Tag Archives: favourites

Favourites: Howl’s Moving Castle

The last favourite book. I still haven’t figured out what to do for bi-monthly post next year, so any ideas are welcome!

FAVOURITES

DIANA WYNNE JONES: HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE

Howl's Moving Castle

Published: Methuen Children’s Books Ltd 1986

Pages: 302 (Harper Collins 2005)

Series: Howl’s Moving Castle #1

“How about making a bargain with me?” said the demon. “I’ll break your spell if you agree to break this contract I’m under.”

In the land of Ingary, where seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility do exist, Sophie Hatter attracts the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste and is put under a curse. Determined to make the best of things, Sophie travels to the one place where she might get help – the moving castle which hovers on the nearby hills.

But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the hearts of young girls…

I’ve been watching Hayao Miyazaki’s films since I was a kid, and of course I went to see Howl’s Moving Castle when it came out 2005. You have probably seen the film, or at least heard of it. It’s a beautiful, beautiful movie.

However, it’s vastly different from the book, and I like the latter better. Although a children’s book, Howl’s Moving Castle is surprisingly violent and serious. Not too much of those though, only enough to keep an adult reader entertained and just as intrigued as the child reader. I have read the book several times now, and there is always something I have missed before: a literary reference (my particular joy), a hint of an adult topic, a reference to something that to the main character Sophie seems incomprehensible but that comes from our world.

There’s also the matter of ages. Sophie is about eighteen, Howl in his early twenties. I’m still close enough to them in age to see how they think; when I first read the book, they seemed old. This is also one of the messages of the book – the perspective age gives. As an old woman, Sophie sees Howl as a child. Michael, Howl’s apprentice, is even younger. This makes the book so wonderful to read again and again: you are of a different age yourself, so you get a different view on things.

There is also a puzzle in the book. I’m not talking about the spell – John Donne’s wonderful poem ‘Go and catch a falling star’ is here utilized very deftly – but the puzzle of identities and motivations. What is Sophie’s stepmother Fanny really like? What does the Scarecrow want? What or who is the dog? What happened to Prince Justin? You won’t know until the end, although you can take your guesses and, if you’re very clever, be right. The movie will not help you here, as it has excluded all this.

I also have to mention the wonderful chapter titles. My favourites would have to be, ‘Chapter Six, in which Howl expresses his feelings with green slime’, ‘Chapter Fourteen, in which a Royal Wizard catches a cold’, and,  ‘Chapter Nineteen, in which Sophie expresses her feelings with weed-killer’. Of particular charm is also ‘Chapter Eleven, in which Howl goes to a strange country in search of a spell’.

Howl’s Moving Castle is a wonderful book, and a fairly quick read. It’ll keep you entertained on consecutive readings as well, and I promise it will always give you something new.

Also, the scene with drunk Howl is particularly hilarious.

Diana Wynne Jones died in March 2011. A great loss for the field of fantasy literature. She will be fondly remembered by all her readers, even those like me who would like to read more of her works but only seem to manage one every couple of years.

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Favourites: Sharp Teeth

Better late than never – here’s the second to last favourite books post!

FAVOURITES

TOBY BARLOW: SHARP TEETH

 

Published: 2008 Harper Collins

Pages: 313

An ancient race of lycanthropes survives in modern L.A., and its numbers are growing as the pack converts the city’s downtrodden into their fold. Stuck in the middle are a local dog-catcher and the woman he loves, whose secret past haunts her as she fights a bloody one-woman battle to save their relationship.

It was getting close to Christmas of 2008 when I saw this book in the “new releases” shelf at the bookstore. It looked fascinating: the cover, the title, the blurb at the back, all good. I’m a bit of a sucker for werewolves, and leafing the book and reading bits from the beginning convinced me to put it on my Christmas list. Santa was kind enough to bring it, and so I read it over the New Years.

So what is Sharp Teeth about, exactly? You can see some of it in the blurb, although I don’t think it does the book much justice. It exaggerates the love story. It’s there all right, and it’s a quite a central bit, but it’s not just a love story. There’s also more than one pack, which adds tension.

