…and They All Lived Happily Ever After

Summer is starting, meaning all sorts of things, but also marking the end of the Once Upon a Time “challenge” for another year.  As always, I had loads of fun reading fantasy, and seeing what everyone else read.  I’m feeling particularly happy, because I managed to complete some long-standing goals…

Here’s a round-up of my reading and viewing for the season.  (R) designates a reread (not a rating!), and links go to reviews.

Total: 21 books, half reread and half new-to-me.  Since one of my goals for the year is to reread favorites, I’m calling that a win.  The big accomplishment, of course, was reading Lord of the Rings for the first time, and I’m very happy I got the extra push to finally do that!  Thank you to everyone who was so encouraging, and for all your great discussion as I read. 🙂

I had sort of hoped to make some progress on my fantasy-heavy TBR list and…well, that didn’t happen at all.  And instead I added to it, by looking at the great things other people were reading.  Ah well…what’s the summer for, after all?

Thank you everyone who came along for the quest!  And do stick around–the reading won’t be ending here!

Favorites Friday: Authors I’d Like to Meet

Book Expo America is going on this weekend, and lots of lucky, lucky bloggers (or ones who planned carefully and put effort in to make it happen…) are attending.  I’m not attending (maybe one of these years!) but reading everyone else’s updates has me thinking about which authors I’d most like to meet.

Oddly enough, they aren’t necessarily my top favorite authors.  Some, like Robin McKinley, would horribly intimidate me, and others, like Susan Kay, would just send me into spinning babbles about how much I love their book(s).  But here are a few I would love to meet, and imagine that I could live to tell the tale without too much embarrassment!

Geraldine McCaughrean tops the list, because I once wrote her a letter and got the most amazing, personal letter back.  She obviously read and valued my letter, and wrote a genunine response in reply–if any part of it was a form, I couldn’t tell.  So I almost feel as though we’ve already met.

Tamora Pierce probably would send me into babbles about how her books changed my life, but they were so very life-changing that I think it would be worth any resulting embarrassment.  Besides, I have a really good story to tell her.  I met one of my best friends because we were both reading Pierce’s books in a high school class, and that gave us the courage to start talking to each other.  I feel like gushing babbles are a bit more okay when you actually have something unique to say…

Neil Gaiman is never likely to top any favorite authors lists for me–I like his books quite a bit, but…we all have our favorites.  However, everything I hear, and as far as I can tell from his Twitter, is that he’s just the coolest of authors to meet.  Very nice, very friendly, graciously poses for pictures…  He is at BEA this year.  Ah well.

Gail Carson Levine writes a lovely blog with writing advice, and on the whole just seems so friendly and pleasant that I don’t think she’d scare me a bit in person (unlike some blogging authors!)   I consider her Ella Enchanted to be a literary ancestor to some of my own writing, and if I can get an accurate judge from her blog, I think she’d like hearing that.

Nicholas Meyer is the most random one here–but he directed Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, AND wrote The Canary Trainer, a Phantom of the Opera/Sherlock Holmes crossover.  What other author is going to hit on so many of my interests?  His Phantom retelling is the only one I’ve found that makes the Phantom less sympathetic than Leroux and, given the opportunity, I’d quite like to ask about the thought process behind that…

At the moment I don’t have any plans of meeting any of these authors, but I do keep my eye out for signings.  If it ever happens, you’ll hear about it!  In the meantime, what living authors would you like to meet?  We’ll get to the dead ones another week!

Stardust Read-Along, Movie Edition

Remember that Stardust Read-Along we were doing for Once Upon a Time?  Well, today is a kind of bonus post, doing a comparison to the movie version.

If you’ve been following along, you know that I really enjoyed Part One, then found myself with serious issues in Part Two.  I enjoyed the book…but!  I loved reading everyone else’s thoughts, and I found it so fascinating how other people drew such wonderful meaning, insight and complexity from plot elements that just didn’t speak to me.

I stand by my opinion–but I love the complexities other people saw too.  And with that divergence in thought, I suspect I’m going to be an outlier on my opinion of the movie too!

So I know it wasn’t as complex.  I know it was much more conventional.  I know it didn’t have the same depth of insight.  But you guys?  It just made me happy watching it.

The story is essentially the same: bumbling Tristan (who lost an R somewhere!) quests through Faerie with a fallen Star named Yvaine, while they’re being pursued by a nasty witch and a couple of ruthless princes.

I felt like the movie gave us that character growth and developing romance that I thought was lacking in the book.  It was mostly just little moments here and quick conversations there (which was all I ever really wanted in the book) but it was enough.  I could see Tristan learning from Yvaine and from the other people he was meeting.  And I could see Yvaine falling for Tristan–in delightful fashion.  Maybe it’s cheesy for a star to shine when she’s happy…but I thought it was a fun character device, and one that was used effectively.

I enjoyed the villains as well.  I love that the ghosts of the murdered Stormhold brothers hang around for the whole movie, and I love that there was a final confrontation with the villains.  Yes, yes, it’s much more conventional–but it was satisfying.

