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Archive for May 2015

We Are Pirates

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We Are Pirates

Daniel Handler

Bloomsbury, 2015We Are Pirates

I had a really rough professional development day today.  These training days can be really rough on a teacher.  I had high hopes for this one, because the subject was one we really did need training on, and the training could have been successful if it had been as simple as putting us in a room with the materials and letting us work with them together.  But the paid consultants doing the training weren’t familiar with the requirements of our district, and ended up spending most of the day training us in things we aren’t going to be allowed to use.  It was deeply frustrating.

On my lunch break, sitting in the nearby cemetery, looking at a murky pond and a cherry tree in flower, I did find myself cheering up as I read We Are Pirates.  It’s about Gwen, a fourteen-year-old who is angry at the world, and how she is punished with volunteer time at the nursing home, and how she, and her best friend Amber, and the old man, Errol, decide to steal a boat and run away to be pirates in the San Francisco Bay.

As I was eating my tuna and crackers and trying to get a break from my frustrating teacher training day, the idea of throwing everything away to be a pirate sounded pretty appealing, and I was pulled through the book, which I found had both a page-turning quality and literary merit.  I love Lemony Snicket.  Daniel Handler… every book I’ve read of his has come so close to being something I’d treasure as a favorite, but somehow just barely missed the mark for me.  I thought this time, he had finally hit it.

When I came home, with a headache and a bad case of the educational cynicism, I was looking forward to reading the ending, and finding out what happened to Gwen and Amber and Errol.  But several of the surprising twists were a little too surprising for me.  The book took some shockingly dark turns – I don’t know why I was shocked, as I know that Handler writes some dark, nasty stuff, but I was.  A few of the surprises seemed unfair, not consistent with the characters and the world he had given me.

I read all the way to the end, and this isn’t a book I could have put down, even after it became clear that it wasn’t going at all where I thought it was.  But it’s going to join the other Daniel Handler books in the collection of his works that were so damn close but just didn’t quite work for me.

Years ago, when Handler was touring for the last Series of Unfortunate Events book, I went to hear him speak.  I also stayed up until pretty nearly two in the morning to get him to sign my copy, which I have no regrets about even though my bedtime is usually a firm 9:30 PM.  He talked about a book that he was working on.  In the book he described, a man who is a modern pirate, from Somalia or some such place, develops a longing to be the kind of pirate one reads about in adventure stories.  I don’t know if that book would have worked any better for me.  I know that sometimes, a writer finds that a project just doesn’t work out, and he has to go back to the drawing board.  And probably that book would also have been a near miss for me.  But I regret that I didn’t get to read it.

I wouldn’t write about this book if I hadn’t liked it.  I try to only write about books I like and want to share – why tell anyone about a book I didn’t like?  I debated whether to write about this one, or not.  Ultimately, even though it pissed me off a little, I can’t deny that I couldn’t stop reading it and that I won’t soon forget it.

I have a second day of training tomorrow, and I expect it’ll be just as bad as the first.  I’ll need a different book, to take to the cemetery with me.  Wish me luck.

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Written by Contented Reader

May 4, 2015 at 7:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Castle Hangnail

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Castle HangnailCastle Hangnail

Ursula Vernon

Dial, 2015

I have been looking forward to this book.  A lot.  When I got the email from the public library that my hold was available, I got really excited.  I like Ursula Vernon – I like her writing and her art, I like her stories for adults and her stories for children.  I’ll read pretty much anything she writes.  Even stories from her Dungeons and Dragons games.  Especially stories from her Dungeons and Dragons games.

Castle Hangnail totally lived up to all of my hopes and expectations for it.  It was fantastic.  “This is her best book yet!” I raved to my wife, when I was about halfway through.  “Well, wait, Digger was really good.  And The Seventh Bride was amazing.  Was that the one with the hedgehog? Anyway, this is definitely one of her very good books.”

Castle Hangnail’s loyal minions have been doing their best to keep the little magic castle from falling apart, but it’s hard work.  They’re out of money, and, with the Board of Magic sending increasingly cranky letters, they’re out of time.  A magic castle needs a Master – it can have an Evil Sorceress, a Mad Scientist, or a Vampire Lord, but it can’t just stand vacant.  It’s a huge relief when a Wicked Witch appears at the door to take over as the castle’s Master.  Such a huge relief that the loyal minions are willing to overlook the fact that Molly is twelve years old and really not as wicked as you might expect a Wicked Witch to be.

Molly needs to be Wicked Witch enough to win the loyalty of her new minions, deal with Castle Hangnail’s plumbing emergency, and thwart a nefarious housing developer, or she won’t be able to hold onto her new position.

This book is adorable.  It’s amazingly fun to read, and I want to take all the characters home and keep them.  I’m going to buy a copy so I can read it over and over again.  You should buy one for any middle-school student in your life – technically, that’s the target audience – and an extra for yourself.

Written by Contented Reader

May 3, 2015 at 7:52 am

Posted in Reviews

Farthing

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Farthing

by Jo Walton

Tor

2006Farthing

I first read Farthing not long after it came out.  I’m pretty sure it was the first thing of Jo Walton’s I read, unless that was The King’s Peace.  That was before I knew how amazing she is, before her name meant anything significant to me, before I voted for Among Others to win the Hugo Award… before I even knew that voting on the Hugo Awards was something fans could do.  I don’t even remember why I picked it up, exactly, but it was probably one of those moments when I was browsing at the library and a cover caught my eye.

When I first read it, I was most interested in its treatment of gay characters – the ways that the society- and government- mandated hiding of homosexuality and bisexuality affected the characters’ decisions, the unfairness of it all and how they dealt with unfair situations, and how the unfairness of it made the world worse.  I was recently out, myself, after a lifetime of fundamentalist Christianity, and these were subjects that were much on my mind when I read Farthing for the first time.

Now it’s almost ten years later.  I had a hankering to reread this after I finished Walton’s latest book, The Just City, which I loved intensely and which made me want to go back to her older books.  I like it even better.  I’ve read some Nancy Mitford and some Peter Dickinson since I read this book last, and this time, I appreciated how well she created her setting, the sparkling and sordid world of the wealthy and powerful post-war British aristocracy.  This novel would work as a period piece and a mystery even if it weren’t set in an alternate universe in which Great Britain signed a truce with Hitler.  In that alternate universe, this would still be a good read.

The way I remember it, I liked Farthing best of the series, and while I read the others, they didn’t stick in my head – I remember almost nothing about them.  I wonder if this really is the best book, or if I’ll enjoy them more on a re-read?  I’ve added Ha’Penny to my to-read list.  I feel hopeful.

Written by Contented Reader

May 1, 2015 at 9:42 am

Posted in Uncategorized