Book Review: Castle Waiting (Volumes 1 & 2)

I’ve been on a bit of a bender lately reading comic books and I’ve got a handful of them I’d like to write some reviews for on here. First up is Castle Waiting, a 2-volume anthology of booklet comics by Linda Medley. Tcastlewaitinghe first volume was released way,way back in 2006 (and I have faint memories of reading it at the library while I was in high school) and the second volume came out in 2010. I got my hands on both and gave them a thorough read, happy to find a comic that took more than half an hour to get through (I am a very fast reader, after all).

What you might hear being consistently praised about the Castle Waiting series is the strong and diverse cast of female characters. They come from all walks of life, varied appearances, interesting backstories, hobbies and interests. I think the most powerful thing about this is that it feels absolutely effortless; IMG_2822never do you think “wow, look at all these women” but rather “wow, what a compelling story”. That being said, the story is enjoyable but not overly complex, sort of a fairy-tale slice-of-life genre rather than an epic saga. I think this is the reason that the humour and dialogue is very human and readable. It’s rather hard to describe so you’ll have to experience that yourself.

Though it took a few chapters to get situated in my eyes, I think that the world is pretty well-drawn and the background for the story is established, certainly by the end of the first volume. The everyday details of the story make the comic seem set in our own world, yet the fairy-tale narratives and fantastic creatures remind us that it is not. Quite a thing to accomplish I think.

From what I can gather, Medley began work on a spin-off called 12 Witches that was last mentioned back in 2013. I can’t seem to find anything newer about it. I’d love to see more of her work and will look forward to revisiting Castle Waiting again sometime in the future – I think it has great re-readability.

The first volume is currently on Amazon for about $23.50 CAD, and the second for $34.50 CAD. I’d suspect that it is in quite a few library systems though, so take a look if it’s somewhere near you and definitely give it a read! If what I’ve described above appeals to you, you will not regret it.

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Book Review: The Dark Wife by Sarah Diemer

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I read this book over the course of a day of travel. I was early to the airport, had a flight delay, and then a 1.5 hour flight to get some serious reading done – and I’m a pretty fast reader, so I got through all of The Dark Wife by Sarah Diemer. It’s a lesbian retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth, casting Hades as a goddess rather than a god. It’s a pretty easy read and enjoyable. I’m a big fan of revisionist mythologies so this was sort of my wheelhouse. I found this retelling was a fresh take on the premise.11672159

There are two things that I took away from the story: first was the manipulation of the mythological narrative and second was the effect of writing from the 1st person POV of Persephone. I think that the mythological aspects were really well executed. There’s always the question of how to deal with the more obscene elements of mythology in a more updated retelling – particularly the rape and coercion by the gods and Zeus in particular. Diemer effectively turned the king of the gods into a villain which I see as a really valid interpretation. It worked well.

Writing in 1st person gave an interesting perspective on the story, but as I saw some other reviewers had mentioned on goodreads, there was a little tendency to wax poetic about how lovely and flawless Hades was. I didn’t find this detracted from the story but I can see how other readers might feel that way about it. I think that as we are reading from the perspective of (essentially) a teenage girl, this kind of flowery romantic imagery is understandable – I mean, just think about Persephone’s character. She is the youngest of the gods and in a relatively unique situation, and though Hades is not her first love you can see the immaturity and young-love motif come through in these sections. Additionally I thought the more steamy scenes were well handled and rather abstract, which suited both the naivety of the character and the myth aesthetic.

Overall a great read. My Kobo did something strange with the numbering so I thought I was drawing near the close of the book, but I suddenly entered into a second numbering section when I reached it. I think I’m just a bit new to the device still. I picked the book up on the Kobo marketplace but it is also available on Amazon.

Summer Reading List 2015

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It’s that time of year again, when I start collecting up all the scraps of paper and virtual post-its that I have amassed with the names of books that I want to read over the summer. This year I have a pretty diverse collection of old and new publications, some childhood books to revisit, some classic stories that I’ve never delved into before. I’m pretty excited to get started.

For my own sake, and perhaps yours too, I’ve divided them all into two categories: new and other books. New just refers to something that has been published in the last 5-ish years, and other is, as you might have guessed, anything other than that. I’m trying to read more YA novels, as I find them fun and quick reads, but there will be some variation other than that, too.

