{Book} The Long Winter

The Long Winter

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

On the empty winter prairie, gray clouds to the northwest meant only one thing: a blizzard was seconds away. The first blizzard came in October. It snowed almost without stopping until April. The temperature dropped to forty below. Snow reached the roof-tops. And no trains could get through with food and coal. The townspeople began to starve. The Ingalls family barely lived through that winter. And Almanzo Wilder knew he would have to risk his life to save the town. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Choose This Book?
I joined the Unread Shelf Project at the beginning of March. The month’s challenge was to read the book that’s been on my shelf the longest. The Long Winter is part of a box-set of Laura Ingalls Wilder books given to me when I was in grade school. So, I figure it pretty much counts.

What Did I Think?
Little House on the Prairie (the TV series, 1974-1983) was staple viewing at my grandparent’s house. My grandpa grew up in northern Minnesota; cabins, farms, and all. I am fairly certain it was one of my aunts and uncles from Minnesota that sent me the set for Christmas. At least the first couple of books were read aloud in grade school as well. I grew up in Nebraska and, even though I’m from Omaha, the prairie and its dangers were never far away. Personally, I didn’t care for the show or the books. I was and ever shall be a city girl and I have never really like kid protagonists, a trait I didn’t really put my finger on until I was an adult. I never quite got into Anne Shirley, or Heidi, or Pippi Longstocking, or even Nancy Drew. I wanted adult adventures, thank you very much. So, I never jived with Laura Ingalls.

Which means that it comes as a bit of a surprise to me that I enjoyed The Long Winter as much as I did. I think the key here is that The Long Winter is the start of a slightly more grown-up Laura, a character with more understanding about her place in the world. She is often melancholy, but consciously sets her feeling aside for the good of her family, especially her younger sisters. I’m looking forward to the next few books in the series in order to see Laura grow. I doubt I would have appreciated this as much when I was younger.

There is a repetitive quality to the narrative. A blizzard blows in, the family ekes through, repeat. It is what it says on the tin: a long winter. I have some patience for such things, but Wilder is a deft writer too. A detail like the frost on the heads of the roof nails is beautiful and strange enough that it weathers repetition well.

In context of the world at the moment, I can’t ignore some of the messaging in the book. Hardships pass and joy can be taken in little things. I’m not eating brown bread twice daily because that’s all there is and glad the snow has covered the building because at least now the wind can’t get in. I don’t want to pretend that the “olden days” were better (or that the story isn’t lightened for the young readership Wilder was writing for), but there is something nice about the concept of life being a little less extravagant; about enjoying a surprise of Christmas candies and really looking forward to reading the newspaper. Just something to keep in mind during these days of isolation and uncertainty.

Original Publishing info: Harper & Brothers, 1940
My Copy: Trade Paperback, Harper & Row, 1971

Unread Shelf Project

{Book} Moby-Dick

Moby-Dick; or, the Whale

Moby-Dick; or, the Whale by Herman Melville

A sailor called Ishmael narrates the obsessive quest of Ahab, captain of the whaler Pequod, for revenge on Moby Dick, a white whale which on a previous voyage destroyed Ahab’s ship and severed his leg at the knee. (via Goodreads)

I’ve become one of those people.

I first read Moby-Dick in January of 2017. I knew I would read it again one day, but I didn’t expect it to be so relatively soon. I wasn’t immediately on-board (*cough*) when Brona announced a readalong. But the idea grew on me and I decided, why not?

And I’ve come to realize that Moby-Dick is going to be a book I reread often throughout the rest of my life.

Michael Chabon has a theory about fandom that I will clumsily paraphrase from Maps and Legends: fandom is created in the cracks of fiction. His example is Sherlock Holmes. Those Doyle stories have become an enduring institution, continually adapted and rebooted, because there are so many inconsistencies and alluded to stories within the cannon. Fans want to know, what they can’t know they’ll interpret and fill-in.

And I can see that in Moby-Dick. The people who read this weird novel over and over again (and I’m one of them) want to know more of what’s going on. We want to know more about the character’s intentions, but also Melville’s.

