Tag Archives: fantasy

Reading: After Alice, by Gregory Maguire

after alice

 

After Aliceby Gregory Maguire:

When Alice toppled down the rabbit-hole 150 years ago, she found a Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But what of that world? How did 1860s Oxford react to Alice’s disappearance?

In this brilliant work of fiction, Gregory Maguire turns his dazzling imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings—and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Carroll’s enduring tale. Ada, a friend of Alice’s mentioned briefly in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is off to visit her friend, but arrives a moment too late—and tumbles down the rabbit-hole herself.

Ada brings to Wonderland her own imperfect apprehension of cause and effect as she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and see her safely home from this surreal world below the world. If Eurydice can ever be returned to the arms of Orpheus, or Lazarus can be raised from the tomb, perhaps Alice can be returned to life. Either way, everything that happens next is “After Alice.”

I’m in the middle of reading this one; it’s not an easy read, and to be honest, I’m not sure, now that I’ve put it down, if I’ll get back to picking it up again. The list review style is also great when I’m dealing with a book I’m not sure about, so here goes:

1. This book is most definitely not an easy read. It demands a lot of the reader, and I’m still unsure whether the payoff for all that effort is there. But it might be.

2. If you’re the type of reader who likes to know the meanings of words that are new to you, keep a dictionary on hand. You’re probably going to encounter at least one word you’ll need to look up in every paragraph.

3. I think, actually, that’s where the book started to lose me. The Words. Now, I love words, and I love word play–I mean, that’s what makes Alice in Wonderland the charmer that it is. But the thing is, in Alice in Wonderland it really is word play. In Alice, Lewis Carroll displays a genuine delight, a kind of delirious fun with words. But in After Alice, this sense of play isn’t there. Often you get the feeling the Words are The Point of the paragraph, the passage, the book. Not character, not story, not theme, but the Words.

4. Having said that, there are some delightful lines. Like:

From a distance he has the appearance of a walking cucumber that has gone deliquescent in the middle.

(And nope. I did not know what “diliquescent” meant. In case you’re wondering: “becoming liquid or having a tendency to become liquid.”)

5. Despite what you might be thinking, only about half of the book is about Ada’s adventures in Wonderland. The other part is about Alice’s sister, Lydia, in the real(er) world of Victorian England. And at times, with all this back and forth, it felt like After Alice wasn’t sure what it truly wanted to be: the story of Ada’s journey into a surreal world, or a philosophical exploration of the mores of Victorian England.

6. I preferred the Wonderland chapters.

7. Some of the dialogue in Wonderland is wonderfully quirky and reminiscent of Carroll’s dialogue.

8. So you don’t have to stop and Google it, if you’re reading the book: in the language of lowers, yellow flowers stand for jealousy and infidelity. (See Chapter 11, and Ada’s reflections on the mysterious nature of the literature of roses.)

9. I’m not quite ready to DNF this one, but it might join the books in my stacks labelled “To Be Finished Later”.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for my review copy of this book.

My RIP X Reading List

rip10300

Better late than never! So this weekend I decided to sign up for RIP X after quite a few years of thinking, “oh, that sounds like such fun.”  Yes, even though in the past I’ve always sucked at reading challenges – in fact, signing up for a reading challenge pretty much guaranteed I wouldn’t touch a single book that met that particular challenge criteria.

But I’m in the midst of embarking on a new life right now, and I’m determined to stop doing what I’ve always done in order to effect some hopefully awesome changes. Who says enjoying a reading challenge or two can’t be part of my new future, right?

And to make it pretty easy on myself, I’m signing up for the following levels:

ripnineperilsecond

Peril the Second: reading two books of any length which fit within the RIP categories (mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, gothic, horror and supernatural).

ripnineperilshort

Peril of the Short Story: I’ll be (hopefully) reading RIP-related short stories during the challenge period as well.

