Frustrated Ramblings and The Archive of the Forgotten

Have you ever tried to remove the battery cover with a coin slot for turning it open?  Those devilishly difficult  covers are on cameras, fit bits, and in my case, the remote for a window shade.  I persevered in this exercise in frustration – because what else do I have to do these days.  I seriously considered keeping the shades where they had landed.  It wasn’t so bad; I could move to another chair when the sun beat in, or just avoid the room altogether.

I tried every coin I could find – a penny, a dime, a quarter.  I dug through my sewing supplies and found a quilting pin.  I pressed a toothbrush and a pen into service to no avail.

I asked google. Surely someone else had had this problem.  Turns out many had posted complaints but no solutions.  But I persevered.  Finally, in an obscure corner of the internet I found a note to use a Euro coin.  I still had one from my travels, and – it worked!

This morning I could finally raise and lower the shades, but the clouds are covering the sun, so the shades remain dormant.

Between my furious attempts to solve my shade problem, I read the ebook the library threatened to take back.  Libby, the online master of library books, had offered me a “skip the line” to a book with a six month waiting list.  The caveat was to finish the book in seven days, not an insurmountable problem, except I forget about it until it was due in two days – thanks to Libby’s threatening reminder.

The Archive of the Forgotten is A. J. Hackwith’s sequel to The Library of the Unwritten, a fantasy story with books in hell, a dead librarian/author with unachieved ambition, and a cast of other worldly characters with issues, mostly concerning stories in books.

If you are a fan of the irreverent “Good Place” series, you will relish Hackwith’s Library of the Unwritten.  A librarian who was human but didn’t make it past the pearly gates, Claire oversees books not yet written; the library is in hell.  When one character escapes from his book to meet with his author on Earth, and another soul offers stolen pages from the devil’s Coda in exchange for living among the angels, the action starts, and never falters.  An exciting ride through different worlds where the devils are more fun and the angels tend to be judgmental and arrogant, the book swerves through lives and characters.  Noting the cautionary note to all procrastinating authors (me included) – “there’s nothing an unwritten book wants more than to be written” – I listened to the book on Audible and found myself speeding up the narrative to get to the next chapter.

The Archive of the Forgotten has the same characters with Claire, Hero, Rami, and Brevity continuing the battle to protect the library, while facing a new threat. More of Hell’s Library is revealed – the Dust Wing, where the books that humanity has forgotten end up, and the Unsaid Wing, full of letters and confessions that were never sent. Although the storyline gets more or less resolved, it also leaves points to be addressed in the next book.

I can’t wait for the next fun adventure with books in Hell, and my next challenge with assorted mechanical malfunctions.

 

Reading My Way Through Fantasy Land

Although it may seem these days as though we are living in a strange world, with the virus continuing to spread its tentacles, the government in limbo, and hurricanes blowing furiously, advertisers continue to try to lure shoppers into the fantasy land of everything being fine as long as the latest toys, electronics, and clothing can be acquired for gifts, either to self or others.  After all, don’t we deserve a little comfort?  I’ve been telling myself that for weeks as I munch on cookies and chocolate.

A safer and less caloric path to escape is, of course, reading books.  These days I am indulging in two at once, alternately giving my attention to other worlds in The House in the Cerulean Sea on my Libby Library ebook account, and Alix Harrow’s new The Once and Future Witches, a hardback I can hold in my hands and throw at the television when the news gets too frustrating. I do conveniently miss; I wouldn’t want to destroy my source of old movies and fictional drama.

A friendly librarian recommended The House in the Cerulean Sea a while ago, and I was happy to see it appear on my phone with a Libby notification.  Linus is an uptight and meticulous auditor sent to review and write a report on an orphanage for magical children, located on the bluest sea imaginable.  Only six orphans are under the care of Arthur  and each has a specialized talent, both scary and humorous – one is a blob, something I can relate to feeling like lately.  As Linus is getting to know each of the children, his initial fears dissipate and he becomes their protector.

In her review, Colleen Mondor notes: “it is about the false promise of blind faith in authority and the courage it takes to challenge that promise. But mostly, it is proof that such precious books as this can still exist and still succeed and are still, very much, needed. Do not discount what TJ Klune has done with this novel, and do not ignore importance of this marvelous treasure he has unearthed for us all..

I am still reading and enjoying this wonderful distraction from the real world, and today, Friday the thirteenth, seems an appropriate day to finish it.

In her second book, The Once and Future Witches, Harrow explores American history and it is just as entertaining as her first book, The Thousand Doors of January.  The witches are three sisters, reunited after years apart, just as the women’s suffrage movement is becoming a force in America in the nineteenth century.  Klune’s book has priority for me right now, so I am including Jessica Wick’s marvelous review for NPR, to tease you into reading.  If you are a fan of Alice Hoffman, you may want to start with this one: “Once Upon a time there were three witches.”

