August Short Book Reviews

Dealing with Dragons – Patricia C Wrede. When I visit Karen, she puts me in the Spare Oom, which is cruel, because it is a tall, thin room with a tall, thin bookcase full of all the books I’ve ever wanted to read but haven’t been able to yet. Last year I started pulling out books that I was interested in, only to find more books behind, and I had the distinct feeling that if I kept going I would find more books behind those and behind those just maybe someplace else altogether. So I stopped, because I didn’t want that not to be the case. Anyway, this year I went down for the Faithful Writer Conference (reviewed last week) and over two evenings read Dealing with Dragons which I have only known because of the more recent cover art featured in Spectrum. It was a fun book, light-hearted and enjoyable, with a touch of “The Ordinary Princess” and “The Paperbag Princess” and “Farmer Giles of Ham”. I liked that the tongue-in-cheek lightness of it never dropped away, and I do like practical heroines.

Fables volume 8: Wolves – Willingham et. al. (graphic novel). I perhaps got my hopes up a little high because of the title. Although I enjoyed this, I did not enjoy it as much as the earlier volumes. The art wasn’t as consistent and it felt very light, with characters I hope become relevant later because they added little here. It was a bridging volume, a breather, and hasn’t diminished my hopes for the next volume.

Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen – Joanne K. Rowling. (That’s the Philosopher’s Stone). I had so much fun reading this. I’m pretty familiar with the original (having read it, read it out loud, written a research essay on it, written part of my thesis on it, etc), so it was an ideal book to read in German because I knew the story well enough that it helped me guess vocab I didn’t know. Although one evening I was running around my house asking, “Does anyone remember the name of the street the Dursleys live on?” because the name had been translated. (It was Privet Drive, translated Ligusterweg which means Privet Way). Rereading a book in another language is enjoyable because you get to enjoy it again almost for the first time, and have the added pleasure of getting some jokes for the first time, discovering new ones, and just laughing at language in general – words in German which are literally the same as English and force you to realise what the English word is, words in German which sound funny or charming: undursleyhaft for instance, or the word to describe cats weaving between people’s ankles: hindurchschlaengelten. It was also very interesting to see some of the characters again for the first time, knowing what they will become and do – hints and clues and foreshadowings fulfilled six books later.

Hellblazer: Joyride (graphic novel). I won’t recommend these for all sorts of reasons, but I really enjoy watching how the character of John Constantine is written. They are horror comics, and I was surprised often in this one by how scenes bothered me which wouldn’t have if they were on screen or in a book. I’ve discussed this with a few friends and we think it is because films usually don’t leave much to the imagination: it all takes place on the screen. Books leave everything to the imagination: it all takes place in your head but is constrained by everything else that goes on in your head. The comic gives enough visual guidance to make sure you interpret things the way the artist/writer intended, and then lets your mind take over from there.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu – Susannah Clarke. I really, really liked this book. In spite of its deliberate archaism and modelling after Regency texts, the stories reminded me most of T. H. White and Mistress Masham’s Repose. Elegant, beautifully-crafted, enjoyable, unashamedly fictional tellings of new and old faery-tales in the England of Jane Austen, the Duke of Wellington, the Raven King and Stardust (there is one story set in the world of Stardust beyond the Wall). And it has a pretty cover and Charles Vess’ otherworldly ink illustration.

The House of Many Ways – Dianne Wynne Jones. Dianne Wynne Jones frustrates me, but in a good way. This story of tangled mythological strands, chaotic and legendary families, quests and paperwork was thrilling and yet worse than most of her books in the sense that there was a very tangible impression of vast reaches of even more wonderful stories just off the edge of the page. It’s closest to Homeward Bounders and Eight Days of Luke. My favourite part was the way the mythological strands are mundane closer to earth, and wilder and more dangerous as they snake out among the stars. [ETA: That was actually a review of The Game. Here is the correct review].

