My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult

My mum told me to read this.  I love my darling mum.  She must never, never, never become sick.  And neither must my father or any of my sisters.  They must stay in perfect health until they are very, very old, and then I will accept that as part of the circle of life they must die peacefully in their sleep after first ringing me up to say a satisfactory goodbye.

That is the plan.  Deviance will not be tolerated.

I really don’t like thinking about my family members dying.  Because of Jodi Picoult, I thought about it a lot last night when I was finishing up My Sister’s Keeper, and so I cried and cried and cried and cried until I fell asleep.  (I was very tired; when my alarm went off, I was dreaming about hanging out with Social Sister, and she said, “Don’t listen to that stupid news guy!  Let’s watch The Office,” and I said, “No, no, I have to wake up,” and she said, “Let’s watch Buffy!  Hey, let’s get pizza from Papa Murphy’s and have a great big Buffy and Angel marathon!” and I said, “But my alarm is going off,” and she said, “Oh, I forgot to tell you!  Anna Banana’s in town!  We can all three eat pizza and watch Buffy and Angel together!  Just like old times!”  And then I realized what my subconscious was trying to do, and I think it was a pretty cheap trick, frankly, pretending that my much-missed sister was back in town just to keep me asleep.)

Er, but back to Ms. Picoult’s book.  It’s all about a girl called Anna (hmph) who was conceived in order to be a donor for her older sister Kate, who has a particularly virulent form of leukemia; she has donated various body parts her whole life and is now (she’s thirteen) being asked for a kidney.  So she goes to a lawyer and asks him to represent her so that she can become medically emancipated from her parents and make her own decisions about her kidneys.  And quite rightly.

The story’s told from the viewpoints of all the involved parties – Anna, each of her parents, her older brother Jesse, the lawyer in question (Campbell Alexander), and her appointed guardian ad litem (Julia Romano, who has a History with Campbell Alexander).  I was surprised by how naturally Jodi Picoult writes; everything flows much more nicely than I was expecting, and the characters are all sympathetic.  I started reading this because I stopped by my parents’ house to tell my parents some good news and then we decided to go get dinner to celebrate but we couldn’t go until six and I didn’t have The Hills at Home with me so I swiped this from Mumsy and read it instead.  I read it for an hour there, and then when we were done with dinner, I washed my hair and read it until I was done.  In spite of being very tired.  So it is a good book, and a most absorbing read.

However – spoilers to follow – there were a few things I thought were a bit device-y.  Namely, the whole plotline with Campbell Alexander’s top-secret medical condition that caused him to break up with Julia even though he truly, truly loved her.  That felt contrived.  I mean, I’m not necessarily against those hurt-them-to-save-them plotlines, as long as you’re saving them from, I don’t know, getting shot, or eaten by you in werewolf form.  In this case he didn’t want her to have to stop being a free spirit – which even then wouldn’t have been so bad (because young people are stupid and do dramatic gesture things), but it got made into this big mystery that you’re wondering about all through the book.  (I mean, I wasn’t – I checked the end – but other people might have been.)  And it’s a bit soapy – the rest of the book is all with the tension and the moral dilemmas, and this plotline took away from that.

Okay, and can we discuss the end for a second?  I knew the ending before I started reading, because my mother told me, but I still felt cheated once I got there.  Here you have this book all about making choices and living with the consequences, about a kid whose life has been eaten up by the needs of her sick sibling and her struggles to form an independent identity, and then at the moment of victory, she dies and they take her kidney after all?  Oh, it was so unfair to the rest of the book.  The natural end to this book is, Kate dies.  Of course she dies!  Anna doesn’t donate the kidney, and Kate dies; Anna does donate the kidney, and Kate dies anyway; they find another donor and for a while it’s a miracle but then Kate dies anyway.  Grrr.

Gentlemen and Players, Joanne Harris

Recommended by actually a number of book blogs – A Reader’s Journal and the other Jenny Claire from my lovely home state both reviewed it well.  I’ve been putting off reading this because I didn’t like Chocolat at all – I thought the film was better.  A terrifying and rare thing for me to say, and I generally only say it about The Princess Bride and Cold Comfort Farm; my opinion swayed in the latter case by how adorable I think Kate Beckinsale is, and how all the jokes surprised me in the film but not in the book, which I read subsequently.

