Reading Notes October 2017

Finished

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while as it’s been recommended by many of my friends. And so when there was a sale on the Kindle version I snatched it up. I was a little afraid that after all the hype I’d be disappointed with the book after all, but I was not at all disappointed. I didn’t have a clear idea of what to expect and that was all to the good. I love stumbling into a book and letting myself be delighted by the unexpected twists and turns. And this did not disappoint. A fun twist on traditional fairy tale motifs, but very different than anything I’ve read previously. I really loved Sophie and was sad when I got to the end of the book.

Fortunately there were two sequels and thanks to the magic of Kindle, I didn’t have to wait at all but bought the second book right away.

2. Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones

The sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle. It’s set in the same world as Howl, but with an Arabian nights twist. Abdullah is a carpet merchant who likes to build castles in the air, dreaming of bandits and princesses. One day he meets a mysterious stranger, acquires a magic carpet, and later a genie in a bottle and finds his daydreams beginning to come true. Our favorite characters from the first book, Howl and Sophie and Calcifer, do finally appear, but you have to wait quite a while for the revelation. This is as satisfactory a tweak of the Arabian Nights story as Howl’s Moving Castle is on the standard European fairy tale.

3. House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones

The third in the trilogy. The heroine of this adventure is the bookish Charmian, who is coerced into being housekeeper for her wizard uncle while he is convalescing elsewhere. Torn from her novels and dropped into a magical world with no real preparation, Charmian also manages to gain access to the most marvelous royal library and helps to solve a royal mystery. Howl and Sophie et al appear here too. I think this is my favorite of the three.

4. Fairy Tale, a Novel by Alice Thomas Ellis

Very different in tone and style from Diana Wynne Jones, this, my second Alice Thomas Ellis book could I suppose be called a work of magical realism. In many ways it does remind me of The Summer House trilogy, which I read last month. 

Like The Summer House, the story of Fairy Tale is intergenerational and centers on a divorced mother and her romantically entangled daughter. The daughter, Eloise, has gone with her boyfriend, Simon, to Wales to set up housekeeping in a little cottage. She is handy with a needle and sells her embroidered nightgowns and fine linens at local boutiques. She’s an odd, dreamy character, and the whole novel has an odd dreamy feel to it. In contrast Eloise’s mother, Clare, and her friend Miriam are very down to earth and modern and provide a sharp contrast. They are the focal point really, much more than Eloise.

The point of view in Fairy Tale is not first person as The Summer House, but the third person narrator shifts between the three women. It’s a strange, unsettling retelling of a classic fairy tale of a changeling child, set in contemporary London and Wales.. But her mother and her mother’s friend feel like they belong in a very different kind of novel altogether. The fairies are appropriately inhuman and have a dreamy alien quality to them.

In Progress



1. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Making slow progress, but inching along.

2. 1776 by David McCullough

Like the Hamilton, I’m inching along. Keep getting distracted by other books. And have been getting many library books that need to be read first.

I began reading this at the lake this summer, picked it up off the shelf of the house where we were staying. I liked it so bought a copy for myself. Sort of odd to read it alongside Hamilton, but the focus is very different, very narrow. It literally looks at the events in the first year of the Revolutionary War, the year of the Declaration of Independence.

3. Elisabeth Leseur: Selected Writings Janet K. Ruffing (Editor, Translator, Introduction)

I have to confess I’m not feeling the connection I expected with Elisabeth Leseur. I think I just don’t read diaries and letters very easily.

I’d greatly enjoyed excerpts people had shared, but the lack of narrative is hard for me. It’s not bad, but I”m dipping in about once or twice a week, reading one entry, and then seeing what happens. So far not much feels like it’s connecting. But I will persevere.

4. The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea.

A high fantasy novel about a little boy, Pidge (short for Patrick), and his sister Bridget who find an ancient manuscript and are caught up in a dramatic conflict among the ancient Irish gods and fairy people. The triple goddess has returned and is stirring up mischief and it seems that Pidge and Bridget will be required to set things right. The book is very, very long and I’m only half interested in finishing it. The mishmash of mythology and the rambling tale aren’t holding me. And the lack of any real Christian faith bothers me.

When someone in a Facebook group mentioned a beloved novel that dealt with Irish myths and legends I thought it sounded intriguing. But so far I finding myself wishing the book to hurry up and get somewhere.

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