buy them as a couple, and it soured the story for me just a bit.  Still, it was enjoyable to read about a normal girl with a normal life for once, instead of a girl with powers, or a girl with fangs, or a girl who is forced to learn to survive after the collapse of civilization.  I love those kinds of books, but I also love books about regular girls.

The cover says, “For fans of Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight [sic],” but it’s not like Twilight at all. I hate that they stick that crap on the cover just to sell books.  For one thing, it is 100% more elegant than Twilight.  The writing style is lovely–simple, but full of imagery and emotion.  Mia is a good character, one that is somewhat admirable, and a little less dependent on a boy than some other characters *cough*cough*  She knows she has her own life to live, even if it tears her away from the boy she loves–unlike other “heroines” who throw themselves from cliffs because a boy leaves her. Just sayin’…

Anyway. Good novel.  Read it in a day because I had to know what she chose to do.  Live or die? To be or not to be? That is the question that Mia must answer, and I think you’ll enjoy her beautiful journey to that decision.


12.33–Days of Blood and Starlight

12.33–Days of Blood and Starlight

Laini Taylor does it again! I was hesitant about Days of Blood and Starlight because I didn’t like the way it began. I was really nervous about the theme of the book.  Where Daughter of Smoke and Bone is extremely romantic, Blood and Starlight is all about war.  It’s tough to read, absolutely fraught with emotion, and it’s definitely a nail biter.

For character, Taylor delivers.  Karou unfolds further as a character with untold layers.  It is so easy for the reader to get invested in her.  In this installment, she comes dangerously close to being broken and defeated, but pulls through to find her true self, ten times stronger and more passionate before.  With her people threatened like never before, she must stand against all the forces allied against her–forces she finds in unexpected places.  Her friend Zuzana is as irrepressible and hilarious as usual.  Her recently-acquired boyfriend adds a new element to her hilarity as well. Their banter is some of the best (and only) comic relief in this extremely heavy, war-torn novel.  And Taylor has brewed up a whole new cast of baddies for the reader to hate.  Taylor is a masterful creator of characters, and this novel is no exception.  Can someone please turn me into Karou? Give me some of her spunk? Thanks :)

For plot, I still can’t say much, because I don’t want to give anything away about this book or Smoke and Bone.  I’ll just say that it kept me on the brink of a lot of things the whole time: screaming, crying, throwing things, pulling out my hair, laughing hysterically in public, etc.  In addition to a stunning ability to create engaging characters, Taylor then sticks those characters in situations for which the reader can’t possibly dream up solutions.  She is constantly taking her reader by surprise and giving them new reasons to turn the page.

There is no end to the things I could say about Laini Taylor.  I really haven’t encountered a series I’ve felt this passionate about or affected by since The Hunger Games.  Once again, I can’t recommend this series highly enough.  I encourage everyone who doesn’t have this on their TBR list to get it on there, and those who do have it to bump it to the top. Now.

12.28–Wicked

12.28–Wicked

I revisited this one because it’s been quite a long time since I read it.  I remember sincerely loving the book, and marveling at the darkness with which Maguire writes. By the way, how gorgeous is this cover? Mine doesn’t look that good. Mine looks like this:

Not as pretty

Anyway, I don’t know how many people have read this novel, since it’s been out for years.  For those who haven’t, it tells the story of Elphaba, who is more familiar to fans of The Wizard of Oz under her identity of the Wicked Witch of the West (which I will now refer to as WWW).  In this first novel of Maguire’s, he gives the reader the backstory of the WWW, from her humble beginnings in the country of Munchkinland to her college years at Shiz to her rebellious youth in the Emerald City.  From the novel, the reader learns that Elphaba, or WWW, is not the evil villain we love to hate.  She has been misunderstood her whole life, ostracized because of her green skin, and villainized because she disagrees vocally with the Wizard’s politics.  By the time she meets Dorothy (in part four of the novel), she is middle-aged and beaten down, having suffered a lifetime of loss after loss.

I remembered virtually nothing about this novel.  In my mind it got confused with the musical, which I’ve seen twice.

It’s pretty fabulous

Because I’d forgotten the novel, I was amazed by how different the two stories are.  For one thing, the musical is optimistic. It is the touching tale of two friends that somehow manage to overcome obstacles to their friendship and also make changes for the good of Oz.  The novel, conversely, is not.  For one thing, Elphaba and Glinda do not stay friends the way they do in the musical.  There is a massive cast of characters that pass through Elphaba’s life, but their presence is always fleeting.  Maguire’s novel is also a lot more political.  There is the Wizard, who blew into Oz in a hot air balloon and deposed the reigning child queen, and who oppresses the people of Oz indiscriminately. Munchkins, Quadlings, Animals–all fall under the Wizard’s iron hand.  There is a religious group that closely resembles Christians, known as the unionists, who worship the Unnamed God and attempt with futility to convert people away from the “pleasure faith.”  In fact, Elphaba at one point joins a group that, if not extreme enough to merit the distinction of terrorists, come pretty darn close.  No, it certainly isn’t the Wizard of Oz that we know at love from novel and film.

Part of me really didn’t like reading it this time.  I still give it five stars, because it is masterfully written, is a great and engaging story, and is engrossingly creative.  But there is a hopelessness that dominates the tone of the novel, and sometimes I wasn’t in the mood to pick up such a downer.  The novel seems to hint that resistance to the status quo, to tyranny and oppression, and to evil itself, is a useless pursuit that should be abandoned so that one might have a happy life.  Maybe this is mostly true, as it seems like one person has little power to make change, but I didn’t want to read about it in every word of the novel!

Still, as I said, it is a masterful work.  Maguire has a very dry and sometimes offensive sense of humor, playing with things that one would not normally find amusing (for instance, senility in the elderly). His words are beautiful.  It is a novel that is effortlessly thoughtful, which forces the reader to contemplate their own complacency.  Maguire also creates wonderful characters.  Elphaba is, despite being prickly and somber, a character that the reader can love, though it may stem from pity.  She tries so hard to do the right thing, and it often goes wrong for her.  She is going against the whole of Oz, and one cannot help but admire her courage.  The other characters that come and go (Boq, Galinda, Fiyero, Sarima, Liir, Nessarose, and others) are, if not always fully rounded out, entertaining.  They complement each other well, and yet, simply by existing, create conflict between each other.  Their differing beliefs and ideals clash enough that very little outside strife would be necessary, though it often makes an appearance anyway.

I definitely think the novel has more value than the musical.  Don’t get me wrong. The musical is great–beautiful costumes and sets, catchy and sometimes moving songs, and an entertaining plot line.  But where the musical is fun, the novel is important.  It is a witty, dry, and entertaining commentary on the world in which we live today.  If you’re one of the last people in the world to read this novel, I recommend you get around to it soon!

Or she’ll get you