And now the real fun begins:

MY RIP X READING LIST

Even though I’m only aiming for Peril the Second, I am such a moody reader I always work better if I’m working off a long list of potential reads than otherwise. And then it occurred to me I should also try to use this opportunity to get through some of the books in my TBR, instead of new and exciting titles yet to come my way. So here are the books I might be reading for RIP X, all of which come from my TBR piles:

Pieces and Players by Blue Balliett (middle grade mystery)

Deceptions by Kelley Armstrong (dark fantasy)

The Hanged Man by P.N. Elrod (mystery, dark fantasy)

The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie (mystery)

The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson (supernatural, dark fantasy)

Bag of Bones by Stephen King (horror)

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor (dark fantasy)

Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub (horror)

Anna Dressed In Blood by Kendare Blake (horror)

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (horror)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (horror)

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes (mystery, horror)

Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons (horror)

Short story collections:

Dark Screams, volume 1, edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar

The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror (I have several of these volumes)

The Best Horror of the Year (I have several of these volumes as well)

Year’s Best Weird Fiction, edited by Laird Barron

The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mysteries edited by Otto Penzler

The Weird, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

Actually, I have a lot more horror short story collections scattered around the place. Once I start packing my books, I’m sure more of them will surface …

So this is my RIP X reading list! Surely with such a large selection of books, I’ll be able to finish two between now and the end of October, right?

[TSS] The #Bookmail Post

 bookmail

It’s #bookmail time! I don’t often get book mail, but I recently won a couple of giveaways, I’m participating in a book tour at the end of the month and a publisher offered me a book I couldn’t resist. So here they are, in no particular order (or rather, in the order I stacked them in, I guess):

royal weddingMeg Cabot is one of my favourite authors, although I haven’t read anything new by her for a long while—years, actually. I’m not sure why. So when Trish from TLC Book Tours asked me if I wanted to participate in the book tour for Royal Wedding I said, “Yes!!” Trish had some shipping issues on her end—I think she tried to send me the book four times. I’m not sure what happened, but fourth time lucky (and I guess there’s a chance I’ll eventually end up with three more copies as they wander my way from wherever they ended up …).

hungry ghosts

The nice folks over at Simon & Schuster Canada emailed me to see if I’d like a copy of Hungry Ghosts, the third book in Peggy Blair’s Inspector Ramirez series. Know what I love about the publicists over at Simon & Schuster Canada? They seem to have a real feel for my reading tastes; they almost always send books my way that I’m really interested in reading.

Inspector Ramirez is a Cuban police inspector, and the stories in each of the books in the series takes place in both Cuba and Canada. I’ve enjoyed the first two books in the series, and I’m really looking forward to reading this third book.

jonathan strange

I won the book of my choice from Book Depository from Andi earlier this year during Dewey’s Readathon. I had SUCH a hard time choosing, which is why I didn’t receive my prize until just recently. I finally opted for Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell; it’s been in my to-read stacks for ages. I have it in audio, too, so I’m thinking I might try both reading and listening to this one at the same time.

mapmakers children I was SO excited when Kathy (BermudaOnion) told me I’d won the giveaway on her blog for Sarah McCoy’s The Mapmaker’s Children. I’m friends with Sarah on Facebook and we’ve had some delightful chats on Twitter, but I’ve never actually read one of her books. This one sounds like a lovely read—I’ve been on hold at the library for it for quite a while now, and it will be nice to be able to cancel that hold!

So that’s it for my #bookmail. What books have come into your place recently?

[TSS] Breaking Out of My Reading Slump

I’m so happy to report I’ve broken out of my reading slump!

I tried a variety of things suggested in the comments to my Reading Slump post, including reading short stories and graphic novels. And no, not even Nimona, which I both loved but still haven’t finished, helped.

So I kind of let it go. Stopped fretting about the fact that I couldn’t find any book that could engage me for longer than half an hour.

And then? Book club!

I’m a newbie member of a sci-fi and fantasy book club, the result of me making a bookish friend IRL. The first meeting I’ll be attending is this coming Wednesday. And the book we’ll be discussing?

Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris.

elantris

This is one of those whopping big fantasy books, a good 600 plus pages. And on Friday I realized my husband, the former book-reading demon, had already started the book (he’s coming to book club with me) and if I didn’t start reading I might be the only one to show up with the book unread.

