Posts Tagged ‘Patricia Wrede’

Twitter Book Clubs

So, a week or so ago, I was talking to Siri, and she mentioned that she and some people she’d been talking to on Twitter were going to read a book I had expressed interest in, and she invited me to join in.

(The book in question is The Thirteenth Child by Patricia Wrede.)

So the four of us hunted down the book, started reading on the 20th, and have been chatting on and off since then about our impressions of the story, other books that have similar or contrasting premises, other authors in the same genre, if we want to do this on a monthly basis, and what our hashtag should be because we picked up another person (as tends to happen in Twitter conversations) and now there’s way too many @s to have if one wants to add anything meaningful to the conversation.

(Also, I finished the book yesterday and am the first one done, so now I’m finger twiddling because I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone else.)

The whole thing is driving my husband crazy. This has definitely been one of the more active Twitter conversations I’ve been apart of, and when it really gets going, the frequency of new tweet notifications can get to be overwhelming. Apparently he has low phone notification tolerance.

“Why can’t you guys talk on a chatboard?” he keeps asking.

(He says this on purpose. My husband does not do the Internet, and so, while I have explained in the past that there as message boards or chat rooms, but not chatboards, he does this now because he knows it annoys me.)

“That’s not the point,” I say. “Besides, I don’t know these people outside of Twitter.”

What the point is, I’m not quite sure, but I did get to read a book I’ve been meaning to read since it came out, make some new friends, have some interesting conversations about things I like, and there’s the promise of doing it again next month, so I shall call the whole thing a success.

Ever tried to hold a lengthy, in-depth conversation on Twitter, Squiders? Or a book club? Any tips?

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles Readalong: Howl’s Moving Castle

First off, if you’ve come from a link somewhere to tell me that Howl’s Moving Castle isn’t part of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles–yes, thank you, I know.

For people who’ve been along for the ride, this month we read Howl’s by Diana Wynne Jones to see the same genre (in this case, fairy tale satire) presented from another point of view. (Also, this is one of my very favorite books and I always appreciate a good excuse to pull it off the shelf again.)

Whereas both the EFC (as I am now calling it, as I am sick of typing out the whole thing) and Howl’s purposefully twist fairy tale tropes, they do so in different manners. Both have main characters that run contrary to some trope. In the EFC, Cimorene is a princess who hates doing princess things. Mendanbar is a king who despises formality. Morwen is a young, pretty redheaded witch with non-black cats (and a major subplot of the third book is her non-traditional witchiness). In Howl’s, Sophie knows any adventures she attempts will go wrong because she’s the eldest of three siblings, and so she doesn’t bother looking until adventure finds her.

However, both stories are completely different in feel. Both stories have magic at their core, yet the execution is completely different. Also, Howl’s has a link to the real world which is explored just enough to drive you crazy trying to figure out how things work.

I have to say, after reading both, that I like Howl’s better. I think it’s a better crafted story and, while it’s based on fairy tale tropes like the EFC, there’s enough original concepts in there to make everything more interesting. (This may be because Diana Wynne Jones was further into her writing career than Patricia Wrede even though all the books came out at the same general time.) In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I’m going to extend our little readalong to the next two books in the series, Castle in the Air and The House of Many Ways. (I’ve read Castle before–it’s not as good as Howl’s, sadly, but I haven’t read the third, so that should be exciting for everyone.)

If you didn’t read Howl’s with me–you should. It’s a fun read–the characters are interesting, the banter is fun, the plot is original (how many hero/ines spend the majority of a story ninety years old?), and the magic is intriguing.

For those of you who watched the Miyazaki movie (in general or for comparison with the book)–the plot line starts out the same, and then wildly diverges about the time Sophie goes to visit the king. I adore both, but they’re very different animals in the end. Also, Miyazaki makes it an anti-war statement. The man is quite creative about getting his morals into children’s films, not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

So! Castle in the Air for the end of June. I’ll see you then, Squiders! And, as always, your comments and questions are welcome in the comments.

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles Readalong: Talking to Dragons

Well, Squiders, here we are at the end of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles. The elaborate plan set up at the end of Calling on Dragons has been executed, Mendanbar has been freed, the wizards have been vanquished, and everyone is going to live happily ever after. (Or are they? Duh duh duuuuun…)

(I mean, I assume they are, because this is the last book. I kind of wish Ms. Wrede would revisit them, however. I imagine there’s rather a lot you could do with the next generation. I mean, assuming Daystar and Shiara do get married, what if there’s some sort of incompatibility between fire-witch magic and the Enchanted Forest’s magic? And so forth.)

