Clariel

Oh, how quickly resolutions fail. I recently claimed that I was taking a break from YA fiction because I was tired of reading the same bad story over and over again. And yet, here I am reading more young adult novels. However, Clariel by Garth Nix justified my broken resolve.

Clariel

Every now and then we read books that touch a chord in our imaginations that continues to hum the rest of our lives. The books don’t always have to be good on the whole, but something about them, a phrase, an image, a character, remains in our minds long after putting the book down. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, Chalice by Robin McKinley are some of those books for me. Sabriel by Garth Nix also falls into that category.

Sabriel

I don’t remember what made me first read Sabriel but it was, and is, like nothing I’ve read before and I quickly devoured it and the sequel/companion novels Lirael and Abhorsen. I was delighted to see Clariel, a prequel of sorts, on the Young Adult new book shelf at my library recently.

I won’t try to tell much of the plot because it will be difficult to describe without going into too much back story. And while Clariel didn’t quite touch the same chord as Sabriel, it was still far and away better than the majority of what is cluttering the Young Adult genre right now.

I will say this, that Clariel has that rarest of things: a realistic heroine. She isn’t a blank slate for the reader to transpose themselves on to. She acts like the 18 year old that she is. She’s moody, immature and indecisive. She thinks she knows what she wants in life but hasn’t really thought through the ramifications on following through with that plan. And when she is forced into taking a different path than she wanted to, she does so with maturity learned from previous mistakes. It’s also nice to see a main female character whose story doesn’t revolve around finding a man or even developing a romance with the male protagonist. Clariel is, in fact, still as happily single at the end of the book as she was at the beginning. How refreshing!

I know Garth Nix has written other popular series and seems to be a prolific short story writer so I look forward to delving into those, but has any one else read one or all of the Sabriel series? I would love to hear your thoughts on them.

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Advent Time!

ChristmasDecoration

Today is the first of December. Thanksgiving is over (hope it was lovely for all my American friends), the snow is falling on WordPress blogs, and yesterday was the first Sunday of this Advent Season. Which means that it is now socially acceptable to begin celebrating Christmas. Last year I wrote about my love of Advent Calenders after discovering a fantastic online Tolkien Advent calender with the chance to win a personalized Tolkien book collection. I just revisited that site today (tolkienchristmas.com) and it seems to be going again this year. Maybe. There are still clues to answer but no links to little Tolkien treasures like there were last year and I can find no mention of it on the hosting website (tolkien.co.uk). But…it won’t hurt to try right? The good news is that all the links from the calender last year still seem to be working so here’s the link to last year’s treat from today: an illustration by Jemima Catlin.

Father Christmas

Father Christmas

I also mentioned a series of posts on favorite Christmas carols written by Jubliare. Those are also still available to be read and you can begin here with O Magnum Mysterium. (Or read them all thoughtfully compiled here!)

christmascarol

And here’s something new for this year: an Advent Calender from Weta Workshop! (EDIT: I’m afraid that Weta link might be user specific. So if it doesn’t work for you, you can always try and pull it up through their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/WetaWorkshop) It too unlocks a door every night at midnight (New Zealand time) and offers a little treasure for us to enjoy each day until Christmas.

1stAdvent

Does anyone else have any links to other Advent Calenders? I would love to know about them! (Even if they are only pictures of physical ones!)

Ruin and Rising; Or Why I’m Taking a Break from YA Fiction

Oh goodness.

It took me over a month to finish this book. For me, that’s a long time. A reaaalllly long time. Like, I might have read War and Peace in that same amount of time. (Ok, not really, but you get my idea.)

RuinandRising

Ruin and Rising is the third book in a young adult trilogy written by Leigh Bardugo. I read the first two in the series, Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm, last year and was on the fence about whether I liked or disliked the books. Now that I have read Ruin and Rising I can say, with certainty, that I do NOT like this series. At all.

Maybe that’s an over-generalization. There were certain aspects of this series that I liked, particularly the secondary characters. They were funny, smart, likable characters that you were actually interested in reading about. Another thing I liked was the general idea behind the story: certain people in a country/time very similar to Russia in the early 1900’s have the ability to use magic. It’s not magic like Harry Potter magic, but rather a heightened ability to use specific skills. Some of those skills are natural talents like healing, some are a bit more fantastic like controlling weather.