However, I eventually decided to check this out when I discovered it was all about someone secretly trying to bring down a British public school.  It made me think of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, which I enjoyed very much, and besides British schoolchildren fascinate me with their dreadfulness.  How can they be so dreadful?  And I discovered I like this quite a lot more than Chocolat, all the nasty revenge things that went on, and Roy Straitley’s rude Latin asides (hurrah for Latin! the Latin teacher was the cleverest!).

I will now commence to spoil everything, so stop reading if you don’t wish to be spoiled.

You get alternating points of view of Roy Straitley, the old and venerable Latin teacher at St. Oswald’s, an old British public boys’ school that is snobby and unassailable, and one of the new teachers at St. Oswald’s, once unhappily a regular school kid looking in from the borders of St. Oswald’s, now back to seek reeeee-venge against everyone, everyone, everyone at St. Oswald’s.  It’s all very cunning and insinuating.  You think it’s Chris Keane all along, but in the end it turns out it’s a girl! Who pretended to be a boy when she was younger so she could sneak into St. Oswald’s and pretend to go there!

I don’t know how well this worked.  I didn’t know she was a girl until the end.  It sort of spoiled the book for me – when the new teachers first showed up, I thought, Well, obviously she’s suggesting it’s Keane, I’ll just skip to the end and discover whether it is really someone else, and I glanced at the end of one of the closing chapters, and someone said “KEANE?” in shocked tones right at the end of the chapter, and I assumed that that meant yes, Keane was the perpetrator of these wicked crimes.  It made me feel very fond of Joanne Harris, as I thought she was putting all the fun into how and why things were being done, rather than by whom.  Which is what I prefer anyway, when you know who did it, you can catch how and why straight along as you’re reading through.  But I didn’t get to have the fun of doing that.  I felt sad and let down when I got to the end and all was revealed.  Pooh.

But I enjoyed all the wicked things she did to everyone.  I did think the sex scandals were a little uninventive – it would have been more fun if she had managed to implicate maybe one or two people with the suggestion of pedophilia and then done something completely different for the others.  And, as I say, I was pleased that the Latin teacher was cleverest of all.  Up with Latin!

All in all, fun and engaging, and maybe sometime when I get over being cross with Joanne Harris for tricking me I will read it again and see how well I feel her twist-at-the-end I’m-really-a-girl device worked.  At the moment I think it was a little cheaty, but since I didn’t know throughout the entire book, I can’t really say.

Eleanor Rigby, Douglas Coupland

Well, wow.

Looking back at my reference page, I apparently read about Eleanor Rigby first over at an adventure in reading, but I don’t remember that.  I actually picked this up at the library as a substitute for Hey Nostradamus!, of which I liked the title and the cover when I saw it in audiobook form at Bongs & Noodles.

I have such a love-hate relationship with new authors.  On one hand, I desperately want them to be my Next Big Discovery; on the other hand, I know that Next Big Discovery people almost always disappoint, generally around the third book you read.  I loved Midnight’s Children and The Ground Beneath Her Feet but Fury and Shame I hated; I loved Keturah and Lord Death and The Dollmage but I didn’t care for Heck Finder. Und so weiter und so fort.  It’s a pattern and it’s always a massive letdown.

Eleanor Rigby is about a woman called Liz Dunn who is lonely and sad.

The Liz Dunns of this world tend to get married, and then twenty-three months after their wedding and the birth of their first child they establish sensible, lower-maintenance hairdos that last them forever.  Liz Dunns take classes in croissant baking, and would rather chew on soccer balls than deny their children muesli.  They own one sex toy, plus one cowboy fantasy that accompanies its use.  No, not a cowboy – more like a guy who builds decks – expensive designer decks with built-in multi-faucet spas – a guy who would take hours, if necessary, to help such a Liz find the right colour of grout for the guest-room tile reno.

I am a traitor to my name.

Speaking as someone whose first college roommate was a Liz Dunn, this is most exactly correct.  This Liz Dunn is terribly lonely, and then one day someone contacts her about a kid called Jeremy who’s in the hospital and lists her as his emergency contact.  Turns out, he’s the son she gave up for adoption when she was sixteen.  He has multiple sclerosis and can sing songs backwards, and he comes to live with her.  And everything changes then.