So I put aside my upcoming work deadlines yesterday, and plunged in.

I keep forgetting how the best fantasy novels are always page turners, even though they’re often large chunky books with tons of world-building thrown in. Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris is good. I mean, really, really good. I knew this by the end of the second chapter.

I devoured the novel. Last night, at 2:30 a.m. I reluctantly put it down—I’ve been waking up earlier and 2:30 a.m. is now rather late for me. But first thing in the morning? Forget e-mail. Forget all the links and news I like to read on my phone. Forget meditation. I reached for my e-reader and picked up where I’d left off the night before.

I finished the book this afternoon with a deep, satisfied sigh. I’ve heard about Sanderson’s fans asking when he’ll be writing the sequel, and now I know why. I’d LOVE another Elantris novel!

And I’ve now officially busted out of my reading slump. It happened in an unexpected way—I honestly thought I’d be dragging myself through Elantris, trying to get through it before Wednesday night rolled around. Hah! Little did I know.

I’m now on a quest to read more of Brandon Sanderson’s work. And more fantasy, too. The past two years, I’ve mostly been reading mysteries, thrillers and urban fantasies, with the bigger, chunkier fantasies languishing in my TBR, even though I love fantasy novels.

It definitely feels good to be out of that reading slump. And I’ll probably finish Nimona soon, too.

And there’s also the #AtlasRAL over at Book Chatter. I’ve been doing terribly with readalongs the past couple of months, but now that my reading slump is over, I have very high hopes when it comes to my reading!

Newsletters I Love

Back in February I posted about how happy I was that I’d been able to maintain “Inbox Zero” for ten days. Two and a half months later, I’m still able to post that I’ve been maintaining Inbox Zero! Well, more or less. I now keep all email that needs to be acted on or replied to sooner rather than later in my inbox, but everything else gets deleted or filed away.

But here’s the funny thing. As part of getting to Inbox Zero, I’d deleted a whole slew of newsletters that were just junking up my inbox and making more work for me. But a month later, I just ended up replacing those newsletters with a new batch of newsletters.

And I’m loving it!

The main difference? These are newsletters I enjoy reading. Some of them are daily, and yes, I read them every morning. Others come once a week and I read those on the mornings they come in. I thought I’d share with you some of my favourites:

Austin Kleon’s weekly newsletter

Austin Kleon newsletter

Every week, Austin Kleon, the author of Show Your Work and Steal Like an Artist, sends out a newsletter containing a list of 10 things he thinks are worth sharing. There is almost always something in his weekly list I want to click on, and often it’s the kind of click where one thing leads to another and I end up learning a whole lot or getting really inspired. Which is why I really love this newsletter. (I also like Austin Kleon’s books, too.)

Now I Know

Now I Know

The Now I Know newsletter by Dan Lewis arrives in my inbox every morning, and I never know what interesting thing I’m going to discover when I open it. And you don’t just get a well-written piece about something interesting—you also get a bonus fact, which is sometimes even more interesting than the piece itself, a link to a quiz, a related piece from the archives and related links. A few weeks ago, for example, I learned that

The phrase “worth fifty-eight points in Scrabble” is worth fifty-eight points in Scrabble.

Which, by the way, I found interesting enough to tweet!

Daily Science Fiction

Daily Science Fiction

If you like short stories and you’re a fan of science fiction or fantasy, you’ll enjoy the Daily Science Fiction newsletter, which gets delivered to your inbox every weekday. Despite its name, the stories are a mix of science fiction and fantasy, and since they’re flash fiction, they’re quick reads. The quality of the stories is high (they’re a paying market, and are on the list of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s markets which qualify writers for membership in SFWA) and opening this newsletter is definitely an enjoyable way to start the weekday.

Do you have a newsletter you can’t wait to receive in your inbox?

[TSS] Bookish Bliss: The Benefits of Having a "Books Read" Goal

I had an unbelievable reading week, considering I’m still working on all the deadlines. I’ve discovered that setting a “books read” goal and then keeping track of that goal in a spreadsheet does wonders for any reading ennui I might be feeling.