New Books

Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch
Scarlet and the Keepers of Light – Brandon Charles West
None of the Above – IW Gregorio
Recipe for Magic – Agatha Bird
Red Queen – Victoria Aveyard
The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
Fifteen Dogs – Andre Alexis
Throne of Glass – Sarah J Maas
Gates of Thread and Stone – Lori M Lee
Plenilune – Jennifer Freitag
The Dark Wife – Sarah Diemer

Other Books

Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale – Holly Black
Enchanted, Inc. – Shanna Swendson
The Dragon’s Egg – Alison Baird
Water – Kara Dally
Conrad’s Fate – Diana Wynne Jones
The Magicians of Caprona – Diana Wynne Jones
Mixed Magics – Diana Wynne Jones
The Pinhoe Egg – Diana Wynne Jones
Hexwood – Diana Wynne Jones
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
Which Witch? – Eva Ibbotson
In the Night Garden – Catherynne M Valente
The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
Julie of the Wolves – Jean George
Good Omens – Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
The Colour of Magic – Terry Pratchett
Piratica – Tanith Lee
The Star of Kazan – Eva Ibbotson
The Underpainter – Jane Urquhart
Born With A Tooth – Joseph Boyden

So there we have my list! In no particular order, I want to get through these 32 novels this summer, or at least this year. As I am a fast reader I am certain I can do it, but getting my hands on some of them may take some time. If you’ve got copies of any and want to share, let me know!

Additionally, I am always interested in adding more books to the list. If you have recommendations (or maybe a book of your own you think I should check out and review) then leave me a comment and let me know!

What’s your summer reading list look like? Anything you’re particularly excited for?

But First, They Must Catch You

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I’ve spent this snowy Saturday at home, rather under the weather. I spent an unfortunate amount of time out in the damp yesterday and after picking up my new Kobo, arrived home to discover that I was coming down with a cold. So this morning I stayed in bed and read the entirety of Watership Down by Richard Adams. I had a peculiar idea that I had read this book before, but having completed it now I definitely had not. Perhaps I was confusing it with The Wind in the Willows.

It was a great reading experience and the story stuck me as particularly thoughtful. This was perhaps furthered by reading after the fact that Adams came up with the story to entertain his daughters in the car, and didn’t create it with any particular message or lesson to be learned from it. It’s an easy story to try and mine instruction from, but I love that this is not due to a particular amount of labour on the part of the author. That would give it so much more artificial a feel.

I enjoyed how it mimicked the epic journey of Classical fiction. The quotations that preceded each chapter (which I must assume are universal, and not just part of my edition, but if I am wrong please let me know) were so precise in capturing the essence of what was to come, I found myself thinking on them often. The reference to the lotus-eaters in the chapter about the warren of the snares was fantastic. What great storytelling.

I will admit that I went into it thinking that this was a children’s book. I’m not sure if it’s actually marketed that way or not. I think I would have found the story dull and a little over my head were I to have read it when I was younger, despite the talking animals and adventure. That is not to say that children shouldn’t try and read it. There’s nothing quite so educational as a book that is above one’s level. I don’t particularly have any problem with the sorts of violence portrayed, as it is all part of the animal kingdom and therefore rather objective, though I do wonder at letting a story with such clear gender roles serve as a formative reading experience. As an adult I can take it with a grain of salt, but I wouldn’t want to let a child think of this kind of language as normative (I’m referring to the explicit description by the male rabbits of the female rabbits as ‘breeding machines’). I don’t think this detracts from the story if you read it critically.

Anyways, that’s another novel closer to my yearly reading goal. I didn’t realize how long it was when I started but it helped me get through what would have otherwise been a dull morning of convalescence. I’m hoping to get through another couple of Diana Wynne Jones books soon, and I have a list of other books from childhood that I want to go through again. Being sick is a wonderful excuse to do nothing but read!

Old Favourites: Rereading The Worlds of Chrestomanci

When I was at my parents’ house last week I pulled out the stack of Chrestomanci books that had been hiding in my large book collection since I was quite young. I hadn’t read them in probably 15 years. Something had reminded me of them and as I was taking a break from academic work, it felt like the right moment to revisit the series.

I’m not going to offer a review of the books here because I think they are so excellent that they stand on their own without the need for help from promotions. I only got through two books, The Lives of Christopher Chant and Charmed Life so far, and if it weren’t for my lack of a copy of Conrad’s Fate I would be reading the series in the order recommended by Diana Wynne Jones, rather than the publication order. That order, if you are so interested, is as follows:

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Conrad’s Fate
Charmed Life
“Warlock at the Wheel” (in Mixed Magics)
“The Sage of Theare” (in Mixed Magics)
Witch Week
The Magicians of Caprona
“Stealer of Souls” (in Mixed Magics)
“Carol Oneir’s Hundredth Dream” (in Mixed Magics)
The Pinhoe Egg

This summer I’ll work my way down that list. It’s very nostalgic reading these books again, and I find myself very grateful for having been exposed to them when I was young. The writing style is so clear and absorbing. I consider DWJ an inspiration for my own writing, though I try and find my own voice rather than imitate hers. I do appreciate her way of making ordinary details seem important, and how she humanizes her characters. These are things that I think I need to work on myself.