I didn’t expect to like this book at all.  I was attracted to the cover of Hey Nostradamus and at the same time I felt sure I wasn’t going to like Douglas Coupland.  I got out Eleanor Rigby so that I could read it, hate it, and give up on Douglas Coupland forever.  And when I ascertained that Jeremy was her dying son, and that he had visions when he didn’t take his meds, I was dead certain I wasn’t going to like it.  I am not a fan of crazy religious people books, which creep me out; or of alienated narrator books, which irritate me.

(Enderby, Holden Caulfield, Ignatius J. Reilly?  You guys can STUFF IT.)

But I really, really liked Eleanor Rigby.  I liked it as soon as the narrator said she had once read that for every person currently alive on earth, there have only been nineteen dead people who lived before us.  And I didn’t mind the visions any more than I minded them in Angels in America (which is to say, not at all).  This book was excellent and I am tentatively thrilled because it is a) one of several books this man has written; and b) a grown-up book, which is always good because my mum says that one day she just stopped liking children’s books, and I’m terrified that that’s going to happen to me soon and I’ll have nothing left to read because the majority of my books are children’s books; and c) written by a man, which is nice because most of my favorite books are by women and I don’t like feeling like a sexist reader.  I liked this book so much that I feel completely guilty for saying earlier that I only liked it with reservations and it wasn’t going to be one of my favorite books.  I only said that because of the visions thing!  Turns out, I like it without reservations (except maybe the end was a little too tidy – when you think of it – but it didn’t feel too tidy when I was reading it, at all).

My mum and I worked out the other day that reading the first of a number of books by the same person rates quite high on the hedonic calculus – intensity is good (nothing like getting properly lost in a book), duration is good because books go on for a while and if an author has written several they all go on for a while; certainty or uncertainty is a little shaky, particularly for me, but generally good because I am at least certain that other books exist; propinquity is good because you have the book right there with you; fecundity is good because, obviously, liking one will lead to reading another; purity is good during because you’re focused on the book and not on the future; and extent is good if you know other people who trust your book recommendations.  I’m about to bring this one over to my mother, because she nearly always reads what I tell her she should read.

Something to consider: Reading the first book of an author you like is a better all-round pleasure than sex, which fails on extent and is less good on duration (unless it’s an extremely short book or you have lots and lots of stamina).  Don’t blame me, talk to Jeremy Bentham.

I don’t know how to explain the qualities about Eleanor Rigby that I liked.  The more I think of it, the more I like it.  It made me want to go do something – do you ever get that feeling after you read a book?  Like reading the book was a massive cosmic nudge?  And now sitting in your comfy papasan chair and reading some of the other books you have out of the library is no longer an adequate activity?  So I’m off to write some more random bits of my stature story until it turns into something more coherent; and when I’ve done that for a bit, I will bring this book over to my mother to read.  And I will try not to get my hopes up too high about Douglas Coupland.

I had always thought that a person born blind and given sight later on in life through the miracles of modern medicine would feel reborn.  Just imagine looking at our world with brand new eyes, everything fresh, covered with dew and charged with beauty – pale skin and yellow daffodils, boiled lobsters and a full moon.  And yet I’ve read books that tell me this isn’t the way newly created vision plays out in real life.  Gifted with sight, previously blind patients become frightened or confused.  They can’t make sense of shape or colour or depth.  Everything shocks, and nothing brings solace…

In the end, those gifted with new eyesight tend to retreat into their own worlds.  Some beg to be made blind again, yet when they consider it further, they hesitate, and realize they’re unable to surrender their sight.  Bad visions are better than no visions.

I wonder if that’s true.

City of Bones, Cassandra Clare; or, I apparently think Oscar Wilde had the werewolf gene

Recommended by: Darla at Books and other thoughts

Many spoilers to follow, but you can probably guess them while you’re reading anyway.

City of Bones is all about a girl called Clary who witnesses a most unpleasant murder and gets drawn into the wild and wacky world of demon-slaying.  Turns out her mother used to be a demon-slaying badass chick, but left that life to pursue normalcy as a single mum.  Clary has a steamy crush on one of the demon-hunters, Jace, and they have banter and sexual tension; there’s a wicked guy called Valentine (it was hardcore with the three-syllable names in this book, incidentally: Jocelyn, Clarissa, Jonathan Christopher, Isabelle, Valentine, Lucian.  Damn.  Apparently in the world of demon-slaying you must have a three-syllable name or be doomed to blandness.) who wants to murder children and rid the world of even the niceish half-demon hybrids like werewolves and vampires; and the quiet, sensitive (two-syllable name) guy is gay.

