The Monday agenda

Not a lofty, ambitious to-be-read list consisting of 100+ book titles. Just a simple plan for the upcoming week — what I’m reading now, what I plan to read next, and what I’m hoping to squeeze in among the nooks and crannies.

The head cold that had been bouncing around my house earlier this week finally caught up with me and did serious damage to my scheduled reading time. Mostly better now, so it’s time to dive back in. What’s on the agenda for this week?

From last week:

Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt: Such a lovely book. My review is here.

The Red House by Mark Haddon: I just couldn’t finish it, despite giving it my best college try. Find out why here.

A Trail of Fire by Diana Gabaldon: Joy! Bliss! A new Diana Gabaldon book! My reaction is here.

The kiddo and I finished Half Magic by Edward Eager, always a delight. Somehow I missed out on this one during my own childhood, but have now had the pleasure of enjoying it with two of my children.

Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon (group re-read): Going strong, getting close to the end.

And this week’s new agenda:

I’m about half-way through with Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead, which is quite a fun read.

Next up: I must make some serious headway on the stack of new YA novels I’ve borrowed from the library. I’m planning to start with a sequel: Because It Is My Blood by Gabrielle Zevin, book two in the Birthright series. I’ve enjoyed a few of her books previously, including the first Birthright book, All These Things I’ve Done. I’m looking forward to this one. If I have time for one more book, then I’ll start Dare Me by Megan Abbott, which was one of my recent Wishlist Wednesday picks.

I am absolutely committing myself to starting Doc by Mary Doria Russell by the end of Thanksgiving weekend, so I’ll have enough time to read, digest (the book, not my Thanksgiving meal — although perhaps that too), and come up with some thoughtful observations before my book group meets to discuss it in early December.

My son and I have just started Magic By The Lake by Edward Eager, a follow-up to Half Magic. So much fun!

Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon: Chapters 66 and 67 this week, I think. I’d better check the group reading calendar — for all I know, we may be on hiatus for Thanksgiving.

Let’s give thanks for all the wonderful books out there just waiting to be read!

So many book, so little time…

That’s my agenda. What’s yours? Add your comments to share your bookish agenda for the week.

Book Review: A Trail of Fire by Diana Gabaldon

Book Review: A Trail of Fire by Diana Gabaldon

If you happened to read my blog post earlier in the week, then you’ll know that I was doing imaginary cartwheels and handsprings over the arrival of A Trail of Fire. Needless to say, I read it and I loved it. Perhaps that should be the entirety of my review right there.

A Trail of Fire is essential reading for fans of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series and its related spin-off novels and novellas. I have a hard time imagining that someone who had never read any of Ms. Gabaldon’s works would enjoy this collection, as they’d have no familiarity with the main characters and their associated backstories. So if you’ve read this much of my review, and haven’t read Outlander — well, what are you waiting for? It’s an outstanding work of historical fiction, and your life will be better for having read it. So go! Get thee to a bookstore!

A Trail of Fire is a compilation of “four Outlander tales”, as it says on the cover. Of the four, three have been published previously as part of anthologies, and one is brand new. Here’s the catch: A Trail of Fire has not been published in the US, and my understanding is that it won’t be, at least not for some time to come. Bear with me if my understanding of copyrights leaves a bit to be desired, but the gist of the matter is that the three anthologized stories belong, in essence, to those anthologies, and therefore can’t be republished (at least not yet) in some other format. The new story will be published in the US in March 2013 as part of yet another anthology, but readers in the US who are chomping at the bit and just can’t wait another moment will have to get their fix by ordering from an overseas supplier (such as Amazon UK — which is what I did — or The Book Depository, to name but two potential resources) or from Diana Gabaldon’s hometown bookstore, The Poisoned Pen in Phoenix, Arizona, which has a supply of signed editions available for shipment.

Back to the review! The contents of A Trail of Fire are:

1) A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows: Previously published in the Songs of Love and Death anthology, this tale tells the story of Roger McKenzie’s parents, Jerry and Dolly. From the Outlander series, we know that Roger was orphaned during WWII and then raised by his uncle, the Reverend Wakefield. Roger tells Claire that his father was a Spitfire pilot, shot down over the English Channel, and that his mother died during the London Blitz. That’s all we know, and all that Roger knows as well. This lovely story fills in the blanks, and it’s both tragic and achingly romantic. Jerry and Dolly’s love story is incredibly moving and terribly sad, and it’s a tribute to Diana Gabaldon’s mastery of her art that we come to care so deeply about these previously unknown characters in such a short tale. (Short, by the way, is relative — most Gabaldon novels tend to the 1,000 page length, so a story of under 50 pages is practically miniscule by comparison). Because “Leaf” has woven into it some plot points from the seventh book in the Outlander series, Echo in the Bone, it should only be read after that novel. Hands down, this is my favorite piece in A Trail of Fire.

