Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Witch Week is coming: October 31-November 6

Diana Wynne Jones celebration readalong


You may just possibly have heard the news already, but here's another reminder. At the end of this month, I'm hosting a blog event to celebrate fantasy fiction and one of my favorite authors, Diana Wynne Jones. For the original announcement and sign-up post, click here.

I was beyond thrilled that when I asked five of my favorite bloggers if they would contribute guest posts, they all said yes:
You are not going to want to miss any of these! For the final day, we'll be having a readalong of Witch Week itself.

Most of my DWJ collection (they don't QUITE fit on one shelf).
Part of my DWJ collection (they don't QUITE all fit on one shelf)

You could do worse than spend the month reading these six fantastic books, or any others by DWJ that you may fancy. Happy reading, and I do hope you'll join us! To sign up, please leave a comment (here or on the announcement post), and if you are a button-posting type, grab the Witch Week button above and link to this post to help spread the word. Then come back to ECBR on October 30 for a preview before the real fun starts. It's going to be a magical week.

Friday, September 26, 2014

My First Diana Wynne Jones: Charmed Life

Diana Wynne Jones, Charmed Life (Greenwillow, 1977)


The first book you read by a favorite author has a special quality. Even if there are other books by the same author that you realize are more worthy of recognition, the joy of discovery lends your "first" a lingering glow. Sometimes, the particular circumstances of finding the book are stamped on the memory as well. I'm revisiting some of these "first reads" and giving some second (or fifth or twentieth) impressions.

Diana Wynne Jones Chrestomanci
The first DWJ I ever purchased
I first encountered the name of Diana Wynne Jones when at age fourteen I wrote a letter to my favorite author at the time, Robin McKinley, and received this response. I had asked her to tell me her favorite book and not to answer War and Peace (I guess I was fed up with high school required reading lists). She gave quite an extensive list of books and authors, all of which I duly checked out.

Charmed Life was the first DWJ title I found in my local bookstore, and I purchased it forthwith. Here is the first paragraph:
Cat Chant admired his sister Gwendolen. She was a witch. He admired her and he clung to her. Great changes came about in their lives and left him no one else to cling to.
Four simple, almost simplistic sentences, but as we progress further into the story we find out that there are many layers beneath the surface. The bland statement "She was a witch" turns out to have quite a different significance in Cat and Gwendolen's world than in ours, as witchcraft is an ordinary occupation, like hairdressing or teaching music. And Cat's admiration of and dependence on his older sister, which seem entirely natural considering that the "great changes" in their lives include the sudden death of their parents in a boating accident, turn out to be problematic. For magic may be common in Cat's world, but it's not always innocuous, and Gwendolen is not using her powers to benefit her young brother, but rather the opposite.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Darkness in Delphi: My Brother Michael

Mary Stewart, My Brother Michael (1960; Chicago Review, 2009)


http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/partner?partner_id=37349&html=ppbs/37349_3768.html?p_bkslv
Mary Stewart is rightly acclaimed for creating wonderfully robust settings in her books, which serve as much more than mere stage backdrops to the action. So strong is the sense of place, sometimes, that the setting almost becomes a character or a plot device in its own right.

Such is the case with My Brother Michael, which I picked up in honor of Mary Stewart Reading Week. The place is Delphi, on the slopes of Mount Parnassus in Greece, once considered the navel of the world and still one of the most numinous sites of the Western world. While telling one of her thrilling tales of mystery and danger, Stewart also manages to evoke the spirit of Greece, both ancient and modern, in a strikingly vivid way. From a memorable scene of the difficulties of passing a bus on a mountain road, to explorations of the god-haunted landscape of Parnassus, to stories of some of the tragedies incurred during and after the Second World War, she makes us feel that we have encountered this brilliant, desolate land, and experienced some of its treasures -- and its burdens.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Quick Quotes: The Crystal Cave

Arthurian Mary Stewart Merlin
"But there's nothing in this world that I'm not ready to see and learn, and no god that I'm not ready to approach in his own fashion. I told you that truth was the shadow of God. If I am to use it, I must know who He is. Do you understand me?"

"How could I? What god are you talking about?"

"I think there is only one. Oh, there are gods everywhere, in the hollow hills, in the wind and the sea, in the very grass we walk on and the air we breathe, and in the bloodstained shadows where men like Belasius wait for them. But I believe there must be one who is God Himself, like the great sea, and all the rest of us, small gods and men and all, like rivers, we all come to Him in the end."

Merlin, to his servant Cadal
in The Crystal Cave
by Mary Stewart

Monday, September 15, 2014

Suspense with Style: Four by Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart, Nine Coaches Waiting (Morrow, 1959)

Mary Stewart, The Ivy Tree (Morrow, 1962)

Mary Stewart, The Moon-Spinners (Morrow, 1963)

Mary Stewart, This Rough Magic (Morrow, 1964) 


Mary Stewart romantic suspense
It's always a great pleasure to discover an author whose books have somehow passed you by, especially if there are plenty of them. Such is the case with Mary Stewart, whose romantic suspense novels just never swam into my ken until now.

Fortunately, good books never go out of date. This summer I read four Stewarts in quick succession and found them effortlessly readable yet refreshingly literate. With exotic settings, independent heroines, and tricky plots, they make perfect vacation reading. And in honor of Mary Stewart Reading Week, hosted by Gudrun's Tights, here are some thoughts that I hope will interest those who haven't yet discovered this wonderful author, as well as those who know and love her.

Each of these four books starts with a young woman, usually alone, making a journey to some beautiful, rather remote spot (Corfu, Northumberland, Alpine France, Crete) where she expects to settle into a holiday or a new job. She then finds that there is something unsavory going on (smuggling, treason, identity theft, attempted murder, kidnapping) and becomes involved in trying to defeat the villain(s). Serious dangers to life and limb ensue, as she tries to rescue the victim/find the treasure/puzzle out the crime, but naturally she comes through in the end, with a new love interest with whom she has made a connection in the midst of all the mayhem.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Two from the Trail: A Walk in the Woods and Wild

Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (Broadway Books, 1998)

 

Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Knopf, 2012)



At about the same time in the mid-nineties, two very different people -- a successful, 44-year-old author and family man, and a 26-year-old aspiring writer "with a hole in her heart" -- decided to take a hike: a long hike, using two of the longest footpaths in the country. Through their accounts, published almost 15 years apart, we learn about the transformative power of simply taking a walk. By relinquishing the possessions that usually weigh us down, we have an chance to experience nature and ourselves without intermediaries. Even in our tech-obsessed culture, this is clearly a topic that fascinates us -- both books were bestsellers and are currently being made into Hollywood movies. What's the draw?

Bryson is well known as a humorist, and A Walk in the Woods is most often remembered and recommended as a funny book. There are indeed many hilarious moments, often involving his not-exactly-fit friend Stephen Katz. Katz is not perhaps the person one would choose to take along on such an adventure, being prone to throwing away important items from his pack to lighten it, getting lost, and being completely dismissive of the serious danger of bear trouble, but as he bumbles along he becomes dear to us. In his struggle to throw off an addiction, he reminds us that small acts of bravery can be meaningful, and that sometimes facing our demons means just putting one foot in front of the other. Since these are two middle-aged men traveling together, this emotional subtext is not overtly displayed, and never becomes annoyingly maudlin, but it adds poignancy and purpose to the book. (Bryson dedicated it "To Katz, of course.")

Related Posts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...