(Moving on.)

Now, if at any point during this you say to yourself, “What the heck is she talking about?”, I want you to know that there’s two versions of this book. You see, this book was written FIRST. So you can actually think of (and, in retrospect, they kind of read this way) the other three books as prologues to this book. So she wrote the book, then went back and wrote the other three, and then changed this one to line up better with the other three. If, for some reason, you have a pre-1990 version of Talking to Dragons, you have the original and quite honestly I’m not sure what the difference is. So! I apologize if things don’t line up.

I am torn about this particular book. On one hand, I like it better in some regards. I like the story, the idea that the main character has no idea what he’s doing, because if he did it wouldn’t work. I like Daystar and Shiara (and I really like the name Shiara). But on the other hand, it doesn’t flow well from the other three, and I’m sure that’s because it was juryrigged at the end to fit into the rest of the series.

Cimorene seems really out of character at the end and it really, really bothers me. She seems to be pushing marriage on Shiara and Daystar and for someone who fought against her own so much, it rings really false. Morwen and Telemain continue to be awesome, though they don’t get a lot of screen time. (Page time?) Some of Morwen’s cats from Calling on Dragons seem to still be alive as well, even though it’s been 17 years. I mean, cats can live into their twenties. Maybe witches’ cats get added benefits, who knows.

So! Did you enjoy the series? Final thoughts, anyone?

We’ll be reading Howl’s Moving Castle next to see how a different author handles the whole fairy tale satire thing. If you’re highly motivated, you can also watch the movie, and then in the comments we can discuss how the two are nothing like each other but, yet, are both awesome.

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles Readalong: Calling on Dragons

Nooooooooooo cliffhanger.

Well, Squiders, we’ve reached book 3. (I think this may have been the one I read first as a kid. It seems…more familiar than the others, if such a thing can be said about a series of books one’s already read multiple times.) You know, it’s a bit interesting to note that each book in the series is from someone else’s point of view. We had Cimorene’s, then Mendanbar’s, and now Morwen’s. (Talking to Dragons, Book 4, is from Daystar’s point of view. And also is first person.)

(Also, I would like to point out how strange it is for a supposedly quite practical person like Cimorene to name her child Daystar. But moving on…)

I’ve always rather liked Morwen, probably because she’s no-nonsense and has a lot of cats, though there were times that I felt there were too many cats. Cats in the garden, cats under the porch, cats in the windows…so many cats. At some points I almost agreed with Vamist about the sheer number of them.

(I know Morwen points out that more cats = more powerful spells, and perhaps that will be important in Talking, but she only used two cats at a time here.)

Right, plot. The wizards continue to be up to no good. I admit I feel like I don’t quite understand why they’re up to no good, though. I suppose they’re stealing magic, but I have to wonder what they need all that magic for. I mean, it seems like an awful lot of work, and they must want the Enchanted Forest’s magic really bad to go to the trouble, and I have to wonder if there isn’t easier magic elsewhere to suck up or if they’ve already sucked it all up and now must resort to desperate measures. Where does magic go after a wizard uses it, anyway?

Anyway. The wizards have stolen Mendanbar’s awesome sword! Which is bad, because it’s directly tied in the forest’s magic. And so Cimorene, Morwen, Telemain, Kazul, a couple of Morwen’s cats and a former rabbit that is now not a rabbit named Killer go in search of it. (Mendanbar has to stay in the forest to anchor the magic and is grumpy about it because Cimorene is pregnant and he doesn’t feel like she should be traipsing about fighting wizards. More on that in a second.)

Now, I have a couple of bones to pick here. They take Killer along with them because Telemain wants to use the spell on him to find the wizards, but then they never bother. Also, Morwen and Telemain say they want to test the transportation spell on Brandel before they go after the sword, and then, unless I skimmed over important information, they never do. I understand it’s hard to keep track of all your subplots, but come on, people, didn’t anyone notice that these had been dropped at the time?