I don’t know if this was the most predictable book of all time, or if I was seriously clever while reading it.  I think it was a fairly predictable book and I was a teeny bit clever while reading it.  Because I guessed every single plot point in this whole entire book.  And with a sense of dismay and resignation at the inevitability of it all.  It was like this one time I was taking a practice GRE English Subject test for fun (don’t judge), and there was a section where you had to say what book each passage came from, right?  I looked down at one passage and saw the word “swain”, and I immediately felt very resigned and thought, “Oh, Lycidas.”  I don’t know why (though I was quite right) I should have known this, particularly from the word swain, since I read Lycidas once two years ago and thought it was tiresome.

Well, City of Bones was much like that.  Like when nobody said anything about Jace’s real name?  I was all, Oh, he’s her brother.  J.C.  Cute, and could not one bit support their romance because I was too busy being squiffed out by how dismayed they were going to feel upon discovering they were siblings.  And when Hodge told her about his curse, being confined to the Institute?  I knew straight away he was a vile betrayer.  And when I got to the bit at the end where it’s revealed that Valentine is Jace’s and Clary’s father, I sort of thought, Well, yeah, we’ve known that all along.  But then I glanced back through the book and realized that no, we hadn’t.

Never mind all that.  Here is the strange bit.  Clary has a substitute father-figure called Luke, and she’s eavesdropping on a conversation Luke’s having with the bad guys, and they call him Lucian.  I immediately thought, Oh, okay, he’s a werewolf then.  Which, you know, as a deductive process – that doesn’t make any sense.  They’d hardly mentioned werewolves at all up to that point, there hadn’t been any clever hints about the full moon, yet indeed it proved that he was a werewolf.  I did a mental census in my head of Lucians I can think of, and here are the results:

Lucian the Greek satirist.  I don’t know anything about him except he did satire and was from Assyria or Akkadia or something else with an A.  I never took Greek, so if he wrote about werewolves, I don’t know about it.

Lucien the librarian from The Sandman.  Nothing there.  Man doesn’t look a bit like a wolf.

Lucian Holland, son of Merlin Holland, son of Vyvyan (yes, really – that’s what happens when Oscar Wilde gets to name you; the other kid was named Cyril) Holland, younger son of Oscar Wilde.  This one seems the most likely for associations, to be honest, since I forgot the librarian’s name was Lucien until I was buying books online yesterday evening, and since I have never read the Greek satirist.  Evidently my brain believes that Oscar Wilde’s great-grandson is a werewolf.  Who knew?

City of Bones wasn’t terrible.  It wasn’t well-written, and the story wasn’t very original, but it was interesting enough for me to either get the next two out of the library any time I happen to see them there, or to read their Wikipedia entries to find out what happens.  Possibly both.  And it was funny in bits, but not that funny.  So oh well.

As a sidenote, I was enchanted when Clary made reference to a button she had that said Still Not King – I remember those!  Turns out it’s the same woman – she wrote the Very Secret Diaries and now City of Bones.  Thinking about the Very Secret Diaries snaps me right back to high school, when all those movies were just coming out, and how tim found that thing about Legolas Greenleaf, he da man, and made it into a haiku:

When you ask “Who da
man?” I say wit’ conviction,
“Legolas da man.”

And how we all went to see Fellowship in a massive group and my friend cried and cried and cried and cried after Boromir’s death, and I felt concerned that her wracking sobs were preventing her from enjoying the touching Frodo-Sam scene, so I whispered a number of consoling things about what a jerk Boromir was anyway and how we would assuredly see him in flashbacks, before she managed to convey to me through her tears that she was weeping hysterically for joy at Frodo and Sam’s beautiful friendship.  And how Nezabeth and I watched this one bit of the Fellowship extras DVD every time we felt depressed about our Logic homework, this one bit where Viggo Mortensen told a story about his boat and the body double for Frodo.

Mm.  Nostalgia.

