My Book Loves of 2013

GaimanStardustHere is a post in which I gush about my favorite books of 2013. Out of the roughly 133 books I read this year, these are the ones that really stand out on reflection for one reason or another. Feel free to scroll until you see something interesting.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

A reread, and a read along. I love this book and the movie. Fantasy, a quest, coming of age. Loads of fun and happy ending.

MathesonIAmLegendI Am Legend by Richard Matheson

New-to-me author. Vampire/zombie book, but starts off 1970s California, a simple virus. Loved the science, the survivalism, the societal twist at the end.

Squatch with Turning Point

Squatch with Turning Point

Turning Point by Robert P. Snow

Murder mystery set in northern NM. Lots of fun, recognize lots of the places in the book.

CooperGhostHawkGhost Hawk by Susan Cooper

New-to-me author. A historical fiction about the early settling of America told through a Native American’s eyes. Done really well, fully engaging.

HaldemanForeverPeaceThe Forever War & Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman

New-to-me author. Great military SF. Awesome characters.

BearUndertowUndertow by Elizabeth Bear

Amphibious alien natives used as a workforce. Plus assassins. You can’t go wrong with that combination.

FremantleQueensGambitQueen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

New-to-me author. Tudor historical fiction told from Katherine Parr’s point of view.

WatersPayingPiperPaying Piper by Ilana Waters

A children’s book, beautiful illustrations, excellent story.

Pico consented to pose with my book.

Pico consented to pose with my book.

The Shadow of the Sun by Barbara Friend Ish

This was a reread for me, and a read along. Still a damn good book even the 2nd time through, and dissecting it. High fantasy, swords & sorcery.

Smudge Cat as a book stand!

Smudge Cat as a book stand!

Shadow Chaser by Alexey Pehov

Book 2 int he series. Thieves, elves (black pointy teeth!), dwarves, gnomes, a quest.

FahyFragmentFragment by Warren Fahy

New-to-me author. A fun, modern-day beastie flick. The biologist in me loved this book.

Pico resting before dinner.

Pico resting before dinner.

The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham

New-to-me author. Epic fantasy that is different, heavy on the economics, various humanoid races.

SakurazakaAllYouNeedIsKillAll You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

New-to-me author. A short, excellent military SF with a twist.

HassonEmoticonGenerationCoverThe Emoticon Generation by Guy Hasson

New-to-me author. A fun collection of Hasson’s short stories. Some humorous, some creepy. All interesting.

ReichsBonesOfLostBones of the Lost by Kathy Reichs

New-to-me author. A later book in the series following the forensic anthropologist. Addictive.

CollingsBillyMessengerOfPowersBilly: Messenger of Powers by Michaelbrent Collings

New-to-me author. A kid’s book, but a good one. Adventure, magic, a quest. Lots of fun.

HearneHuntedHunted by Kevin Hearne

I love the whole Iron Druid series. I think I am all caught upon this series. Luke Daniels does an incredible job of narrating the books.

Pico was chasing the little green got my camera flash makes.

Pico was chasing the little green got my camera flash makes.

The Reason for Dragons by Chris Northrop and Jeff Stokely

New-to-me author. A graphic novel, modern-day, a nod to Don Quixote.

Claudie is an old, dilapidated kitty.

Claudie is an old, dilapidated kitty.

The Hero and the Crown & Sunshine by Robin McKinley

While Sunshine was a reread, The Hero and the Crown was my first read through. Both are excellent. Female leads, magic, companion war horse, and Death by Bitter Chocolate.

LynchRepublicOfThievesThe Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

The 3rd book in the Gentlemen Bastard series does not disappoint. Read this as part of a read along. Great series.

GabaldonOutlanderOutlander by Diana Gabaldon

A reread, but it had been nearly 2 decades. Excellent historical fiction with sex. Yep. Not just silly, light kissing.

Chilly day = Cat Nest (Pico, Heldig, Waffles, Smudge)

Chilly day = Cat Nest (Pico, Heldig, Waffles, Smudge)

Goblin Secrets by William Alexander

New-to-me author. This was an excellent audiobook. Kid’s book. Adventure, masks, goblins, theater.

CoorlimSkyPiratesOverLondonSky Pirates Over London by Micheal Coorlim

New-to-me author. These are fun, short stories set in a steampunk England. I’ve read 4 of the books so far and enjoyed this one the most.

ShowalterAwakenMeDarklyAwaken Me Darkly by Gena Showalter

New-to-me author. This is one of my naughty book secrets. Simple plots, fun characters, erotica element. Aliens, assassins.

Stout snuggling with the Nac Mac Feegle.

Stout snuggling with the Nac Mac Feegle.

Tiffany Aching books by Terry Pratchett (The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky)

All four were read this year as part of a read along, rereads for me. I love these books. They are my favorite Terry Pratchett novels, having a more serious bent than other Discworld books I have read.

BowmanTornFromTroyTorn from Troy by Patrick Bowman

New-to-me author. Another kid’s book and a great one for exploring Ancient Greece.

CoreyLeviathanWakesLeviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

New-to-me author. Well, I had read Daniel Abraham before this book, but Abraham writes this series with Ty Franck under the James SA Corey pen-name. Epic science fiction has never been better.

SchoonZennScarlettZenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon

New-to-me author. My inner biologist geeked out the entire time reading this YA SF.

HillTheHatchingThe Hatching by Liesel K. Hill

I know it’s a short story, but it was one of the best I read all year. Dragons. I won’t spoil it for you. Go read it.

Pico & Chupa

Pico & Chupa

Makers by Corey Doctorow

New-to-me author. Quirky, insightful, and fun. It follows these two tinkers for a few decades. Cutting-edge SF.

BensonBlackStilettoThe Black Stiletto books by Raymond Benson (The Black Stiletto, Black & White, Stars & Stripes)

New-to-me author. Addictive. 1950s superheroine, New York. Need I say more?

LornHopeForWickedHope for the Wicked by Edward Lorn

New-to-me author. I also read his Life After Dane, but I like the Larry Laughlin character quite a bit. Horror. Illegal substance level addictive.

BracewellShadowOnCrownShadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell

New-to-me author. 1001 AD Normandy, royal families. Excellent, excellent historical fiction.

Heldig will steal anyone's body heat...if they'll hold still for it.

Heldig will steal anyone’s body heat…if they’ll hold still for it.

The Wild Life of Our Bodies by Rob Dunn

New-to-me author. This nonfiction was incredibly fun. The odd, slightly embarrassing things I learned from it to sprinkle party conversations with…..

MimsHidingGladysHiding Gladys by Lee Mims

New-to-me author. A cozy murder mystery that I didn’t want to put down.

Tofu being used as a bookstand.

Tofu being used as a bookstand.

The Human Blend by Alan Dean Foster

More SF modifications for my inner biologist to geek out about. Excellent mystery, excellent SF, excellent characters.

Heldig & Tofu

Heldig & Tofu

Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan

Book 6 in the Wheel of Time series, and part of the massive read along of the series. Incredible ending to this particular book. Robert Jordan gets better with each book.

Waffles is always bathing. A very clean cat.

Waffles is always bathing. A very clean cat.

The Mongoliad by Neal Stephenson & crew

A very fun historical fiction set in the time of Genghis Khan. Luke Daniels was amazing as the narrator.

ScalziRedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi

Haha! A fun Star Trek parody. Wil Wheaton as the narrator was perfect!

Typical morning cat cuddle pile on the bed.

Typical morning cat cuddle pile on the bed.

The Legend of Broken by Caleb Carr

Another awesome historical fiction. Sorcerers, hunters, midgets, a pox, and a crazed ruler who needs to be taken down.

This is Heldig's 'nice kitty' face.

This is Heldig’s ‘nice kitty’ face.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

New-to-me author. This is Book 1 in the trilogy, and my favorite of the series. Steampunk, Austria, airships, a woman in disguise and in service to the crown.

I didn't catch Pico in a good mood.

I didn’t catch Pico in a good mood.

The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls

Only Jeannette Walls can pull on my emotions as she does. Modern-day tale of two sisters trying to find some stability.

Chupa and Streak with a good book makes a decent cat pile.

Chupa and Streak with a good book makes a decent cat pile.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

New-to-me author. WWII female pilots and spies. One of the best WWII books I have ever read.

IgguldenBloodOfGodsThe Blood of Gods by Conn Iggulden

The 4th book in Emperor series tells what happens after Julius Caesar fell. Excellent series.

BernheimerPrimeSuspectsJim Bernheimer books (Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, Prime Suspects, Horror, Humor, and Heroes)

New-to-me author. Uh, yeah. You might of noticed that I listened to 3 of Bernheimer’s books in ~2 weeks. Yeah, addictive. Mostly SF. Go, read, enjoy.

I meant for this to be a more dignified pic, as I so enjoyed this book, but Pico refused to put his bath on hold.

I meant for this to be a more dignified pic, as I so enjoyed this book, but Pico refused to put his bath on hold.

A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

I really should read beyond Book 2. Both Books 1 & 2 were excellent. Historical fantasy, or just straight up epic fantasy.

SilvermanGardensOfAmpheiaGardens of Ampheia by Joshua Silverman

A novella set in his Legends of Amun Ra series. Think Ancient Greece set on an alien world. Magic, armor, SF.

MunteanuOuterDiverseOuter Diverse by Nina Munteanu

New-to-me author. SF detective story. Lots of fun.

Stout wouldn't hold still for a pic!

Stout wouldn’t hold still for a pic!

The Aylesford Skull by James P. Blaylock

New-to-me author. Magic, steampunky, England, detective. Intrigued?

Toothless Waffles being used as a bookstand...again.

Toothless Waffles being used as a bookstand…again.

The White Princess by Philippa Gregory

Historical fiction, Elizabeth of York, the War of the Roses. Very good, easy to get into.

WillisBlackoutBlackout by Connie Willis

New-to-me author. Excellent time travel, WWII SF-Historical Fiction. Great characters, great plot.

AcevedoNymphosRockyFlatsThe Nymphos of Rocky Flats by Mario Acevedo

Vampire detective, nuclear weapons mill, and nymphos. Intrigued?

PoznanskyTwistedTwisted by Uvi Poznansky

A collection of her short fictions. Offers a darker twist to such things as the story of Job, working with clay, and elderly cats.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell

GaimanCraigCoralineWhy I Read It: Love Neil Gaiman’s work.

