Clariel (Abhorsen #4) by Garth Nix

Have you ever read Garth Nix? Wait, no. More specifically, have you ever read Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series? If you haven’t, you should go out and get them. Train, plane, kindle, library, stealing/borrowing from your local bookstore (or the more traditional route of buying the book..) however you wish that will get your eager little paws in possession of these stories, it’s imperative you go for it.

The first three, Sabriel, Lireal and Abhorsen are wonderful. They’re all incredibly distinct adventures in this world Nix has created. A world that teeters between the normal world, in a city named Ancelstierre, much like our existence (no magic) and the Old Kingdom (full of magic.)

In the first adventure a young lady named Sabriel is at school in Ancelstierre when her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing. The Abhorsen is the person who protects the world from the malevolent dead. Those spirits that have been enslaved, gone astray or are naturally evil. The Abhorsen uses bells to bind and send the spirits where they’re supposed to go, beyond. So in a search for her missing father, Sabriel dones a set of bells, accompanied by a smart-aleck cat, Mogget, who talks, accidentally wakes up a prince and goes on an adventure to save her father.

In Lireal we meet the Clayr, cousins to the Abhorsens. They see the future and can give a hint to how it all ties together or what needs to be done to avoid disaster. Lireal, never having gained the sight, feels unwanted and out of place in her home with the Clayr and ends up embarking on a journey that will show her who she is and what she is meant to become.

In Abhorsen, Lirael’s adventures are extended as she learns what it will truly take to save the world from an ancient evil.

And then, comes Clariel.

Thus far, all of the Abhorsen stories have more or less ended positively. The characters undergo great losses and suffer quite a bit, but in the end they mostly end up with a brighter tomorrow for the greater good and their own life journeys. Clariel, though, is a bit darker.

Clariel is forced to move away from her beloved forest to live with her family in the city of Belisaere. She hates the masses of people, the high walls, the politics, the society and how her future is being decided for her. The King is disintegrating into his own mind and the Guiltmaster Kilp is taking control to use power for his own evil ends. Her parents are blind to all of it due to their grand new life as part of the Goldsmith’s guild. As a plot to put Clariel on the throne and overthrow the king comes to light, Clariel ends up running for her life. She seeks help from an unreliable source which eats away at the very essence of her being and changes her path to an irrevocably destructive one. Though Clariel’s intentions are good, some mistakes cannot be fixed. Though she survives her adventures, Clariel’s fate is a dark one foretold in the earlier Abhorsen books.

And though we suspect that she is who we think she is, as the ending creeps closer we can only hope it is untrue and that we’re ultimately wrong. We hope that some magical resolution will make Clariel’s story a little brighter, a little less despairing. But in the end, it is all as we feared and nothing more.

Clariel is yet another excellent addition to the Abhorsen series, if a darker, more hopeless version than anything we’ve read by Nix before.

The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue

I didn’t read this book for the halloween season, but it sure fits these darker days and chilly nights. If you want something creepy that’ll vividly paint images in your mind that you won’t be able to get rid of anytime soon, this is the book for you.

Jack almost died a few years ago while playing with his best friend, Nick. While their parents were sunning on the beach one day, the boys disappeared beneath the waves. They were soon hauled up from beneath the water, mostly drowned and forever changed. Since that day Jack has been unable to venture outdoors. He screams and fights his parents until they just let him live only inside their house, where he feels safe. He hasn’t left their home willingly in years.

And then, one day, the monsters come. There is tapping along their house at night, sounds on the roof, windows pried open, grotesque drawings on the bathroom mirrors. His mother begins to hear unnatural voices in the foggy night as she drives home. His father chases a large figure out onto the rocky shore and wakes up hours later, his throat slashed with what looks like fingernails. Nick sees bodies hanging in the closet, creatures crawling to and fro.

The monsters are everywhere. And only Jack knows why.

A fun, eerie adventure into a creative little boy’s hidden world that begins to invade the lives of those around him, “The Boy Who Drew Monsters” by Keith Donohue will have you waking up at night wondering what that tapping in your closet is (but you’ll be too scared to investigate it.)

It’ll make you never want to pick up a drawing pencil. Or open your window to see what that scratching is outside. Or stop your car to see what that howling is in the dark of the night.

It’ll make you thankful for sunlight, blankets, and the fact that some things, like these monsters, only exist in books.

The Wonder of All Things by Jason Mott

A plane crashes into the audience at a small town air show and two children are buried beneath the rubble. Ava and her best friend, Walsh, are stuck under the remains of the silo as her father, Macon, scrambles to save them. Unable to do so because of the instability of the structure, Macon watches as Walsh bleeds and fades before his very eyes, sure to die trapped beneath the ruins with his daughter.