The movie doesn’t have the same airy, gossamer magic of the book, and not quite the same mysterious fascination or touches of darkness.  On the other hand, there was so much that was funny or clever.

At the end of the day, I fully acknowledge that Gaiman’s book is attempting to tell a story that is far more complex and impressive–but it just didn’t quite work for me (obviously it worked for other people!)  The movie’s goals were lower, but (for me!) it succeeded much more at what it was trying to do.

I would definitely recommend the movie if you haven’t read the book.  If you have…well, that might be a bit more complicated!

Stardust Read-Along, Part Two

Welcome to the second (and final) installment of the Stardust Read-Along!  As part of Once Upon a Time, we’ve been reading Neil Gaiman’s Stardust.  This week we’re discussing the second half of the book–so spoilers abound!  (And somehow, spoilers for Star Wars got in here too.  You’ve been warned.)

I…have quite a lot to say here.  And I’m a bit afraid people are not going to like it.  But I think I’ll just dive into Carl’s questions and go from there…

In the first part we saw a naive, wool-headed and self-involved Tristran.  What are your thoughts about Tristran and his personal journey now that the book has ended?

This is definitely the classic arc of the hero taking a journey and growing in the process.  We see some of it when Tristran wakes up to how badly he treated the Star (Yvaine, that is), and when he confronts the witch at the inn, and even when he can’t remember Victoria’s eyecolor.  However…I have some trouble here, because I just can’t shake the feeling that an awful lot of Tristran’s character growth happened in Chapter Eight, in between being picked up by the flying ship and meeting Ditchwater Sal.  That span covers weeks, miles, several adventures…and six pages.  Those six pages irritate me immensely, because I’m convinced that Gaiman summarized some very important parts of the story–like too much of Tristran’s character growth.  So much of this is wonderful that I want so much more of that section that we jumped past so quickly.

So, yes, Tristran is different.  He has a taste for adventure, he’s at least a bit more insightful, and no one in Wall recognizes him anymore.  But I’m not sure I saw enough of exactly how and why he changed.  But for now, on to the next question.

The star, who we now know as Yvaine, also experienced a transformation of her own.  So I ask the same question, what are  your thoughts about Yvaine and the journey she took?

I think the biggest change for Yvaine was around her feelings towards Tristran, with resulting changes to her attitude and choices.  Initially she makes her vow to stay with him, and there are hints and suggestions near the end that it’s not only about the vow anymore.

But…and here we go again…while I can see that Yvaine fell for Tristran at some point, this romance doesn’t speak to me much.  It feels like an awful lot of the falling in love part must have happened…in Those Six Pages.  They’re mostly tolerating each other when the flying ship picks them up, and by the time they meet Ditchwater Sal, there already seems to be much more connection.  Nothing in between but Those Six Pages.  I think Gaiman summarized right past the love story too.  Not all of it–some of it comes in at the end–but I would have loved to see that middle section much more expanded.

And while we’re on the subject of love stories–I was disappointed by Dunstan and Lady Una.  There was such a beautiful story with the two of them in Chapter One, and I really believed that there was a connection between them (and I don’t even like love at first sight stories normally), but then in the end…neither one seems to have the slightest bit of interest in the other one!  Granted, Dunstan is married, which makes it all a bit awkward, but…but…fizzle.

The villains of the story came to interesting ends, but not necessarily expected ones.  How do you feel about Neil Gaiman’s handling of the Stormhold brothers (who had remained at the end of Part 1) and the two witches, the one Lilim and Ditchwater Sal?

I already talked about issues with Those Six Pages above, but I’m sorry to say that it’s with the villains that I get into real problems.  They were such wonderful villains and then they fizzled!  Can you imagine if Darth Vader lurked around for two movies, confronted Luke near the end of the second, and then Return of the Jedi opened with the news that Vader had been shot by a stray laser beam and was dead?  That’s more or less what it felt like.

We did get a confrontation with the Lilim at the inn, and that was an excellent middle-of-the-book action scene (i.e., Vader and Luke in Cloud City).  But then…nothing!  No second Death Star.  Tristran and Yvaine never have to take their new strengths and abilities and relationship and use it all to confront the villains because the villains just sort of…defeat each other.  And while in theory I like the idea of evil consuming itself, in practice…it all felt a bit pointless.  Why create amazing villains, Mr. Gaiman, if you’re never going to have your hero fight them in a final epic confrontation?

Granted, this way was doing something unexpected and non-cliche…but things become cliches because they work.  Stories have patterns, and patterns become archetypes because they work, and building up to a final epic confrontation…it works.  Having Vader turn on the Emperor–unexpected, non-cliche, still works.  Having Luke and Vader never meet up again?  Well, that would be disappointing…

There is one scene when Yvaine meets the exhausted Lilim, and shows her pity by letting her go her way (or doesn’t show pity, if you believe that was a worse fate).  I do like what this says about Yvaine’s character…but I still feel like the villains’ long hunt was leading up to something much more dramatic than where it turned out.

What are your overall impressions of the story now that it is done?

