Book Review: Sleeping Beauties

In this spectacular father-son collaboration, Stephen King and Owen King tell the highest of high-stakes stories: what might happen if women disappeared from the world of men?

In a future so real and near it might be now, something happens when women go to sleep; they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze. If they are awakened, if the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed or violated, the women become feral and spectacularly violent; and while they sleep they go to another place. The men of our world are abandoned, left to their increasingly primal devices. One woman, however, the mysterious Evie, is immune to the blessing or curse of the sleeping disease. Is Evie a medical anomaly to be studied, or is she a demon who must be slain? Set in a small Appalachian town whose primary employer is a women’s prison, Sleeping Beauties is wildly provocative and gloriously absorbing.

 

Sleeping Beauties has one simple message:

Men bad. Women good.

It takes 702 pages to get there, but that does seem to be the point. Not that it’s not fun along the way, but subtle, this book ain’t.

In the town of Dooling, somewhere in the Appalachias, the women’s prison is the main local employer. Between the town and the prison, we meet a heap of characters — so many characters, in fact, that the book opens with a four-page listing of characters and their descriptions — which, believe me, is necessary if you want to make it through this massive book with any shred of sanity remaining intact. The vast cast of characters includes the sheriff and her husband (the prison psychiatrist), sheriff’s deputies, prison guards, prisoners, high school bullies, and all sorts of other townsfolk.

The onset of the Aurora plague (named for Sleeping Beauty in the fairy tales) is pretty fascinating stuff. Worldwide, women are falling asleep, and once they do, they become encased in a filmy cocoon. They sleep, seemingly permanently, in these cocoons unless someone foolish (usually a man) decides to try to get them out, in which case they awaken with homicidal intent, murder whoever disturbed them, and then fall back to sleep as the cocoon reestablishes itself around the sleepers.

Major freak-outs ensue. What’s causing this, and what can be done? While some women give in to the inevitable, others become determined not to sleep at all, turning to all sorts of legal and illegal stimulants to stay awake, from super-powered coffee to crystal meth. As the days wear on, regular life all but disappears, and the men who are left behind turn to violence and chaos.

Small town dynamics suddenly take on huge significance. Sides are drawn up, and to a certain extent, the law of the jungle takes over. Those who are strong, survive. The physically or mentally weaker of the men are pushed aside, and as power is extended to those who should never, ever have it, we can feel the threat-level creep up into the danger zone.

I can’t say I was ever bored while reading this book, but really, it’s much too big for its own good. “Overstuffed” is the word that came to mind, especially as I neared the halfway point and realized that the amount left would be equivalent to reading yet another full novel. I don’t think we need quite so many backstories for quite so many characters. Not all of it is important, and a more honed narrative might have helped the narrative feel sharper and more focused.

I’m not sure that the end makes a whole lot of sense, but I often feel that way with Stephen King books (and yes, I’m a big fan). There are many unanswered questions about the why and how of the Aurora plague. Why do we get the resolution that we get? Because we do. Why is this the answer to Aurora? Because it is.

Still, Sleeping Beauties is filled with small and big moments of adrenaline-pumping suspense, with everyday scenes carrying extraordinary hints of menace and violence. As is typical of King novels, the huge number of characters comes together to give us the flavor of the community — although I’ll be honest and admit that I stopped bothering to distinguish between handfuls of the more minor characters as the story progressed.

Overall, I enjoyed Sleeping Beauties, but don’t think it’s Stephen King’s best work by a long shot. The message, as I mentioned at the top of the review, is really pretty basic and obvious, and at times I felt like I was being beaten over the head by the senseless need for violence exhibited by men in crisis, especially as contrasted by the peace and cooperation shown on the women’s side of the equation.

For a look at how Stephen King and Owen King worked together on Sleeping Beauties, check out this piece in a recent Entertainment Weekly.