This time around, I really enjoyed some of my fellow reader’s thoughts as well has keeping a Twitter thread of things that stood out to me:

I also read Dive Deeper: Journeys with Moby-Dick by George Cotkin.

Dive Deeper: Journeys with Moby-Dick

Cotkin provides some interesting tangents, chapter for chapter. Sometimes these tangents were literary criticism, sometimes historical context, sometimes cultural context. Yes, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is covered. As well as the dubious Emoji Dick.

“What next?” Brona asks.

A book hangover! Actually, I attempted another book-at-sea, but it didn’t work out. Instead, I’m enthralled by the nonfiction book Bad Blood. But then, it’s sort of about an Ahab running a biomedical start-up. But I found my copy of Green Shadows, White Whale, Ray Bradbury’s story of writing the screenplay to John Huston’s Moby-Dick. I’ll reread it in a month or two, I think.

Green Shadows, White Whale

{Book} The Old English Baron

The Old English Baron

The Old English Baron by Clara Reeve

When Sir Philip Harclay returns to England after a long absence, he finds that his childhood friend, Arthur, Lord Lovel, is no longer alive, and that the castle and estates of the Lovel family have twice changed hands. But a mysteriously abandoned set of rooms in the castle of Lovel promises to disclose the secrets of the past. After a series of frantic episodes and surprising revelations, culminating in a trial by combat, the crimes of the usurper and the legitimacy of the true heir are finally discovered. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Choose This Book?
This was my first Classics Club Spin book.

What Did I Think?
I gotta say, this book was a slog. I read about half and listened to a LibriVox recording of the rest. (Via YouTube, and for a volunteer reader, quite good!)

In Reeve’s introduction, she calls The Castle of Otranto to task.

For instance; we can conceive, and allow of, the appearance of a ghost; we can even dispense with an enchanted sword and helmet; but then they must keep within certain limits of credibility: A sword so large as to require an hundred men to lift it; a helmet that by its own weight forces a passage through a court-yard into an arched vault, big enough for a man to go through; a picture that walks out of its frame; a skeleton ghost in a hermit’s cowl:—When your expectation is wound up to the highest pitch, these circumstances take it down with a witness, destroy the work of imagination, and, instead of attention, excite laughter.

This might be the case when the genre of the gothic novel was new. But, after 200 years of the Scooby-Doo-ification of the gothic, it was the over-the-top absurdity of Otranto that I really enjoyed. So, Reeve isn’t wrong, I guess. But also for a modern reader, to dial back the strange to a very minimal level, it’s just not too compelling. I feel like so much of the gothic genre has become cliche; I could see any plot twist a mile away. I’m a little worried about the other gothic novels on my list.

Original Publishing info: 1778
My Copy: Project Gutenberg & LibriVox
Genre: gothic novel

{Book} Trail of Lightning

Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World, #1)

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Choose This Book?
Trail of Lightning was the January pick for the occult detective literature group on Goodreads. I had heard good things about the book in the past and it sounded pretty good. I was especially interested in how this fit into the occult detective sub-genre.

Plot
I haven’t really solidified my thoughts on what might be considered occult detective fiction. Thus far, I think of it more on the detecting end than the action-adventure end, of which this book has a fair share. There was some time spent in a library as Kai sought clues amid oral tales that had been recorded on CD. I really wish these had played a bigger part in Maggie and Kai’s investigation. As it was, the characters felt led around rather than making their own decisions.

Characters
Maggie is a haunted character. She’s been through trauma and a toxic relationship. She not as hard as she lets on. Her relationship with Kai is fraught, and considering her suspicious nature, I’m surprised she couldn’t see what Kai’s true powers were earlier on.

Setting
I have very poor reading comprehension when it comes to book blurbs. I totally missed that the setting of this book was somewhat post-apocalyptic. I kind of wish it wouldn’t have been. I think I would have liked a contemporary fantasy set on the Navajo reservation. It’s is a world I’m not familiar with and I don’t think it needed an extra layer of strangeness. That said, though not a fan of the post-apocalyptic, I found the setting to be the most enjoyable part of this book because of its juxtaposition with the Navajo culture.

