Reading mavens

A reminder for those who not only enjoy reading but also like talking about it and seeing other people do it: Please visit The Book Adept’s shop, to purchase book- and reading-related images on various products, including prints, cards, and postcards, T-shirts, mugs, and more! While you are there, also check out all the non-reading-related art. The link is: https://www.redbubble.com/people/meligelliott/shop

Here are some of the images on offer:

Retail outlet!

In addition to being an avid reader and an instructor of readers’ advisory, the Book Adept (that’s me) is also a watercolorist and mixed media artist.
I have just opened an online shop through Redbubble, and included among the collections of artwork I am making available there is a wide array of reading-oriented things—art prints, cards and postcards, and also an occasional fun thing like a T-shirt, a clock, a spiral-bound journal, a coffee mug, even masks to keep you safe from Covid-19! So please, if you like stuff about reading as much as you like to read, go check out my new products!

The shop is here: https://tinyurl.com/yyaoyprg

Of course, you should also feel free to peruse the other collections you find there! Gardening, cooking, tea time, birds, politics…art for everyone!

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

—Maya Angelou

The Dog Days of Summer

Yes, indeed they are, in California. Unrelentingly hot and humid, not to mention smoky…

So many idioms, positive and negative, in our eclectic language, relating to dogs!

     “Going to the dogs.”
          “Sick as a dog.”
               “Let sleeping dogs lie.”
                    “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
                         (and its opposite) “There’s life in the old dog yet.”
                              “Dog in a manger.”
                                   “A dog-eat-dog world.”

They go on and on. But the one appropriate to this blog post is:

Every dog will have its day.


Why? Because it’s National Dog Day!

In celebration of that, you could read and enjoy a book about a dog! There are many from which to choose, encompassing the preferences of all ages and popping up in all genres. Here are a few suggestions…

FICTION

Just Life, by Neil Abramson
Here is my review: https://bookadept.com/2020/02/04/empathy/

The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein
On the eve of his death, Enzo, a terrier/lab mutt, reflects back on his life. A philosophical dog, Enzo believes that he will be reincarnated as a human, so he has spent much of his life closely observing his human, Denny, and the rest of his family, so that he will have a head start in his next life. Charming, sad, insightful.

Suspect, by Robert Crais   
In this departure from his Elvis Cole series by this popular mystery author, Crais examines the relationship between two broken cops, one a person, the other a dog. Scott is an LAPD cop with PTSD, trying to recover from a violent assault in which his partner, Stephanie, was murdered. Maggie is a sniffer dog, formerly with the Marines, who lost her handler to an IED and is equally traumatized. Eight months later, the two are paired as Scott tries out for the K9 unit as a way to stay on the job. [mystery]

The Plague Dogs, by Richard Adams   
This is a tough one to read, heart-wrenching and tragic in parts, but so beautifully written. It’s the story of two dogs who escape from the horrors of a medical testing laboratory, and attempt to learn to live in the wilderness with the help of a fox named Tod, after the lab puts out a public alert that these dogs may be carrying bubonic plague. Find out what happens to Snitter and Rowf.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski   
A young mute boy and his family happily live and work on their Wisconsin farm that they have turned into a dog-breeding kennel. Then the incursion of an ill-intentioned relative and a personal tragedy send the boy running away into the Wisconsin backwoods with three loyal dogs he helped raise. This seems to be one of those books that people either love or hate…which will you be?

Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo   
India Opal Buloni, 10, is sent to the market (the Winn-Dixie, a southern supermarket chain) by her father, the preacher, for two tomatoes, a box of macaroni and cheese, and a bag of white rice. She comes back with a dog. The inadvertent acquisition of Winn-Dixie (the name she gives the dog in a moment of panic when she claims him for her own) helps Opal befriend a quirky group of locals, and also to deal with the loss of her mother, who left when Opal was three. A Newbery Honor Book. [children’s fiction]

NONFICTION

Travels with Charley: In Search of America, by John Steinbeck   
In September of 1960, John Steinbeck set out on a road trip in his pickup truck, Rocinante, accompanied by his distinguished French poodle, Charley. It was a quest to reacquaint himself with the flavor of the country’s identity. Given the decade in which this autobiographical work was written and lived, the identity (at least in the southern portion of the trip) was tumultuous. But it’s also a thoughtful firsthand account of the beauty of the country and the character of its varied people.