Still Life with Woodpecker, Tom Robbins

Everybody loves Tom Robbins.  Most notably, my sister loves Tom Robbins and keeps telling my mum and me to read Tom Robbins.  So I was at the library, and I was near the Rs, and I grabbed Still Life with Woodpecker in order to experience the joy.  I read it as part of my new plan of reading a book while I am walking to work in the morning.  Initially I had a hard time concentrating on Still Life with Woodpecker as I was very busy with the following process: 1) holding imaginary arguments with my mother about the dangers of combining these two all-round-good activities into one massively; then 2) spotting squirrels and birds and anthills and other walking/biking/skateboarding people in plenty of time to steer around them as proof that I am excellent at reading while walking yet still remaining attentive to my surroundings; before finally 3) coming to a grudging compromise whereby I only read during the stretches of walking that are sidewalks (so no cars) in full view of the busy streets nearby.

Once I got properly started reading Still Life with Woodpecker, I discovered that Tom Robbins is simply not my thing.  I believe he’s one of those writers like Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, those writers that everyone says are incredibly hilarious, but then when I read their books I maybe smile twice the entire time.  And these writers annoy me a bit.  Well, not Douglas Adams – I mean I don’t care for his books so much but he’s written some quite funny essays like that one about the airline cookie packet and how another dude has this exact same story but with no punchline.  But their books, yes.  I think this sort of totally random humor – it’s a fish that translates, she’s a princess in Seattle – is simply not my kind of humor.

Though I like Monty Python quite a lot.  Maybe visual gags are more effective?  I don’t know.  All I know is that I find all three of these writers – Pratchett, Adams, and Robbins – far too conscious of being funny, for me to actually think that they are funny.   Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog) teetered on the edge of this, but it succeeded in being funnier than Still Life with Woodpecker, so I didn’t mind as much (but I will never buy it even though it was funny, because it just wasn’t funny enough).

In sum, I was too irritated with Tom Robbins trying to be funny to finish this book.  Life is too short to read books that irritate but do not amuse.

Since I constantly argue with imaginary critics (they are all me; I am very critical of myself and my motives), I anticipated the possible argument that I had deprived myself of a positive reading experience by reading it only while walking to work, something I had not tried before and something it might prove I do not enjoy.  It could also be argued that I did not expect to like Tom Robbins and thus may have disliked him only in a self-fulfilling prophecy sort of way.  To still these concerns and ensure that my judgment was unclouded by such considerations, I read Eleanor Rigby on the way to work this morning, and on the way back this afternoon.  I was also not expecting to like Douglas Coupland, but I am rather liking Eleanor Rigby so far (with reservations) (it won’t be my favorite book ever but I am definitely not planning to not finish it).  So there you go.  I have given Tom Robbins a fair try and found him wanting.

Disturbances in the Field, Lynne Sharon Schwartz

I read about this on this blog here, and I’ve been reading it off and on for the last week and a half.  It’s very sad.  Very, very, very, very sad.  It’s a very woeful book.  It’s all about a woman called Lydia and her life in college and then her married life and her children.  I’ll just go ahead and spoil this for you: Two of them die, the younger two, the two she raised to tothood without massive travail and struggle.  And that’s part of the thing that threads through the entire book – you know from the beginning that there’s something that’s going to be very wrong, but you don’t find out until the middle that the kids die.

(At least I don’t think you do.  I read the end as soon as I got the something-wrong sense, so I knew straight along that the two younger kids were going to die, so maybe it was mentioned in the earlier bits of the book.)

For a book that goes at such a leisurely pace, I found this rather gripping.  I didn’t feel desperately compelled to pick it up frequently – obviously, since I read about six books in between starting this and finishing it – but when I was reading it, I didn’t want to put it down again.  It was interesting how the thread of her children’s death went through the entire book even before it happened, alongside the music and philosophy thing.

Speaking of the philosophy thing, I was charmed by the hedonic calculus, to the point that I can remember all seven of the parameters – Intensity, Duration, Certainty or Uncertainty, Propinquity, Fecundity, Purity, and Extent – by which you can measure pleasure.  I am a big fan of measuring things, and now every time I enjoy something I keep pausing and measuring it by Bentham’s calculus in my head.  Eating rugelach doesn’t do well, but eating dinner with my family does.  Which I suppose is about what you’d expect, no matter how much you like rugelach, and I like rugelach a lot.  Oh, and I also was pleased that George mentioned how Oscar Wilde sunk his ship talking about a boy being ugly.  Because I remember that happening, and every time I read Irish Peacock and Scarlet Marquess – I am admitting myself to be such a tremendous Oscar Wilde dork here – every time I read it, anyway, I see that moment coming and I want to get in a time machine and find Oscar Wilde and say, DO NOT SAY IT.  It’s like watching a trainwreck, and I always, always, always think of that story that Vyvyan tells about his father crying in France.  And I feel so sad for everyone, for Oscar Wilde and for all his friends and for the two boys, Cyril proving his masculinity and dying in the war, Vyvyan collecting scraps of articles about queer people being persecuted.  They hurt my heart.