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The details:

Title: Sleeping Beauties
Author: Stephen King and Owen King
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: September 26, 2017
Length: 702 pages
Genre: Horror/fantasy
Source: Purchased

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Guest Post: Fantasy Authors – Why You’ll Believe Their Lies

I’m thrilled to welcome Sarah Zama to Bookshelf Fantasies! Thank you, Sarah, for providing this terrific guest post.

FANTASY AUTHORS: WHY YOU’LL BELIEVE THEIR LIES

by Sarah Zama, The Old Shelter (see author bio below)

Tell me. Are you a fantasy reader?

As a fantasy writer (and reader) I often hear readers say  they don’t care for fantasy and prefer to read stories that are realistic.

Let’s talk about it.

What is storytelling?

As Flannery O’Connor said, everybody knows what a story is until they try to write one. Defining storytelling is harder than one would think, but years ago I came across a fascinating definition. It answered the question, what’s the difference between chronicling a true event and telling a story? The chronicle and the story largely adopt the same elements and can even concern themselves with the same events, what then is the difference between the two forms of telling?

Let’s say there is a car accident. A journalist will try to relate events as close as possible to how they happened, trying to replicate the dynamics and the cause-effect evolution, adding all relevant info.

We already have a ‘problem’ here: how does the journalist decide what is relevant? How does she describe events that happened at the same exact time? We have two cars moving towards each another, there are people on both of them, and things are happening inside both cars. How does a journalist decide what to relate out of all this info?

The obvious answer is that she will have to make choices. Choose which event to tell first and which tell later. Choose what details she will actually mention and which she will leave out altogether.

This will colour her account of a personal flavour… and that’s where storytelling begins.

Where a chronicler will try to leave her personal judgment out as much as possible, a storyteller will push it at its utmost consequences, with the goal to give a meaning – a very specific, personal, carefully chosen meaning – to  those events. When recounting that car accident, a storyteller will put special care in choosing who are on board those cars, what they’re doing and where they’re going. She will carefully decide what events she will tell first and what later and how they will intertwine, the chain of events and their timings, she will decide whether and how to tell the impact that accident will have on those people. And her goal won’t be to just recount how the accident happened, but it will be a carefully chosen message about something she thinks it’s important for her and for her readers.

Storytellers make choices all the time and every choice intentionally lends a meaning to the story.

So we could say that while chronicles try to manipulate events as little as possible to present them ‘how they happened’, stories intentionally manipulate events with the specific goal, the specific purpose to send out a chosen ‘message’. Where the point of the chronicle is the events, the point of the story is the message, or if you prefer, the theme.

 

Mimic and fantasy stories

Stories are generally divided into two big categories:

  • Mimetic stories which mimic life as closely as possible. They may be based on actual facts, but even when they aren’t, they depict the world, people and the workings of life as we are accustomed to see them play out every day around us
  • Fantasy stories which adopt elements who aren’t experienced in our everyday life. These fantasy elements may range from slight deviations from what we know (magic realism) to full-fledged reimagined worlds that look like nothing we’ve ever or would ever experience (high fantasy)

Readers and writers familiar with one realm are normally very hesitant to wander over to the other realm because they think they won’t fit in. Readers of mimetic fiction, in particular, think that what a fantasy story would ask them to believe is really too weird and unrealistic and so they will be unable to immerse themselves in the story the way they like to do.

 

Why would I suspend my disbelief?

Now, dear reader, be honest with me. You don’t believe for a moment that the novels you read are in any way true. They may be ‘realistic’ but they aren’t true. Beside, the fact that they are realistic is the important factor, because if they are, you can happily pretend they are as good as true and you can pretend that you can be part of that story.

This is a specific phenomenon called suspension of disbelief.

The term and concept  of suspension of disbelief was coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1817, and refers to readers’ willingness to accept the story as it is, even when they recognise elements that challenge reality as they know it. Since Coleridge was a Romantic (by this I mean he was a member of the Romantic movement), he referred specifically to any fantasy elements present in the story. Since then, the concept has taken up a larger meaning encompassing the totality of storytelling.

The core concept is that authors can employ any element in their story, unlikely as it may be (being it fantastic creatures or very daring chains of coincidences) and the reader will accept it as long as the author makes it plausible.