Overall
If I read the second book in this series, and I might, it will because of setting. It’s a world I wouldn’t mind spending more time in.

Original Publishing info: Saga Press, 2018
My Copy: Overdrive/Kindle editions from Tempe Public Library
Genre: fantasy

{Book} Minor Mage

Minor Mage

Minor Mage by T. Kingfisher

Oliver was a very minor mage. His familiar reminded him of this several times a day.

He only knew three spells, and one of them was to control his allergy to armadillo dander. His attempts to summon elementals resulted in nosebleeds, and there is nothing more embarrassing than having your elemental leave the circle to get you a tissue, pat you comfortingly, and then disappear in a puff of magic. The armadillo had about wet himself laughing.

He was a very minor mage.

Unfortunately, he was all they had. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Choose This Book?
T. Kingfisher (aka. Ursula Vernon) writes the type of light, funny fantasy that I enjoy, and that I’d like to write.

Programming Note
I’ve noticed that, especially in prose fiction but also in non-fiction and TV/movies, there are three basic things that keep me interested: plot, characters, and setting. A story doesn’t need all of these, but it can’t utterly fail in one of them either. I’ve decided I want to think about these three aspects in my “reviews.”

Plot
Minor Mage has a pretty simple plot. Oliver is a twelve year-old mage’s apprentice, whose master has died before teaching him much. Unfortunately, his village needs him to journey to find the Cloudherders and bring back rain to break a drought. That’s it. The story is his journey through a haunted forest filled with bandits. And who are the Cloudherders anyway? How will he manage when he only knows three spells and has a young armadillo as a familiar? It’s the limitations that make the plot good.

As I noted back in my Sunday Salon post, I started the year reading Kingfisher’s The Twisted Ones. I put it down at the 20% mark because the plot was moving very slowly and, honestly, the creepy happenings weren’t enough to really hook me into the plot. There is probably a lot more going on plot-wise in The Twisted Ones, but it was taking sooo looong to get going.

Characters
T. Kingfisher’s strength is her characters. Oliver is admirable. He’s loyal to his community, but unsure of his own abilities and their motives for sending him off on his own. (He was going to go anyway!) He wants to be a more major mage, but his youth causes him to reach before becoming an expert at what he already knows. His familiar is an armadillo; only slightly wiser than Oliver and much more snarky. Their additional companion is a very peculiar minstrel who is always in trouble.

Setting
The setting isn’t too much different from generic medieval Europe. There’s a small village. There’s a haunted forest. Kingfisher does spice it up with quite a few plant details. There story does have some gore and some other creepy things which, if this were a movie, would probably put it in the PG-13 range despite the young main character.

Overall
Just the sort of fun, slightly absurd fantasy I was wanting. Great first full read of the year!

Original Publishing info: Red Wombat Studio, 2019
My Copy: OverDrive Read, Greater Phoenix Digital Library
Genre: fantasy

{Book} War for the Oaks

War for the Oaks

War for the Oaks by Emma Bull

Eddi McCandry sings rock and roll. But she’s breaking up with her boyfriend, her band just broke up, and life could hardly be worse. Then, walking home through downtown Minneapolis on a dark night, she finds herself drafted into an invisible war between the faerie folk. Now, more than her own survival is at risk—and her own preferences, musical and personal, are very much beside the point.

By turns tough and lyrical, fabulous and down-to-earth, War for the Oaks is a fantasy novel that’s as much about this world as about the other one. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Choose This Book?
This is a re-read. I first read it in 2011-ish. I wanted to read it again because I’ve been in a “light” fantasy, or maybe even urban fantasy, kind of mood.

Programming Note
I’ve noticed that, especially in prose fiction but also in non-fiction and TV/movies, there are three basic things that keep me interested: plot, characters, and setting. A story doesn’t need all of these, but it can’t utterly fail in one of them either. I’ve decided I want to think about these three aspects in my “reviews.”