Travels with Casey, by Benoit Denizet-Lewis   
America has the highest rate of dog ownership in the world. Denizet-Lewis, secretly insecure that his dog, Casey, didn’t like him, decided to explore both his personal relationship with his own dog and the relationships of other Americans with theirs by taking a four-month, 32-state, 13,000 mile trip in a rented motor home, interviewing dogs and their owners in every setting and profession. This Steinbeck-lite journey is entertaining and often hilarious.

Dog Years: A Memoir, by Mark Doty   
A poet celebrates the 16 years he shared with his two beloved dogs, Arden and Beau, during a period of devastating personal and human tragedy. Beautiful and sad.

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, by Susan Orlean   
Allegedly found in the ruins of a bombed-out dog kennel in France during World War I, then brought to Los Angeles by Lee Duncan, the soldier who found and trained him, by 1927 Rin Tin Tin had become a Hollywood star. Orlean researched both the dog and the legend; her book spans 90 years and explores both dogs and Hollywood.

The Genius of Dogs, by Brian Hare     
A scientific study of how dogs think (and their genius at getting along with people). What motivates your dog, and how much has he learned through cohabitation with you? “Dognition” has some surprising aspects!

POETRY

The Trouble with Poetry, and Other Poems, by Billy Collins
Not all of the poems in this book are about dogs, but the ones that are…are not to be missed.

Dog Songs, by Mary Oliver
“But I want to extol not the sweetness nor the placidity of the dog, but the wilderness out of which he cannot step entirely, and from which we benefit. For wilderness is our first home too, and in our wild ride into modernity with all its concerns and problems we need also the good attachments of that origin that we keep or restore. Dog is one of the messengers of that rich and still magical first world. The dog would remind us of the pleasures of the body with its graceful physicality, and the acuity and rapture of the senses, and the beauty of the forest and ocean and rain and our own breath. There is not a dog that romps and runs but we learn from him.”

Please note that this list is not necessarily “the best” (who decides that, anyway?) and by no means complete; it is an eclectic sampling of all sorts of books about dogs, from every viewpoint (including their own), but there are hundreds more. Just Google “best books about dogs” or search for lists on Goodreads and you’ll see what I mean!

If your inclination on National Dog Day is to go beyond the act of reading a book, here are some other ideas:

  • Adopt a dog
  • If you can’t adopt, volunteer at a dog shelter or rescue organization
  • If you can’t volunteer, donate to one
  • If you’re broke, you can still give old towels and blankets
  • Help out an ill or elderly neighbor by walking his or her dog
  • On a lighter note, have a party for your dog, or go for a long walk in a new place

If nothing else, greet the dogs you meet along the way today with a hearty “Happy Dog Day!”

What? You say you’re a cat person? Then here’s a final read…

Dog vs. Cat, by Chris Gall

Bringing closure (not really) to history’s greatest battle…



Robin McKinley

As I have mentioned before on this blog, I am a huge fan of fantasy writer Robin McKinley. I reviewed my two favorite books of hers, The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword, here. I think she has inventive ideas, compelling characters, and amazing world-building. A friend and I recently discussed, however, how unpredictable she can be—we have loved some of her books, hated others, and been bored to catatonia by at least one of them. Shadows, one of her lesser-known books, is one that I like.

ShadowsBut how to describe this book? In a weird way, it’s a dystopia, because something happened a couple of generations back that changed the world and put a bunch of scary bureaucrats in charge of it. But it’s also a fantasy, because it’s all about magic and its banning from the world of science, and how it leaks and creeps back in again.

Maggie and her mom and little brother lost their dad/husband awhile back (car accident), and it’s been tough going. But now her mom has found someone new to love, and although Maggie would like to be glad for her, Val creeps her out on so many levels that she just can’t deal. There’s his wardrobe, and his weird accent, and his fairly unattractive exterior, but that’s the least of it: Val has too many shadows, which seem to loom and dart and rise up higher and create a stranger outline behind him on the wall than anybody’s shadow should, and Maggie is apparently the only one who can see them. I found it a little unbelievable how long she managed to ignore them and avoid him, rather than just coming out and asking, but on the other hand, if you put this behavior in the context of people in “science world” being jumpy about anything that smacks of magic, it made sense. And that’s where you have to “suspend disbelief” and be willing to go with it because you love McKinley.