Oh yeah, and I guess the blurb leaves out the fact that it’s written in beautiful blank verse.

Yup. It’s nothing to be scared of – I speculate that that’s why it’s been left off the cover altogether – quite the opposite! It adds much to the action, to the general flow. It’s dynamic and intense. Sometimes it’s so pretty I have to put the book down for a while to muse over a nice turn of phrase.

Bone, love, meat, gristle, heat, anger, exhaustion, drive, hunger, blood, fat, marrow

 

Fifteen men lying in one house.

Listen to the night as

they softly growl

someone chases something in his dreams

desperate for satisfaction

then silent.

There’s one woman here.

There’s one leader here.

The pack does what he says,

she comes and goes

as she pleases.

There are lots of different kind of elements in the book. Love is a big one – the dog-catcher and Her above all, although other couples are seen as well – but between the lines there’s coincidence, or, more like, the explanations we tend to form for things that happen completely by accident. The main observer of these coincidences is Detective Peabody, who gets more in the middle of the whole business than the lovers mentioned in the blurb do. And then there’s revenge, on several levels.

For this post, I read the book for the fourth time. I now noticed how enticed I’ve always been by Barlow’s style: this is the first time that I actually managed to piece together the details that make up the connections between events. Let me tell you, it’s like magic. I think this book needs to be read a couple of times at least, unless you’ve got a good head for small, off-hand details. I’m not sure it’s even possible to link the details the first time around because you don’t know where it is all going. On subsequent readings the details become more significant, and the puzzle starts to form a picture.

It’s got some very heart-wrenching sections. Amusing sections. Sections filled with intense action.

There has lately been talk of a movie. Simon Beaufoy is working on the script, and Danny Boyle (they’ve worked together before, in Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours) has expressed keen interest. I’m a little scared, naturally. I’m afraid they’ll make the movie pounce and attack, when I want it to prowl, to stalk. And I have this irrational fear that they’ll cast Michael Fassbender… (Before anyone asks, I have nothing against him per se. He’s a good actor. It’s just that he’s sodding everywhere! And he doesn’t fit the part of anyone in the book. As I said, it is a completely ridiculous fear, but there you go.)

There is also a new book coming from the author, apparently due to be released next year! It’ll be called Babayaga: A Novel, and I hear it’s about Russian witches in 1950s Paris. (If you do a search on Babayaga, you’ll find she is indeed a witch from Russian fairy tales.) Looking forward to it!

Let’s sing about the man there

at the breakfast table

his olive hand making endless circles

in the classifieds

‘wanted’ ‘wanted’ ‘wanted’

small jobs little money

but you have to start somewhere.

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Announcement: October’s Favourite Post

So here’s the thing – school has been hectic, and so I haven’t had time to reread the October Favourite, which is Toby Barlow’s Sharp Teeth. It’s been a while since I’ve read it, and refreshing my memory is pretty much necessary before I introduce it.

Not to mention that I need to finish The Fractal Prince before the Book Fair.

And then there’s the fact that I’ll be leaving for Scotland the coming weekend. This means that I won’t have the time to read the book or write the introduction by Sunday. So here’s what will happen:

I’m going to move this fave post to November, hoping it’ll be way less busy. It’ll be up on the second to last Sunday as usual, just wrong month. (This won’t affect the last favourite, which will be up on schedule.)

Just realised I’ll need to figure out something regular to post next year. Any suggestions? Favourite classics? Movies? Characters? Authors? Covers? Adaptations?

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Favourites: The Privilege of the Sword

Time for another favourite book! This time we dive into the charming subgenre of Fantasy of Manners, also known as Mannerpunk – and my favourite of all fantasy subgenres, to tell the truth.

FAVOURITES

ELLEN KUSHNER: PRIVILEGE OF THE SWORD

Published: Bantam Spectra 2006

Pages: 459

Series: Riverside (third published, second chronologically)

Welcome to Riverside, where the aristocratic and the ambitious battle for power in the city’s ballrooms, brothels, and boudoirs. Into this world walks Katherine, a well-bred country girl versed in the rules of conventional society. Her mistake is thinking they apply. For Katherine’s host and uncle, Alec Campion, a.k.a. the Mad Duke Tremontaine, is in charge here – and to him, rules are made to be broken.

