Eleanor

Opening line: ‘She sits in the breakfast nook and watches the rain.’

Eleanor - Jason GurleyEleanor — there are two Eleanors, herself and the grandmother she was named after — does her best to live a normal teenager’s life while also taking care of her alcoholic mother. Tragedy seems to run in her family: her grandmother’s disappearance, the car crash that killed her twin sister, her parents’ divorce, her mother’s bitter and angry retreat from reality through alcohol. The tragedy continues when Eleanor herself disappears, first for hours, then days, then years at a time, with no rational explanation for what is happening to her. What she does know, however, is that there is a reason she keeps being transported to these different dream worlds, if only she could figure out what it is…

The novel Eleanor isn’t quite sci-fi or fantasy, but rather magical realism. The narrative tells the story of this troubled family from multiple perspectives: the first Eleanor, her daughter Agnes as an adult, the younger Eleanor, as well as Agnes’s husband, Eleanor’s friend Jack, and a mysterious consciousness that is outside of human time but has the power to pluck Eleanor from her world and drop her into another. What first caught my attention was the descriptions of the sea off the Northwestern American coast, then by the author’s skillful portrayal of the characters as fully human and flawed. Eleanor does not figure out what is going on until the final quarter of the book, but even then I wasn’t sure what she was trying to do as she continued to travel the dream worlds to heal her family’s hurts. Thus intrigued, I kept reading, but in the end I felt my curiosity was unrewarded. The ending was too tidy while simultaneously leaving many unanswered questions. Somehow, with a form of time travel left unexplained, a fateful moment is changed with the assumption that all following events will also change for the better: no car crash, no divorce, no alcoholism. But what will be the consequences of that change? Not just for that family, but for everyone connected to them? Are the consequences ‘worth it’? Ultimately, I was disappointed that the novel failed to grasp the complexity of changing a person’s timeline and that doing so is not the simple cure for one family’s troubles.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

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Solstice Wood

Opening line: ‘Gram called at five in the morning. She never remembered the time difference.’

Solstice WoodSylvia Lynn moved to West Coast the first chance she could, and has refused her grandmother’s requests to come home to East Coast for seven years. Until her grandfather dies, and Sylvia flies back for his funeral. Once back in her childhood home, again the old mysteries resurface, and the wood behind Lynn Hall is full of secrets. Intermixed in this family drama are stories of magic, dreams, and impossibilities. Are there fairies in the wood? And what do they want? And who was Sylvia’s father, after all?

Solstice Wood by Patricia A. McKillip is unlike her other fantasy novels. Instead of being set in a magical, fictional other world, Solstice Wood bring magic into our own world. McKillip’s prose was less lyrical in this novel and more down to earth, probably due to its setting. The book never says which states they’re in, but you can guess that Sylvia probably moved to Los Angeles and her family is somewhere in the Appalachians (though Wikipedia says New York). Even so, I found it difficult to believe that fairies would exist in America; I kept wanting to make Sylvia’s hometown be in England, and she had moved to the U.S., but that wouldn’t fit with the four hour time difference mentioned in the novel. To me, fairies are a very European, if not insular, tradition, and as someone who studies fairies in literature I found it difficult to transpose them to the New World. The story is good anyway, and all other aspects of the fairies felt true to tradition.

The novel is told from several points of view: Sylvia, her grandmother Iris, her cousin Tyler, and a family friend, Owen. Each adds their own perspective and shows how the family secrets affect far more than just the Lynn family. Each character also has their own distinct voice; even though this novel may be less poetic than McKillip’s other novels, it certainly isn’t lacking craftsmanship in the storytelling. Apparently Solstice Wood serves as a sequel to Winter Rose. I haven’t read Winter Rose, but now I’m curious to.

The Creature in the Case

Opening line: ‘I am going back to the Old Kingdom, Uncle,’ said Nicholas Sayre.

The Creature in the CaseSix months later, Nicholas Sayre is still recovering from the strange event at Forwin Mill. Something to do with magic and the Old Kingdom, with the Abhorsen, King Touchstone, and the Disreputable Dog. Nicholas thought he could stay in Ancelstierre and try to forget those unusual events he got mixed up in, but he was wrong. He just didn’t know how wrong he was — that is, until he went to a house party and found an unusual creature in a case. The Free Magic creature was waking up… with no Charter Mage or Abhorsen nearby to help him.

I read the Abhorsen trilogy two years ago, and was crestfallen when I finished reading it. Imagine my excitement when I saw that the used bookstore had The Creature in the Case by Garth Nix. The Creature in the Case is a novella set six months after the end of Abhorsen, the last book in the Abhorsen triology. You do need to have read the trilogy to read this book. Nicholas was never my favourite character, but I did enjoy seeing more of Ancelstierre in this book. I’m also pleased to discover that Nix has another novella set in the Old Kingdom series, To Hold the Bridge, and also that he has another novel coming out in 2014. Now, where to find the novella in the meantime…?

The Night Circus

THE-NIGHT-CIRCUSOpening line: ‘The circus arrives without warning.’

Two magicians. A long-standing rivalry. A game, a challenge: two contestants. The venue: a circus. But not just any circus, a circus only open at night, Le Cirque des Rêves: The Circus of Dreams. Step inside and defy your imagination. Lose yourself in wonder and awe. Around you is the stuff of the game, two magicians battling for love, for life, for freedom. Who wins? Who loses? Who else is caught up in their game?