Yes, apparently I am one who is easily motivated by the thought of adding another book to the spreadsheet.

And because of my “books read” goal, I’ve been finding bits of time in which to read – instead of doing what I used to do, which was wait until I had a nice big chunk of time. Instead, I’ve been dipping in and out of books, reading during breaks from work, reading in the ten or fifteen minutes before going to bed, reading when I’m waiting for Dylan to finish dance class – and astonishingly, all those bits of time have added up to my finishing four books this past week!

Mind you, two of them were graphic novels. I already loved graphic novels before setting my reading goal. I love them even more now.

I think my next book will be:

The Dream Thieves

From everything I’ve heard, The Dream Thieves is a great sequel, and I’m excited, too, that I also have Blue Lily, Lily Blue waiting for me too.

These are the books I read in the past week (and another surprise: none of them are in audio!):

daughter of smoke and bone

Daughter of Smoke & Bone: Such a marvellous read. I don’t know why it took me so long to get to it, but I’m glad I finally did.

days of blood & starlight

Days of Blood & Starlight. Luckily I had book two in the trilogy, so as soon as I finished Daughter of Smoke & Bone, I turned immediately to Days of Blood & Starlight. This one was so eventful, I had to stop about two-thirds of the way through to take a breather.

During this breather, I picked up: The unwritten volume 3 The Unwritten: Dead Man’s Knock, Volume 3 of The Unwritten series. Lovely to be back in the Tommy Taylor world. I finished this one and then went back to Days of Blood & Starlight, and when I read breathlessly to the ending, I decided to pick up the next volume of The Unwritten. Leviathan The Unwritten: Leviathan, Volume 4 of The Unwritten series.

Fingers crossed here that next week will be another great reading week for me!

Snapshot: January 20, 2015

Time: 4:58 pm

Wearing: Black pants, black short-sleeved top, black cardigan (I detect a theme going on here).

Feeling: Tired. A little stressed. (This one’s a recurring theme …)

Eating: Maple pork breakfast sausages

Drinking: Green tea followed by two decaf hazelnut coffees

Reading: I finished two books yesterday!

First was The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll. Since I’ve been busy, I’ve been trying to read a bit from it every day, so it’s taken me a while to finish it. I turned to the last page and said, “wow”, because I hadn’t expected that last paragraph. This is an older book – published in 1980 – and it’s kind of surreal and quirky. I enjoyed it, and will definitely read more of Carroll’s work.

The second book was Saga, Volume 1. When I finished The Land of Laughs, it was around midnight, and I decided to keep reading Saga until I finished it. It was so good! I can hardly wait until I get volume 2.

Listening: I’m still listening to The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, but I’m at the part where he’s talking about different technology you can use to automate your life. This is the expanded edition, published in 2009, I think, and a lot of the programs he’s talking about are on the obsolete side. So I may just fast forward to the next chapter to see.

Writing: I’m mostly finished with the first draft of Lakeview Legacy – there are several scenes from a secondary storyline that I added that need to be written, but I need to sit down and brainstorm those scenes before I can write them. So three days ago I started making lists for the new mystery I’ll be writing next. The brainstorming’s been going well – I stretch myself by making myself list 100 points for each topic I’m considering. Today I’ll be working on motives.

It does feel odd not to be adding a word count to my word count tracker. I’ve been putting in a “B” instead, to indicate I’ve been brainstorming and planning.

Working: Still working through a slew of indexing deadlines, across a variety of subjects, plus I have two articles due tomorrow.

Creating: I’ve been working slowly but surely on a doodle quote. I figure if I add a little to it every day, I can still say I’m being #creativeeveryday, right?

Photo of the week: I was really too busy this past week to take too many photos. If I had to pick, I guess it would be this one of Creeper making himself very comfortable on Dylan’s laptop, while Dylan’s trying to play a game. He’s so comfortable, he’s napping!

Creeper on laptop

Discoveries: When I’m busy, it’s more of a struggle thinking up a blog post topic. Even the stash of ideas I started back in November, which I added to all through December, feel lacklustre to me. I never realized this connection between getting ideas and being overworked/overwhelmed before!