When Alec decides it would be more amusing for his niece to learn swordplay than to follow the usual path to marriage, her world changes forever. Blade in hand, it’s up to Katherine to navigate a maze of secrets and scoundrels – and to gain the self-discovery that comes to those who master… THE PRIVILEGE OF THE SWORD.

Ellen Kushner was a guest of honour at the 2010 Finncon. It was also my first time attending the con (or, indeed, any con), and I thought it would be a good idea to familiarise myself with the work at least one GoH. Neither Kushner nor Nalo Hopkinson could be found in the library, so off to the bookstore it was. The only Kushner available was The Privilege of the Sword, and it came home with me. And I fell in love with it.

Making sure that her fingers were well licked and dried, the Ugly Girl went to take a book from the pile on the mantelpiece. She sat by the window reading her treatise on mathematics, ignoring the duke as he received and donned his new shirt, received and interviewed an informant (who was not offered strawberries), received and made fun of a small but very ugly lamp meant as a bribe and finally went back to his fireplace excavations.

Although it is more YA than her other books, I still chose Privilege of the Sword as my favourite among the Riverside books. It’s light, witty, and fun – a growing up story of Katherine, a picture of Riverside after Alec has become Duke, and a delightful comparison of two girls; Artemisia Fitz-Levi has everything Katherine initially wanted, but all the beautiful dresses and exciting parties and numerous beaux don’t a happy life make.

Of course, if one has read Swordspoint, this book also offers a look at Alec’s adult life, and let me tell you, it’s heartbreaking. Seriously.

We found the old armory, full of antique weapons and country things like boar spears. My teacher picked us out some old, blunt practice swords, and we started back through the hall.

Suddenly, he grinned at me. “Hey!” he cried. “On your guard!”

I raised my sword, and he retreated before me. “Don’t worry,” he called. “I’ll keep falling back – just come on!”

And so I advanced on him, all the way down the long gallery, driving the master swordsman back with my clumsy tipped blade, sweeping past the portraits and landscapes, the swathes of sheeting, the covered mirrors, over the polished parquet.

He fetched up against a door, his face bright with laughter, and spread his arms open to me. I sighted my spot, to the left of his breastbone, and lunged – but he deflected the point with the tiniest of motions and my sword jarred in my hand.

“You want to relax your grip,” he said, “but that was good: a nice, clean attack.” He was laughing, looking back down the length of the hall. “God, I’ve wanted to do that ever since I got here! Thank you.”

The foremost praise for Kushner’s Thomas the Rhymer (not part of the Riverside series) has been the masterful handling of different points of view. In Privilege of the Sword, I feel, the POV business is absolutely beautifully executed. Katherine’s story is conveyed in first person, whereas other main characters are written in third person. The effect is quite wonderful, even if it sounds suspicious when thus explained. Trust me. It’s great.

One point I would like to make. Katherine gets a swords master to teach her to fence, and reading the scenes he appears in are reminiscent of Syrio and Arya in A Game of Thrones. It appears though that Kushner has not read ASOIAF and only recently found out the books have this little bit in common.

Just in case someone was wondering.

So get yourself some Kushner! If you haven’t read any, here, let me help you out by arranging the three books in reading order:

Swordspoint

Privilege of the Sword

The Fall of the Kings

There are also various short stories situated in Riverside, such as “Red-Cloak”, “The Swordsman Whose Name Was Not Death”, “Death of the Duke”, “A Wild and Wicked Youth”, “The Man with the Knives” and “The Duke of Riverside”. I have yet to read Wicked Youth and Duke of Riverside, but I can already tell you all these short stories are excellent.

Kushner gets you addicted. I swear. Give mannerpunk a shot!