Prof. J.R.R. Tolkien went even further. He theorized that an author needs to be able to create a fictional world that not necessarily adheres to reality (he was after all talking about true speculative/fantasy fiction), but that works in the same way reality does. This ‘secondary reality’ may be very different from reality as we know it, but the rules that governs it must be as stringent and logic as those governing our real world. It must have the ‘intimate consistency of reality’, no matter what it looks like on the outside. It must be plausible in that context. At that point, the author won’t even need to ask readers to suspend their disbelief, because given the rules that govern that secondary reality, the readers will accept this is exactly how that reality should work.

Along these lines, Prof. Rosalba Campra went as far as saying that all stories with a perfectly functioning secondary reality should be considered realistic whether they have fantasy elements (like Middle Earth) or not.

Have I messed up your ideas well enough? Good!

Now tell me, why would you suspend your disbelief in regard to any story? Well, as a reader, I have an answer: because – as it’s for storytellers – when we read fiction we are more concerned with themes then events. If events sustain the theme convincingly and plausibly, then we are willing to play along even if the element is in itself unlikely. If the story is worthwhile in terms of themes and involvement, if it enriches us as persons, then we are willing to believe the lie.

Why then, some readers think that fantasy is more a lie than any other story? Why some readers think that ‘it doesn’t exist, it’s not realistic, so it can’t give me any worthwhile experience.’

As a writer of fantasy stories, I often wonder: is the appearance of the story really so important to obscure its theme?

 

Commissar Montalbano: a case study

Ragusa Ibla (main setting for Il Commissario Montalbano)

Years ago I read an interview with Italian mystery novelist Andrea Camilleri about his acclaimed series Il commissario Montalbano. If you are unfamiliar with it, this is a series of mystery novels set in Sicily, Camilleri’s homeland. Salvo Montalbano is a police detective who investigates murders in his little town, Vigata, following Italian police procedures… if sometimes interpreting them in his personal way, and juggling himself between strict magistrates, shadowy mafiosi, young ambitious entrepreneurs projected in the future and old Sicilians living the traditional way and only speaking dialect. The novels themselves are written in a mix of Italian and Vigata dialect.

All perfectly mimetic, wouldn’t you say? Especially if you think that the Siclianity radiates from every little element of Camilleri’s stories and he has often been praised for how vividly his stories depict the reality of Sicilian life.

So let me tell you that Vigata doesn’t exist. Montelusa, the province to which Vigata depends, also doesn’t exist. And even the dialect the novels are partly written in doesn’t exist.

Camilleri made it all up, just like Tolkien made up the Shire, in Middle Earth, and all its languages. Vigata works perfectly well and it sounds like reality because it mimics it so well and so close that readers are deceived into believing it is reality itself, when in fact it’s a very well crafted secondary reality, just like The Shire.

But there’s more. What I find particularly interesting is why Camilleri decided for a fictional place. He initially wanted to set his stories in an actual place, Porto Empedocle (which is indeed the set of the tv series), but because he knew from the beginning that he wanted to write a series of novels all set there, he quickly realised the murder rate of this town would soon exceed the actual murder rate of Porto Empedocle by far.

He could have played along anyway, pressing on the readers’ suspension of disbelief, ignoring that if that murder rate turned up in Porto Empedocle in real life, it would cause all kinds of political and social alarm. Or he could create a completely fictional place, although recognizably Sicilian, where he would be free to create his own custom made reality where he could decide whatever was best for the stories and their themes.

So yes, Camilleri created a fantasy reality so to make his stories more realistic. Although not true, Vigata does have the intimate consistency of reality more than Porto Empedocle would have had.

 

So tell me. Are you a fantasy reader?

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About the author:

Sarah Zama was born in Isola della scala (Verona – Italy) where she still lives. She started writing at nine – blame it over her teacher’s effort to turn her students into readers – and in the 1990s she contributed steadily to magazines and independent publishers on both sides of the Atlantic.