Looking forward to: February (I think that’s going to be the tune of all of this month’s snapshots). Also looking forward to the decaf Americano I’ll be getting from Starbucks later tonight, when I take Dylan to dance.

The rest of today: I’m taking Dylan to his dance class – I’ll do some writing at Starbucks while I’m waiting – and then back home for more work.

Armchair BEA: Exploring Middle-Grade Novels

ArmchairBEAI’ve never stopped loving children’s books, and have reread my childhood favourites many many times despite having become an adult many many years ago (lots of many’s there!).

Whenever I’m in the library, I always like to include the children’s section in my meanderings through the shelves, and always find at least a handful of middle-grade books to take home with me.

This Armchair BEA topic got me thinking about some of my recent favourites, the middle-grade novels I didn’t grow up with, the ones I discovered when I was already all grown up. And I also realize I’d like to explore the middle-grade range more than I have been – not just being content with whatever I might stumble upon when I have a chance to browse at the library (although that makes me quite contented!) but also searching out the latest middle-grade books, following more middle-grade book bloggers and reading more than just the most recent award winners.

I’ve only just embarked on this new exploration, and expect many delightful finds to come as a result, so my choices below aren’t particularly recent books, although none of them go as far back as my own childhood.

Mysteries

I love a good mystery, and as an adult reading middle-grade novels, it’s not that easy to find a really good middle-grade mystery. Unlike adult mysteries, middle-grade mysteries don’t tackle murder that often. As you expand out into the young adult book world, this changes, but generally speaking the middle-grade mysteries I’ve read have been mostly about robberies, burglaries, and bad guys up to no-good schemes involving burglary and robbery.

A good middle-grade author can, however, take these themes and make them as exciting as the latest Harry Hole mystery by Jo Nesbo. Yes, without any serial killers or deranged murderers. My favourites include the Herculeah Jones mysteries by Betsy Byars and Blue Balliett’s art-themed mysteries (I rave about Balliett’s The Calder Game here.)

Dead Letter

Calder Game

Fantasies

When it comes to fantasies, the middle-grade range continues to offer a fabulous selection. This was true when I was growing up, and the whole fantasy area has exploded since then, with many thanks to JK Rowling and Harry Potter. Two recent favourites of mine are Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Jinx by Sage Blackwood (I reviewed Jinx here). Book 2 of the Jinx series, Jinx’s Magic came out earlier this year, and it’s definitely on my to-read list.

Graveyard Book

Jinx Sage Blackwood

These are my two favourite genres in general, so it’s no surprise I tend to be drawn to middle-grade novels in these genres as well. I am, however, currently reading Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen, a contemporary middle-grade, and I’m enjoying it (it’s on my son’s upcoming Battle of the Books list, and we’re reading it together. It’s not really the type of book I should be reading with my eleven-year-old son, but we’re having fun with it.)

What about you? Do you read a lot of middle-grade novels? Have any must-read titles to recommend to me? I’m looking to add to my middle-grade to-read list, so any help would be appreciated!

Audiobooks on Holiday: Comfort Re-reads for the Drive

I’m off on a weekend trip to Montreal with my sister – it will be a real foodie weekend, and I’m looking forward to good eating and some nice sisterly bonding. My sister and I have never travelled together before, so I’m really looking forward to our weekend away. Plus, she’s an event planner, and as you might expect, everything’s all arranged – room booked, reservations made, market and shopping plans in place!

We’re driving there (I say “we” but of course, I mean my sister’s doing the driving) and while we’ll be doing a lot of chatting along the way, I plan to spend a bit of time listening to audiobooks, too.

After I put together my list of potential listens, I realized I’d selected “Comfort Re-reads”. Which makes sense, because I’ll only be listening sporadically, and I don’t really want to be in the middle of a thriller of a read and have to keep stopping to, you know, be social and talk. But with a comfort re-read, it’s easy to turn the iPod off when necessary, and just as easy to turn it back on and slip right back into where I last left the story.

