Blog Hop: The Pleasures of Rereading

This week’s Book Blogger Hop question is particularly relevant to my recent reading…

book blogger hop

What was the last book you reread?  Or name a book you would like to reread.

Since one of my reading goals for the year is to revisit old favorites, there’s been quite a lot of this going on…especially as it’s Once Upon a Time season, and a lot of my old favorites are fantasies!  Recent rereads include:

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

Chalice by Robin McKinley

Links all go to reviews.  The next book I reread will probably be Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier, which I have conveniently sitting on my shelf…

In the meantime, a thought on rereading: “There’s nothing wrong with reading a book you love over and over.  When you do, the words get inside you, become part of you, in a way that words in a book you’ve only read once can’t.” – Gail Carson Levine

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

Blue SwordContinuing recent trends, I reread The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley for Once Upon a Time, and for my goal to reread old favorites.  I’ve no idea when I last read this, but it may have been middle school.  By now, it’s like an entirely new book–not a bad thing, when it’s by one of my favorite (but not prolific enough!) authors.

The heroine of the story is Harry, who travels from what seems to be loosely Victorian England, out to the edge of the empire.  The Homeland has never quite conquered the desert and hills of Damar, where the natives still follow the old ways–and are rumored to have magical power.  When Harry is abducted by the Damarian king, she begins to forge a new identity among a foreign people she’s strangely drawn to–and finds a role in their coming war with the North.

I feel like this plot summary makes the book sound like Indian Captive, which it isn’t at all…but telling more would give too much away.

I like Harry as a protagonist–she’s intelligent and capable, and always puts on a strong appearance even when she’s secretly unsure.  She makes some leaps in learning and skills that are, um, improbable to say the least, but there’s a magical explanation so I’ll give that a pass…  McKinley also succeeds in making the Damarian king, Corlath, into a sympathetic character, when he very easily might not have been at all.

The romance comes slightly out of left field, but…it feels like it makes sense when it arrives, so I’ll accept that too.  Slightly sudden romances are a recurring feature of McKinley’s writing…

Besides lots of magic and swordfighting and epic legends, possibly the coolest part of the story is Harry’s animal companions.  She has the world’s most amazing horse, and if that’s not enough, there’s a wildcat too!

It was funny reading this right after Fellowship of the Ring, because in some ways the writing style seemed even more Tolkien than Tolkien himself–more what I expected Tolkien to be.  And by that I mean that there is considerable detail given to what the landscape looks like, the clothing styles, the exact details of saddles…  Most of the time that was all right and even interesting, and mostly the book still moved at a reasonable pace.

The only real trouble I had was at the beginning, and “trouble” might be putting it strongly.  It’s just that there’s a fair bit of set-up explaining the political situation and Harry’s personal past, and it all comes out rather dry.  This is particularly funny because McKinley is known for throwing readers in without much backstory or explanation…but this was an early book.  Evidently her writing evolved.  So if you pick this one up and find it slow, at least go on until Harry’s abducted–I found it picked up considerably then.

This book has made me very much want to reread The Hero and the Crown, which I only remember marginally better.  That one is a prequel, focusing on legendary characters who are frequently referenced here, and I look forward to reading their story.

This book also made me want a really amazing wildcat companion, but that want could be a bit more difficult to satisfy…

Author’s Site: http://www.robinmckinley.com/

Other reviews:
Lisa Godfrees
Bookshop Talk
Tor.com
Anyone else?

Buy it here: The Blue Sword

Favorites Friday: Anticipated Books of 2013

Something a little different today–books I really want to read but alas, am still waiting on their publishing dates!

Before I got into book blogging, I was almost never waiting for books, because I usually didn’t know anything was coming out until it was already out.  I still don’t have a huge list of books I’m anticipating, since I usually add books to my ToBeRead list when they’re being reviewed–and therefore already published.  But I have managed to latch on to several current authors and ongoing series recently, and am eagerly awaiting their upcoming releases…

1) The Girl Who Soared Above Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente – I am so in love with that title.  I mean…!!!  The first two books in the series (reviews here and here) were my favorite two reads of last year, with no serious competition.  I am eagerly anticipating another return to Fairyland.
Release Date: October 8, 2013

2) Shadows by Robin McKinley – I feel a rather personal attachment to this book.  I read McKinley’s blog, and have been following along through the trials and trevails of writing, revising and copy-editing this book for the last…it must be upwards of a year now, maybe two.  After all that, I feel invested.  And that’s even though I have almost no sense of what the book is actually about.  I don’t know–there’s magic, and it’s McKinley.  I don’t really need to know more than that.
Release Date: September 26, 2013

3) Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce – Back when I didn’t track anticipated books, the one author I did keep an eye on was Tamora Pierce.  This book would be more exciting if it was in her Tortall series rather than her (good but not as good) Circle of Magic series…but oh well.  It’s Tamora Pierce.  It still ranks #3.
Release Date: October 1, 2013

4) Something by L. A. Meyer – Neither Amazon nor Meyer’s website will tell me what’s next in the Jacky Faber series, but since he’s released a new book every fall for a good five years or so, I trust another will be arriving.  The most recent slipped a bit, but I remain hopeful, and I always enjoy the continuing adventures of the irrepressible Jacky.
Release Date: Who knows?