Where I Got It: The Library

Who I Recommend This To: Perhaps other Gaiman fans would enjoy it.

Publisher: HarperCollins (2008)

Length: 186 pages

This is the graphic novel based on Neil Gaiman‘s Coraline, the kid’s book that was turned into an animated movie (which was my first introduction to this tale). The gist of the story is that Coraline and her parents move to an old, large mansion that has been divided into multiple living quarters. It is a rainy summer and she wants to adventure around while her parents are immersed in their desk & computer work. She finds a secret door through to an alternate reality.  Her parents and her neighbors are there, but different in so many ways – creepy, creepy ways.

Quite frankly, I found this rendition of the tale a bit boring. I haven’t read the original Coraline, but I assume this graphic novel, adapted and illustrated by P. Craig  Russell, follows it pretty closely.  All the colors are pretty muted in the artwork and it definitely lacks the intensity of other Gaiman graphic novels (I’m thinking the early Sandman Chronicles). Now I love Gaiman’s work, so it is a little hard for me to say this: Coraline lacks magic. Yep. There it is. Perhaps I am, in part, saying this because I have seen the animated movie Coraline with all it’s colors and odd beauty. So, I went into this graphic novel expecting something similar. Still, with that honesty, I still say it lacks. I almost did not finish it.

OnceUponATime7What I Liked: Alternate reality; lead female; crazy, quirky neighbors.

What I Disliked: Boring; dull; lacked magic and vibrancy.

Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting the fantasy celebration of the season in the reading event Once Upon A Time. Come join us for the fun.

Stardust: Book or Movie?

StardustMovieAs you know, Stainless Steel Droppings recently hosted a read along for Neil Gaiman’s Stardust (Part I, Part II). With that complete, some of us thought it would be fun to watch the movie and do a comparison post of the two. What follows are my babblings. There are spoilers with rude manners and no sense of when to keep themselves to themselves. You have been warned.

I love how the movie start’s with a kid’s letter questioning the stars’ interest in Earthly affairs. it really sets the whole mood for the book. Small English town, science still young and full of wonder, magic still roaming free in some parts of the world. The book took a little longer to grasp me in this way; we had to explore the market before I got the sense of magic like I do with just the opening scene of the movie. Add to that the dark humor that pervades the movie, and I am hooked.

StardustMoviePfeifferPart of the reason I was hooked right away is the costuming. Yes, this movie dressed to impress. When we explore the small village of Wall, folks dress rather simply. Lots of natural colors are used to give it that small town feel – like your grand auntie made your vest and your ma darned your socks. Then as we get to the market, crazy clothes, rich clothes, colorful clothes are everywhere. Next Stormhold – so proper yet with lots of small embellishments such as embroidery. Then the sister witches – at first all run down in clothing and hair. That scene with Lamia (the star-hunting witch) checking out her recently rejuvenated arse always gets a giggle from me.  The sky pirates, with their goggles, and Ferdy’s Office (the lightning buyer) with his crazy fuzzy hat. Each costume was well thought out in this movie, providing distinct edges to the characters.

StardustMovieGoatsBernard has been a side character that has intrigued me since I first saw the movie. We first meet him tending a goat as some woman, perhaps his mum, yells at him from inside the little house. You get the feeling that this happens far too often. Next thing, he is a goat, enchanted by Lamia to pull her little 2-goat chariot. Truly, who doesn’t want to see Michelle Pfeiffer in a gorgeous dress in a chariot being pulled by two goats? then later he is the captive of Septimus, the last Stormhold brother searching for the Stormhold jewel. He gets dragged off with Septimus and his men to finally confront the Sky Pirates! When that doesn’t go as planned, Septimus, all his men dead, takes Bernard’s horse, abandoning him there. Of course, he eyes the pirate ship and I have always hoped that Hollywood would see their way clear to making a film about Bernard and his adventures from that point forward.

The sky pirates, or lightning collectors, were a big change from the book. Oh, in the book we get roughly 6 pages of time in the air with some gentlemanly lightning rustlers. During that time, a lot is suppose to happen. This is an interesting topic of discussion in the read along if you want more on it. In the movie, we get the real sense of Tristran and Yvaine gaining life skills (piano, sword play, and dancing of course) and the first glimmers of them falling in love. Of course I love Robert Di Niro as Captain Shakespeare, a somewhat flamboyant, gay man in private who has to play it strong and straight for his crew. This of course offers a lesson about not being yourself later on in the movie. I really enjoy the sky pirates, with one caveat: the repeated references to sexual violence to women. Yes, it is done in a joking manner. No, the pirates aren’t ever seen harassing any women. Still, it is the only point throughout the movie where I get a little frowny face. This aspect was not in the book.

StardustMoviePirateThe final great thing that does it for me with this movie is that it has one of the best sword fights ever. Yes, I am talking about that scene at the end where Tristran must swordfight the already dead, broken, voodoo-drowned Septimus. The choreography for that scene must have been challenging to say the least. With a broken arm and leg, there was not the normal set of sword fight movements. I enjoy that scene every time.