I’ve also read Howl’s Moving Castle, which of course is quite different from the movie adaptation. Independently, both the book and the movie are great works and incredibly dear to me. They read as different stories, however much the general plot is the same. I think it’s a great example of adapting a book non-faithfully for the screen. I don’t know that there are any other examples like it.

Have you read anything by Diana Wynne Jones? Or are there books from your childhood that you’ve recently revisited too?

For the love of novellas

I can’t praise myself as a prolific reader for the simple fact that I am extremely busy. I dream of a time beyond thesis writing and TA jobs and RA jobs when the snow will melt and books will once again be read. That day may be soon at hand, but for now, I remain busy and cold.

This leads me to consider now a suitable moment to harp on my love of the novella. A literary art form that is currently in the early stages of a revival, a novella is somewhere between a short story and a novel. They’ve never fully gone out of fashion, that is true — you’d be surprised how many of your favourite classics actually fall under the category of novella (The Little Prince, Of Mice and Men, Animal Farm). But in a world of epic novels and online shopping I think the novella became somewhat displaced. Those looking for them can’t easily distinguish the length of book from a cursory glance on Amazon. Finding them — and then hoping for a good story, too — is a challenge.

I became interested in the style from the Melville House series The Art of the Novella, where they were publishing the shorter works of famous authors (and a few contemporaries) in a stylistically simple format. I was in a bookshop while passing through Ottawa a few summers ago when I bought Scott Fitzgerald’s A Diamond as Big as the Ritz, from this series. It was just the right length for a day of driving in the car, which was invariably interrupted by pit stops, bathroom breaks, and shifts driving. I was amazed at the impact that a book of such a short length could have. I suspect this was the start of my more recent appreciation for concise and clear writing. I like stories that go somewhere at a reasonably quick pace, and are wrapped up without too much winding.

That’s not to say I don’t love a full-length novel; hell, I’ve written one. They’re great. But they are more of a commitment than I can undertake on a daily basis right now. My best finds are in the second-hand bookstore downtown, where they have a miraculously wide collection of novella-length publications from the seventies that I adore. The stack on my shelf will last me a while yet, I think.

I think there’s something to be said for the satisfaction of finishing a book in a single session. Being able to percolate the story in one go is a rare treat, like a snack-sized version of a luxurious day doing nothing but lounging about with a big novel. The novella is there for us busy book-lovers, waiting for a single free afternoon, a particularly long bus ride, or a bout of insomnia to entertain us all in one marvellous act. Aren’t we lucky?

Book Review: Rat Queens (Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery)

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I had been hearing things for some time about this comic, Rat Queens, and more importantly I had been promised at every turn that I would absolutely love it after the first compiled volume came out last March. A few weeks ago I finally bought it and after one of the slowest shipping experiences possible (I blame my remote city, not Amazon), it arrived. Couldn’t have been a better day, as I was wiped out after a day of thesis writing and needed something to cheer me up. I am delighted to report that it did the job admirably.

The first volume of the comic, whose story is written by Kurtis J. Wiebe and art is done by Roc Upchurch, is a compilation of the first five issues of the series. It chronicles the badass antics of the titular squad of mercenaries, andrat-queens-vol-01-releases from the first page you know the characters are trouble. It takes place in a world familiar to D&D and fantasy fans, but infused with the gritty lady combat of Sucker Punch and an imaginary Joan Jett soundtrack (or was that just in my head?) But it’s not right to compare the series with other franchises, really. It brings enough to the party on its own.

The characters are great and we get a tantalizing look at everyone’s backstories in this volume. The dialogue is so, so important in comics with their limited space, and not only does Rat Queens do a great job of establishing a unique voice for each character, but the pacing works extremely well and the story doesn’t stagnate. Did I also mention it’s funny? And filled with amazing women? Yeah, I kind of have a book crush.

Volume 2 is coming out at the end of April, but if you can’t wait that long then the individual issues are available here, or at your local comic book store, if they know what’s good for them. Let me know what you think if you give the series a try. I’m already looking forward to giving it another read.