Saturday, October 11, 2014

Faeries and nuns (but not at the same time - what a book that would be!)

Hooray, it's fall break! I get Monday and Tuesday off, and considering I don't have classes on Thursdays and Fridays, I have almost the entirety of next week to get loads of work done, with one lonely day of classes in the middle. In addition to schoolwork, I hope to do some clothes shopping at local thrift stores and learn to make almond biscotti.

And some reading, of course! I pulled out Elizabeth Gaskell's (first?) novel, Mary Barton, to read next, though for some odd reason I've been reluctant to start it and turned instead to the next Redwall book in the series, The Legend of Luke. I may be quickly approaching that point in the semester where I mostly just want to read children's and YA fiction.

Having purchased three Elizabeth Taylor Viragos at the very first public library book sale I attended here, two years ago, I figured it was long past time to try them out. Palladian was the earliest novel she wrote of the three I owned. I really enjoyed it. Not enough that it'll make it onto my list of favorites for the year, though I suspect I would have loved it even more had I read all of Jane Austen's novels first. For Palladian is a parody of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, with countless Austen references thrown in. When orphaned Cassandra Dashwood leaves home to become a governess to young Sophy Vanbrugh, she expects to fall in love with her employer, and indeed, their relationship progresses awkwardly but relatively smoothly. Where Palladian differs from Jane Eyre is the spotlight placed on the other residents of the house, the servants and family members who all have their own pains and desires. Their stories are not so easily resolved as Cassandra and Marion's romance, and are ultimately far more compelling.

One of the back-cover blurbs said that if you crossed Mary Norton's The Borrowers with Holly Black's Tithe, you'd get R.J. Anderson's Spell Hunter (titled Knife in the UK). I only dimly remember Tithe from many, many years ago, but I remember it being dark and somewhat violent, an apt description for some aspects of Spell Hunter. The Borrowers allusion I recognized even before reading the blurb; Anderson's rich and multifaceted faery world involved a good deal of Norton-esque creativity with found objects. When young Bryony becomes the Hunter for her faery community, a trained warrior whose role is to protect the Gatherers and hunt small game, she changes her name to Knife and relishes the freedom to explore the world outside their oak tree. But curiosity in the nearby human home leads to all kinds of trouble when Knife disobeys faery laws and becomes friends with the McCormicks' paralyzed son Paul. The faery world was beautifully realized, but ultimately I wanted a lot more knife fights with ravens and a lot less romance. Despite the imperfections, I sped through this book and already have the sequel checked out from the library.

Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede was something entirely different from knife-wielding faeries, a slow and sensitive story of about ten years in the life of an English Benedictine monastery that follows middle-aged, widowed Philippa Talbot as she leaves her high-powered corporate job to become a nun. The pacing of the book seemed a little ungainly, as there were large portions of the book that forgot about Philippa and focused on other nuns, rendering her an inconsistent protagonist, and this particular edition had some really heinous and distracting typos. But it was such a richly-layered story that these problems were easily ignored. Exquisite descriptions of the church year, its feasts, liturgical objects, plainchant, and nature provided the setting for the abbess's very real difficulties in leading her monastery.

With the sixth in Margaret Peterson Haddix's Shadow Children series, Among the Enemy, I'm nearing the end and I can see the finish line. This book more than any of the others asked hard questions of morality - is it right to join the enemy, even undercover, and be complicit to some atrocities (or even commit them yourself) if it means preventing even larger ones and working for justice and freedom? It would be really hard to jump into the series in this late book - it references a lot of earlier events, some of which I'd forgotten - but it's a solid addition to the set and provides the perspective of yet another brave youth in Haddix's large cast of characters. Just one more book and then I've finished the whole series!

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman was a bust. Do I just not like magical realism? Or was my frustration with the present tense and Hoffman's incessant tendency to tell rather than show, plus my inability to care about any of the deeply flawed characters enough explanation for putting this book aside as a did-not-finish? It wasn't an awful book, but I just lost interest.


  1. Oh, man! Now I really, really want a nun and fairy book. It never even occurred to me to want that, but it sounds amazing.

    1. Me either, until I was writing the title... But wouldn't it be amazing? I wonder who could do it justice.