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Favourites: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

It’s no secret that I’m a total and complete potterhead. I read the first book at the age of nine or ten, fell in love around age twelve, and when the last book came out it was about a month after my 17th birthday. I’m of the Potter Generation and grew up with Harry, and he has a special place in my heart even though I don’t list J. K. Rowling among my favourite authors (anymore). It’s practically all my tween and teen years. Yes, I’ve always been into other fandoms as well, but Harry Potter is the one I’m most comfortable with. A book has never made me cry like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows did.

However, the seventh book is not my favourite. The favourite ranking inside the series varies, but number one is always the same.

FAVOURITES

J. K. ROWLING: HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN

Published: July 8th 1999 Bloomsbury (UK)/ Scholastic (US)

Pages: 317 (UK) / 435 (US)

I think it’s not exactly necessary to summarise the book here, so I won’t. If you haven’t read the series, but are going to and don’t want to get spoiled, don’t read any further. I’m not going to be cautious about details or what happens in the latter books.

About a year ago I admitted to myself I’ve grown out of the first two books. It’s perfectly obvious why people older than me never fell in love with Harry the way people my age did. But the third book is getting more mature, if only slightly. It’s not nearly as dark as the fourth one, no, but it’s not as straightforward as the first two. It’s the calm before the storm. Voldemort is not seen in person; Harry learns new things about his parents and their lives; he meets new people who have a previous connection to him.

The characters are what make me a very biased judge of this book. Remus Lupin is the biggest literary crush I’ve ever had, and honey, it’s still on. He’s a good man who has suffered a lot, and in this book I believe we witness some of the best things that have happened to him in thirteen years, maybe even more. He gets a job, he meets the son of some of his best friends, and gets his living best friends back. Okay, so the friendship situation is more complicated than that with Peter and things finally coming together and making sense about the Fidelius Charm, but anyway. I’m very partial to the Marauders, who are introduced in this book. That’s one of the things that endear this particular book to me.

Mr Moony presents his compliments to Professor Snape, and begs him to keep his abnormally large nose out of other people’s business.

Mr Prongs agrees with Mr Moony, and would like to add that Professor Snape is an ugly git.

Mr Padfoot would like to register his astonishment that an idiot like that ever became a Professor.

Mr Worm tail bids Professor Snape good day, and advises him to wash his hair, the slimeball.

It’s very hard to pinpoint the reasons for my love of this book. I’m just utterly comfortable with it. It has a neat plot. I don’t know it all by heart anymore, not the way I used to, but close enough so I can only look at details while reading if I want to. There are all the tensions and relationships between the adult characters that weren’t much there in the first two books. It’s just delicious.

For a course on audiovisual culture and society, I wrote an essay on fandom. Initially the chosen fandom was Harry Potter, and I managed a couple of pages before it became evident a change of fandom was in order. I’m in too deep, and it’s hard to see anything to do with Potter objectively. That’s how it is with this book, and the reason why this introduction/explanation is so short. I recognise that it’s not the most brilliant prose since Austen or Wilde. I’m well aware that it’s not the most intellectual book ever. But it is a part of a great story, and a cornerstone in my becoming a fantasy reader.

Oh, and rereading the series after the last book is an exciting and emotional experience. I can heartily recommend it. You keep noticing the little details that will be significant later on.

Besides, I read somewhere that rereading is good for your brain.

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Favourites: Good Omens

It’s time for another favourite! I should probably point out that these favourites are not in any particular order – I mostly decide which one to introduce depending on the time of year and my own mood.

FAVOURITES

NEIL GAIMAN & TERRY PRATCHETT: GOOD OMENS

Published: May 1st 1990 Gollancz (UK) / Workman (US)

Pages: 288

 

According to the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter – the world’s only totally reliable guide to the future – the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just after tea…

There’s a mix-up with the baby Anti-Christ.

There’s a demon driving a 1926 black Bentley.

There’s an angel who runs a rare books shop.

There’s a technically challenged Witchfinder Private.

There’s a professional descendant.

And there’s the Apocalypse.

