Friday, May 20, 2011

Kiersten White is very funny

She has a great blog*, and this post was brilliantly hilarious. I think she totally pulls off the second person future narration!

(If you want to see second person narration done brilliantly, read Italo Calvino's amazing book, If on a winter's night a traveller. Go to the link and click on the Look Inside; it has most of the first chapter so you can get a feel for it. Calvino alternates between chapters in second person, in which you, the Reader, are the protagonist, and chapters which are the book you are trying to read. Except that there's a problem with the book, and you end up reading the first chapter of a number of different books, each with its own style. And as you try to solve the mystery of the defective book and get a story that you can actually finish, you meet the Other Reader, who joins you on your quest. It's a lot of fun, and it's an homage to books and the reading experience, so if you consider yourself a Reader, you should read it.)

(As a writing exercise I tried my hand at Calvino's technique and wrote a sci-fi novella that alternates between second and third person and parodies a number of different sci-fi/fantasy tropes. It's really bad but I had a lot of fun doing it!)

(I think I could do an entire novel in parentheses: I bet that hasn't been done before!)

*This is the first time I've thought of a use for twitter: obviously sending you to read someone else's blog isn't a blog entry, but I felt like telling people about Kiersten White's post, so I guess I could have tweeted it. If I had a twitter account.(Actually I think I do have a twitter account, but I only ever used it once to enter a contest to win a Robin McKinley book. (I didn't win.) I'm not sure I even know how to get to it, or what user name or password I might use to access it.)(I feel about Twitter the way I feel about the butterfly stroke in swimming: I'm quite happy not knowing how to do it.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Folk Keeper, by Franny Billingsley

Oh, how frustrating! I had a whole review of this book almost complete, and blogger lost it. It was a good review, too. I compared The Folk Keeper to Wolves of Willoughby Chase: old stone house in lonely setting, supernatural menace, original use of traditional folklore elements. The difference is the narrator: Corin/Corinna is fierce and single-minded and not very nice, and yet our sympathies are entirely with her. She disguises herself as a boy so that she can have the post of Folk Keeper at the orphanage: her job is to draw off the malice of the invisible Folk who live under the house. It says much about her character that she lies and schemes to get this dangerous yet important position. She thinks this is everything she wants in life, but then she is brought to Marblehaugh Park (the old stone house in the lonely setting), and she learns things about herself that she had never imagined. I have to quote from the review at because she says it so well: a proud, ferociously self-reliant girl who breaks out of her dark, cold, narrow world into one of joy, understanding, and even . . . But that's more of a spoiler than I'm prepared to give. (Don't cheat and go read the Amazon review!) 

I said lots of other clever things that I can't remember now, but here's my conclusion:

The plot is original but has the inevitable feeling of a folktale: the orphan finds a home; the child discoveres her true identity. Corinna's journey into herself is surprising, convincing and satisfying. I found The Folk Keeper atmospheric and suspenseful, and quite, quite unique. (I think I may not wait for our library to get Chime; I don't usually buy books before I read them, but I feel pretty confident about Franny Billingsley as an author.)

The Folk Keeper is a salad of wild greens and bitter herbs with a few curls of Grana Padano cheese and a very light, lemony dressing, served with artisan bread and fresh butter.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Chaos Walking trilogy, by Patrick Ness

I'm finally done: I had three hours of watching my son at circus practice, and I brought along writing to do but I brought Monsters of Men as well, thinking maybe I'd just read for an hour and then I'd put it down. Yeah, right. I wasn't quite done when circus was over, and I was just about prepared to let son and carpooler sit there and wait while I read the last few chapters. (I didn't, though. I mustered self-control and waited until I got home.) Then I had to wait for a few days before I had anything to say about it besides "Woah. Oh my. Holy crap. Wow. Mmmglfarb blither blither."

Monsters of Men lived up to the other two. It was intense, there were hard choices made and people didn't usually make the right ones, there were significant surprises and devastating moments. The end was unexpected and gut-wrenching and satisfying. (More satisfying than Mockingjay, just for the record.) I'm not going to say anything more about the plot, because this is a series you do not want spoilers for.