The House of Many Ways – Dianne Wynne Jones. A sequel, insofar as she writes such things, to Howl’s Moving Castle  and Castles in the Air. It takes place in the same world, at least, and Howl and Sophie and Calcifer put in appearances, not always as themselves. I enjoyed this, but (obviously) didn’t find it as memorable as the first two. The main characters were a delightful combination of practical and spoiled, yet both aware of their own flaws (and a little more keenly aware of each others’), and the book felt self-contained as if it had told all the story necessary, rather than spilling out all over the place like some of her books.

The Puffin Book of Nursery Rhymes – Iona and Peter Opie. I don’t usually review reference texts because I don’t usually read them from cover to cover in a sitting (although given a free afternoon and a volume of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica I’m happy to give it a try). I read this in one evening, cover to cover, including the introduction which is written with such a gentle, humorous intelligence that I wish I knew the Opies. It is a slim, fabulous, generous collection of nursery rhymes for personal use – an appetiser for their Oxford Encyclopaedia of Nursery Rhymes which is on my list after Child’s ballads.

The Explosionist – Jenny Davidson. I bought this, unseen, on Kate‘s recommendation from The Book Depository (free! international! shipping!), and it had me at “New Hanseatic League.” I’m not quite sure how to classify it – it is alternate history, set in a 40s Scotland which has split from England, where Spiritualism (a la Arthur Conan Doyle) is influential, war threatens, Scotland’s power is based on its production of dynamite and surgical rationalisation of the emotions is being trialled. The characters are appealling and more than one dimensional, the alternate history is alert but also fun (Oscar Wilde is famous for developing incubators for premature babies and Doctor Freud is a rogue radio operator). I’m quite interested to see where the story goes from here.

6 thoughts on “August Short Book Reviews

  1. 1. I can’t believe you know The Ordinary Princess. I read it in serial form in Cricket magazine when I was a kid, and loved it so much that I tore all the serials out of the magazines and stapled it together as a book (I couldn’t find it in a bookstore). When I got older and read The Far Pavilions, I was stunned to recognize her name.

    2. German must be an even more amazing language than I’d thought if there’s a single word to describe cats weaving between people’s legs.

    3. Have you read Travel Light by Naomi Mitchison? Ordinarily I’d just recommend it because of its obscurity, but after following your blog for a while, I think that me recommending books to you would be the height of foolishness. You can find it at Amazon, but I doubt it’s been published over there.

  2. Pingback: August Short Book Reviews: A Correction « Errantry

  3. 1. Yes, it’s a wonderful book – and she did the illustrations herself! I’ve read Far Pavilions, but I enjoyed her autobiography (well, the first volume anyway – haven’t found the others) even more.

    2. Hindurchschlaengeln means “to wiggle/weave/twist through” and is a very cool word.

    3. No, I haven’t read it – I’ll keep an eye out for it (actually, I’m about due for an Amazon order).

  4. Heheheh … I never thought of putting you in the Spare ‘Oom as “cruelty” but I guess it is sort of cruel! But I love your description of it: imagine if the books did go on forever, and as you dug, you ended up in a cosy library with Love Sacs in front of a fire place and a baby grand piano in the corner …

    Glad you enjoyed Wrede. Love her Talking to Dragons books as well and am looking forward to one day reading those chocolate ones … oh dear, I have forgotten the title!

    Just finished The Game last night and I did enjoy it very much, but it also felt like only part of a DWJ novel. I think what gave me that impression was that the chapters tended to end in odd places, and I felt like there ought to be more middle the way that DWJ books normally do before the grand reveal at the end. Still smashing stuff, though! I’m looking forward to getting my hands on House of Many Ways

  5. Have you read Sorcery and Cecilia? by Wrede and Stevermer? A lot of fun – YA Regency fantasy.

    Grand reveal or grand chaos? :)

    I would offer to lend House of Many Ways to you, but I let someone borrow it and it is now rapidly increasing in distance from me.

  6. Pingback: Best Books of 2008 « Errantry

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