…Yeah, I don’t know how often I’ve mentioned it here, but I know many, many facts about Oscar Wilde.  When I still planned to write a thesis, I was going to write it on Oscar Wilde – the changes in his literary and personal reputation from 1890 to 1930, a time period mainly chosen so I could include Bosie’s dreadful biographies and the incredibly hilarious Pemberton-Billing trial.  I check indexes for Oscar Wilde’s name, I put stars in syllabuses next to his birthday (I did do – now I don’t do that anymore because of not having any syllabuses), I like October because he was born in it, I have lots of strong feelings about people nobody’s heard of because of how they treated Oscar Wilde…

This has been a bit of a derailing time.  Back to Disturbances in the Field.  I won’t ever read it again, because it was incredibly sad, and I don’t deal well with stories about people handling their grief badly.  It’s a token of how good this book was that I was able to keep reading at all – it’s just that Ms. Schwartz has this remarkable trick of writing things that makes them pop out at you.  Random things, little things, like how she wrote about this day that Lydia spends at the beach with her sister.  I don’t know what it was, but I felt like I was back vacationing at Wells Beach in Maine, which is where my family went every summer.

Good book.  Very, very, very, very sad.  I mean the kind of sad where I almost tossed it back in my library bag, and please appreciate that I virtually never do this, and that the library was closed so I have no new books to read if I don’t read the ones I’ve got, and I have to distract myself for the next two weeks while I wait for The Graveyard Book.  If I had kids, I know I wouldn’t have finished this book.  But I’m glad I read it.

Disappointing

This is what happens when you get books at charity shops.  You are swept away by their cheapness and the feeling that you are doing a good deed, and in the end you have more books than you need (I’m kidding; that’s impossible – I mean, of course, you have the wrong books), and must find a way to get rid of the books with discretion and courtesy.

I bought The Wizard of Earthsea in small, crappy hardback form, and I really had to force myself to finish it.  My mother and sister have always said it’s so, so good, and all my life I’ve felt this strange certainty that I wouldn’t like it.  But they had it at the charity bookshop, and I thought, hey, I’m probably just being close-minded like I was about The Three Musketeers and Inherit the Wind and Salman Rushdie, so I went ahead and got it, and I read it, and ugh, I didn’t like it one bit.  The main character was tiresome and nothing fun ever happened.  I mean if you’re going to be super duper powerful, something fun should happen sometime.  But nothing ever did.  So much for Ursula K. Le Guin and her seminal fantasy book.

I also got From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which was on my list of books I really needed to buy in order for my book collection to be halfway acceptable.  And I saw Journey to an 800 Number, and when I first glanced at the spine I thought it was The View from Saturday which I also love.  When it turned out not to be The View from Saturday, I got it anyway because I figured I like three of E.L. Konigsburg’s books and maybe I would like more of them.  (The book that put me off her was Silent to the Bone.  I found it deeply creepy and upsetting, which may have been more to do with the personal stuff in my life that was happening when I read it, but after that I never read another new book by her.)  I didn’t care for this one, however.  It wasn’t bad, not creepy like Silent to the Bone, but it was a bit bland – not vivid the way Jennifer, Hecate, etc was, and not charming like Mrs Frankweiler and The View from Saturday.

I’m finishing up Disturbances in the Field.  Thoughts on that to follow shortly.

Victory of Eagles, Naomi Novik

For some reason I had it in my head that this was going to be the last of the Temeraire series.  Not really sure why I thought that – evidently Ms. Novik plans to have probably nine of them before she’s done.  She must have many, many facts in her brain to want to write so many books (even though she’s now ditched history entirely).

Yes, at this point she has abandoned real history in favor of stuff that’s more fun, which, hey, I’m completely fine with.  It would be silly to accept dragons and then complain that Napoleon had invaded London, so I have no complaints about Napoleon invading London.  Unless he starts tearing down things that I like, or doing something wicked on the area that will someday grow into the South Bank, my favorite bit of the world.