Patrick Ness can write. These are amazing books. Should you read them? Yes, if you like dystopias and post-apocalyptic men-reduced-to-the-best-and-worst-they-can-be types of stories. (It's not post-apocalyptic, it's actually settlers-on-a-new-planet, but you get the same sense.) Yes, if you like page-turning, nail-biting suspense and can handle present-tense semi-stream-of-consciousness narration (which is one of the things that bothered a lot of reviewers, but I thought it worked. Made everything visceral.) Yes if you can take a fair bit of violence. Yes if you don't mind science-fictiony concepts that aren't really well-explained—Ness requires you to suspend disbelief and just accept the concept of Noise with only a minimal framework to understand it in. (I think the series is less science fiction and more parable: let's put humans in this scenario and see what happens to them. The scenario happens to be new planet, aliens, strange form of telepathy, but we're not that interested in the details; we just want to see what the people do. It's kind of Shakespearean that way.)

I think these are the kind of books that you either love or hate. I loved them. I'm curious to know what you think.

(And those covers: are they not the best covers ever? Awesome titles, too. Just overall general awesomeness all around.)

I don't have a food analogy because reading these wasn't like eating. It was more like injecting a drug (not that I would know what that's like!)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Letters from Rapunzel, by Sara Lewis Holmes

I love libraries. You can go and browse and find all kinds of interesting-looking books and you can take them all home with you. And then if you don't get around to reading them, or you start reading them but they aren't as interesting as they looked, you just take them back, and it doesn't cost anything! (Unless you take them back late, but I always consider library fines to be my contribution to a worthy cause.)

I especially like it when I've been browsing blogs and I come up with lists of interesting-looking books, and then I go to my library and they have them! That happened the other day with Letters From Rapunzel. I was miserably sick, and I was browsing blogs because it was all I had the energy to do, and I came across Sara Lewis Holmes' blog (which had two great poems for Poetry Friday). Then I got sick of being stuck inside on a beautiful day so I went to the library (at least I was outside between my house and the library) and they had a whole bunch of the books I had found on the blogs, including Letters From Rapunzel. Score! It's like winning the jackpot. Then I came home and flopped on the couch feeling miserable and read Letters From Rapunzel, which is a quick read and a great story and made me feel much better.

"Rapunzel" is stuck in after school Homework Club because her father is in the hospital with a serious bout of depression and her mother works. Signing her name as Rapunzel because she feels as though she is locked in a tower, she begins writing letters to someone she thinks is a friend of her father's, asking for help saving her father from the Evil Spell he's under. The entire story is told in letter form; even when she doesn't get a response she continues writing as she tries to make sense of her father's illness and her own problems fitting in and meeting everyone's expectations.

Funny, imaginative, and perceptive, Rapunzel is a wonderful narrator. She can't ever do a homework project the way her teachers want, and her letters often include her wacky assignments. She weaves fairy tales and poetry into her letters, which become a diary of self-discovery. (We know she is getting somewhere when she finally signs her real name: Cadence.) Giving up on getting rescued by her unknown correspondent, Cadence takes matters into her own hands, with funny and poignant results. The Happily Ever After she comes up with is not the one she wanted, but it's one she creates for herself.

You'll like this book if you like first-person quirky narrators and if you like playing with fairy tale conventions and if you believe in poetry. I found it sweet and light with a serious heart; I truly cared about Cadence and her family, and her story's resolution was realistic and satisfying. A perfect afternoon-stuck-on-the-couch book.

Letters from Rapunzel is a homemade doughnut (the yeast kind, not the cake kind) with apple jelly filling and powdered sugar on top.

(And yes, I'm reading the last Chaos Walking book, but it's really intense: lots more bad things are happening to the characters and I don't want more bad things to happen to them! So I'm interspersing it with rereading the Mortal Instruments series before starting The City of Fallen Angels (fourth book of a trilogy, wouldn't you know.)