While Una lacked kittycat ears, and there was no little hairy man to teach Tristran about crapping in the woods, and Dunstan went on to join Tristran and Una in the land of Fairie, I still greatly enjoy this movie for all it’s differences from the book. If anything, this one of those rare examples of a movie that I enjoy slightly more than the book.

 Now I will leave you with a few tidbits that made me laugh, quirk an eyebrow, or guffaw.

The innkeeper goat Billy was perfect! I have goats, and they rarely hold still, especially in a new environment or if something odd is going on. ‘Odd’ is defined by the panicked goat and could include a landing duck, a human with a wheelbarrow, or the sudden start of a sprinkler.

Remember that scene with Primus soaking in the tub and he sees the Stormhold jewel on Yvaine? But he stays in the tub, demanding she bring it to him. Really? Dude, if that was my stone, I would be up and out of that tub and across the room. But full frontal nudity probably would have gotten a different rating on this movie.

Una gives them a Babylon candle at the end of the movie. Of course, everyone else only gets to see an oblong box. She tells them it is for you both. Now this big affair is kind of like Tristran’s coronation and his announcement to the world of his commitment to Yvaine (wedding perhaps?). So, the little devil in me always snickers at this scene because everyone else, at least those with little devils of their own, are probably guessing, based on the shape of the box, that Una just gave them a ‘marriage saver’.

OnceUponATime7Some favorite quotes:

‘Murdered by pirates, heart cut out and eaten, meet Victoria. Can’t quite decide which would be worse.’

‘You look great. You’ve had your feet done.’

‘…You smell of pee and you look like the wrong end of a dog.’

‘You want to grow up and get over yourself.’

Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting the reading event Once Upon A Time, a celebration of all that is Fantasy. Come join us!

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

GaimanStardustWhy I Read It: Stainless Steel Droppings was hosting an awesome read along.

Where I Got It: Own it.

Who I Recommend This To: Looking for an inordinary fairie tale? Check this one out.

Narrator: Neil Gaiman

Publisher: Harper Audio (2006)

Length: 6 hours 27 minutes

Tristran is a fairly average young  man on the surface of things. He lives with his family in the small town of Wall, works part time at the local catch-all shop, and moons after the loveliest lady in town, Victoria Forrester. She has next to no interest in him, but can’t help but toy with his affections. So, when a star falls one night as they stroll together, Tristran makes the vow to find it and bring it back to her, in exchange for her hand in marriage. She laughingly accepts, expecting he will fail at the task. Off Tristran goes, through the man-sized crack in the wall to the land of Fairie.

There he meets many half human and non-human beings that help or hinder him as is their want. He also discovers he has this ability to tell what direction something is in, allowing him to never truly be lost. When we first meet the star…well the star isn’t what we expected – a cussing young lady with a broken leg. There’s also the Stormhold family, having recently suffered the death of their patriarch and the surviving brothers having been tossed into a competition for the jewel of Stormhold that denotes rulership. Witches also abound, each desiring a star’s heart to restore their youth and strength. Yeah, creepy.

Each time I tink Neil Gaiman is going to follow a well traveled story arc, he deviates here and there until you end up with something original and magical all on it’s own. He doesn’t disappoint with this book. In some ways, it is a coming of age book, both Tristran and the star growing and changing by the end. There’s trickery, ships of the sky, and a unicorn. The tale is also sprinkled with every day stuff, such as Tristran taking a shovel with him into the woods to make a little deposit. Such little things help to make the characters, and the experience, real.

As much as I love Gaiman’s work, I do have 2 small issues with this book. Obviously, they don’t break the book for me as I have read it multiple times. It’s good to love some flawed things in your life – aunties, vases, yourself, and books. So much growing up happens between the lines, and much of it within 6 pages where it isn’t really described. So, while I get to know Tristran as a young man bumbling through life, and then I see him as a young man having made up his mind about several things and gained the confidence to follow through, the in between stuff was left out. The second point is a mild SPOILER: the star goes from being captured by Tristran, to being obligated to be by his side for an unforeseeable amount of time to loving him. I never really got the sense that she fell, totally, utterly, head over heels in love with him. Rather, what started as an intolerable obligation later became a tolerable arrangement. END SPOILER

Neil Gaiman was a fun narrator. You could hear his enjoyment of reading his own work, or making his characters come alive. While his female voices weren’t particularly feminine, his pacing was good and his enthusiasm infectious.

What I Liked: Magical story full of odd and interesting characters; things die (Gaiman doesn’t cut any corners on that); the characters were flawed, making them real; the unicorn; the odd market full of curious things.

What I Disliked: Gaiman’s female voices lack femininity; the scenes where ‘growing up’ happens kind of lack the description of growing up; the star’s motivation for certain choices weren’t as fleshed out as I would have liked (see Spoiler above).

OnceUponATime7Tis the season for fairies, goblins, and dragons. To meet that end, I am celebrating everything fantasy with Stainless Steel Droppings during the Once Upon A Time reading event. This even ends in June, so there’s plenty of time for you to join the fun.

For more detailed info on the book, check out the read along posts:

Part I

Part II

Stardust Read Along Part II

GaimanStardustWelcome back everyone. This week’s post takes us through the second half of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust (Chapters 6-END). Make sure to swing by our wonderful host Carl’s place over at Stainless Steel Droppings to read his thoughts on the book and catch everyone else’s link. From here on out there will be spoilers folks.

