A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeline L’Engle (audio)

swiftly tiltingThis is book 3 in a series, following A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door.

In this episode of the Murrys’ lives, Meg is an adult, recently married to Calvin and pregnant. This makes for a change: no one is really a child any more (well, Charles Wallace is 15. But he’s an odd one, isn’t he). However, the voice of the characters is not noticeably more mature. (She uses rather big words! But simple sentences.) On the one hand, this means that L’Engle’s novels remain accessible to the youthful population she intended. On the other, it does feel like children’s or young adult lit. Just a note. I’m still enjoying.

Where A Wrinkle in Time dealt with hard science and Meg’s social awkwardness, and A Wind in the Door emphasized the importance of all the parts of the world, large and small, A Swiftly Tilting Planet expands on that concept of interconnectedness and applies it to international politics and the possibility of nuclear war. An added element of fun and fascination is provided by time travel: Charles Wallace has a unicorn friend named Gaudior this time as his guide, and they travel through time to visit Calvin O’Keefe’s forebears throughout history. The unicorn, and the different historical settings, were excellently done, in my opinion; I was almost sorry when we returned to the present. But not to worry: the Murrys’ present makes up a smallish minority of this book’s focus; we spend most of our time immersed in history, from ancient times through the early New England settlers and the US Civil War.

On Thanksgiving, Calvin’s mother and therefore Meg’s new mother-in-law, Mrs. O’Keefe, is present when the family receives word from the President (Mr. Murry is an important man) that nuclear war is imminent. The normally antisocial Mrs. O’Keefe pipes up to charge Charles Wallace with preventing it, and this is when he meets Gaudior and they travel through the centuries. L’Engle employs the classic time traveler’s hope, to change the present and future by going back and changing some detail of the past. (The butterfly effect is entirely ignored.) During these travels, Charles Wallace has to learn to deemphasize his intellect, not rely on his IQ, but go with the flow. This is an interesting lesson for our boy genius.

A Swiftly Tilting Planet is a departure from the first two books, which concentrated on science (and science starring a young girl!); this one is more social science, you might say, or the nature and effects of relationships (familial and otherwise) and the bonds of society. Readers looking for the science might be disappointed. But I found the fantasy of time travel via flying unicorn, and the chance to meet individual characters in history (a fictional, but realistic, history), very engaging and entertaining.

I missed L’Engle’s narration of this audiobook, as I’d enjoyed the author’s own voice in the first two in this series; but I must say that Jennifer Ehle’s reading was quite similar. (She is a little less gruff.) If we have to change narrators mid-series, at least let them be like enough that I don’t feel jolted; so well done on that count. And Ehle’s narration was fine in itself. I will be listening to the final two books in turn – already have them loaded. I still recommend L’Engle’s work.


Rating: 7 letters.

The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig

cormorantThis is the third in a series, preceded by Blackbirds and Mockingbird, which I enjoyed.

Miriam Black is back, in disjointed chronology, still battling her demons and the curse of her “gift” of seeing how and when people die. She has moved on from stealing from the dead, and trying to prevent deaths through various means, to the only way she’s found that works: she can prevent deaths only when she kills the killer. She has broken with Lou, good old Lou from books 1 and 2, and has been on something of a mission. When the book opens, she’s being held in a room by two… possible FBI agents, but possibly something else. The split chronology takes us backward in time, explaining how she got there. I’ll use the present tense for this past, as the book does.

Miriam receives an offer: $5000 to tell a guy how he dies. She has tried to sell this talent before, but this is the biggest number she’s seen, and comes just as she’s evicted from a bad living situation; so Miriam buys a cheap car and heads for Florida. She carries three phone numbers with her there: that of the man hiring her, Lou’s, and her mother’s. These are the three folks she knows (so to speak) in Florida.

But when she appears at the man’s house and touches him, the death scene she sees involves her – is a message for her, in fact. A threat from her past resurfaces; and suddenly everyone she’s come in contact with is in danger, and Miriam is set on a path again.

