Posts Tagged ‘books’

Library Book Sale Finds: One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn

As we discussed last September when I was doing my foundational book series, Wait Till Helen Comes was a formulative book for me when I was a child, one that is still creepy to this day. So when I spied a much newer Mary Downing Hahn book at the last library book sale I went to, I definitely grabbed it.

Title: One for Sorrow
Author: Mary Downing Hahn
Genre: Children’s horror
Publication Year: 2017

Pros: Still creepy
Cons: Suffers from protagonist issues

One for Sorrow is oddly timely, since it takes place during the Spanish Flu in 1918/1919. It follows Annie Browne, who has moved to a new town and started at a new school. She’s almost immediately latched onto by another girl, Elsie Schneider, who is hateful and mean and keeps Annie away from the other girls so she can’t make other friends.

Elsie is eventually home sick for a week, allowing Annie to get away from her and make new friends. But when Elsie dies of the Spanish Flu, it gives her the opportunity to make sure Annie can never get away from her.

I had to put the book down for a few days in the middle because life was so awful for poor Annie (though she’s kind of a pushover and will go along with bullying) and I didn’t want to deal with. But, in general, this book was a fast read, with good imagery,

My biggest complaint is Annie, and the way Annie is treated by the plot. Annie doesn’t do anything to try and help herself, really. She doesn’t stand up for anything, either when Elsie is pushing her into things she doesn’t want to do or when her new friends are doing things she doesn’t agree with. And once the haunting begins, it doesn’t get any better.

And–SPOILER ALERT–Annie doesn’t even do anything to get rid of Elsie, in the end. A nice old lady who can see ghosts conveniently comes along, and shows Elsie the way to move on.

It reminded me of the House of Many Ways, which we read as part of a readalong of the Howl’s Moving Castle series (Howl’s here, Castle in the Air here). In it, the main character is a little girl by the name of Charmain, but she doesn’t really do anything. Grown-ups come in at the end and do most of the real work, and it felt the same here.

House of Many Ways was one of the last things Diana Wynne Jones wrote before she died, and Mary Downing Hahn has been writing children’s horror for around 40 years. It makes me wonder…do authors, as they get older, sometimes feel bad about the danger they put their child protagonists into? Does it make more sense to them, over time, to have someone older and wiser come in and save the child?

I’ll admit that’s a pretty big leap to take based off of two data points. I would need to make an actual study of it–read different children authors’ books over time, see if there’s a trend toward children becoming less proactive throughout the books. But it did strike me as an interesting coincidence.

What do you think, squiders? Have you noticed this trend, or am I seeing things that aren’t there? Read this book, or any other newer Mary Downing Hahn book?

Foundational Books: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

So, if you remember, oh, last summer, I went through some of the books that have made me who I am today, as a writer, but also in general.

(Apologies for being late AGAIN, I can’t even blame the quarantine this time. I did a push to finally get my new SkillShare class live–I always forget how long it takes to edit the videos, and my new microphone is so sensitive I had to get up at 5 am to avoid noise from the small, mobile ones and the neighbors.)

(It’s here, if you’re interested. It’s about setting goals in your writing and sticking with them.)

But I realized I forgot perhaps the most important book at all. The one that I’ve read the most times over the years. The one that I turn to when I need comfort, or I need to sleep after I read/watch something too scary. The one I used for my senior quote in high school. The one I used scenes from to try out for plays. The one I can still quote bits of from memory.

Phantom Tollbooth cover
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

I don’t remember who recommended the book to me, but I first read it back in middle school (my copy is the 35th anniversary edition, and we’re coming up on the 60th anniversary, so that tells you how long it’s been in my life). And who knows how many times I read it over in middle and high school. As an adult, I’ve read it less often, but I still do re-read it periodically (I’m currently reading it to the small, mobile ones).

The entire book is a masterful play on words and concepts. Even as an adult I really appreciate the pure mastery of the idea. (I perhaps understand the Humbug better now than I did as a kid.) We have Milo, our bored main character who doesn’t see why anything is worth the bother. When he receives a toy tollbooth from who knows where, he decides to play with it, because he doesn’t have anything better to do. But it allows him access to a world where knowledge is more literal than in real life.