After a pause, in early 2010s she went back to writing with a new mindset. The internet allowed her to get in touch with fellow authors around the globe, hone her writing techniques in online workshops and finally find her home in the dieselpunk community.

Since 2010 she’s been working at a trilogy set in Chicago in 1926, historically as accurate as possible but also (as all her stories are) definitely fantasy. She’s currently seeking representation for the first book in the Ghost Trilogy, Ghostly Smell Around.

Her first book, Give in to the Feeling, came out in 2016.

She’s worked for QuiEdit, publisher and bookseller in Verona, for the last ten years.
She also maintain a blog, The Old Shelter, where she regularly blogs about the Roaring Twenties and anything dieselpunk.

CONTACT INFO AND LINKS

Email: oldshelter@yahoo.com
Blog: www.theoldshelter.com
Websitehttp://sarahzama.theoldshelter.com/

 

Thursday Quotables: Down Among the Sticks and Bones

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Welcome to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
(released 2017)

This book is simply beautiful and brilliant, and a perfect companion to Every Heart A Doorway. I can’t help gushing over the writing throughout the book. For this week’s selection, I’m going with a couple of passages from the earlier parts of the book, before the storyline enters a more magical domain. Here, the focus is on parenting and the damage so easily inflicted on the souls of children.

This, you see, is the true danger of children: they are ambushes, each and every one of them. A person may look at someone else’s child and see only the surface, the shiny shoes or the perfect curls. They do not see the tears and the tantrums, the late nights, the sleepless hours, the worry. They do not even see the love, not really. It can be easy, when looking at children from the outside, to believe that they are things, dolls designed and programmed by their parents to behave in one manner, following one set of rules. It can be easy, when standing on the lofty shores of adulthood, not to remember that every adult was once a child, with ideas and ambitions of their own.

It can be easy, in the end, to forget that children are people, and that people will do what people will do, the consequences be damned.

Another little heartbreaking snippet, when the main characters’ only source of adult comfort and caring is kicked out of their lives:

Louise Wolcott slipped out of her granddaughters’ lives as easily as she had slipped into them, becoming a distant name that sent birthday cards and the occasional gift (most confiscated by her son and daughter-in-law), and was one more piece of final, irrefutable proof that adults, in the end, were not and never to be trusted. There were worse lessons for the girls to learn.

This one, at least, might have a chance to save their lives.

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Add your Thursday Quotables post link in the comments section below… and I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week too.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

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Book Review: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day

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When her sister Patty died, Jenna blamed herself. When Jenna died, she blamed herself for that, too. Unfortunately Jenna died too soon. Living or dead, every soul is promised a certain amount of time, and when Jenna passed she found a heavy debt of time in her record. Unwilling to simply steal that time from the living, Jenna earns every day she leeches with volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline.

But something has come for the ghosts of New York, something beyond reason, beyond death, beyond hope; something that can bind ghosts to mirrors and make them do its bidding. Only Jenna stands in its way.

Warning: This review contains minor spoilers!

It’s hard to describe this lovely, haunting novella full of ghosts and yearning and unfulfilled needs. The writing is absolutely gorgeous, and the concepts underlying the story are original and quite moving.

First and foremost, Dusk or Dark of Dawn or Day is a ghost story. Set in our every day world, the story tells the tale of ghosts among us. They live (sort of) and work and spend their days and nights alongside the living, going through the years looking for meaning or redemption or even escape.

Jenna is our main character, a ghost who died accidentally as a teen, right after her sister Patty’s suicide. Ghost Jenna comes to New York looking for Patty, but fails to find her. What she finds instead is a “life” of her own. She works as a hotline volunteer, lives in an apartment building with a ghost for a landlady, and frequents a local diner for its coffee, pie, and interesting visitors.

What I loved:

In this ghostly version of our world, ghosts must take the time they need to reach their intended death date, at which point they can finally move on. They don’t know how close they are until they’re almost there. As they take minutes, days, or even years from the living, the living grow that much younger while the ghost becomes older. For Jenna, she feels she’s taking something that must be earned, and so she limits herself to taking time in proportion to the minutes she spends doing good in her volunteer work. The main thing for Jenna is to join Patty, and she yearns to finally get enough time to make it there.

