June 2012

Books read in June:

  1. Edgewood. Kelly Ledbetter.
  2. O Pioneers! Willa Cather.
  3. A Wizard of Earthsea. Ursula K. Le Guin.
  4. The Green Rider. Kristen Britain.
  5. War Horse. Michael Morpurgo.
  6. The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Carrie Ryan.

Best (only) unpublished novel: Edgewood
Best new read: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Best reread:A Wizard of Earthsea

Check back tomorrow for a review of The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan.

In other book news, my ‘unread list’ has nearly doubled. I received some scholarship money earlier this week, which I was instructed by my supervisor to not all be put toward rent, so I set aside part of it and rashly spent it on books. My store of unread science-fiction had gotten perilously low, but that will soon be rectified.

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Where the lark sings

Out in the field where the lark it flies,
Over the earth where my heart it lies,
Oh how it sings when the west wind blows,
Out in the field where no-one goes.

-Kate Rusby, ‘The Lark’

 

After spending the entire day cooped up in a room without windows in Edinburgh, I wasn’t about to waste what was left of the beautiful, long summer evening. Ros and I went for a four-mile walk over the faraway-hill I pointed out in my last Favourite Things photo. It had been ages since I had heard the lark sing. They sing only in wide open fields, where they can fly into the wind and let their flutey song fill the air.

On the train back from Edinburgh, I was again struck by the rolling green fields, the beauty of the blue sky and the blue sea and the green hills in between. I live in such a beautiful place. It is a privilege to live here. I want to drink it in, fill my lungs and my soul with lark song and lush green and the sea.

   

Look for the clump of trees in the centre of the above middle photograph, on the ridge of the hill — that is where we crossed the hill; the town is on the other side.

And, on the way back, the same view as the photo at the top of this post, only a couple of hours later:

Green Rider

Opening line: ‘The granite was cold and rough against the grey-cloaked man’s palms. It was good, solid granite, from the bones of the earth itself. He traced hardly perceptible seams between the huge blocks of the wall. It was the seams, he believed, that held the key. The key to the wall’s destruction.’

Trouble is brewing in Sacoridia. The king’s brother plots in hiding. The wall that could never be broken, the wall separating Sacoridia from its evil, magical and corrupt neighbour, is breached. And a king’s messenger, one of the elite Green Riders, rides into the path of a schoolgirl, slumped over his horse with arrows in his back. With his dying breaths he entreats the girl to fulfil his mission, deliver his message, before it is too late. Karigan agrees, even as she is warned to ‘Beware the shadow man’…

And thus follows the adventure of Green Rider by Kristen Britain as Karigan races against all odds to get to Sacor City with the precious message. Hounded on every side, from assassins to brigands to monstrous beasts, as well as the Grey One himself, lost in the forests and plains of the kingdom, Karigan must use her own wit, strength, and stubborn will to survive.

It had been over a decade since I last read this book and I remembered only the basic premise of the novel. I vaguely recall that it was supposed to be a series, but since the subsequent books didn’t come out until after 2003, I forgot about it. A year or so ago, I saw the series, with their beautiful new UK covers, in a bookstore, and on a whim picked it up from the local library (yes, it was actually whim: it was on the shelf; I didn’t have to reserve it). The novel is far more action-packed than I remembered, filled with much more world-building detail and intrigue. I read it in a space of two days while I was in bed with a cold, and it was very diverting indeed. The magic at times reminded me of the Charter Magic in Garth Nix’s Sabriel books, but was also unpredictable, as magic should be. Of course, I could find things to criticise — is ‘defiant’ the only way to describe a wolf’s eyes?, Karigan would have been more traumatized by her assault by a mercenary, the Anti-Monarchy Society served no purpose in the plot, and so on — but overall, I was more pleasantly surprised by how rich the world of Sacoridia is, with its history and clans and how the country had changed over the centuries and how the architecture and politics and universities reflected these changed. I have already requested the next book in the series from my library.

If you enjoyed Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith, Sabriel by Garth Nix, and/or The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, you most likely will also enjoy Green Rider by Kristen Britain.

Favourite things

Faraway hills:

Though, strictly speaking, that hill is not so far away. This is Queen’s Gardens street, and I love how every time I walk down it to go home I can see the hills beyond the town. Rich green in spring and summer, yellow in autumn, covered in snow in winter, that hill is the boundary of town: beyond it are farms and fields.

Blue skies, blue gowns

The heavens smiled upon the first day of graduations this week. Blue blue skies, cottony clouds, bright sun, cool breeze. I watched four of my friends graduate in this morning’s ceremony, and also Noam Chomsky and A. S. Byatt receive honorary degrees.

Above: Noam Chomsky getting his hood; Below: Ros being a fangirl with Noam Chomsky.

   

Ros and I are so decorous. No really. Below are my four friends who have all graduated now, and one by one will be leaving our seaside town. I have the bad habit of befriending people just as they are preparing to leave. Our church, All Saints, will not be the same without Rob, Ros, Chris, and Allie.

And to think, in a couple of years this will be me… and I will be the one wearing the blue PhD gown!

O Pioneers!

Opening line: ‘One January day, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away.’

O Pioneers! is a novel that follows the Bergsons, a family of Swedish immigrants, and their community at the turn of the 20th century. Alexandra Bergson, the eldest of four, inherits her father’s estate when he passes away. Despite drought, despite year after year of bad harvests, Alexandra invests in the land that so many pioneers abandon. It takes a lifetime, but she pulls her family into prosperity, realising her father’s dream that the youngest son, Emil, might go to college and have a life that isn’t tied to the land. Of course, Emil has his own dreams, and Alexandra learns to have dreams of her own.

Sarah recommended this book to me last week after I posted about My Daniel. I was in the mood to read My Daniel, but since I don’t have my copy of it here in Scotland, I checked out O Pioneers! from the library to read instead. I had only read Willa Cather’s short fiction in an American Literature survey course years ago during my undergraduate. The novel was a quick, lyrical read. I enjoyed the descriptions of the prairie and of prairie-life: the fairs held in the basement of the French church, the Swedish mother attempting to recreate the Old World in her garden, the vastness and coldness and awe-inspiring quality of the prairie, capable of rendering one to insignificance as well as inspiring hope. Read this novel for a glimpse into the life of the pioneers who dared settle in the West, which was, surprising, not so long ago in the order of things.