As I said, in Newworld, where Maggie lives, there are regulations in place designed to keep people away from magic and magic away from people. In fact, there is a whole bureaucracy set up to defend against “cohesion breaks,” or cobeys, which are apparently alternate worlds or magical worlds (?) trying to push their way through to this one (or suck people out of it). It’s a crime to own magical artifacts, or to practice magic, or to BE magical, and this is a big source of Maggie’s worry about Val (who emigrated from Oldworld, where they still practice magic), because now that he’s living in their house, he puts them all at risk, even though he’s shown no obvious signs (other than the shadows) of risky behavior. Maggie’s family has a history of magic-wielders, but supposedly that gene was surgically removed from everyone awhile back—or was it?

Things I loved about this book: all the characters—her mom, her friends, Jill and Taks, her love interest, Casimir, the animals (she has a dog and also works at a shelter), the evolution of the plot. Things that frustrated me: Well, because it was McKinley I was willing to go with it, but the world-building is weird—incomplete and random, with lots of assumptions, confusing lingo, truncated history, tantalizing and infuriating hints that you could know more if only she would tell you! You are set down in the middle of a work in progress that you have to figure out as you go along, and I didn’t feel like I had completely understood it even by the end of the book—but I didn’t care all that much, because I was enjoying myself and the story.

The book ended satisfactorily, but it was more like the end of a chapter in this alternate history than the end of a world; it definitely left itself open for a sequel, but whether there will ever be one is anybody’s guess, since McKinley mostly doesn’t do sequels. I hope so, because I grew fond of these characters.

So–would I recommend it? Yes. But judging from the ratings on Goodreads, which range from one star to five, you definitely have to be a certain sort of reader to like it.

I’m tagging this with the YA Fiction category because it reads as if it could have been written specifically for teens; but as with most fantasy out there, if you are a fantasy reader you don’t discriminate between teen and adult fantasy, it’s all just fantasy!

 

 

StephenKing

Reading and art

I’ve been working sporadically on a series of paintings of people reading, and so I always have an eye out for paintings like that made by other people. This one is from my Facebook friend, the talented Milind Mulick, who lives and works in Pune, Maharashtra, India. His usual paintings are stunning urban scenes and landscapes, but he has recently been showing some portraiture and figure paintings as well, and I was so taken with this one—simple, yet so expressive. I asked him if I could share it here and he graciously agreed. Enjoy!

MilindMulick

Fresh look: old books

This is Mystery Week on Goodreads (or maybe it was last week, but the feature story is still up, so…), but the recommended mysteries featured there are some of them rather shallow and cookie-cutter-like. You know what I mean, that list of bestsellers that everybody is reading because everybody is reading them, books with the word “Girl” in their title. In the interest of giving you some more intriguing choices, here are mysteries (many of them series) to plunge you thoroughly into P-I or D-I (private investigator or Detective Inspector) mode. I have, according to my Goodreads notes, read 322 mysteries in the past decade, so let me share some of my favorites…

BoltonSHARON J. BOLTON writes smart, sophisticated, complex, and more than slightly creepy stand-alones with unique protagonists in interesting and unusual settings, including Sacrifice, Blood Harvest, Awakening, Little Black Lies, and (my favorite, I think) Dead Woman Walking. She also penned a four-book series (so far) about Detective Constable Lacey Flint,
a young, reckless, and relentless policewoman risking her life in London law enforcement. Great plots, intriguing characters, “killer” mysteries to solve. If you like the series, don’t miss the short stories/novellas you can only get on Kindle.

CraisROBERT CRAIS is best known for his long-running series about private investigator Elvis Cole, of the Hawaiian shirts and insouciant good cheer, and his dark, silent, and violent sometime partner Joe Pike. This is a great series, equal parts serious and fun just like its two protagonists, and it’s been going long enough that if you start at book #1 (The Monkey’s Raincoat), it will take up a lot of your time. But my preference is Crais’s several stand-alone books: Demolition Angel, about the toughest woman ever to work the Los Angeles bomb squad; The Two-Minute Rule, in which a former bank robber tries to solve the murder of his cop son; and Hostage, in which a group of teenagers on the run from robbing a convenience store hide out in the suburbs by holding a family for ransom (made into a pretty enthralling movie starring Bruce Willis, fyi).

CrombieIf your preference is for the quintessential British mystery, I have quite a few favorites in that area: DEBORAH CROMBIE writes a series starring two detectives who start out separate and end up together—Scotland Yard Superintendent Duncan Kincaid, and Sergeant Gemma James. One of the things I like about this series is that Crombie alternates the lead, so that Kincaid is the protagonist of one, and James is the protagonist of the next. The other thing I like is the complications of their personal lives as they intersect and mingle. Crombie is a slow writer, sometimes not coming out with a book for as much as three years, but the series is now 18 books long, so you can take your time to catch up.