I just loved the concept of taking and giving time. Our world is peopled with ghosts trying to move on, and it’s simply sad and sweet to see the longing and wistfulness that fills their days.

Alongside the ghost population, there are witches of all sorts, defined by their source of power. A corn witch, for examples, draws her strength not just from fields of corn plants, but anything within reach that contains corn or corn products. Some of the witches’ power sources are shocking, to say the least. The witches and ghosts have a dangerous relationship, as witches have the ability to both steal time from ghosts, staying young seemingly forever, and to trap ghosts in glass and hold them prisoner, keeping them from moving on. Again, as with the ghosts and their time banking, the concepts behind the witches and their powers in this novella are unusual and mind-bending and a bit scary, to be honest.

As I mentioned earlier, the writing in this short work is what makes it truly special. For one example, see my Thursday Quotables post from earlier this week. Here are a few more little pieces that I loved — but really, the entire book reads like a lyrical ghost story, with words that haunt the reader as much as the characters haunt the city:

The world is full of stories, and no matter how much time we spend in it — alive or dead — there’s never time to learn them all.

It’s two o’clock by the time I leave the diner. The frat boys and tourists are gone, and the homeless have gone to their secret places to sleep, leaving the city for the restless and the dead. I walk with my hands in my pockets and the streetlights casting halogen halos through the fog, and I can’t help thinking this is probably what Heaven will be like, warm air and cloudy skies and the feeling of absolute contentment that comes only from coffee and pie and knowing your place in the world.

He loves that phrase, “time is money,” and uses it every chance he gets. Sometimes I wish I could make him understand how wrong he is, that time is time and that’s enough, because time is more precious that diamonds, more rare than pearls. Money comes and goes, but time only goes. Time doesn’t come back for anyone, not even for the restless dead, who move it from place to place. Time is finite. Money is not.

We’re just part of the background noise, and all the talk in the world of ghosts and witches and hauntings won’t change that. No one believes in things like us anymore. There’s freedom in that.

What I loved less:

The plot’s climax becomes somewhat convoluted and dense, and the actions of some characters didn’t make much sense to me. But it actually doesn’t matter a whole lot, truly. It doesn’t have to make complete sense to still be a treat for the senses.

That said, I wish this had been a full novel-length work rather than a novella. While the novella’s structure and brevity give it a certain elegance, there’s so much here to take in and savor that I wish parts had more room to breathe and that the ghost- and witch-inhabited world of DDDD could have been more explicitly built out.

In conclusion:

Dusk or Dark of Dawn or Day is a beautiful work that will stay with me for a long time. The writing is gorgeous, and just cements my admiration for the writer. For more by Seanan McGuire, I strongly recommend the equally lovely Every Heart a Doorway, and can’t wait for its sequel, Down Among the Sticks and Bones, to be released in June.

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The details:

Title: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: January 10, 2017
Length: 183 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased

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Shelf Control #65: Soon I Will Be Invincible

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! Fore more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guideline sat the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

soon-i-will-beTitle: Soon I Will Be Invincible
Author: Austin Grossman
Published: 2007
Length: 319 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Doctor Impossible—evil genius, would-be world conqueror—languishes in prison. Shuffling through the cafeteria line with ordinary criminals, he wonders if the smartest man in the world has done the smartest thing he could with his life. After all, he’s lost every battle he’s ever fought. But this prison won’t hold him forever.

Fatale—half woman, half high-tech warrior—used to be an unemployed cyborg. Now, she’s a rookie member of the world’s most famous super-team, the Champions. But being a superhero is not all flying cars and planets in peril—she learns that in the locker rooms and dive bars of superherodom, the men and women (even mutants) behind the masks are as human as anyone.