Sir Terry Prachett was one of the first fantasy authors I read with a passion. I was perhaps twelve, when a friend of mine gave me Equal Rites and Hogfather and told me to give them a shot. She did not make a misjudgement – I did like Discworld, as soon as I got the hang of it (which I still maintain takes a couple of books). For a couple of years I read whatever translated Discworld novels I could find from the library, but all too soon I realised there were no more translations available. So, at the age of fourteen, I wandered to the English shelves at the bookstore and picked up Good Omens, mostly because I had read a lot about it online and because it said ‘Pratchett’ on the cover. My English was not good and I understood very little, and around page 80 I gave up.

Two years later, after I had started reading in English and, as a result, gotten better at it, I thought I would try again. It was one of the best thoughts I have had.

The blurb tells you the plot pretty much as simply as it is possible to put. It’s a difficult one to explain without giving away too much, and I’m not going to even try. What I can say about the book, however, is that it’s hilarious. It’s fairly easy to see which bits are probably Gaiman and which Pratchett, particularly if you’ve read both, but they work together splendidly. My particular favourite bits tend to be the discussions between the angel Aziraphale (former Guardian of the Eastern Gate of Eden) and the demon Crowley (former Serpent in the Garden of Eden); after all, when you spend thousands of years with someone, a friendship tends to form, no matter what side you are on. I don’t think it’s possible to read their legendary Drunk Conversation with a straight face. Another favourite is a certain Rider of the Apocalypse who runs a diet and fast food company – his bits have some of my favourite quotes. (You can see I haven’t quoted anything. This is because they A) often require the whole setting to work or B) might spoil the fun reading them yourself provides.)

I’ve talked of this book so many times and to so many people I hardly know what more to say about it. I don’t think I know anyone who wouldn’t have liked it: some people like the light jokes Pratchett makes, and some the steadfast storytelling Gaiman is so good at. For me, this book combines the best of both. I still love Pratchett’s humour and parody (read Macbeth first and then pick up Wyrd Sisters – that was a lot of fun!), but the light heartedness is getting to be a little too light, as much as it pains me to admit it. This is why Good Omens is so perfect: it’s balanced, gripping, and incredibly funny.

On the cover of my copy there’s a recommendation from Time Out that sums it all up very neatly:

“Heaven to read, and you’ll laugh like hell”

Oh, and maybe I should warn you about it, because not everyone likes it – there are footnotes. Not in the scale of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, but footnotes nonetheless. And they make me chuckle, too.

My poor copy is a little battered. I’ve tried to protect it by taping the corners and spine, and here’s to hoping it’ll last. (Might have to get a hardcover at some point in life.)

You need to read this. That’s all you need to know.

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Favourites: The Lies of Locke Lamora

Hello!

This year, I thought I could do this introductory bit to my favourite books, one book at a time, second to last Sunday of every other month. So, without further ado, here is the first one!

FAVOURITES

SCOTT LYNCH: THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA

Published: June 27th 2006 Gollancz (UK) / Bantam Doubleday Dell (US)

Pages: 537

Series: The Gentleman Bastard Sequence book 1

The Thorn of Camorr is said to be an unbeatable swordsman, a master thief, a friend to the poor, a ghost that walks through walls.

Slightly built and barely competent with a sword, Locke Lamora is, much to his annoyance, the fabled Thorn. And while Locke does indeed steal from the rich (who else would be worth stealing from?), the poor never see a penny. All of Locke’s gains are strictly for himself and his tight-knit band of thieves: The Gentleman Bastards.

The capricious, colourful underworld of the ancient city of Camorr is the only home they’ve ever known. But now a clandestine war is threatening to tear it apart. Caught up in a murderous game, Locke and his friends are suddenly struggling just to stay alive…

In the summer of 2009 I decided it was time to broaden my fantasy horizon. SFX Magazine’s book special was a great help, and this is where I found Mr Lynch. He was number 88 on a list of 100 authors, and I’m not sure what set him apart from the others for me, but I have a feeling it was the use of the word “swashbuckling”. I got the book from the library, expecting very little, and then spent about a month reading it (my reading pace back then was not what it is today).