1.  In the first part we saw a naive, wool-headed and self-involved Tristran.  What are your thoughts about Tristran and his personal journey now that the book has ended?

I thought Tristran’s transformation only went so far, and not just regarding his boyish affections for Victoria. Just simply taking this journey he learned life skills, like taking a shovel with you to crap in the woods, be careful hitchhiking, and that clouds are great fluffy things but can’t provide much in the way of sustenance. While he comes to realize he doesn’t truly desire Victoria, I found his sudden switch to Yvaine to be a bit boyish. On the other hand, they did spend lots of quality time afterwards traveling around, adventuring together, before settling down into a domesticated life.

2.  The star, who we now know as Yvaine, also experienced a transformation of her own.  So I ask the same question, what are  your thoughts about Yvaine and the journey she took?

I don’t think she was use to being ignored, or chased with a big knife either. But somehow I think she took the magic-induced ignoring by Ditchwater Sal harder than being threatened by the Lillim. This was character building for her. Then there was the part where she removed the unicorn’s horn from the Lillim’s pack and that must have been a bit heart rending. That unicorn gave it’s life for her. She also showed wisdom by not stepping into the middle of a son-mother argument.

3.  The villains of the story came to interesting ends, but not necessarily expected ones.  How do you feel about Neil Gaiman’s handling of the Stormhold brothers (who had remained at the end of Part 1) and the two witches, the one Lilim and Ditchwater Sal?

I had remembered from my previous reading some years ago that the one Stormhold brother had his throat slit by the Lillim, and I was a little sad as I had hoped to have him duke it out with his remaining brother or Tristran/Yvaine. The second brother, Septimus, I had forgotten his ending and it struck me as surprising yet again. After revenge only to be taken out by a snake’s poison – it took him hours to die. I really liked that Ditchwater Sal was going to have to empty her own chamber pot and give it a good scrub from now on. hehe. Then the Lillim turning into an old, old lady, having spent her magic and youth on nefarious deeds that came to naught. Yvaine made a good decision in leaving her to live out what was left of her life. I hope the Lillim gets to experience ailments of age, such as hemorrhoids and goiters.

4.  Were there any descriptions, characters, settings, plot threads that stood out to you personally during this second half of the book?

Oh my! Tristran’s mother, Una was very funny. She needed a whole, royal procession to escort her back to Stormhold. On one hand I can understand wanting to travel in comfort, maybe even style, but elephants? She definitely showed quite a bit of ego and vanity once released from her enslavement. Oh, and Victoria and her little bun in the oven. I can assume it is Mundy’s child, but that could be completely wrong. She was ready to marry Tristran, so maybe she just wanted the security before she began to show.

5.  At the very end of the book we see that Tristran and Yvaine’s relationship and fate echoes that of Aragorn and Arwen from The Lord of the Rings.  If this question makes any sense to you (lol), what comparisons and/or contrasts do you see, especially in the fates of Yvaine and Arwen?

Well, Yvaine never really did take up faerie, or even human ways, like she never ate or drank and I assume she didn’t need to excrete. Also, she never could have children. So, her very nature remained a star’s nature, which means sooner or later she was going to have to return to the night sky. In some ways I felt sorry for Tristran not being able to join her, but then again, he had love and deep satisfaction from his good deeds. I can see the correlation of their lengthy love affair and it’s ending with Aragorn and Arawen. However, I just can’t picture Aragorn as a numpty young lad. (thanks to Lynn for teaching me a cool Scottish word). Additionally, we all know that Arawen ate and could have children. Oh, and Arawen and Aragorn were blood related – like isn’t Arawen his great aunt or something? Tristran and Yvaine were not blood related, so they spared the audience from shaking their heads in the mild incest grimace.

6.   What are your overall impressions of the story now that it is done?

I like that the end impression is that life goes on….well, except for those who are dead. But the point is that there are fairy stories going on all the time. Also Tristran and Yvaine did not kill anyone to gain their rule of Stormhold, which I found to be interesting and quaint at the same time. Reality is hardly ever so generous to rulers. I like that our ‘heroes’ were flawed and therefore, real.

7.  If Gaiman were to return to Wall/Faerie, would you take another journey there?  If so, are there any adventures hinted at in Stardust that you would like to see Neil expand on?

The lightning collectors of course. I want to know what their lives are like up in the sky, going from cloud port to cloud port, trading, living so high up. They probably have very efficient, strong, and large lungs, just to be anatomical. Also, I would like to know more about unicorn society, or the lack thereof. Are they popular in faerie? Do they go about muddling in other people’s business all the time, sticking their horns where they shouldn’t be? Do they live in groups or are they solitary, wandering about, hoping for that awkward brief chance encounter that leads to little unicorns (just like pandas)?

Other Tidbits:

The Lillim’s use of the dead reanimated unicorn was chilling. Remind me not to inhabit a body that is of such use to witches.

The Air Captain and the little hairy man are of the same fellowship…..a fellowship that uses a castle symbol. Hmmm…well, since this is a story that involves Stormhold, one can infer that is what the Captain meant. But what if that is not so? It would be like Gaiman to through that out there and then in some future installment have the symbol mean something else entirely.