Plot
Machinations of the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. There is something about faeries that make my eyes glaze over. In this book, in Paul Kidd’s otherwise excellent Greyhawk trilogy; there’s just something I’m missing in the subtleties of deception, I guess. So, I’m not super thrilled with the faeries bits of plot in War for the Oaks. Luckily, it’s all pretty murky to Eddi too. When the plot is boiled down to action-reaction, I’m totally okay with that.

Characters
Eddi is a good character. She’s unsure of herself, even after willingly stepping deeper and deeper into fae politics. While she’s maybe sort of fairy-touched, she’s often wrong, which is sort of refreshing. I like the moments of Eddi looking into the bathroom mirror and pulling herself together. It’s…relatable.

The phouka may be one of my favorite characters in literature. While I’m not a fan of Fairy Court stories, I have a weakness for eloquent, smart aleck fairies. The other characters—the band members—are also just good eggs. Carla, especially, is the best friend you’d want to have by your side.

Setting
One of the things I love about this book is it Minneapolis setting. Emma Bull knows Minneapolis and it shows. Places are almost important to this book as music, which is also part of the setting. Eddi and Fey are a rock and roll band, after all. (I hadn’t searched on Spotify while I was reading, but a War for the Oaks playlist exists.) During my first read of this book, I was annoyed by the fashion details that are included, but this time those details might have been one of my favorite things. What characters are wearing really evoked the late 1980s.

Overall
I liked War for the Oaks more on second read, and I enjoyed it quite a bit the first time! Half of me would really like to see it on the screen, either as a movie or TV series. The other half knows that, with all the music and performances involved, it would be so hard to do well. I feel like this book isn’t read much anymore, being 30-odd years-old. I definitely recommend it.

Original Publishing info: Ace, 1987
My Copy: mass market paperback, acquired via Book Mooch
Genre: urban fantasy

{Book} Well Met

Well Met (Well Met, #1)

Well Met by Jen DeLuca

Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?

The faire is Simon’s family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn’t have time for Emily’s lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she’s in her revealing wench’s costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they’re portraying?

This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can’t seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon, or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Choose This Book?
Sometimes I need a little frivolous romance in my reading life. I’d also like to add some romantic B-plots to my own writing, but I’m not super familiar with romance genres. Kazen at Always Doing reviewed Well Met a while back and it sounded like a fun story that I would enjoy.

Programming Note
I’ve noticed that, especially in prose fiction but also in non-fiction and TV/movies, there are three basic things that keep me interested: plot, characters, and setting. A story doesn’t need all of these, but it can’t utterly fail in one of them either. I’ve decided I want to think about these three aspects in my “reviews.”

Plot
I’ve watched my share of rom-coms, but I’m a newb when it comes to reading the genre. Therefore, I was actually intrigued about where the plot was going. At about 70% it seemed that our characters were into happily-ever-after land, so I started wondering who was going to screw things up and how. Thankfully, the turn of events wasn’t too out there, but it wasn’t entirely obvious either.

Characters
All in all, the characters weren’t anything special, but they were all likable enough (even Simon when he’s being a bit of ass). More importantly, all the characters were separate people. Occasionally, I thought Emily was a little dense about things, but maybe that can be forgiven due to her pre-book breakup.

Setting
I liked the ren faire setting, but I was a little confused about how small of a town Willow Creek is. On one hand, everyone seems to know everyone’s business. On the other, the town is big enough for physical therapists, an indie bookstore, and enough people to support a renaissance faire. I can see that maybe Willow Creek is on the edge of a metro area, but does that lend itself to that small-town-ish-ness? It’s not a big deal, but the setting didn’t feel as real to me as I would have liked.

Overall
This was fun. It was a light read with enjoyable enough characters and a pleasant romance. It seems to be the first in a series. Not sure what more story there is, so I probably won’t read the next one.

Original Publishing info: Penguin Publishing Group, 2019
My Copy: Tempe Public Library
Genre: rom-com