Also, having recently been pregnant, I would guess Ms. Wrede never has been (and Wikipedia confirms my suspicions, woo). Cimorene does not act like a pregnant woman would act. In fact, that’s mostly ignored unless there needs to be a reason for someone to protest her doing something. Oh, and as an important plot point at the end.

Complaining aside, though, these books continue to be fun, and I like most of the characters, and even Killer didn’t bother me even though, you know, they totally forgot about the reason they brought him along. It is a bit odd for the third book in a series to be the only one that ends on a cliffhanger, but it all somewhat makes sense if you know that the fourth book is the one that was written and published first.

Hm. I think I shall lay off the questions, since it doesn’t seem like anyone feels like answering them anyway. What was your favorite part, Squiders? Anything you dislike thus far? Anything else you’d like to note or talk about?

This seems like a good point to talk about The Book of Enchantments, which is a related short story collection. Yea, nay? We’ll read it between the fourth book and Howl’s Moving Castle if we’re going to do it. And we’ll discuss Talking to Dragons on April 30th.

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles Readalong: Searching for Dragons

(Man, that’s a mouthful of a title, isn’t it?)

Well, moving right along here in readalong land, aren’t we? I think I managed to read this in about three hours. Maybe less. Personally, I liked it a lot more than Dealing With Dragons. I think I like Mendanbar a little more than Cimorene, though not sure what that says about me. It may be that teenage!me liked Cimorene because I identified with her not being quite sure what her place in the world was, and adult!me appreciates that Mendanbar generally knows what he’s doing with his life.

All right, let’s do a quick overview for those who aren’t actually reading along and so do not know anything about the series, so they don’t live in utter confusion for the rest of the entry. The first book, Dealing With Dragons, introduced us to Princess Cimorene, who was not a typical princess and continuously butted heads with her parents for trying to get her to do princess-y sorts of things. She runs off and becomes the dragon Kazul’s princess (a post that is rarely volunteered for), and manages to stop a plot involving the Society of Wizards to get a certain dragon crowned as king (with help). Kazul is crowned King, Cimorene is happy with her spot, and everything is lovely.

Here in Searching for Dragons, we have Mendanbar, King of the Enchanted Forest, who is generally quite happy with things except his steward really thinks he should get on with marrying. He goes for a walk and discovers a large area of the forest has been destroyed, seemingly by dragons. Morwen (oh, Morwen, you continue to be my favorite) recommends he go and talk to Kazul about it, because there’s something funny about the whole set-up. Mendanbar goes to do so, but alas! Cimorene informs him that Kazul is missing and talks him into accompanying her in search of said dragon.

Maybe because I’m older and genre-savvy, but I thought the plot was pretty obvious from the get-go. What I really like about this book is two things: 1) the fairy tale twists, and 2) the description of the magic.

Ms. Wrede takes great pleasure in twisting as many fairy tales as possible. There’s the giant that only eats Englishmen (never mind that there are no Englishmen, because there is no England), the dwarf who’s legally changed his name to Herman because he’s gotten stuck with two many children from people not being able to guess his name, the uncle who’s not actually evil but feels the need to pretend to keep up appearances, and so forth. It’s brilliant and I like it a lot. (Herman’s probably my favorite, though.)

And then the magic. There’s magic in the first book, of course, with there being dragons and wizards and witches, but here Mendanbar is so entwined with the magic of the Enchanted Forest that he can actually see the constructions of the spells (his and other people’s) which leads to some very interesting solutions to some problems. Spell construction has always been fascinating to me as a reader and a writer, and I love to see how other people go about doing it.

Right, onto the questions. As always, your own comments and questions are welcome.

1) Mendanbar comes across pretty genre-savvy himself, since he knows he needs to follow advice exactly as it was told him to avoid disaster. Do you think this is a consequence of growing up in the Enchanted Forest?

2) How exactly do you think one repairs a broken flying carpet?

3) Why do you think Mendanbar’s magic doesn’t seem to decrease significantly outside the forest? Do you think there’s a distance limit on how far away it will still work?

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles Readalong: Dealing with Dragons

Hoorah! Here we go, Squiders. If this is your first time through this series, I hope you’re enjoying it thus far. I know I am.

What’s the most brilliant about this series, I think, is how it takes fairy tale conventions and turns them on their heads. Or at least mocks them a little bit. (This is a common thread throughout the series. It gets more ridiculous.)