Those are the top four I’m very anxiously awaiting.  It’s going to be a busy fall.  Though of course, I don’t have any shortage of books to read in the meantime…  Do you have any books you’re particularly looking forward to being released?

What Are You Reading?

itsmondayIt’s been a while since I joined in with the Book Journey meme, “It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?”  Maybe it’s time for an update!

I’ve been reading lots of fantasy for Once Upon a Time, which has been enormously fun.  And I can’t believe we’re almost a month in already!  I have so many more books to read…

Right now I’m midway through A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett, because I’ve been meaning for months to read more of the Tiffany Aching books, which feel a bit more like a proper series than the rest of the delightfully mixed up Discworld books.

Coming up next I have a big one to tackle: Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien.  I read The Hobbit years ago (and reread it recently), but I’ve never read the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I was bound and determined to make the attempt this year, and now’s the time!

I am probably way over-focusing here…I reread The Hobbit and watched the movie of Fellowship in preparation, then made sure I cleared through my stack of library books before turning to Tolkien.  So I’ve been counting down to Fellowship for about six books now.  Wish me luck!

I have new ones coming in from the library as well, for once I get to the other side of Middle Earth.  I’m planning on Heir to Sevenwaters, the next in the series by Juliet Marillier, and The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, which I read so long ago I barely remember it.

As you can see, we’re continuing the fantasy adventures…

Chalice by Robin McKinley

ChaliceFor the second year in a row, I began the Once Upon a Time Challenge with a Robin McKinley re-read.  Last year it was Rose Daughter, a surreal “Beauty and the Beast” retelling.  This year it was Chalice, about a beekeeper trying to take on a very difficult magical role.

Chalice is set in a fascinating magical realm that I so wish we could spend more time in.  The land is divided into demesnes (rather like Fiefdoms) each of them ruled over by a Circle, twelve individuals with specific roles, bonded together by magic.  The first member of the Circle is the Master, the hereditary Lord of the demesne.  The second member is the Chalice, who binds the demesne together, tending to everything from magically encouraging fellowship among the Circle to quieting restless earthlines.

In Mirasol’s demesne, an unstable Master and his Chalice died suddenly together, sending the land into disarray.  In desperation, the Circle summons the Master’s brother, now a Fire Priest, the last blood heir who can assume the duties of Master.  Meanwhile, Mirasol finds the powers of a Chalice suddenly erupting within her, and she must find a way to learn and manage her new role.

This is a fairly slim book, but hard to summarize, because the world and the magic system is so integral and so complex–and not quickly explained in the book!  McKinley has a tendency to throw the reader into a novel without a lot of explanation, and then drop dribs and drabs of information as we go.  I often find that frustrating in books, but McKinley is generally quite good at making it work.  All the same, I think I did enjoy this book more on a reread because I had a clearer context at the beginning.

It’s a truly fascinating world and magic system, and it all ties together into the larger conflict.  The demesne is threatened both from within and without, from political manuevering and from the land literally fighting the instability brought on by human actions.  Mirasol and the new Master have to work together to hold the demesne together, while dealing with their personal internal struggles, and with conflict among the people around them, who have serious reservations about a Fire Priest Master.

Mirasol is an excellent heroine, one who is clearly strong, intelligent and good-hearted, but doesn’t entirely believe she has any of those qualities.  She’s a beekeeper who is suddenly dealing in things so much bigger than her former realm, and she’s struggling to learn the role and duties of Chalice.  Even more, her struggle is how to stay Mirasol within the Chalice, and carve her own unique path.

I pretty much can’t avoid liking the Master as a hero.  He’s dark and terrifying and mysterious (it’s that Fire Priest thing), while kind and caring underneath the intimidating exterior.  I love dark, brooding heroes with hearts of gold, and this is one of the most clearly good heroes of that type.  His magic is also just so intriguing.  As a Fire Priest, he’s been physically transformed so that he’s not quite human anymore, and he’s struggling to adapt to this return home.

Arguably, this is McKinley’s third “Beauty and the Beast” retelling, though unlike the first two, which lift direct elements from the fairy tale, this is only the tale in its themes.  It is a story about a girl who finds herself, while helping a man who lost his humanity learn to be human again…but all the surrounding details are different.  Still, I’m sure the themes are deliberately there.  Somewhere I heard McKinley say that “Beauty and the Beast” is THE story for her, the one she’s really telling, to a greater or lesser extent, in all of her novels.  That is certainly abundantly clear here.

If there’s a flaw in the book, it’s that the ending is too fast.  It’s completely right.  I love the way things work out, all the earlier hints and clues are there to set up the conclusion, and the details are all immensely satisfying.  But it happens so quickly!  The first time I read Chalice, I read the ending twice, because I just couldn’t get the emotional resolution so fast.  This time, I found myself rereading individual paragraphs, trying to linger on key moments.  The point here is that I love the whole thing…I just wish there was more of it.

This is among my favorite McKinley books, and I highly recommend it.  I also recommend having honey on hand while you read…remember, Mirasol is a beekeeper, and honey figures prominently!

Author’s Site: http://www.robinmckinley.com/

Other reviews:
Starlight Book Reviews
Bookshelves of Doom
Beauty Is a Sleeping Cat
Anyone else?

Buy it here: Chalice