But overall? Gaaawwwwd. You can’t see it but I’m burying my face in my hands just thinking about it. By the middle of this book I hated the main character Alina. HATED her. She’s a paper thin character with no motivation behind her actions and no reasoning behind her decisions. Her mannerisms, thoughts and speech are completely modern but this is definitely not a modern setting. We’re told over and over again how much she’s changed but she doesn’t seem different to me at all. By the end of the book she’s still the whiny, indecisive, teenage girl that she was when the trilogy started. She’s totally unbelievable as a leader and her relationship with Mal ruins this book. They are a terrible couple. Yes, they grew up together and that somehow means that they are the only people capable of understanding each other or something but this was teenage love/angst at its worst. It’s a little pathetic when two characters that were written to be in love with each other have zero chemistry. What makes it even worse is that there was a love interest for Alina that could have redeemed her terribleness as a character. But that didn’t happen. 😦

You might be wondering why I titled this post the way I did. It’s because of Alina. Not Alina specifically but her character type in general. I have gotten so tired of this girl (and it always seem to be a girl). The “unattractive” girl who ends up being the super special one, but she has a such a hard time coming to terms with that fact because she’s always been the wallflower, the plain one, the one with no talents, or whatever. I understand this in general, the desire to see oneself in a character. Most of us (I speak for women here but I imagine it applies to men as well), see ourselves as plain and, frankly, not special. To an extent, this is true. We’re never going to have a grand destiny. We will live our lives in anonymity and die mourned only by our friends and family. There is nothing wrong with this. But it is why books and characters like Harry Potter are so popular. We want to find out that we ARE special, that we are the only ones who can save the world. By now though, it’s been done to death. And the character type has been watered down so much that we now have characters like Alina who thinks that she can’t possibly be the hope of a nation because she’s so plain and scrawny. What her physical appearance has to do with anything I don’t know. But she spends the next three books endlessly debating and second guessing every decision and relationship. A little of this is right and natural, but if you’re expecting me to believe in a character’s growth I’m going to need to see some confidence in their abilities, even if it’s just the teeniest, tiniest bit.

So I’m done with reading young adult fiction… at least until I find something that looks worthwhile. (Suggestions are always welcome!!)

Brian K. Vaughan

About this time last year I discovered a really interesting new graphic novel called Saga written by Brian K. Vaughan. The third volume recently came out and, as I’ve enjoyed the series so far, I decided to see what else we have in our system by Vaughan. Three series looked promising so I’ve begun reading them all. Here are my thoughts, from worst to best.

Y: The Last Man

YLastManCoverI heard about this comic several years ago when it first came out. It sounded like it could be a worthwhile read. Something has killed every male human and animal on the Earth, except for Yorick and his pet monkey Ampersand. There’s a lot of mystery in this story since it’s unknown why all the males died simultaneously. There are a couple of story lines going on, including one with Israeli military leaders. But… it’s really not that good. Yorick is a fine main character- he’s a pretty generic male character and very American. Maybe he grows a bit in further issues but so far, if he’s the sole hope of the human race, well, we won’t be lasting long. It’s also frustrating to see so many stereotypes. For example, all the men die, so naturally a group of militant feminists called the Amazons come into power and then spend the majority of their time and resources tracking down Yorick. Seriously? Am I really expected to believe that if men essentially ceased to exist, women like that would still be intent on trying to destroy the last remaining male? No. No, they wouldn’t because that would be stupid and wasteful and self destructive. My library only owns the first book and I won’t be making any attempts to find further issues. It’s an interesting premise that hasn’t been executed well so….on to better things.

Runaways

RunawaysCoverA group of teenagers accidentally find out their parents are super villains and members of The Pride. The first book deals with the fallout of this discovery and the realization that the teens are just as powerful as their parents. It’s light, it’s fun, and it’s a different take on superheros. Granted, I’ve only read the first book and I’m certain it gets more serious as the series progresses but it looks like it could be an interesting and unusual take on the standard superhero origin story with a fun teenage rebellion spin to make things really interesting. Side note: as a Marvel story, this seems to take place in the same universe as the Avengers. They’ve been hinted at already and I’m wondering if they come into play later on.