When I first read these books, probably in my early teens, I really identified with Cimorene. She’s tall! Likes non-traditional things! Isn’t afraid to defend herself! Now I notice that she tends to be smart when the plot needs her to be and not when the plots needs her not to be, but it wasn’t too jarring. (Except for inability to accept that a female dragon could be king. I remember that part bothered me when I was younger too.)

There’s a lot of elements I really like about this book. I love that wizards melt in soapy water. (That’s important throughout the series, if I remember correctly.) I love Morwen and her cats. I love the stone prince’s tale. I love that the talking frog is not a prince, but has picked up a few things from hanging out with them.

Admittedly, this series doesn’t have the depth as Harry Potter or the Time Quintet, but I think it makes up for it by being so much fun, and by being so very aware of the genre that it satires.

(As a random aside, I have a paperback copy of the book, probably the first paperback printing, and I think that Kazul–at least, I assume it’s Kazul–on the cover looks really strange, and isn’t nearly large enough, seeing how Cimorene should come up to Kazul’s shoulder when Kazul is on all fours.)

All right, onto discussion.

1. Which twist on fairy tale convention was your favorite?

2. The dynamic between the dragons and the princesses is very interesting. Do you think it’s worth it to keep a princess for the minor status increase it comes with, even knowing that you will have to face knights and princes coming to save them?

3. The book focuses on the way things are supposed to be done. How does going against what’s expected affect the characters?

As always, feel free to leave your own impressions and questions in the comments. And we’ll discuss Searching for Dragons on February 28th.

Announcing the Enchanted Forest Chronicles Readalong

Hoorah! Our first of the year. You’ll notice, Squiders, that we’re changing from re-reads to readalongs. I want people who have never read the particular series we’re working on to feel welcome to join in.

To start ourselves off for the year, we’re going to be reading through Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles which, if you are unfamiliar with them, are fantastic examples of fairy tale satire (and have also been a major influence on my own writing). There’s four books: Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons, and Talking to Dragons.

These are YA books, so they read pretty fast.

When we get to Calling we’ll discuss whether or not to add in a related collection of shorts, The Book of Enchantments. There’s at least one in there that is directly related to the series (and involves an enchanted frying pan, if I recall correctly), but I worry that it may be too hard to find. Feel free to let me know here if you’d like it included or not.

Also, as a bonus and to compare fairy tale satires and another of my very favorite authors (and an influence), we’ll read Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle at the end.

(There’s two sequels to Howl’s: Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways. Right now, I’m leaning towards not including them, but if everyone really likes Howl’s I’m open to it.)

(And yes, Miyazaki made a movie of it–which is also excellent–but not really at all similar unless you count that some characters have the same name and there is a castle. That moves. Miyazaki put an environmental turn on it, which is really not surprising if you look at the rest of his work.)

So! If you want some fun, excellent fantasy once a month for the next however many months, jump on board! We’ll do discussion of Dealing with Dragons on January 31st.

Which is a Thursday.

Aging Authors

I don’t know how many of you caught my post at Turtleduck Press mid-February about how I believe that we are not only a product of our experiences, but also what we’re exposed to, and how important books can be to a young child.

What brought on such introspection was the death of Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall books, which I was in love with when I was little.

And this past weekend, Diana Wynne Jones, one of my literary idols, passed away.  (Patricia Wrede has a lovely post about Ms. Jones at her blog.  It warms the cockles* of my cold, dead heart to know that my two favorite authors were friends with each other.)

I took my mother to see Lois Lowry (Of The Giver and Number the Stars fame) give a talk at a local bookstore on Monday.  When she came in, my mother leaned over and whispered, “She’s getting so old,” to me.  Ms. Lowry is 74.

Life happens.  People die.  But I admit it’s a bit like losing family.  A good book is like a dear friend, always welcome to visit, and by extension, I can’t help but love the people who bring them to me.

And I can’t help but wonder about the stories that go with them, that the world never gets to see.  As a writer myself, oh, the stories.  They are never-ending.  I will never be able to write all the stories in my head.  What characters did the world never get to love?  What places did they never get to visit?

There will be new authors, new books.  But I can’t help but miss the ones that have given me so much over the years.


* The dictionary informs me that a cockle is a type of mollusk.  I am not sure where this expression comes from or why it exists, but you all know my love of invertebrate sea creatures, so I continue to use it, usually inappropriately.