Until Ava reaches out, lays her hands over Walsh’s injury and heals him.

This wonderful possibility, a child having the ability to heal and save her friend, quickly takes a turn for the worse. Unfortunately, Macon is not the only one who sees her heal Walsh. There are pictures, witnesses, and suddenly their small town is the center of a human maelstrom swirling with desperation, need, guilt and religion.

People travel from all over the world to converge on the town to see the miracle girl. Reporters swarm outside her home, outside her father’s work, her friend’s house and her doctor’s house. Preachers, nut jobs and desperate individuals come from all over to touch her, see her and demand for her to heal them too. In the face of one miracle blooms unrelenting blind hope for every dying, sick soul in the world. And the world seems to forget that all of this is being laid at the feet of a small, helpless, 13-year-old child. And no one, even her father, seems to notice what healing does to Ava herself.

With each healing Ava becomes weaker. She slowly loses weight, is wracked with chills, gains a cough and even goes blind temporarily. Her father struggles with the question of whether her gift automatically ensures an obligation to others or not. He is torn between keeping everyone at bay and asking Ava to help others. He doesn’t realize that as Ava heals, she pays the price of her own life.

To make matters worse, and better, each time Ava heals, she experiences a memory of her late mother, Heather. Memories of roaming in the forest together, going to the carnival, out on the road and just everyday mother-daughter moments. As Ava lets go of herself with each healing, she regains all the pieces of her mom that she didn’t realize she had lost.

“The Wonder of All Things” is a novel about humanity. It explores how the best parts of people – love, hope, compassion – can drive them to do horrible deeds. How people can get caught up in an idea and lose their capacity for basic human goodness while in pursuit of something they justify as more important. How we can all be blind to a truth right in front of us, if it’s a painful truth we aren’t ready to face.

This novel is beautifully written and despite the subject matter seeming to be a little – been there, done that – it is original and touching. The strongest part of the story is Ava and Walsh’s friendship. It becomes the one real thing for her to hold onto as she loses everything else. Their sweet, humorous connection brightens a deadly serious story that evolves around the seemingly simple but inevitably complicated question of what is right and what is wrong.

GIVEAWAY: Spreading the love of reading

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Pumpkins, taken at the Hancock Shaker village by Ernab – Wikimedia

So for my fall season giveaway I’d like to do something a little different.

First: tell me why you love a specific book and who you’d like to give it to as a gift. It can be an individual, a school, a child, a library.. whatever your heart desires.

Second: Tell me what books you’d like to read this season!

The winner will get a care package with some of the books they want and the person they wrote about will also get a copy of the book that they want gifted to them.

Fall Favorites

Fall is here! The leaves are changing and every business is incorporating pumpkin into every product they can (oreos? really?) and we’re all pulling on hoodies and winding those scarves around our necks when we leave the house in the morning.

Once there’s a chill in the air I’ve find myself drawn to books that are old favorites, wanting to curl up with them under a blanket with a cup of coffee or tea in the evening. I always end up picking comforting reads that cheer me like a fire on a winter night or creepy reads that prepare me for the halloween season.

  Harry Potter 4-7
I can’t help it, I love these books. Especially the fourth to the seventh. They’re funny and engaging without being heavy. They’re the hot chocolate of books; warm, sugary goodness.

  Little Women
Who doesn’t want to prepare for christmas with a little time in the March family’s world? Spending time with the March girls and their daily troubles always reminds me of family and the holidays.

  House of Leaves
Want to get in the Halloween spirit? Read House of Leaves, a book reviewed as one of the scariest ever written. Complex, creepy, dark and intricate – this book will keep you up nights just to finish the story within the story and find out what happens.

  84, Charing Cross Road
As an avid book lover, there is just something about reading two people who love books writing letters to each other across the ocean that is delightful. I love reading these letters whenever I need a bit of a lift, it’s such a great little compilation that embodies passion for the written word.

  Doctor Sleep
If you want something a bit more recent that is a good scary read, Doctor Sleep was definitely one of the creepier books I read this year. A great sequel that is a bit more complicated than The Shining, but full of dark characters and hair-raising moments.

Those are just a few of mine, if you have any suggestions of your favorite reads as our days turn chilly, I’d love to hear them!

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

“Maybe I am fated to always be alone, Tsukuru found himself thinking. People came to him, but in the end they always left. They came, seeking something, but either they couldn’t find it, or were unhappy with what they found (or else they were disappointed or angry), and then they left. One day, without warning, they vanished, with no explanation, no word of farewell. Like a silent hatchet had sliced the ties between them, ties through which warm blood still flowed, along with a quiet pulse.”