 

 

Stardust Read Along Part I

GaimanStardustHowdy! Yes, I am a little too chipper this morning. And it is because we are talking about Stardust. Hooray! Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting this read along, along with the reading event of the season – Once Upon A Time VII. So make sure you stop by his place to see what he and others think of Stardust and the fantasy genre.

This week, we cover the first half of the book, Chapters 1-5. The questions do contain spoilers, so if you have not read Neil Gaiman‘s Stardust, I suggest you avert your eyes…..now.
1.  We have spent a little time with Tristran and even less time with the star.  What are your initial thoughts/impressions of our two protagonists?

Tristran is a little odd, and really only his father and foster mother have an inkling why. He grows up not really knowing about his past, so he probably doesn’t understand why home might not always feel like home. Poor dude. Then he goes and pins all his hopes and desires on one young lady, one who hardly pauses to give him the time of day. Tristran is polite, but single minded in his pursuits. I think him leashing the star shows this well.

The star is a very real character for me, primarily because she cusses when initially trying to use her bad leg. Indeed she has been watching human behavior, and not just the proper and polite kind (AKA Boring Human Behavior). No, she has it down by instinct when it’s appropriate to let a good cuss out – such as when you are alone, lost in the woods, with a severely injured limb. And perhaps you have to pee too. Though, I don’t know if the star in human form does need to pee. Perhaps we’ll find out, because Gaiman is that kind of writer.

2.  There are some very interesting potential villains introduced in this first half of the book.  Do any of them particularly stand out to you? If so why or why not?

At first the Stormhold Gang – dying father and living sons – struck me as having a very cutthroat take on life and a bit villainy. But then we meet the Lillim – the three witches. I live on a small farm and we occasionally butcher an animal for our own consumption. But these ladies, they keep wild animals for augury – pulling out their entrails in a form of drawing straws. Yes, these ladies will be formidable. they want a heart to keep them young for centuries more to come.

Perhaps I would feel differently if they then consumed their augury beasts….hmmm….and hunted them in the wild instead keeping them in cages for weeks on end. Maybe.

3.  In Chapter Three, just after the section with the brothers in Stormhold, Neil Gaiman gives us a description of Faerie that includes “each land that has been forced off the map by explorers and the brave going out and proving it wasn’t there…”.  What imaginary lands do you then hope are a part of Faerie?

The lands of the Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson, Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching’s Chalk, including the Feegles. Peter Dickinson’s Flight of Dragons. Jacqueline Carey’s The Sundering.

4.  We do not get to spend a great deal of time in the market but while there we are given a number of interesting descriptions of the wares being bartered or sold.  Which if any of them caught your eye, either as items you would like to possess or ones you would most certainly hope to avoid.

Coats of Dusk and Bottles of Dreams caught my eye. Of course, the coat would have to wrap me in dusk anytime I wanted and not just at dusk and the bottled dream had better be a good one, full of high adventure, fantastical creatures, and just a smidgeon of danger. Dunstan mentions storm-filled eggshells which I would do my utmost to avoid knocking over their display.

5.  If you have read much of Gaiman’s work, particularly his short fiction, then you have come across some rather graphic and disturbing portrayals of sex.  Gaiman offers up something very different in the way of a sex scene early on in Stardust.  What are your feelings of the scene either in general or as a contrast to other Gaiman-penned scenes involving sex?

In general, sex in literature does not bother me. I don’t mind it being detailed as I find that how folks treat each other in bed really reflects on how they treat each other the rest of the time. The sex scene in this book was mild compared to some of Gaiman’s other work. I have read most of his books and two collections of his short stories. Really, there is only 1 short story that stands out as disturbing in regards to sex. I forget the title, but I think it was in his collection Fragile Things. Gaiman let’s us get to know and even connect with the main protagonist before he drops the bomb – the guy likes young girls in the bedroom. Most folks are disturbed by scenes and references to pedophilia, and I really hope that Gaiman was trying to teach some lesson about human behavior – perhaps along the lines of you really don’t know someone until you know their sexual inclinations. Anyway, that short story has been a bit of a puzzle to me since I read it – few authors would risk having their readers get attached to a character that turns out to be a pedophile.

6.  I suspect Neil Gaiman is influenced by a number of fairy and folk tales in Stardust.  Are there any elements of the story that made a particular impression and/or reminded you of other fairy stories you have read or are familiar with?

Of course the classic trope of Tristran going off to fetch some valuable item for his beautiful lady, hoping against hope for her favor – very chivalrous knightly of him. Then the fallen star treated as a highly valued object and not as a person makes me thing of other stories where we have the misunderstood figurehead of state/kingdom/church who has no say in their immediate future. Then back to Tristran and his mysterious parentage – how many stories out there are about some young man or woman who is secretly the long lost heir to a wealthy merchanting business, a witch’s secret lair, some lordship, etc. So, yeah, Gaiman has pulled in furniture from all sorts of fairy tales and then used that furniture for unexpected and sometimes unintended uses, giving us a fresh take on the fairy tale genre.