I still think there’s a lot that’s lovely in here.  Gaiman’s writing is always beautiful, and the glimpses we get into the creatures and features of Faerie are so fascinating.  There’s so much that is so very clever, like the Babylon candle, and so very magical too.

But…with apologies to those who love this book (and I know you’re out there)…I was ultimately disappointed.  I had read this before, and I remembered being vaguely dissatisfied.  Memory had blurred the particulars though, and I jumped in again because it was a read-along, and especially because I liked Neverwhere so much better on a reread.  I was hoping to repeat that.  I read the first half of Stardust, and really thought I had been wrong before.  It was lovely, magical, excellent villains.  Then I read the second half, and remembered why this is not one of my favorite books.

I love Gaiman’s ideas.  I love the world he set up, I thought the characters had huge potential and the arc is a good one.  I just don’t like how that arc was portrayed (too much went on in Those Six Pages) and I don’t like how it finally turned out with the villains.  So, while I liked a lot, in the end I was disappointed.  Though on the plus side–it was all quite fascinating figuring out why I have troubles with this book.  From a writing perspective, it was an enormously helpful read!

If Gaiman were to return to Wall/Faerie, would you take another journey there?  If so, are there any adventures hinted at in Stardust that you would like to see Neil expand on?

Odd though it might sound, I absolutely would.  I loved the world, and I’d be very curious to explore further.  Hopefully the whole experience would turn out better for me!  And if Gaiman wanted to write a companion book, expanding Those Six Pages out into 300 pages, I would read it in a heartbeat.

Is there any interest in doing a Book vs. Film group discussion?

Yes!  I already had the movie at the top of my Netflix queue.  Because I did like the movie, very much.  While I normally object to movies that change the book, this movie changed a lot of the things about the book that bothered me.  Carl posted today that we’ll be doing a book vs. film discussion on April 28th, so stay tuned!

Final thoughts…now that I’ve somewhat flayed a much beloved book of a lot of people…I would like to say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the read-along, regardless of my ultimate feelings about Stardust.  I loved reading everyone’s thoughts on Part One, and will be VERY curious to see the thoughts on Part Two, positive and negative.

And for those of you in the positive camp, by all means, try to change my mind!  I wanted to love Stardust.  I still want to love Stardust.  I don’t really see it happening, but do please tell me about why you love it.

Stardust Read-Along, Part One

Welcome to the Stardust Read-Along!  As part of Once Upon a Time, we’re reading Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, a lovely semi-fairy tale about Tristran, who sets out across the Wall into the land of Faerie, searching for a fallen star…who turns out to be a girl, one who is very unhappy about having fallen out of the sky!

Carl sent around a number of great questions, and I’ve chosen several to discuss.

We have spent a little time with Tristran and even less time with the star.  What are your initial thoughts/impressions of our two protagonists?

I forgot how fiery (hee!) she is–and I love it!  But I had also forgotten how unfeeling Tristran is.  The star tells him she’s sitting there with a broken leg, and he does nothing at all until the next morning.  Really?  Not feeling all that fond of Tristran at the moment.  I can forgive him his infatuation with the annoying village girl, and I enjoy a nice, inept trying-to-be-hero type, but his lack of empathy is bothering me.  But at least he feels bad about it…so I trust he’s going to grow.

In Chapter Three, just after the section with the brothers in Stormhold, Neil Gaiman gives us a description of Faerie that includes “each land that has been forced off the map by explorers and the brave going out and proving it wasn’t there…”.  What imaginary lands do you then hope are a part of Faerie?

I loved this quote.  I flagged it when I came to it, and jotted it in my book of quotes.  I suppose I want all the obvious places to be there–Neverland and Wonderland and Oz, Atlantis and Tortall and Middle Earth, and Florin and Guilder, and the countries in Ella Enchanted whose names are escaping me…

We do not get to spend a great deal of time in the market but while there we are given a number of interesting descriptions of the wares being bartered or sold.  Which if any of them caught your eye, either as items you would like to possess or ones you would most certainly hope to avoid.

I think any time you’re in a fairy market, you have to be very, very careful about what they’re asking you to pay!  Mostly I wanted to comment how it reminds me of the market in Neverwhere as well.  It’s like this is a more rural version!

I suspect Neil Gaiman is influenced by a number of fairy and folk tales in Stardust.  Are there any elements of the story that made a particular impression and/or reminded you of other fairy stories you have read or are familiar with?

Stardust mostly strikes me as a book that has an air of fairy tale about it, rather than being any particular retelling.  A set of seven princes, a girl imprisoned by a witch, the hero on the quest…all very fairy-tale-ish.  And I love the Babylon Candle element.  I swear I thought up a magic spell involving the “How many miles to Babylon?” song for a story before I ever even read this book.

The first chapter especially feels so very fairy tale-like.  With possible tweaks to the very last page, it could almost exist as an entirely independent story, and make a lovely fairy tale.

That’s possibly my favorite part so far…so maybe we’ll just end there!  I look forward to seeing everyone else’s thoughts about the book. 🙂