GeorgeELIZABETH GEORGE, while being herself an American, writes convincingly in the Brit genre with her greatly mismatched partners, the impeccable Scotland Yard Inspector Thomas Lynley (a lordship in his private life) and his “woman of the people” partner, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, solving crimes in sweat pants and clogs. Her first book is A Great Deliverance, and the series goes on well into double digits.

BillSliderCYNTHIA HARROD-EAGLES writes the Bill Slider series, and while Slider is also a Detective Inspector, it’s much more of a series about plodding police work enlivened by flashes of brilliance and accompanied by a cast of characters both engaging and amusing. It’s not quite like any other British detective series I’ve read, and I’ve loved most of it.

LongmireIf you are NOT a fan of stories from across the Pond, try something completely different by reading CRAIG JOHNSON‘s Walt Longmire series. Walt is a county sheriff in the vast windswept state of Wyoming, and has to deal with everything from cattle rustling to drug dealing to murder, as well as maintaining an uneasy interface with the law on the adjacent Cheyenne reservation. He has an ally in his childhood friend, Henry Standing Bear, and an ever-changing roster of deputies to get him into troubled waters. The series is currently up to 15 volumes; the past few have been a little uneven, but the first dozen are solid. I also enjoyed the TV series, Longmire, based on the character in the book but quickly diverging from the written series’ story lines.

Midnightif you’re looking for something more than a little quirky (read that “paranormal”), with a mystery a part of but not necessarily the main theme of the story, read CHARLAINE HARRIS‘s “Midnight, Texas” books. They are a spin-off in some ways from a four-book series I have previously mentioned—the Harper Connelly books—in which their protagonist, Manfred Bernardo, was a major character. Bernardo, a psychic, is just looking for a home where he can find both mental and actual peace and quiet, and ends up gravitating to a “bump in the road” two-block almost ghost town in Texas, only to discover that its other inhabitants are, shall we say, as unusual as he is (or more so). There are currently three books.

CanaryFinally, if your taste trends more towards dark and violent, check out DUANE SWIERCZYNSKI‘s noir fiction. I have read two of the three Charlie Hardie books, but a friend who is a big fan assures me that they are all equally immersive. My personal favorite of his is actually billed as a “new adult” (a step older than “young adult”) book, called Canary, with multiple points of view done well, lots of twisty turns in the plot, and a stellar ending. Some of his stuff is just too dark for me, but Canary was a winner.

I hope this gives you some ideas for reading to pursue during the next few weeks of solitude! Between this and my other three fresh looks at old books, you should be set. But if you have questions, please ask!

 

Fresh look: old books

Continuing our exploration of books published years ago—some many years ago—but not discovered by some of us until now, in our hour of need: Here are some bewitching fantasies sure to capture your imagination and attention, should you deign to read them…

The first is a series within a series, but then, the majority of Sir Terry Pratchett‘s books fall into that category, I think—Discworld is all-enveloping. But this series is specific to itself as well, and delightful in all ways. It’s the set of five Tiffany Aching books, beginning with The Wee Free Men and ending with The Shepherd’s Crown, which also happens to be Terry’s last book.

WFMIn the beginning, it’s young Tiffany Aching, armed only with a frying pan and her enormous common sense, who stands between the monsters of Fairyland and the Chalk country that is her home. Her beloved grandmother, the Witch of the Chalk, has died, and now it’s up to Tiffany, young and unprepared as she is, to take over. When her brother is kidnapped by a fairy and Tiffany has to enter Fairyland to find him and get him back, Tiffany discovers some unusual allies, the Nac Mac Feegle, or Wee Free Men. They are a clan of sheep-stealing, sword-fighting, six-inch-high blue men with proper kilts and Scottish accents, who may be small but are definitely fierce enough to make up for it. Together Tiffany and the Feegle must confront the cruel Queen of the Elves.

In the second book, A Hat Full of Sky, Tiffany’s exploits in retrieving her brother have brought her to the notice of witches, under the leadership of Granny Weatherwax. They arrange for her to be apprenticed to Miss Level, from whom she learns that there’s little magic involved in witchcraft—it’s more a case of midwifery, hospice, herbal lore, and the settling of village disputes. Tiffany scorns much of this, acting like a typical angsty teenager…but this is unlike the usually practical girl. It seems that something more sinister is at work, a malign influence that took hold when Tiffany learned the trick of hopping out of her body for a bit and leaving an “open house.”