7.  And finally, which of the many side characters introduce have caught your eye and why? Or what else about the story thus far is of interest to you?

Quite frankly, I have always wondered about the unicorn. I have read this book more than once, and seen the movie several times, and it is always the unicorn who I wonder about. In the movie, I believe it is a gelding. So, what does he think about all this nonsense? Does he mind being put into service – carrying a fallen star around? Does he want the star for himself, or perhaps was just seeking high adventure himself and what better way to do that than to attach yourself to some heavenly creature. The unicorn obviously does some thinking on his own, so I simply always wondered what his motivations were.

Once Upon a Time VII

OnceUponATime7Here we are again – the seventh year of the Once Upon a Time reading event, hosted by the most awesome Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings. This will be my second year participating, and I know from last year that a great chunk of what I read falls in the Fantasy genre. This is one of the funnest reading events of the year, as it is all about fun – and fantasy. You can catch all the details over at Stainless Steel Droppings, but the basics are that: It runs from March 21st -June 21st, any book, movie, or tv of the Fantasy genre counts, and there is a whole slew of other bloggers participating, so you can see what they are all up to in the Fantasy genre.

GaimanStardustI’ll be aiming for Quest the First, which is 5 books that fall into the Fantasy genre somewhere – so many subgenres! Also, Carl is hosting a read along of Stardust by Neil Gaiman in April. Here’s the schedule for that:

April 1-9th: Prologue through the end of Chapter 5.
April 10th: Discussion over first half (roughly) of the story

April 10th-16th: Chapter 6 through the Epilogue.
April 17th: Discussion over the second half of the book and wrap up.

This is one of my favorite books, and movies, so it will be great to share it with a group of people. If you are thinking to join the festivities, I highly encourage you to do so. Need more convincing? Check out Stainless Steel Droppings.

Dab of Darkness will also be hosting a read along of The Shadow of the Sun by Barbara Friend Ish, a high fantasy book, in April. There’s still time to join us, if you are interested.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Why I Read It: Stainless Steel Droppings was hosting a read along.

Where I Got It: Own it.

Who I Recommend This To: If you like the scary things to be the good guys, then this ghost story is worth your time.

Publisher: HaprerCollins (2008)

Length: 320 pages

Part I Read Along

Part II Read Along

Part III Read Along

This was a re-read for me and I think I enjoyed this book even more the second time around, mostly because the read along forced me to slow down and savor this book.

Nobody (Bod) Owens’ family was killed by a knife-wielding man Jack while baby Bod wandered out of the house and up the street to a local ancient graveyard. Being pursued by Jack, the graveyard ghosts grant him the protection and freedom of the graveyard. From there, with each consecutive chapter, we see Bod grow up with his ghostly family (The Owenses) and their neighbors. Silas, who is neither dead nor alive, agrees to be his guardian, providing clothes, food, and books.

Miss Lupescu (shape shifter), Scarlett (Bod’s first live friend), and Liza Hempstock (deceased witch) are some of my favorite characters. As Bod ages, he learns about ghouls, school bullies, and eventually the man who killed his first family.

I love this book for many reasons. Neil Gaiman does an excellent job of showing that not all scary things are inherently evil. Each chapter shows yet another facet of the world of the graveyard and those experiences shape Bod as he grows into a young man. I would jump for joy if Gaiman wrote a follow up novel exploring Bod’s life after this book.

What I Liked: The novelty of a book based on a graveyard society; the whole idea of life continuing on after this living, breathing one; Bod turns into a fine young man; I easily got attached to these characters and it was hard to say goodbye to some of them; the ghouls (named after famous people like Victor Hugo and a US president).

What I Disliked: I felt the chapter on the Danse Macabre was left a little too open-ended for me. I wanted to know more.

As part of Stainless Steel Droppings’ R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event, I am going to count this book as Ghost Story. This event is still going strong until the end of October, so feel free to hop over there and join the fun.

The Graveyard Book Read Along Part III

Heldig doesn’t like to share her napping place.

Once again, let me thank Stainless Steel Droppings for hosting this read along. This is the third and final installment of this event.

Spoilers Range Loose and Unfettered

In case you haven’t read the previous parts:

Part I

Part II

In Chapter 7, a lot of cool, wicked, and important stuff happens. For me, there were two hard things – Miss Lupescu’s death and Bod regains his friend Scarlett only to drive her away. However, there is also the satisfaction of Mr. Jack Frost coming to a deserved end and also learning more about the Sleer.

I have to go on a bit about the society of Every Man Jack: Jack Dandy, Jack Nimble, Jack Ketch, Jack Frost and Jack Tar. Jack Dandy was familiar to me as referring to someone who enjoys garish clothing, hats, and perhaps wigs and canes. Apparently, ‘dandy’ has meant pretty much just this since the 1700s.

Did you know that Jack Nimble use to be a pirate? An English pirate, Black Jack, from the 16th century. Somehow, he went from that to nursery rhymes. I thank Gaiman for pointing back to Jack N.’s original inclinations.

Jack Ketch of the 1600s held the office of Executioner, and on occasion, he botched a job. This would lead to a prolonged execution. It’s amazing the stuff you can find on Wikipedia. I have to wonder how much of this stuff Gaiman had kicking around his head over the years?