I seem to be in a real fantasy mood right now, as you can see from my list:

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

My son and I have been listening to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban at night before he goes to bed, which has made me really want to reread the rest of the books in audio – again.  I actually started Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire tonight, while I was packing. It’s a great comfort read, and so nice to be back in the world of Harry Potter.

The Golden Compass

But if I get tired of Harry Potter (okay, not likely to happen but I want to be prepared), next on my list is the first book in the His Dark Materials series: The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman. It’s been a while since I’ve read the series, and I’ve never done them in audio, either. I’m thinking they’ll make a good re-read in audio.

Nine Princes in Amber

My final pick (only three books, I know – but I’m only going away for the weekend!) is a bit problematic. The last time I read Roger Zelazny’s Amber Chronicles was many, many years ago, when I was still in university – as in, pre-kids (and my two oldest are both in university themselves now, so it was really quite a few years ago). I’m not too sure it really counts as a comfort re-read – I suspect, my memory being what it is, it will feel more like an almost new read.

I actually intend to read all the Amber books this year: I recently bought them all in this wonderful omnibus collection:

The Big Book of Amber

The Great Book of Amber contains all ten books in the series; I was thinking I’d get to it this summer, but we’re already halfway through the summer and I haven’t even started yet. So maybe I’ll get started with the audio version of the first book.

Although, I probably won’t, not this weekend!

What about you? When you go on holiday, especially holidays involving road trips, what kind of audiobooks do you like to bring along for the ride?

Review: Jinx, by Sage Blackwood

JinxI first came across Jinx, by Sage Blackwood, when Melissa at Book Nut posted about the state of her TBR pile. The title looked interesting, and when I read the description, I thought, “I’d like to read this!”

In the Urwald, you don’t step off the path. Trolls, werewolves, and butter churn–riding witches lurk amid the clawing branches, eager to swoop up the unwary. Jinx has always feared leaving the path—then he meets the wizard Simon Magnus.

Jinx knows that wizards are evil. But Simon’s kitchen is cozy, and he seems cranky rather than wicked. Staying with him appears to be Jinx’s safest, and perhaps only, option. As Jinx’s curiosity about magic grows, he learns to listen to the trees as closely as he does to Simon’s unusual visitors. The more Jinx discovers, the more determined he becomes to explore beyond the security of well-trodden paths.

But in the Urwald, a little healthy fear is never out of place, for magic—and magicians—can be as dangerous as the forest. And soon Jinx must decide which is the greater threat.

I’ve always read a lot of middle grade fiction, especially fantasies and mysteries, and for me, the best middle grade reads are the ones that create a rich, complex world with equally rich and complex characters. It’s actually not such an easy thing to achieve with middle grade fiction – authors always have to stay aware of the age group for whom they’re writing but sometimes when they’re too focused on this, it can be to the detriment of the story they’re trying to tell.  Books like Jinx prove that you can stay true to your audience without oversimplifying your narrative and characterizations.

I really enjoyed Jinx. The characters were delightfully real – as conflicted as anyone I know in real life. Jinx, the protagonist, is smart without really knowing how smart he is, smart in a survival-savvy way that was just such a joy to read. I also enjoyed how he stayed uncertain about the adults with whom he engages, waiting until they prove themselves before he makes a decision. Given his background, you really can’t blame him for holding back from really trusting anyone.

And the adults themselves, especially the wizard Simon Magnus, have their own inner conflicts and deal with their own uncertainties. They are perhaps not quite “all good”, in the way that none of us ever can be “all good”, and certainly not infallible.

The story moves along at an engaging pace, and the world of magic that’s revealed is a credible one, firm, solid, despite all the things about it that we – and the characters – don’t know. It’s a beautiful, finely detailed world, but at the same time, there’s so much that’s shrouded in mystery; part of the fun in reading was finding out more about this strange world of Urwald and beyond.

Jinx ends on a cliffhanger-ish type of ending, but this is a cliffhanger done right: we learn the ending to the particular story that we’ve been following, and at the same time, Blackwood entices us with details about what’s to come.

Which is to say, I’m very eager to read the next book in the series, and find out where Jinx’s adventures will take him next!