The beginning made me frown slightly:

At the height of the long wet summer of the Seventy-Seventh Year of Sendovani, the Thiefmaker of Camorr paid a sudden and unannounced visit to the Eyeless Priest at the Temple of Perelandro, desperately hoping to sell him the Lamora boy.

“Sendovani, Thiefmaker, Camorr, Perelandro… Too much new fantasy stuff to learn,” said my brain, but I kept on reading. At this point in time all my knowledge of Dickens’s Oliver Twist came from the Disney movie from the 90s, but the prologue – describing Locke’s time with the Thiefmaker – reminded me greatly of Fagin and his street urchins. “Hmph,” thought I, but still went on.

Then began “the book proper” as I like to think it as. Part one is furnished with an excellent quote from the Bard, and it is well in accordance with what will follow:

Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile

And cry ‘Content’ to that which grieves my heart,

And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,

And frame my face to all occasions.

(Henry IV, part 3)

And then we get the opening of the first chapter, which still makes me giddy every time I read it:

Locke Lamora’s rule of thumb was this – a good confidence game took three months to plan, three weeks to rehearse, and three seconds to win or lose the victim’s trust forever. This time around, he planned to spend those three seconds getting strangled.

From then on, the book is an absolute joy ride. Actual chapters tell us the main story, that of Locke and his gang of con artist thieves and the sudden obstacle that gets set in their way. In interludes, between chapters, tell us more about Locke’s childhood, mostly the training he and the other Gentleman Bastards receive under Father Chains. To the reader, the City of Camorr becomes a comfortable home, the thieves become friends, and the twelve (or thirteen, if you feel so inclined) gods become so familiar I find myself saying things like “Thirteen!” or “Perelandro’s balls!”

It is hard to describe Lynch’s style, and I have been trying to come up with suitable adjectives. It is flowing, fresh, crispy – there’s a wit, and a grittiness, and an edge to it that I enjoy. There is a lot of swearing, violence and sex, and while I understand most people might feel this not necessary and take offence, to me it is very refreshing. Besides, it is done with such flare and happy wordplay that it is hard not to laugh. And then there are the games the Bastards play – Lynch has said in an interview that he practices a strict policy of show, don’t tell, and that is more delightful than I can put to words. We see the thieves plan, and scheme, and use their “education” in accents, cultures, economy, religion and other things. Terminology and names are also easy to understand, as they are similar to familiar European languages, such as German, French, and, Camorr being based on Renaissance Venice, Italian.

For the fourth time in as many years the Gentleman Bastards were drawing a bead on one of the most powerful men in the city of Camorr. They were setting up a meeting that might eventually divest Don Lorenzo Salvara of nearly half his worldly wealth, and now it was up to the Don to be punctual.

But do not take Lynch for an entirely happy-go-lucky author. Oh no. As the book progresses, the darkness increases, and when we get to the end things get very nasty indeed. Let me describe my feelings when I finished the book for the first time on a warm, sunny summer’s day. I had been reading in our little garden, and came inside with eyes red from tears, clutching the book, agitated beyond belief. I kept walking in circles in the living room, ranting to my family about how horrid it was the book ended, how I needed to get more. I went into a slump, and the next book I read felt flat and boring in comparison to Lies.

The Gentleman Bastard Sequence will be seven books long. The second one, Red Seas Under Red Skies, was out in 2007, and all who have read the first two are eagerly awaiting the next one, Republic of Thieves (hopefully out this year, although it has been pushed back several times).

I bought the second book in the autumn of 2009 and read it in three days. For Christmas I got my own copy of The Lies of Locke Lamora. And since then I have acquired a second copy of both – a Gollancz 50 hardcover of Lies and a bigger paperback edition of Red Seas. I also have the 2010 anthology Swords and Dark Magic – the New Sword and Sorcery (edited by Lou Anders and Jonathan Strahan), which includes Lynch’s short story “In the Stacks”.

So go to your bookstore, be it physical or virtual, or to your library, and get your hands on The Lies of Locke Lamora. It is worth it. It is entertaining, hilarious, exciting – and I for one can’t even look at said book without wanting to read it.

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