It’s hard to put the book into words, really. This is a book that I have loved so much and so long that I find my tendency is to wax poetic about its many fine features and scenes, and sometimes I get a bit spoiler-y and we can’t have that.

I highly recommend it to anyone, anyone who’s loved learning at any point in their lives, anyone who likes puns, anyone who likes a rewarding story about friendship and what’s possible if you decide to try.

But I will leave you with my favorite quote from the book, from the Whether Man in Chapter 2:

Whether or not you find your own way, you’re bound to find some way. If you happen to find my way, please return it, as it was lost years ago. I imagine by now it’s quite rusty.

The Phantom Tollbooth

Read The Phantom Tollbooth, squiders? Favorite character? (I am partial to Tock.) Other related thoughts?

Library Book Sale Finds: Twelve Angry Librarians by Miranda James

Well, squiders. We were supposed to be on a cruise tomorrow. But, alas, that’s not happening, for obvious reasons.

Sad times.

So, a little over a month and a half ago, I went to another library book sale. Cuz I hadn’t in a while, and they were doing bags of books for $6, and I am weak.

(Actually, now that I think about it, I went to one in December too, though that wasn’t the best. The books were expensive. If I’m paying $6 per book, what’s the point? I should buy it new at that point so the author gets some of the money. I did get a ton of easy chapter books for the bigger, mobile one, though he has refused to read them.)

(He is mostly interested in books about Minecraft. Sigh. Though he doesn’t mind a story if someone else reads it to him. We just started The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler.)

ANYWAY, this sale wasn’t the best either–not a lot of material, just a few carts of books and old movies. I did manage to end up with six hardcovers, though.

And here we are. In a timely fashion, for once.

Title: Twelve Angry Librarians
Author: Miranda James
Genre: Mystery
Publication Year: 2017

Pros: Cat
Cons: Not enough kooky side characters

There is something to be said about a bag full of old paperbacks, where you’re getting a mixed bag of who knows what from who knows when. Modern books are less fun, in that regard.

Now, you guys know I love mysteries, and you know I love cozy mysteries. But that being said, I find that most cozy mystery series, especially modern ones, don’t really do it for me. I’m not a big historical fiction person, but I tend to like historical cozy mysteries. Gives them something, I guess. Contemporary-based cozies feel the need for some sort of something extra, which is really hit or miss as to whether or not it works.

I’m guessing we’re doing a two-for-one here, in that we have a helpful pet (ala The Cat Who series) plus it’s library-themed. (I am as bad as the next writer about being a sucker for stories about writers/librarians/etc. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that said stories are any good.)

This is a well-established series (this is the eighth book) with Charlie Harris, late middle-aged career librarian, as our protagonist. Charlie is likable enough, if a bit dull, but that’s fairly par for the course. His cat, Diesel, is properly charismatic.

And maybe the other books in the series are better at this, but I kind of feel like a cozy mystery series, if not carried by the protagonist, needs a cast of wacky side characters. And we should get them here–the book takes place at a librarian convention–but we don’t especially.

There’s nothing bad about the book. It’s perfectly serviceable. But it’s also forgettable.

Read other books in the Murder in the Stacks series, squiders? Thoughts about how essential the side characters are? Favorite cozy series in general?

Used Book Store Finds: A Different Light by Elizabeth A. Lynn

Hey-o, squiders! I thought this was one of my library book sale books, but it had a bookmark in it, so it turns out that it was one of the books my spouse bought me on my birthday when he took me to a coffee house/used bookstore.

This book ends up being oddly topical for what we’re dealing with round these parts recently.

Title: A Different Light
Author: Elizabeth A. Lynn
Genre: Science Fiction
Publication Year: 1978

Pros: Interesting take on what makes life worth living
Cons: Gets a bit weird at the end, like most ’70s era scifi I’ve read

Our main character here is Jimson Alleca (which, as an aside, is Jimson a real name? Google tells me it’s a type of weed, but all I can think of is that it reads really stereotypically hillybilly-ish.), famous artist, stuck on his home world because of a rare and incurable type of cancer.

(Nobody else has weird names. Also whoever drew the cover is generally quite talented but seems a little confused about human anatomy.)