Saga

SagaCoverAlana and Marko are soldiers from the opposite sides of a war that’s been going on for decades. The war is no longer being fought on their homeworlds and has instead been outsourced to planets across the galaxy spreading death and destruction. Alana and Marko have fallen in love and given birth to a mixed race baby. This has caused panic among the higher powers and bounty hunters have been sent to find and destroy the couple and their baby. There are several side stories about the people searching for them and the people who help them. I’m only three books in but there have been several additions and subtractions to the main core of characters as well. Apparently, Vaughan can be very Martin-esque (George R. R., that is) in his willingness to kill off characters, so you’ve been warned. The art is beautiful, the story is engaging, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where this story goes and who this little baby turns out to be. Disclaimer: the series has well earned its Mature rating. There’s sex, violence, and nudity, and while it is graphic, I don’t feel that it is gratuitous.

Is anybody else a fan of one or more of these series?

Remembering Ray Bradbury

Today would have been Ray Bradbury’s 94th birthday. In honor of that, I’m reposting what I wrote on his death 2 years ago.

 

I’m a reader. And a librarian. Books are a very important and beloved part of my life. I have my favorite books and there are a handful of authors that I will always read because I know they consistently put out good material. Ray Bradbury, though, was the best. None of my other favorites could even compare. So this morning when I read that Ray Bradbury had died at the age of 91, I felt almost as heartbroken as if I had lost a dearly loved family member.

I was first introduced to Ray Bradbury when I was in the sixth grade. We had to do a book report so we all went to the school library one class period to look for books. I was browsing along, when my teacher, who happened to be next to me, pulls down a copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes, turns to me and says “I think you would like this one, Mary”. The cover was pretty amazing (see above) so I checked it out. My final book report was not very good but I fell in love with the book and the author. For the next several years, every time I entered a library I would always check the shelf to see if there was anything there by Bradbury that I hadn’t read yet. (Actually, I still do that. In libraries and book stores.)  I don’t know how that teacher knew that I would love Bradbury but I’m eternally grateful to her for directing me to him.

There is so much out there about Ray Bradbury that I don’t really feel the need to talk much about him. His official website is always a good place to start though, if you’re wanting more information. Or if you want a good introduction to his writing try his large collection of short stories (which have always been stronger than his novels in my opinion). His short stories, his novels, his plays, screenplays, tv shows, poems, essays. I love them all. Equally at home writing about Mars or small town Illinois, Bradbury had a range unlike any other author. I wish I could do justice to this incredible man, but I can’t. So I will continue to read his books and his stories and be grateful for the man that had such a long, full life and contributed so much to my life through his writing.

One of my favorite book flap pictures of Ray Bradbury.

Rest In Peace, Ray Bradbury.

The Journal of Mythic Arts

I love stumbling on things that seem like they were tailor made for my particular interests. Things like this: The Journal of Mythic Arts.

It’s not publishing new content anymore but the material they have will stay there so people like me can read through it at their leisure. And there are some very interesting articles on the site.

There’s a nonfiction section, that has articles like “Baba Yaga in Film” and “A Rune with a View“.

There’s a poetry section, that has poems from Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman.

There’s an art and mixed media section (oh joy!), with articles such as “On Pre-Raphaelites, Then and Now” and “From Fairy Tales to Fantasia: The Art of Kay Nielsen” (all with lots of lovely examples).

And perhaps most dangerously of all there are several reading lists provided, one for mythic fiction and one for fairy tale fiction. Each article also has a further reading list at the end (like I don’t have enough to read already!).

I see many happy days ahead, poring over the articles on this website.

The Magicians on Syfy

Exciting news!

I’m a big fan of Lev Grossman’s books The Magicians and The Magician King. They’re both really wonderful, dark books and take an adult look at some of children’s fantasy favorite topics (learning magic, traveling to other worlds). As The Magician King ended with somewhat of a cliffhanger (kind of?), I’ve been looking forward to the release of the third book in the trilogy for some time. And I found out recently that it’s coming! The Magician’s Land will be officially released on August 5 and is already available for pre-ordering on Amazon.

TheMagiciansLand

In additional really good news related to the Magicians trilogy, the first book, The Magicians, has been picked up by Syfy to make a series. Hooray! Apparently this has happened before with Fox and nothing really came of it but this time it seems pretty serious. So here’s hoping! This could be a great show if done well. Read the article on acquiring the pilot here.

And if you haven’t yet, you might try and get your hands on a copy of Grossman’s short story “The Girl in the Mirror”. I’m sure it won’t be necessary to enjoying the plot of the The Magician’s Land, but extra back story never hurts, right? I know it can be found in the Dangerous Women compilation of stories edited by George R. R. Martin, which is full of stories from other fantastic authors. Check your library for it!

And it never hurts to add: Lev Grossman is very active on twitter and always posts information there for his fans. He’s worth following.