Soon I Will Be Invincible is a wildly entertaining first novel, brimming with attitude and humor—an emotionally resonant look at good and evil, love and loss, power and glory.

How I got it:

I bought it.

When I got it:

Several years ago, I think — probably at one of our library sales, where I seem to get most of my Shelf Control books!

Why I want to read it:

Who doesn’t love a good superhero story? It’s got some great reviews from people I trust, and just strikes me as a fun, not particularly heavy, amusing kind of book. Maybe a good vacation read?

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Shelf Control #64: Vicious

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! Fore more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guideline sat the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

vicious-2Title: Vicious
Author: V. E. Schwab
Published: 2013
Length: 364 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

How I got it:

I bought it.

When I got it:

About 2 years ago, when the paperback edition was released.

Why I want to read it:

Talk about buzz! It seems like EVERYONE has read this book and raved about it. I feel so left out! But really, I was pretty intrigued by the premise from when I first heard about it, and I really liked the idea that here was a sci-fi/fantasy/supernatural book that stands on its own, no series needed. The relationship between the two main characters sounds complex, and the concept of an experiment going wrong as the catalyst for the conflict seems really intense. I think I need to make this a must-read in 2017!

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Shelf Control #60: Little, Big

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Welcome to the newest weekly feature here at Bookshelf Fantasies… Shelf Control!

Shelf Control is all about the books we want to read — and already own! Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, sitting right there on our shelves and e-readers.

Want to join in? See the guidelines and linky at the bottom of the post, and jump on board! Let’s take control of our shelves!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

little bigTitle: Little, Big
Author: John Crowley
Published: 1981
Length: 538 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

John Crowley’s masterful Little, Big is the epic story of Smoky Barnable, an anonymous young man who travels by foot from the City to a place called Edgewood—not found on any map—to marry Daily Alice Drinkwater, as was prophesied. It is the story of four generations of a singular family, living in a house that is many houses on the magical border of an otherworld. It is a story of fantastic love and heartrending loss; of impossible things and unshakable destinies; and of the great Tale that envelops us all. It is a wonder.

How I got it:

I bought a copy, probably from Amazon.

When I got it:

At least 5 or 6 years ago.

Why I want to read it:

A good friend insisted that I absolutely HAD to read this book. It was probably soon after Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell came out, now that I think about it, and she was convinced that this book would be right up my alley too. I love the sound of it, and I know it’s supposed to be wonderful… so why haven’t I read it yet? No idea… but I’ve held onto it all this time, and I’m determined that I will read it eventually!

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link below!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and have fun!

For more on why I’ve started Shelf Control, check out my introductory post here, or read all about my out-of-control book inventory, here.

And if you’d like to post a Shelf Control button on your own blog, here’s an image to download (with my gratitude, of course!):

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Series wrap-up: The Magicians

The MagiciansMAgician King 2Magician's Land

The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman:

The Magicians – 2009

The Magician King – 2011

The Magician’s Land – 2014

When The Magicians was first released in 2009, the shorthand buzz about the book was that it was “Harry Potter for grown-ups”. And this is kinda, sorta true, in some ways. In The Magicians, main character Quentin Coldwater heads off for a college interview and instead, suddenly finds himself taking the entrance exam at Brakebills University, a school of magic. Because magic is real, and Quentin is a magician. What follows is Quentin’s immersion in his magical education… so kind of Hogwarts-y — except in the world of Brakebills, sex and drugs and plenty of angst feature into the story too. For every moment of starry-eyed wonder at the magical world he finds himself in, Quentin also experiences neuroses and self-doubt and pain and ennui.

I love this Three-Panel Book Review by Lisa Brown, which really says it all:

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At the time that The Magicians was published, it was intended to be a stand-alone… but a few years later, author Lev Grossman continued the tale. Books two and three of the series, The Magician King and The Magician’s Land, are a lot less Harry and a lot more Narnia. The action is all post-college, and the tone is adult. Yes, there are still moments of magic and wonder, but Quentin lives in a dark world in which there is struggle, disappointment, loss, and pain.