Miriam is still a great character: foul-mouthed and tough, yet vulnerable and even, occasionally, compassionate. I love her personality; and she has another …maybe love interest is the wrong term, but she has another encounter in this book which keeps things interesting. I like the bird theme, too; look out for the powers of the gannet as well as the cormorant here.

Wendig’s unique writing style continues to amuse. He’s almost over-the-top with his odd metaphors:

Those things taste like cough syrup that’s been fermenting in the mouth of a dead goat, but shit, they work.

Eventually, her bladder is like a yippy terrier that wants to go out.

But I like it. Remember you can always get your daily fix (more or less) at his blog, too.

The nice people in Wendig’s books are a nice touch, and a realistic one. You can sense his descriptions approaching a world that is all evil – but he holds back, and I applaud him for it. The evil bits are all the more poignant when we get to see that there are good people in Miriam’s world, too. Sometimes she’s even one of them.

I continue to look out for the next Miriam Black novel, which is to be titled Thunderbird. Still recommended.


Rating: 7 gold watches.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

cormorant

Warning: slight raunchiness follows.

I wanted to share these lines because they are so perfectly Miriam (and/or Wendig). I realize they tell you nothing about the plot of this story, but that’s okay. I’ll tell you that other stuff later; for now, check out the style.

“…I always wondered if maybe you had a thing for the bearded taco.”

“For the record,” Miriam says, “I’m a supremely vulgar human being and even I think bearded taco is a disgusting term. My vagina is a beautiful flower, thank you very much, not a pube-shellacked burrito. Ugh.”

Well done, Miriam.

Also, aren’t the covers on these books amazing? Go here for a large version – which still doesn’t let you see additional detail on the back cover. Good stuff. Keep up the good work, Author Wendig and Cover Designer Joey Hi-Fi.

book beginnings on Friday: The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

cormorant

Following on Blackbirds and Mockingbird, Chuck Wendig returns us to the strange and darkly wonderful world of Miriam Black with The Cormorant. I like cormorants (we have them in the bayous ’round here) and I like Wendig’s weird sense of humor. First, the dedication: “To all the foul-mouthed miscreants and deviants who are fans of Miriam, and who make this book possible.” Thank you, sir.

It begins:

“And the Lord said, let there be light.”

A flutter of black fabric, and the hood is gone.

Miriam winces.

Right on schedule.

The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren

lionheartI was asked some time ago what my favorite book was as a child, and I couldn’t say. I could have listed a dozen, at least, that I loved, but I don’t know how I could have chosen one. I asked my mother, and she said my favorite book as a child was the one I was reading right that minute. I read a lot.

But something about The Brothers Lionheart has stayed with me. I don’t know when I read it, or how many times – not many, I think, maybe only once; but it made a strong impression, and I’ve found myself thinking about it over the years. (Astrid Lindgren is better known as the author of Pippi Longstocking, but I think this one kicks Pippi’s butt.) So I finally went and got my hands on a copy recently, and I’m so glad I did!

The story is fantastical. When it opens, little Karl Lion is sick; he’s been in bed for six months. But his older brother Jonathan is a good big brother, one of those golden people, beautiful and strong and talented and kind, and modest because he seems to just really not notice or care how special he is. He’s sweet to his little brother, and stays up late telling him stories. Karl knows he’s going to die. Jonathan tells him it’s okay, because he’s going to a beautiful place beyond the stars called Nangiyala, a land still in the time of campfires and sagas, where the brothers can have adventures together. Jonathan is only sorry that Karl will get there before he does, since Jonathan seems destined to live a long and healthy life.