If he goes into the Hype, which, as far as I can tell, is the medium space travel goes through to get places faster than they would otherwise, it’ll accelerate the rate of growth of the cancer, and he’ll die.

But he’s bored and he’s languishing, and he decides it’s worth it to go out there and see new things, even if it’ll kill him.

(This is, coincidentally, where the title comes from. Each planet has a different star, with different colors and brightness, so he wants to see things under “a different light.”)

So it’s interesting from the standpoint that you go into the adventure sequence of the book knowing he’s going to die from it. (I mean, assuming the adventure doesn’t get him first.) Jimson’s a little fatalistic as a main character, but not annoyingly so. He does occasionally bemoan his early fate but he’s mostly accepted it. And the parts where he’s drawing or otherwise doing artistic things or looking at things through the lens of an artist are quite good, especially in a genre where art is not always explored.

There are three main side characters: Leiko, Ysao, and Russell. I liked both Leiko and Ysao, but am less fond of Russell, whom I felt was overly violent (especially to poor Jim). And there’s a telepathic subplot that’s pretty cool too.

So, end thoughts. I enjoyed this book. I haven’t read a ton of ’70s scifi (since it tends to be after the “classics” and before the modern era, whenever that technically starts) but it feels very ’70s in places. Societally, I guess, if I had to try and explain it better. I don’t know. I wasn’t actually alive in the ’70s so I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’d say it’s worth taking a gander at for the different takes on art and telepathy. I’d read other things by Elizabeth A. Lynn.

What do you think, squiders? Read A Different Light? Other things by Elizabeth A. Lynn? Thoughts on ’70s scifi in general?

(I Googled Elizabeth A. Lynn after writing this up, and have discovered she was one of the first SFF authors to include gay/lesbian characters in a positive light, and also that there’s a LGBT bookstore chain called A Different Light after this book, so that’s pretty neat.)

Library Book Sale Finds: The Ipcress File by Len Deighton

Heyo, squiders. It’s that time again. And once again, I try to recapture what I was thinking when I stuck a particular book into my bag. Not sure. Maybe I just thought it would be cool?

Title: The Ipcress File
Author: Len Deighton
Genre: Spy/Thriller
Publication Year: 1962

Pros: Neat example of what’s probably the height of this genre
Cons: Incomprehensible in parts if you’re not genre savvy

This book was apparently made into a movie in 1965, but try as I might, I cannot find a copy to see if it makes more sense. Wikipedia tells me this is Len Deighton’s first novel, and that he’s considered one of the top three spy novelists of all time (Ian Fleming of James Bond fame and John le Carre are the other two).

We follow our unnamed narrator as he recalls the specifics of a mission to the Minister of Defence (British spelling intentional). The story is in first person throughout, and features a lot of what we probably now consider to be common in the spy genre: double crossings, questionable loyalties, sarcastic spies, etc.

When I could follow the story, I enjoyed it. I liked the narrator (whom I honestly didn’t realize was never named until I sat down to write this), I thought the female characters were handled better than in many contemporary stories (each shown as having her own strengths), and the dialogue was fun to read in many cases.

That being said, there were parts where I felt lost, where I couldn’t quite tell what was meant or what was happening, and whether or not it was important. I don’t necessarily think that’s a problem with the writing so much as that I am not the target audience and so do not have the necessary culture references/understanding to follow along.

All in all, very interesting, but I don’t know that I would pick up another similar book. Perhaps I’ll stick to the movie versions IF I CAN EVER FIND THEM.

Read anything by Len Deighton, squiders? Like ’60s-era spy novels?

(All things being said, I read John le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as a teenager and don’t remember being lost, so mileage may vary between authors.)

The Good Thing About Going Through the Detritus of Your Life…

…is that sometimes you find things you really should use.

Like gift cards you’ve apparently been hoarding.

Gift cards to Barnes and Noble.

Gift cards that will allow you to…buy new books.

In case you missed my post a few Saturdays ago, part of the reason my winter break-break went longer than expected is that we decided, unplanned, to redo the office (which is where I work, most of the time). It was one of those rooms where things go to lurk forever, and it had gotten bad.