I enjoyed this book nearly as much as I did the first one.  Temeraire’s a point-of-view character now, off and on, which was fun given how cute Temeraire has always been.  He’s a mighty community organizer dragon these days, organizing the breeding ground dragons into a bunch of fighters for fighting off the wicked French armies.  It was refreshing to have everybody winning battles and having clever ideas, instead of all systems devolving into chaos, as has been the case so much in the last few books.

As much as I was looking forward to seeing Iskierska in this book, I thought she was wasted.  You saw a good bit of her, but she wasn’t really doing that much – or no, I guess what I would say is that I wanted to see her grow up and become useful and clever and do cunning things, and she really didn’t.  She was just a nuisance, requiring to be watched and rescued, and I wanted her to be a mighty fightin’ power!  Maybe in the next one.  I like her and I want her to come into her own at some point.

The books continue to be entertaining.  I continue to like them enough to reserve them at the library but not enough to actually purchase them at the store.

Lud-in-the-Mist, Hope Mirlees

And once again, I have Neil Gaiman to thank for some charming fantasy reading.  First Martin Millar (darling Martin Millar! My only, only regret about my recent abandonment of graduate school is that I can now no longer use the university’s interlibrary loan system to acquire for myself the rest of Martin Millar’s out-of-print books), and now Lud-in-the-Mist, to which, I have to say, I believe Stardust owes a hefty debt.  I’m always so pleased when I discover that Neil Gaiman has stolen his ideas or plots, mainly because the man is about ten thousand times more weirdly creative than any normal person needs to be, and I’m very envious, and I feel better about myself when I notice that he does the same thing I do – and everyone does, but since I admire Neil Gaiman so much as a writer it’s especially validating to see it in him – of swiping excellent ideas from other people’s books.

Lud-in-the-Mist is about a town called Lud-in-the-Mist in the fictional country of Dorimare, which borders on the realms of Faerie but legally denies the existence of these realms.  Everyone hates fairy things, because of the Law, and they’re not allowed to eat fairy fruit or talk about fairy things, and they definitely don’t ever go into the wicked fairy realms.  Such things got banished.  But then the Mayor of Lud-in-the-Mist discovers that his son’s acting all crazy, and then more and more crazy (fairy-fruit related) things keep happening, and everything descends into chaos.  And it seems that this shady character called Endymion Leer is behind it all.

I love the names in this book!  They’re all Endymion Leer and Nathaniel Chanticleer and Mumchance and Portunus.  And the book itself is delightful – it’s funny in places and haunting in places, and Hope Mirlees has an excellent turn of phrase.  I wrote down almost as many bits of Lud-in-the-Mist in my commonplace book as I did of The Napoleon of Notting-Hill lo these many years ago (why is G.K. Chesterton so crazy awesome?).

Yummy.  Read it.

(I am coming to the end of my commonplace book, which makes me sad.  My eighth-grade English teacher gave me it after our school’s big anthology won a prize at English Day (I was its editor), and since I’m not a big writer-in-journals, I didn’t use it for ages, and I felt way guilty about it because my eighth-grade English teacher was so, so nice to me.  And then one day during a Shakespeare unit in one of my high school English classes, I went home and wrote down that line from Romeo and Juliet – “And fire-eyed fury be my conduct now” – which made tim sneer, sneery tim, but which I completely love – and the rest is history.  I’ll be sad to get another commonplace book when I’ve been with this one so long.)

Oh, I forgot to say – my one complaint about Lud-in-the-Mist was that it was a wee bit on the sexist side.  More than a wee bit.  None of the female characters are very realized – it’s a fairy tale, so the characters aren’t meant to be incredibly vivid, but the women never do anything but react to what their menfolk are doing.  Plus the main character, Nathaniel Chanticleer?  His daughter disappears into the fairy realm early on in the book, but he hardly even mentions that; when his son gets taken into the realm of fairy he’s like I WILL GO AND FIND HIM AND WILL NOT RETURN UNLESS I RETURN WITH MY BELOVED DEAREST SON.  He happens to rescue his daughter along the way, but I swear he doesn’t even notice because he’s so hell-bent on rescuing his son.  Lame.