In the third book, Tiffany confronts the Wintersmith; in the fourth, I Shall Wear Midnight, she has completed her training and has returned home to become the Witch of the Chalk, only to encounter the seeds of great evil taking over the world; and in the final book, The Shepherd’s Crown, she stands with all the witches against the fairy hordes wanting to overrun her land. It’s a great series, enlivened by dark humor, profound pronouncements, a few bad puns, and of course by the little blue men with their equally blue vocabulary.

nacmacf

All you Miyazaki fans out there have probably long since discovered his animé of Howl’s Moving Castle, by Dianna Wynne Jones, but have you ever read the original source material? If not, you are in for a treat; the movie greatly abridged and “adjusted” the plot, which is so delightful that it deserves to be visited or revisited, depending.

It has one of those first lines that I love:

“In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three.”

HowlThis misfortune falls to 18-year-old Sophie Hatter, who is turned by the Witch of the Waste into an old woman. In search of a cure, Sophie tracks down and confronts the local wizard, who travels about the countryside in a castle that moves of its own accord, courtesy of its resident fire demon. Sophie has to figure out how to outwit Howl, employ the fire demon, and overcome the Witch of the Waste to regain her youth. But along the way, what an adventure it will be!

Totally original and delightful, this book will appeal to all ages and genders. Don’t be fooled by its allocation into middle school book lists, this is a fantasy for everyone. Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways are the two sequels.

Another writer with a body of work that mostly connects between all books (like those of Ursula K. LeGuin’s from another recent post) is urban fantasy writer Charles de Lint. If you are a fan of books that seem to be set in the contemporary world but have another, parallel world connected through whose gates the faery folk and Native American archetypes slip from time to time, you must check out his Newford books. They number in excess of 20 by now, but although he has numbered them sequentially, you don’t necessarily have to read them in a particular order. While it is true that characters who reappear will be minor in one and the main protagonist of another, you don’t miss much by jumping in wherever you feel like it. Also, a fair number of the books consist of short stories that bring you up to date about individual people and story lines, should you wish to seek them out.

m&dMy favorite two books of his are Memory and Dream, and Trader, which are actually #2 and #4. The first book is written partly in the present, partly in the past, and I am reluctant to reveal too much, because the book is specifically designed for you to discover its surprises as you go along. It begins in 1992, with successful but reclusive abstract artist Isabelle Copley having two jarring experiences on the same day: She receives a letter from her best friend, who has been dead for five years, and is then contacted by another friend, a publisher who wants Isabelle to illustrate an anthology of her dead friend’s short stories. But Isabelle has sworn an oath to never again paint realistically…. Then the book jumps back to 1973, when Izzy is living a bohemian lifestyle with her two best friends (the writer and the publisher) in the city of Newford, studying art under the formidable Vincent Rushkin. One of the greatest living painters and know for his eccentricities, he agrees to take Isabelle on as an apprentice…but despite the miraculous painting techniques she is learning from him, Izzy doesn’t know how much longer she can put up with his controlling and abusive behavior….

The book explores a number of ideas, on a variety of levels, from the nature of art to the knowledge of the people in our lives, to what we are willing to put up with in order to learn the things we want to know. It’s dramatic, magical, and beautifully written.

traderTrader is a somewhat familiar story—a body swap—that is nonetheless fresh and arresting in the hands of fantasist de Lint. Johnny, an unemployed, womanizing, hard-drinking wastrel, falls asleep wishing for a different life, one with money and advantages, in which people appreciate him. His dream, influenced by the Native American artifact he clutches in his hand as he sleeps, intersects with the discontented, weary spirit of Max, whose existence has become about little more than his work, and who has lost his initial joy in his trade as a musician and guitar maker. They wake up in each others’ bodies, and while Johnny gleefully adapts to Max’s comfortable lifestyle, Max is left penniless, homeless, and with enemies seeking him, and has to figure out what has become of the real Max Trader. Their journeys intersect in both worldly and other-worldly ways, abetted and hindered by friends and foes both human and, well, not.

Some other fantasy duos, trilogies, and series that might appeal to you as long and involving reads:

Strange the Dreamer and Muse of Nightmares, by Laini Taylor
The Shades of Magic books, by V. E. Schwab
Seraphina and Shadow Scale, by Rachel Hartman
The Lumatere Chronicles, by Melina Marchetta (three enormous volumes)
Mary Stewart’s Arthurian saga, beginning with The Crystal Cave

If you read any of the books discussed here, I’d love to hear what you thought of them—did you enjoy them, and did they meet your expectations based on these book-talks?