Tsukuru Tazaki had four best friends in high school, all of whose names had a color inside them. He always felt that he didn’t quite fit with them because his name did not, but they were close despite what he felt was his colorlessness. Four friends who did everything together, an inseparable group that seemed to be balanced perfectly between each personality. Until the day they were gone.

For no reason that he can fathom, his friends cut him off with no explanation. They don’t answer his calls, avoid him when he’s home and he doesn’t see them again for many years. From that day forward, Tazaki is lost. He seems unable to connect to other people, gaining no more close friends and engaging in no close relationships. He attends college, gets a job and moves on with his life physically in Tokyo, but his spirit is still stuck in his past. He almost doesn’t survive the loss, as their absence from his life sends him into a deep and almost irreversible depression.

Then he meets Sara. A lovely woman who attracts him and who he can actually see, possibly, spending the rest of his life with. She presses him to find out what happened, insisting that they won’t be able to move forward until he fixes his shattered past because some part of him will always be holding back. Always waiting for his friends to return.

Tazaki embarks upon trips to confront and speak with each person in his old quartet to figure out what happened and why.

And what he finds is deeply disturbing.

Murakami is as always, mystical, enthralling and personal. He delves into his characters unabashedly, showing you their strange nightmares and weird urges along with their softer inclinations and goodness. Tazaki sees himself as a boring person and much of the book feels muted because of how he describes himself, his past and his thoughts. He seems almost detached from the innermost self he lays bare for us; the same detachment he battles with in his relationships with other people. His despair in being colorless permeates his entire story and how it unfolds.

Though this wasn’t my favorite Murakami, it was definitely a worthwhile read. For those that may have struggled with 1Q84, this is completely the opposite – in length, size and design.

“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” is a pocket-sized story packed with emotional resonance and atmospheric storytelling. Tazaki will give you hope that even those who are lost for a long time, can find their way back to who they were meant to be.

From whales to snakes – Saying goodbye

Now I know a lot happens in every person’s first car, but my second car was one that got me through many adventures in my life.  I bought this car because I got an internship at my first newspaper and when they asked me if I had a car, my response was “Sure!” (I didn’t.) So I went out and got my fit. Since then it has been through so much, I almost feel bad for it.

This car has hauled not only myself but every book (and you know, other secondary possessions like clothes) I own across the country many times. I have driven from Massachusetts to Kansas to Texas to New York to Texas (again) and then to Utah. There were times I was pretty sure it wouldn’t make it. There was audible scary creaking sounds… especially on my trip from Texas to NY, where it was packed to the edges and I was accompanied by the dormouse.

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In Texas there were many times it was made to feel inferior. Such as… every single day when it was parked next every truck in every parking lot. Despite the constant emotional assault, it shouldered on.

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And then there was the time, due to is meager power, that it couldn’t make it onto the beach like all the Texas trucks to take us to the dead whale… so we had to walk the four miles instead. And then when we finally arrived back to my poor abandoned vehicle, we climbed inside.. with whale juices on us. I’m not sure it’s ever quite smelled the same.

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And then.

Then there was the snake incident.

Two hours. In my fit. With a snake.

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(I would link you to my blog post about it but the Victoria Advocate has apparently gotten rid of the photo blog or it doesn’t work anymore. If it ever works again, it was here.)

But there were happier times too – pre and post the horrifying, life changing, nightmare inducing snake incident. You know, the incident where most people told me I should have just “burned the damn car to ashes and left it smoking there by the side of the highway.” Shudder. Sometimes at night I still wonder if something is about to slither across my shoulders again…

Anyway, happier times! Like Panda’s first full day of going everywhere with me in the car –  back in the days when he didn’t have eyes.

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And all the times I practically lived out of it for my assignments, from pumpkin patches to NASA warehouses. To tracking down plane crashes and being called out at 2am for fake fires. It’s gotten me through tornado warnings, floods and snowstorms. Like that one time I almost died driving through white out conditions on the way to a hockey game or that time I almost died when I slid through a red light on the ice or that time when I almost died in a snowstorm because my GPS stopped working at midnight on my way home from work…

Hmm, well, you can see why I got a new car to deal with snow and seasonal weather anyway.

But my fit has been wonderful. It got me, my books and even a few visitors (friends, panda, butterflies) and unwanted guests (snake. just the snake.) from point A to B with aplomb and good humor and excellent gas mileage whenever I needed it.

For that I’ll always be grateful.

Except for the snake. That shit sucked.