But there is a fire, and Jonathan saves his brother’s life but forfeits his own; and when Karl succumbs to his illness, Jonathan is waiting for him at Knights Farm in Cherry Valley in Nangiyala. They have horses, and rabbits, and a vegetable garden; Jonathan tends the rose gardens of a nice woman named Sofia, and they are friends with everyone in the town. Karl is happy. But too soon, he learns of Wild Rose Valley, the next neighborhood over, where things are not so simple and joyful: an evil tyrant named Tengil has enslaved the people of Wild Rose Valley and built a wall to keep them from their friends in Cherry Valley. Jonathan and Sofia are part of the resistance; and although Karl is very small and very frightened, he finds himself involved, as well.

There are forces of evil dressed in black uniforms and scary helmets; there is an occupation; there is a fire-breathing dragon; and there are brave citizens. It is a saga itself, and Jonathan is its shining golden hero, but Karl doesn’t do too badly either. I loved this story very much, this time as much as when I read it as a child. And the ending thrills me as much as ever.

This is definitely a book for kids; the language is simple and childlike, and the thing I found most striking upon this adult read was the pacing. It moves very quickly! It takes very few pages to establish how lovely & simple & calm Cherry Valley is; and then we’re on to the darkness next door immediately. An adult book would have been longer and allowed the action to develop a little more slowly. But this made for a very enjoyable, quick read. I’d recommend it for anyone who likes fantasy and dreams and adventure, and who might not be up for a longer, more involved novel.

There is another level on which this story can be read as allegory. Tengil’s occupying force presents several clear options for comparison (and I think also offer some tips on how not to do it). One valley looks so sweet, good, prosperous and happy, and yet if you open your eyes just a little – zoom out to the point where you can see as far as just the next valley over – things are not nearly so happy or easy as you thought. Without putting too fine a point on it, I think this offers an analogy for capitalistic western culture. Speaking of capitalism, I was charmed by the idea of everyone helping everyone & taking care of one another in this idealistic Nangiyala. One can dream.

Themes include the beauty of a deeply felt brotherly love, resistance against evil, loyalty, hope, and courage; but there are also themes related to death & what happens after, tyranny, war and betrayal. The book has been criticized for its approach to suicide (although I would argue it’s not quite that simple). For me, the good is bigger than the darkness, and the ending is happy. I feel that the interplay of dark and light is part of what makes this story the kind that has stuck with me for over 20 years, and keeps it from being saccharine. But not everyone will see it that way.

I am so pleased to report that Jonathan was still simply heroic, Karl still sweet and surprisingly brave, Sophia still good and the dragon still scary, even now that I’ve grown up. Do check out my childhood favorite with me.


Rating: 9 trips along a river.

book beginnings on Friday: The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

lionheart

Astrid Lindgren is far better known as the author of Pippi Longstocking. But I remember Pippi only vaguely, and have remained enchanted by The Brothers Lionheart since I read it first as a child. I was excited to find a new copy and open it back up again. We begin:

Now I’m going to tell you about my brother. My brother, Jonathan Lionheart, is the person I want to tell you about. I think it’s almost like a saga, and just a very little like a ghost story, and yet every word is true; though Jonathan and I are probably the only people who know that.

I love this childlike tone. But don’t be fooled: this is a hell of a story, exciting and beautiful and poignant and scary and fantastic.

Song of Susannah by Stephen King (audio)

Just to review the Dark Tower series:

The Gunslinger (I)

The Drawing of the Three (II)

The Waste Lands (III)

Wizard and Glass (IV)

The Wind Through the Keyhole, written last but fitting between books IV and V

Wolves of the Calla (V)

and here we are with book VI, Song of Susannah.


susannah

I’m sorry to say I have to agree with what Jeff Coleman said (in a comment, here), about the series beginning to fray in this book. Our beloved ka-tet, in which we, the readers, have invested so much care and worry, is beginning to come apart. The characters are now separated and working independently or in pairs, and I think both the storyline, and the emotional investment King can ask of us, suffer. In fact, I am going to compare this problem to a recent television event: I think watchers of The Walking Dead are frustrated by how everyone is split up. We still care enough to watch week to week (at least my household does!) but we’re a little unhappy with the producers for keeping us so much in the dark as to where everyone is. We don’t mind a little conflict, a little suspense and fear – in the case of the Dark Tower series and the zombie tv series, both, I think we’re here for the suspense and the fear; and no story is anything without conflict – but it’s getting a little harder to invest as we’re spread around so thinly.