2) The Custom of the Army: This story originally appeared in the Warriors anthology, and fittingly, has a very military theme. “Custom” is a Lord John story, focusing on Lord John Grey, who plays a supporting yet important role throughout the Outlander series and is the star of his own spin-off series as well. The Lord John books and novellas tend to be historical mysteries in which Lord John’s aristocracy and military position come into play, and “Custom” fits right in. Set in London and Quebec in 1959, “Custom” is an enthralling look at the inner workings of the British army and a dramatic battlefield adventure as well. Lord John himself, as always, is a charming and honorable protagonist.

3) Lord John and the Plague of Zombies: This story first appeared in the anthology Down These Strange Streets, and is another historical mystery featuring our beloved Lord John. “Plague of Zombies” is set in Jamaica in 1761, and features Lord John taking command of a battalion tasked with controlling a slave rebellion, until events take a turn toward the unexplained, creepy, and supernatural. This story in particular ties in nicely with the main Outlander series, bringing in settings and characters also encountered in the third book, Voyager.

4) The Space Between: The new one! This is the story responsible for all those overseas orders from the rabid fans who just can’t wait… and a nice addition to the canon it is indeed. The Space Between takes place after events in Echo in the Bone. The storyline follows two family members we’ve not spent much time with before, new widower Michael Murray and nun-to-be Joan McKimmie, as they return from Scotland to Paris to embark on new chapters in their lives. Familiar characters from earlier in the Outlander series pop up as well, including Mother Hildegarde, the mysterious Master Raymond, and the presumed dead Comte St. Germain. The Space Between provides more theories and new tidbits on the rituals and necessities of time travel (which is quite important in the series), and adds many new clues for fans to mull over while waiting for the next big novel — expected by the end of 2013, or so we all hope.

As I think I’ve made clear, a reader who is unfamiliar with the Outlander series will most likely be completed befuddled by A Trail of Fire. But for the Outlander devotees, it just shouldn’t be missed. I gave in to temptation and bought A Trail of Fire instead of waiting for The Space Between to become available in the new anthology, The Mad Scientist’s Guide To World Domination. Did I need to? Not really… but it is nice to have the stories collected in one volume.

Fresh Catch: This week’s exciting new book arrivals

Two books I’ve been eagerly awaiting arrived this week, and I’m just pleased as punch. (Can punch be pleased? Is that punch as in Hawaiian? Or like what comes from a closed fist? Or should that be with a capital P, as in the puppet who abuses puppet Judy? I think I don’t understand this expression after all. But I digress).

Book #1:

I’ve been waiting for this one since August (I even blogged about it, here, in a fit of intense anticipation), and here it is! Fairy Tales From The Brothers Grimm, by Philip Pullman, is a collection of Pullman’s 50 favorites, including tried-and-true standards such as “Snow White”, “Rumpelstiltskin”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, and “Cinderella”. I can’t wait to read these, but I must confess that I’m even more intrigued by the titles of some of the lesser-known stories in the collection. Has anyone ever heard of “Thousandfurs” or “The Donkey Cabbage”? How about “The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs”, “The Girl with No Hands”, or “The Nixie of the Millpond”? Listen, I adored Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy and I’d be willing to read just about anything he sets his pen to… add to that my love of fairy tales, and this collection seems like a sure bet to me.

Of course, I do have to proceed with caution, as I am admittedly terrible at reading short stories, and no matter how interested I may be in a collection, I almost never make it all the way through. I have a plan, however! I believe I’ll tackle this lovely new book in small bites — let’s say, oh, maybe 2 or 3 stories per week? I think the solution to my unavoidable impatience with story collections is to find a work-around so that I don’t end up frustrated by thoughts of all the novels I could be reading instead. So, if I take this one slow and steady, mixing in fairy tales betwixt and between all my other reading, I should be able to stick with it and get all the enjoyment from Pullman’s new collection that it seems to promise.