(I am happy to report that everything has been gone through, for the most part, and is its new home, except I need to do some filing and figure out where the craft drawers should make their new home.)

I’d apparently been hoarding gift cards in one of my desk drawers. I came out with three B&N gift cards, one Amazon gift card, one Nike store gift card (??????), and one gift card good for 500 points in the Nintendo Wii store, which tells you how long they’ve been hiding in there.

Now, it seemed like a mistake to put them somewhere else to waste away, so I took my B&N cards and headed out to my local B&N to acquire sustenance new books.

And I came home with 5 shiny, brand new books, and I still have over half the money left on my gift cards, so, uhhhhh. I dunno. Five books seemed like a good amount, but apparently I should have bought more? I understand that this is the opposite of a problem but I just don’t read that fast.

(Also, I was not 100% sure how much money was on the gift cards, and I didn’t want to load up with $100 of books only to find I only had $50, for example.)

(The books I got were:

  • Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest, Holly Black
  • The Memory Thief, Lauren Mansy
  • The Haunting of Ashburn House, Darcy Coates
  • Bringing Down the Duke, Evie Dunmore)

I wish I could say I found a lot of other great things that I’d forgotten about that I can now use, but alas. Most of that stuff was tucked away for a reason.

However, the new office set-up is great. (Better feng shui, the spouse says. I know nothing about any of that.) So hopefully I’ll be more productive with the new set-up.

At least I know nothing’s lurking. (Or, not yet.)

Read any good books lately, squiders?

2019 Reading in Review

It’s that time, squiders! Every year, I round up the books I read the year before and run statistics, because I am a nerd and I like them.

(As always, if you’d read something really great recently that you think I’d like, please let me know!)

I read 55 books this year, which may be the most ever (since I started tracking in…2010? 2009?), mostly because I read 10 books in December. (Most of which were Christmas mysteries.) It turns out that when you have no computer access you find other ways to use your time.

Onward!

Books Read in 2019: 55
Change from 2018: +5

Of those*:
17 were Mystery
13 were Fantasy
5 were Science Fiction
4 were General Literature
4 were Nonfiction
4 were Romance
3 were Children’s
1 was an Anthology
1 was Horror
1 was a Play
1 was Science Fantasy
1 was Young Adult

*Some genre consolidation was done here. YA or MG titles went into the general genre. All subgenres of fantasy or romance, for example, also went into the general genre.

I listened to a single audiobook again this year (It was The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Warner while I was trapped in the car with my children) but the format still isn’t working for me.

New genre(s)**: romance, children’s, anthology, play, young adult
Genres I read last year that I did not read this year: short story collections, dystopian, satire
**This means I didn’t read them last year, not that I’ve never read them.

Genres that went up: mystery, fantasy
Genres that went down: science fiction, nonfiction, horror

I read a ton of mysteries this year, goodness.

18 were my books
37 were library books

(This is backwards from normal, and also a bit of a problem, I say as I look around and all the books in my house I have yet to read.)

46 were physical books
8 were ebooks
1 was an audiobook

Average rating: 3.54/5

Top rated:
Howl’s Moving Castle (4.5 – children’s fantasy)
Once Upon a River
(4.3 – general literature)
Gemina
(4 – science fiction)
I am Princess X
(4 – young adult)
The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh
(4 – children’s)

Howl’s and Winnie the Pooh are re-reads, of course, except this time I was reading them to someone, which changes things a lot, actually.

Honorable mentions of 3.9: Dark Shores (YA fantasy), Wyrd Sisters (fantasy), Witch Week (children’s fantasy)

Most recent publication year: 2019
Oldest publication year: 1904
Average publication year: 2002
Books older than 1900: 0
Books newer than (and including) 2014: 29

A lot of newer books again, so good job me!

And, for future reference, the first book I read for the year was Another Saturday Night and I Ain’t Got No Body (2012 – mystery/romance – 2/5), and the last I read was Aunt Dimity and the Heart of Gold (2019 – mystery – 3.5/5).

How did your reading go in 2019, squiders? Plans for 2020?

My reading plans continue to be 50 books a year (or a few more), but I’d like to read one library book sale book a month, and one writing and/or nonfiction book a month, to get through my stashes.