Susannah/Mia is battling, basically, herself; she is by herself; and her survival is not assured. Eddie and Roland are off on their own worrying about the rose, and they have a bizarre adventure in which they meet Stephen King himself, on which more in a moment. Jake and Pere Callahan, and thank goodness Oy, are… still around, but I’m not sure what they contribute to this novel other than to still pull my dog-loving heartstrings (Stephen King KNOWS I won’t stop reading as long as Oy is around). I am sorry to say that this may be the first book in this series in which nothing happens.

Stephen King writing about people who are in a book that Stephen King wrote, and who then go off to find & meet Stephen King, so as to convince him to write about them – this is interesting. It’s mind-bending, intriguing, very meta, and perhaps a little silly; I’m not sure how egomaniacal he’s being here, but I think I dig it. I like a good mind-bender. Again, though, I’m not sure what it contributes to the arc of the plot of this series; I am impatient for our characters to get together again; I’m worried about them, but not in a plot-progress kind of way. Hurry up and give us more action, King.

There is also a quick reference – so quick you could almost miss it, except that it is SHOCKING and I gasped on the train and people looked at me – that distressed me. I’ll write it here in white text, and you can highlight to read it if you’re unafraid of spoilers. There is a line that says something like “Eddie never got a chance to, because by then he and Roland would be separated by death.” What a heck of a thing to foreshadow, Stephen King. I am upset.

This penultimate book in the series leaves me anxious for the next one – I’m anxious for our splintered ka-tet, and also anxious that the last book will be a good one. It’s certainly a fat one; I couldn’t find it on audio, so I’ll have to wait until I find the print-reading time to slot in these 1,000 pages. Dear, dear.


Rating: 5 turtles.

(but only because it’s part of this series.)

Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King (audio)

Just to review the Dark Tower series:

The Gunslinger (I)

The Drawing of the Three (II)

The Waste Lands (III)

Wizard and Glass (IV)

The Wind Through the Keyhole, written last but fitting between books IV and V.

and here we are with V: Wolves of the Calla.


wolvesThis is a very long one. My library copy of the audio came on 22 CD’s. Off the top of my head, I can only remember Anna Karenina being longer; but where that was a painful experience for me (sorry, Tolstoy fans), this was pleasurable.

The action of Roland’s ka-tet of 5 – Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy – takes up very little geographical space, unlike most of the previous volumes. They leave Topeka and the Wizard of Oz world, and encounter an envoy from a local town, Calla Bryn Sturgis. The locals are tormented by the Wolves from Thunderclap, the neighboring badlands: these “wolves” come about once a generation to the Calla, where a single-born child (or “singleton”) is a rarity. Most children are born in twins, and the wolves come to take own of each set away with them; when they are sent back to their families shortly after, they grow into severely mentally handicapped giants who live short, painful lives. The folken of the Calla have heard that there are gunslingers in the area, and they are struggling to decide whether to ask the gunslingers’ aid in defending their town against the coming wolves – or letting them take half the town’s children, as always.

Among them, to the great surprise of Eddie, Susannah and Jake – all originally from New York City, although of three different whens – is Father Callahan, also transplant from their world, and with terrible stories to tell about the vampires he had hunted in his former life, before coming to the Calla and settling among the people of Roland’s world. He will be an important player, among other reasons, because he is in possession of another piece of the wizard’s glass: the big bad one, Black 13. As he tells his strange life story, and the gunslingers interview the townspeople in preparation to fight against the wolves, Roland worries about this delay of their greater mission, the quest for the Dark Tower. He has a bad feeling about what will befall them here; but a gunslinger asked for his aid cannot demur.