To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever been a huge fan of the circus. Something about Le Cirque des Rêves has converted me, however: the complexity bound in simplicity, the elegance, the mystery. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a delight to read. The prose is beautiful. The story is compelling. How to tell you any more without giving even the slightest away? Let me say, then, that if ever I hear of a circus appearing without warning, in a field of black and white striped tents, then I will queue up early, wearing my best black dress and a red scarf around my neck. Reading The Night Circus has made me a rêveur, a dreamer, whose heart longs for the circus.

Pride and Prejudice

Opening line: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’

pride&prejudicePoor Mr Bingley didn’t know what he was getting into when he bought the house of Netherfield near the village of Meryton. This novel follows the families of his neighbours: the Bennets primarily, and the Philips and the Lucases.

Though often branded as ‘chick lit’, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is more about the social and economic conventions involved in marriage in the Regency period. I avoid a full summary partly because most of my readers have read this novel or seen the various film adaptations, and, if they haven’t, it is difficult to summarise the novel without giving away the the different misunderstandings that the novel so hinges upon.

Yes, dear readers, I have finally read a Jane Austen novel. I had refused to read the novel for so long precisely because it was branded as chick lit. I usually post the image of the cover of the edition that I read, but the library copy I read was another instance of having chick lit/romance cover, with the subtitle, ‘A classic romance’.

Why now? And why Pride and Prejudice, when it was Persuasion I promised Kelly I would read before I die? Because I am also reading Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azir Nafisi, a memoir in books. The memoir is divided into four sections, one for each author, with an emphasis on one novel in each section. The only author I hadn’t read, and had no good reason not to read, was Austen. And since Nafisi discusses Pride and Prejudice in her memoir, that is the Austen book I chose to read.

So how did I find it? It was a pleasant read that I think will improve with time. The first third was a bit slow going for me, but once the main cast of characters were introduced and the conflict came into play the novel picked up my interest. And, coincidentally, the year I finally decide to read a book by Jane Austen it is the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice. The BBC has done a documentary of restaging the Netherfield Ball, and you can read the article about it here: BBC Party like it’s 1813. I look forward to watching the documentary and maybe even watching one or both of the film adaptations.

Prodigy

Prodigy_Marie_Lu_BookThis isn’t going to be a real book review.

That’s because Prodigy by Marie Lu is the sequel to Legend (which I reviewed last month), and though it is so good I want to tell you all about it, I don’t want to give *any* spoilers. So I am not even going to give you the first line.

The second instalment in most trilogies tends to fall flat. I don’t need to list examples because this is a known fact. Even the second book in my beloved Hunger Games trilogy feels like ‘filler’. It would have been much more exciting if what happened in the third novel happened in the second, and then we had more happening after…

Which is what Prodigy does. Prodigy ends where most trilogies end, and I am so so excited for what is going to happen in the third book. I really have no idea what is going to happen next.

Prodigy served as my incentive and reward to finish revising two chapters. I sat down and actually read it in two days, sitting outside in the garden on a rare warmish sunny day. As soon as I finished it I resolved to make the third book the reward for revising the next chapter — alas, without knowing that the third book isn’t even published yet. Champion is due out in 2014. It’s going to be a long wait. instead, Champion will probably be my reward for turning in the corrections to my thesis.

In the meantime, read Legend and Prodigy. You won’t regret it.

EDIT: I just saw that Amazon.com lists the release date for CHAMPION as 5 November 2013. Hip hip, huzzah!

Pretty Monsters

Opening line: ‘All of this happened because a boy I once knew named Miles Sperry decided to go into the resurrectionist business and dig up the grave of his girlfriend.’ (‘The Wrong Grave’)

Pretty MonstersIn this anthology by Kelly Link are ten stories of magic, the strange, and the surreal. Ranging from zombies to werewolves to aliens, no story is quite the same — which can sometimes happen in short story anthologies. However, they were all similar in one degree: they were forgettable. Granted, I’ve been chipping away at this anthology for over a year now, but looking through the table of contents I find I can’t remember what most of the stories are about. ‘The Wizards of Perfil’ jumps out at me as having an ending I liked, and ‘Magic for Beginners’ was interesting, though I wish it had gone farther. Most of the stories didn’t catch my attention really, except for two, near the end: ‘The Constable of Abal’ and the title story, ‘Pretty Monsters’. The latter novella had more time to develop the characters and story, and I enjoyed how the two seemingly unrelated story lines intertwined. Although the stories in this anthology were supposed to be bordering on horror stories, only this one held me in suspense near the end; the ‘horror’ in the others fell flat.

The contemporary stories set in ‘our time’ also run the risk of becoming dated very quickly, especially if you refer to mobile phones and tablets by their brand names, which Link sometimes does. There’s a reason you don’t often find references to current technology in fiction: by doing so you ground your text firmly in a specific date and time.

My favourite from the collection is ‘The Constable of Abal’, a story about a girl and ghosts and goddesses. ‘The Constable of Abal’ caught my imagination from start to finish and has stayed in my head since. I’d happily keep hold of Pretty Monsters for this story alone.