And quests. Did I mention quests? In the 2nd and 3rd books, Quentin and his friends find themselves in various worlds, ours and others, in which everything is on the line and apocalypse looms. But of course, there are also amazing adventures, such as a sea voyage to the end of the world (very Prince Caspian, at least in the broad strokes of plot outline) and a journey to an upside down world underneath the one on the surface.

The supporting characters are, for the most part, simply marvelous. I especially love Elliot, who we first meet at Brakebills and who goes in some very unexpected directions. The character of Julia, Quentin’s childhood friend who does not get into Brakebills, but instead finds her own path to magic, is dark and disturbing, and her transformation over the course of the trilogy is perhaps the most startling and extreme.

I’m leaving out most of the essential plot points about these books, because I think this is a series best read unspoiled. But read it, you should. It’s a marvelous journey from childhood to adulthood, with a rich fantasy world that’s brilliantly developed and articulated. The characters are terrific, and the writing is funny, arch, and moving.

It’s also quite deliberately full of nods and winks to its inspirations. Quentin and friends know the worlds of Narnia and Harry Potter, and the text is full of little references. A favorite moment for me, late in the trilogy, comes when Quentin is entering a potentially dangerous situation, and says to his companion:

Wands out, Harry.

Sigh. Little things like that always make me happy. (PS – it’s worth noting that this is completely ironic, as wands do not actually factor into the magical stylings in The Magicians. There’s also no one named Harry, in case you wondered.)

You may be aware that The Magicians has been adapted for TV. The first season of The Magicians aired on the Syfy channel this past spring, and I thought it was pretty great. In fact, watching the TV show is what spurred me to re-read book 1 and then finally finish the trilogy. Here’s the trailer:

The show definitely differs in some pretty significant ways from the books, and incorporates later elements from the book trilogy into the first season, but much of the flavor comes through. I’ll be interested in seeing how they keep it going in the 2nd season, and beyond (assuming there’s a beyond).

Wrapping it all up…

I’m so glad I returned to the world of The Magicians. When the 2nd book came out several years ago, it had already been a while for me since I’d read the first, and I just couldn’t generate the interest at the time to dive back into the story. I’m glad that I took the time now to go back to the beginning and read the trilogy all the way through from start to finish.

In my opinion, this is a trilogy that’s worth reading as a whole, either one after another or with only short breaks in between. Keeping the continuity going is important, both in terms of the the sheer amount of detail that carries over from book to book, as well as for the sake of enjoying the building mood and character developments over the length of the trilogy.

But whichever way you choose to read The Magicians books — just read them. I highly recommend this trilogy for anyone who grew up on children’s fantasy books… and secretly hoped that their worlds were real.

Shelf Control #46: The Hob’s Bargain

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Welcome to the newest weekly feature here at Bookshelf Fantasies… Shelf Control!

Shelf Control is all about the books we want to read — and already own! Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, sitting right there on our shelves and e-readers.

Want to join in? See the guidelines and linky at the bottom of the post, and jump on board! Let’s take control of our shelves!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Hob's BargainTitle: The Hob’s Bargain
Author: Patricia Briggs
Published: 2001
Length: 281 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Beauty and The Beast

Hated and feared, magic was banished from the land. But now, freed from the spells of the wicked bloodmages, magic—both good and evil—returns. And Aren of Fallbrook feels her own power of sight strengthen and grow…

Overcome by visions of mayhem and murder, Aren vows to save her village from the ruthless raiders who have descended upon it—and killed her family. With the return of wildlings to the hills and forests, she strikes a bargain with the Hob, a magical, human-like creature imbued with the power of the mountains. But the Hob is the last of his kind. And he will exact a heavy price to defend the village—a price Aren herself must pay…

How I got it:

I bought it!

When I got it:

A few years ago, after discovering this author’s amazing urban fantasy books.

Why I want to read it:

I love the Mercy Thompson books more than words can say (although I keep trying…). I’ve read all of the books in the series and in the related Alpha & Omega series, but I’ve never read any of Patricia Briggs’s earlier fantasy works. She’s such an amazing writer that I’m more than willing to give this book a try. After all, the next Mercy book is still months away, and I need something to keep me busy!