Otherwise, good!  Thanks, Neil Gaiman – it saw me through some of the endless days I have to survive before I get to read The Graveyard Book.  (Next up on my distractions-until-The-Graveyard-Book: The Red House Mystery.  If I read it very slowly on purpose and take lots of breaks to cross-stitch and write my stories, that and whatever else I’m rereading – eyeing The Book Thief but not sure I’m up for the emotional commitment – should get me through until Chalice is released next week, and then it’ll only be another fortnight before The Graveyard Book.

Other views:

Darla at Books & Other Thoughts
Geranium Cat’s Bookshelf
Brief remarks by Neil Gaiman
Michael Dirda’s essay on it, which I really like

Greensleeves, Eloise Jarvis McGraw

Omens are medieval.  But – so are masks and dominoes, and a merrie singing cuckoo and a song called Greensleeves that will probably haunt me all my life.  To me that whole fading summer has rather the flavor of medieval music.  It had the shifting key changes, the gay, skipping rhythm and minor melody, and that unresolved, inconclusive end.

I never feel that any review I could write of Greensleeves will ever be adequate.  But I lent it to my friend Teacher to read during the hurricane, and she loved it a lot, and it made me jealous that I didn’t have it with me, so I read my mum’s copy, and damn, is it ever a good book.  It’s my favorite book, my desert-island book.

Greensleeves is about a girl called Shannon Lightley who has spent her whole life in transit, shuttling back and forth between separate parents, schools, and continents.  She’s eighteen years old, and when she pictures her entire life ahead of her, she is filled with dread and misery.  So her uncle Frosty offers her a job, to live in a little apartment and keep an eye on the people in the area.  He’s a lawyer, and he’s got a really weird will from one Mrs. Elizabeth Dunningham, who left people weird-shit bequests like scholarships to study subjects of no practical use and money to take skydiving lessons.  So Shannon’s job, basically, is to meet the people and check out whether there’s grounds for contesting the will.

It’s brilliant because Shannon is so tired of being herself that she decides to become someone different.  She changes her hair and her clothes and her accent and is a completely different person altogether.  And she meets all the people in the will – the taxi driver with the dependent family; the professor of Greek who yearns to go to Greece but keeps putting it off to finish writing his textbook; the overweight girl who wants to be a sexy flight attendant; the delightful Sherry who draws wavery cartoons and wants to know everything about everything.  And so forth.

This book is terribly successful at what it does – both in bringing to life all the characters, as well as Mrs. Dunningham, but as well in reflecting on the nature of cages and the things we let stop us from doing what we want.  Greensleeves resonates with me in a way that few books do, I suppose because Shannon’s so confused by life, and really – life is damn confusing.

Eloise Jarvis McGraw is so mysterious.  She has written what is probably my favorite book of all time ever – I wish she were still alive so I could tell her so, or that I had read Greensleeves earlier than 2000 instead of waiting until I was in high school, though it was a singular joy to suddenly discover it – but most of her other books, I can totally take or leave.  Heavy on the leave.  I remember quite liking The Moorchild, but I’ve never been able to get through Pharaoh, and many of her books for kids I just can’t be bothered with.  They’re not bad, they’re just not that interesting.  I loved Mara, Daughter of the Nile when I was twelve or so, but I think now I’m rereading it for nostalgic reasons rather than because it’s such a good book.  But then she has written Greensleeves, which completely speaks to me and contains possibly my favorite fictional couple since Jane Eyre & Edward Rochester.

If you read it, tell me what you thought.  You will of course love it.  Nobody could not love it.  I wish J.K. Rowling would read it and then shortly before the release of whatever her next book is, I wish that she would say, “You know what’s a good book?  Greensleeves.  Wish that were in print,” and then two days later it would be BAM back in print and probably optioned for a movie, as was the case with I Capture the Castle (for which, may I say, very very many thanks, J.K. Rowling).  I would rather have Greensleeves back in print than The Ghost of Opalina, and that’s saying something.

(In selfish terms I’d rather have The Ghost of Opalina, because I don’t own my own copy of The Ghost of Opalina and I do have a copy of Greensleeves – though I always want to buy more copies of it, just in case.  Backup copies.  You never know what’s going to happen.  What if I got in a huge fight with one of my friends and they decided to hit me where it hurts and shred Greensleeves?  YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN.)

Anyway.  Read it.  I swear.  I wouldn’t lie to you.