To complicate things further, each of the ka-tet becomes aware on his or her own schedule of another terrifying fact: Susannah is pregnant, or at least one of the women living inside her body is – a result of the fighting-sex she had with a demon in the second drawing of Jake, in The Waste Lands. We recall that when we first met the woman who is now Susannah Dean, wife of Eddie, she was Odetta Holmes – and also Detta Walker. This schizophrenic (or possessed?) double became one, healthier, stronger woman in Susannah; but now she has a new inhabitant, the one called Mia, who is mother to a demon child that threatens Susannah’s life. (Whew. Got that straight?) It is a weakening of the ka-tet that each of them learns this fact separately and is reluctant to share it with the others. Also, Detta appears to be making a comeback within the split body of Susannah Dean. We still haven’t entirely categorized her as being mentally ill, or a victim of black magic… but considering the setting for this fantasy series, I think it’s the latter.

And in a final plotline and complication: the rose in the vacant lot in New York is confirmed as being an important part of the quest as well, being firmly linked to the Dark Tower itself. The ka-tet is now concerned with getting back and forth to New York to buy the lot and protect the rose as well.

As this lengthy (but not wearying) epic plays out, Roland and the reader begin to understand that beating the wolves, seeing Susannah safely through Mia’s pregnancy, protecting the rose, and handling the awful power of Black 13 are all related to the great mission of this series: achieving the Dark Tower. At the end of the story, the wolves are vanquished (at least for now), but Susannah/Mia is off on her own; Eddie is distraught, the ka-tet is splintering, and its efforts are divided between multiple aims.

My praise of the series continues; the strengths of one are the strengths of all. I’m still deeply invested in our ka-tet (and OH, when Oy made his little speech and bow! he still might be my favorite) and in their eventual fate; and I continue to find the shorter-lived characters of each book – in this case, the Calla-folken – worthwhile investments, too. I marvel at the mind of Stephen King that can create such large and involved worlds with all their interconnections. And what a tricky one he is! For Father Callahan comes from another of his novels, Salem’s Lot – one I’ve not read, so I had to have the joke spelled out for me, but it tickled me nonetheless; I can only imagine for the folks who had read it, what a great joke and mindbender this was.

I am now heading into book VI, Song of Susannah. I was on a road trip when the one ended, and just started right up into the next without pause. As we begin this next installment, the integrity of our little group is highly questionable, and I’m anxious for them. Stay tuned!


Rating: 7 sharpened dishes.

Teaser Tuesdays: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

wolves

Hooray for Stephen King as usual! This is a long one, which I appreciate, as I get to lose myself in the Outworld of this novel, the fifth in the Dark Tower series.

For our teaser today: I was struck by these lines.

“But if you get her killed, Roland.. you’ll take my curse with her when you leave the calla, if you do, no matter how many children you save.”

Roland, who had been cursed before, nodded.

Doesn’t bode particularly well, does it?

What are you reading this week?

book beginnings on Friday: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

Hooray! The next Dark Tower novel! This is number 5.

wolves

I am passing over the rather lengthy introductory bit entitled “the final argument,” in which we are reviewed on the first four books of the series. I found this part mildly entertaining but could have done without it, considering how recently I’ve been speeding through the series; I think it’s extremely good to have, though, for readers beginning with this book or picking up after a long break. I do not think it suits today’s book beginnings theme, however.

So we start here with the prologue.

Tian was blessed (though few farmers would have used such a word) with three patches: River Field, where his family had grown rice since time out of mind; Roadside Field, where ka-Jaffords had grown sharproot, pumpkin, and corn for those same long years and generations; and Son of a Bitch, a thankless tract which mostly grew rocks, blisters, and busted hopes.

That makes for a fine echo of the classic Western thread that runs through these books. I am very glad to be back in the hands of Roland Deschain today.

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