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link below!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and have fun!


For more on why I’ve started Shelf Control, check out my introductory post here, or read all about my out-of-control book inventory, here.

And if you’d like to post a Shelf Control button on your own blog, here’s an image to download (with my gratitude, of course!):

Shelf Control

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Book Review: Carry On

Carry OnIf you’ve read Rainbow Rowell’s absolutely adorable novel Fangirl (review), you’ll be familiar with the name Simon Snow. As in, the hero of the (fictional) bestselling series about a boy wizard who learns at age 11 that he’s the Chosen One, and embarks on a new life at a (fictional) school of magic. In Fangirl, the main character writes wildly popular Simon Snow fan fiction, entitled Carry On, Simon.

In Rainbow Rowell’s newest novel, Carry On, we have the continuation of Simon’s story — but not the canon version, from the (fictional) official series author, but the fanfic story, picking up where Cath’s tale leaves off in Fangirl.

Confused yet?

Carry On is set completely within the magical fantasy world of the Simon Snow series. Simon is the main character, and alternates narration with his best friend Penelope, girlfriend Agatha, roommate and archnemesis Baz, and a handful of others as well, including the Mage, the all-powerful but highly controversial headmaster of the Watford School of Magicks.

It’s the eighth and final year of their magical education, and Simon return to Watford determined to confront Baz and figure out how to defeat the Humdrum, the big evil who’s menacing the entire world of magic. But Baz doesn’t show up as expected, and Simon becomes consumed by the idea of tracking down Baz, searching the school and the Catacombs for him night after night.

Finally, when Baz shows up, Simon is forced to share with him a secret — that Baz’s mother’s ghost visited, and wants Baz to learn the truth about her death. Reluctantly, the two boys declare a truce, and set out to solve the mystery, along the way poking at the edges of the myths and prophecies of the magical community, defying the prejudices of the old families, and trying to figure out just why they’re so obsessed with each other.

As in the fanfic we read in Fangirl, the heart of Carry On is the relationship between Simon and Baz. Underneath the enmity that simmered between them for all the years they were forced to be roommates is a strong and steady and mutual attraction, which the boys finally acknowledge and explore in Carry On. It’s sweet and funny and tender, and well, complicated too. Baz hides the secret that he’s a vampire, which isn’t as much of a problem for Simon as he would have expected. Their differences are acknowledged, and they’re just so friggin’ cute together that we know they’ll figure it all out in the end.

The magical mysteries — where did Simon come from? what’s up with the prophecy? what or who is the Humdrum? — all get resolved by the end, although I’m not sure that every answer is 100% satisfying. I mean, the bit with the Humdrum and how he’s finally stopped didn’t totally work for me, and I wanted Simon to get more of an answer about his parents. As far as I could tell, even though we readers find out the truth, Simon doesn’t, and that doesn’t seem fair.

Overall, I loved this book. It’s just so gosh-darned cute! The spells that they cast aren’t faux-Latin as in a certain series that we all know and love — in the world of Simon Snow, words have power, and the more certain words are used, the more power they have. So, the spells are all cliches, from “up, up, and away” to “stay cool” to “suck it up”, and it never stops being funny to see how they work.

Carry On is great fun for anyone who’s read and enjoyed certain children’s fantasy series — especially Harry Potter, of course. There are all sorts of winking references to the world and lore of Harry Potter, and it’s done with such an air of excitement and amusement that it feels like an homage, not a parody. Having read Fangirl, I’m not really in a position to judge whether Carry On works as a stand-alone… although if I had to guess, I’d say it would still be enjoyable on its own. Still, if you’re going to read Carry On, I’d strongly suggest starting with Fangirl to get the background and flavor of the Simon Snow phenomenon.

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The details:

Title: Carry On
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication date: October 6, 2015
Length: 522 pages
Genre: Young adult/fantasy
Source: Purchased

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