Book #2:

Sounds the trumpets! Wave the flags! Send up some fireworks, for Pete’s sake! (Wait, who’s Pete? Never mind…) It’s the newest book from Diana Gabaldon! Yes, Diana Gabaldon Herself, creator of the Outlander series, which I love beyond all reason. But if you live in the US, don’t go looking for this book in your local bookstore — it won’t be there. First things first — the basic facts:

A Trail of Fire, by Diana Gabaldon, is a collection of four novellas, one brand-new and three which were included in already published anthologies. For various reasons related to copyrights, the three already published stories can’t be re-released in the US just yet as they still belong to the anthologies, which is why, if you really want to get your hands on this collection, you’ll have to look outside your usual US sources.**

**So far, I know US readers who have successfully ordered A Trail of Fire from Amazon UK and from The Book Depository. The Poisoned Pen bookstore in Arizona has signed copies available for mail order as well (with a hefty price tag).

The contents of A Trail of Fire are:

1) “A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows” — published in the US in 2010 in the Songs of Love and Death anthology edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. (Note to Firefly fans: This is not a Serenity cross-over, and Wash is not a character in this story. Just to clear up any potential confusion.) “A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows” tells the story of Roger MacKenzie’s parents and their tragic fates during WWII, hinted at in the Outlander books but never fully explained prior to this story. This is essential reading for fans of the series, best read after Echo In The Bone.

2) “The Custom of the Army” — published in the US in 2010 as part of the Warriors anthology edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. This story focuses on Lord John Grey, a supporting character in many of the Outlander books and lead character in a spin-off series. “The Custom of the Army” is set in 1759 and largely concerns the Battle of Quebec, plus much military intrigue.

3) “Lord John and the Plague of Zombies” — published in the US in the anthology Down These Strange Streets, again courtesy of George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. This is another Lord John story, dealing with his lordship’s first posting to Jamaica at the head of a squadron detailed to deal with a slave rebellion, who end up with much more sinister forces to contend with. In terms of series chronology, the events in this story occur before the events in Voyager.

4) The new one! “The Space Between” has not previously been available, and will not be published in the US until 2013, when it will be included in the forthcoming anthology The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination. “The Space Between” takes place in 1778, after the events in Echo In The Bone, is set in France, and has as its main characters several side characters from the Outlander series, including Michael Murray, Marsali’s sister Joan, and the Comte St. Germain. I don’t know anything else about it… but I will soon!

At the risk of sounding like an insane fan, I will admit to already owning the anthologies containing stories 1 – 3, but after much debate (me vs. me), decided to go ahead and purchase A Trail of Fire for two reasons: One, to get my hands on “The Space Between” (obviously!) without having to wait until next March, and two, because it just looks like a beautiful book. Yes, I do sometimes judge books by their covers. When I truly give my heart to a book or series, I get a great deal of pleasure from having nice-looking copies on my shelves. A Trail of Fire will look simply smashing with all its “colleagues” — I have a space reserved for it right next to The Scottish Prisoner.


The Monday agenda

Not a lofty, ambitious to-be-read list consisting of 100+ book titles. Just a simple plan for the upcoming week — what I’m reading now, what I plan to read next, and what I’m hoping to squeeze in among the nooks and crannies.

So what’s on the agenda for this week?

From last week:

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: I finished this one early in the week. Sadly, not all that impressed. (You can find out why here.)

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple: Done! Loved it. My review is here.

Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon (group re-read): Two more engaging chapters. Almost done.

And this week’s new agenda:

I’m about 2/3 of the way through Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. What a lovely, poignant story. I’ll finish and have a review up in the next few days.

Next, from my library pile, I plan to start either The Red House by Mark Haddon or Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead.

Tiny aside: One of the benefits of having a school-aged child is learning all sorts of useful acronyms. At my son’s school (and probably lots of others), they have DEAR time — Drop Everything And Read — in which everyone stops all other work, picks a book, and reads without interruption for 15 – 20 minutes. When my older kids were that age, it was called Silent Sustained Reading (very cute to hear a 1st-grader say this, by the way).

How is this relevant to the Monday agenda? I expect to have a DEAR moment myself in the next day or two. In my case, this means that I’ll be dropping whatever else I’m reading or planning to read as soon as my copy of A Trail of Fire by Diana Gabaldon arrives. I’ll write more about this book, and why it’s a big deal, when my copy finally gets here… which should be tomorrow (fingers crossed).

My son and I are about half-way (!) through Half Magic by Edward Eager. I was pleasantly surprised when I offered him a stack of eight or nine books and he picked out this children’s classic. It’s been many years since I last read it, but it’s still thoroughly delightful.

Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon: Chapters 64 and 65 this week. Emotional high points. The end is in sight.

So many book, so little time…

That’s my agenda. What’s yours? Add your comments to share your bookish agenda for the week.