Jack Frost is common in American culture as the harbinger of winter. Unfortunately, my society has also made several bad movies about Jack Frost. In particular, there was this very questionable movie I saw  in some hotel room on a forced family expedition that featured Jack Frost as a snowman. If you know this movie, then that particular scene with the carrot in the shower has kept me steering clear of any Frost movies since then.

Our last Jack, Jack Tar, is a little boring, simply being a WWI seaman.

OK. I have gone on long enough about ancient bad guys and nursery rhymes and poor choices in hotel tv. A quick recap of Chapter 7: Bod (~14 yrs. old) is missing Silas and Lupescu, who are off in foreign places with a small pig fighting Jack Badness. Scarlett and her divorced mom have returned to the area and Scarlett comes across a man taking headstone rubbings for a community history project in the old neighborhood. Of course this man, Jack Frost, is hunting Bod. Bod doesn’t know this, but he does eventually recognize Scarlett and they renew their friendship. Frost waits for his opportunity to strike and when he does so, Bod realizes who he is. A merry, twisted chase through the graveyard ensues with the Jacks mentioned above. Scarlett hides in the Sleer hill crypt, where Frost eventually finds her. The Sleer haven’t had so much company since they were buried and I doubt they will be serving tea. Jack Frost is defeated and the Sleer made ecstatically happy, and Scarlett had to have her memory (Bod and all) wiped by the returned Silas.

Chapter 8 finds Bod old enough to leave the graveyard and enter the world of the living. His fading abilities to commune with the ghosts are a huge hint by Fate for him to move on and start living his life. This final chapter was bittersweet. We have to say goodbye to most of the characters we met along the way. Sniffle…

Does anyone else hope that someday Neil Gaiman returns to this world?

What do you think about the Sleer and their coils?

While I get that the Jacks are bad, I still don’t get exactly what all they do? Anything and everything naughty and despicable?

Will you be reading another Gaiman novel soon?

Thanks everyone for stopping by throughout the read along!

The Graveyard Book Read Along Part II

Chupacabra guarding my book.

For the second installment of The Graveyard Book read along, chapters 4-6 (which includes a short interlude) were read. If you are just joining us, Part I can be found HERE.

Let me start off by thanking Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings for hosting this read along. He has several fun reading events going on this month, so make sure to check out his site.

These few chapters see our main character, Nobody (Bod) Owens, grow from a child to a youngling on the cusp of adulthood. One of the things I truly enjoy about Neil Gaiman‘s writings is his ability to weave mythology and lore into everyday experiences. He does that beautifully in the chapter concerning the Danse Macabre, where the living and the dead enjoy a few hours of unfettered dancing in the streets.

In Chapter 4, The Witch’s Headstone, we meet Liza Hempstock (I love Gaiman’s character names!), who was droned and burned to charcoal and buried and a witch in unconsecrated ground. Turns out she is a little bit of a witch, and it is good that she and Bod get to be friends. Bod finds it a bit sad that she lacks a headstone and so he sets out to get her one, taking many chances and breaking even more rules. He steals from the Sleether (see Part I) and tries to sell the item to a shady type who locks him in a back room while he decides what to do. Bod is eventually saved and returns to the graveyard, where he makes a touching gesture to Liza. Humanity counts whether you are dead or alive. What did you all think about Abanazer Bolger’s connection to Jack?

The Danse Macabre I alluded to above is Chapter 5. I found this chapter to be full of mystery and beauty. I loved the idea of tradition pushing the living into participating, and the simplicity of the not-very-often blooming white flowers. Even though this is my second read through, I still didn’t understand why the ghosts and even Silas at the end of the chapter, after the dance is all said and done, won’t talk about it. We already had plenty of mystery surrounding the dance, like why the flowers, where was the music coming from, and why did the ghosts spiffy up their ghostly habitations if the dance took place in town? Why add the mystery of not talking about it?

Jack, Jack, Jack…..Sigh… what a vicious mystery you are. In the interlude Convocation, we get a few hints about Jack. Perhaps he is well funded. Perhaps he is just one of a group of trained or specialized killers. Reading this little section makes me worry for Bod Owens.

In Chapter 6, Nobody Owens’ School Days, Bod gets to go to class. He wants to learn, not just book learning, but about being alive. Silas, his guardian, warns him to keep a low profile. Unfortunately, Bod has a hard time doing that for very long because there are bullies. Pretty soon he has not only the ill-intention of the bullies focused on him, but also the once-bullied younger kids pointing him out. Things start to get out of hand when the police get involved. However, Bod learns some important skills, like putting on The Fear and Dreamwalking. At this point in the book, Bod is 11 and he is asking questions about why he has to keep a low profile and why his family was killed and who this killer Jack is and why Jack still wants him dead. And Bod receives no answers. I feel Bod’s frustration! I want answers too. But I also feel that Bod deserves the truth of the matter at this point. He’s old enough to ask the question and understand the bulk of the answer. And I believe that Bod is starting to make choices that could endanger him greatly because he is kept ignorant.

So that’s the sum up. What stuck out for you?

Did you get the Danse Macabre chapter?

Do you think Bod’s Haunting of the school bullies was just a teensy vicious?

What is up with Jack and his business card?