Review of The Once and Future Witches

My Review of The Thousand Doors of January

 

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Today is Scott Bakula’s birthday.  You may know this actor in the crime drama he plays on television, but back in the early nineties he was a time traveling scientific wonder, jumping from life to life in the serialized show Quantum Leap.  Matt Haig uses this construct to create an entertaining story in The Midnight Library.

The heroine, Nora Seed, is so despondent and dissatisfied with her life, she sees no reason to live.  Cue the angel in the Jimmy Stewart classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Ms. Elm, the kind and generous librarian who manages the midnight library, appears with a trove of books documenting Nora’s life and regrets as the stacks precariously slide along the ethereal walls.  Before she dies, Nora has the chance to be in lives that might have been, and the adventure begins.

Who hasn’t wondered about the ‘road not taken,” life decisions leading to inevitable consequences.  What if another choice had been made?  How would a different decision have affected your personal life, your career, your impact on others, your contribution to the world?  We can only speculate, but Nora gets the chance to really experience the results of other choices she might have made.

The book of regrets reminds Nora of what she might have done, and she starts a series of quantum leaps through the universe, reliving her life as a successful rock star, wife of a pub owner, glaciologist fighting a polar bear, revered author and professor, married, unmarried, with children, without children – the possibilities are endless but Haig sticks to just enough detours to convince the reader that Nora is probably happiest back in her old life.

And like the song, “Back in Your Old Backyard,” Nora finds herself seeing the life she has as not so bad, with still time for constructive changes.

The Midnight Library offers some respite from reality, and a reminder to be grateful for what we have, no matter how dire the circumstances.  

 

A Free Book from J.K. Rowling

The author of the Harry Potter series is channeling Charles Dickens, by creating a book in installments. Her new children’s book – The Ickabog – to be published in November, 2020, is available now free and online, chapter by chapter, day by day, until its publication in print,

Dickens popularized serializing books in the nineteenth century, forcing readers to wait to read the next chapter in the newspaper or magazine publishing it the following week.  Mark Twain followed the style in America, as did other popular authors of the time, including Harriet Beecher Stowe.  Serialization has been spotty in modern times since the popularity of short stories, but Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities was serialized in Rolling Stone magazine before it became a book, and then a movie.  Stephen King first published The Green Mile in six low-priced paperback volumes in 1996; Alexander McCall Smith published 44 Scotland Street, in 2004, every weekday, for six months in The Scotsman; Margaret Atwood wrote the Positron series in installments in 2012; and now, J. K. Rowling has serialized The Ickabog – for free.

Cliffhangers are an important characteristic of serialized stories; Jeffrey Archer did it so well with his novel series, The Clifton Chronicles, and J.K. Rowling uses the same incentive to keep the reader wanting more.  Rowling, however, keeps the story rolling faster with a free online chapter every day, over the next seven weeks.

According to Rowling, The Ickabog is a story about truth and the abuse of power.”  Sounds familiar and timely but Rowling insists “the idea came to me well over a decade ago, so it isn’t intended to be read as a response to anything that’s happening in the world right now.  The themes are timeless and could apply to any era or any country.”  But King Fred the Fearless has yellow hair and two companions who influence his every move; they are “expert at flattery, pretending to be astonished  by how good King Fred was at everything…”

The online site The Ickabog already has eight chapters, and the myth of the Ickabog has yet to be more than a mention, but the anticipation is real – something is going to happen.   The book has 34 chapters and will be published as a print and ebook in November,  but the delicious chapter by chapter telling now is as tempting as the famous cakes from Fred’s kingdom.

A great bedtime story for children and a wonderful adventure for adults

🐳🍫 𝕥ⓗ𝐄 𝐢ⓒ𝐤ค𝕓Oⓖ 💥ඏ    What does The Ickabog look like?  Rowling has a contest for 7-12 year olds to decide. We’ll find out the winner in November.

A Short Wrap-Up and How It All Began

 

I am reading an old Penelope Lively book  – How It All Began – a comforting light read as I try to avoid the news and politics.   Charlotte, an older woman, falls after she is mugged and breaks her hip.  This one action triggers a series of events affecting her family and strangers she has never met, seven overall  – the butterfly effect rippling through lives.  Lively reminds the reader how little control we have over everything.

As the the catalyst for a cast of characters with a range of emotions and experiences as their lives are derailed, Charlotte rallies, recovers, and continues with a constructive life as Lively’s chapters consider those around her.  Charlotte’s fall requires her to move in with her daughter and son-in-law, Rose and Gerry, which leads to Rose taking time off from her job with an old historian, which leads to her boss asking his niece, Marion, to accompany him on a lecture trip, which leads to Marion’s leaving a message for her married lover, which leads his wife to discover the message and file for divorce.  And so it goes – a series of sometimes unfortunate events.

Charlotte is a retired English teacher, and her wise pronouncements sometimes seem worth noting for future reference.  As she convalesces, she notes how her circumstances have changed her reading habits to magazines and, horrors, pulp novels, until finally when she is able to read a Henry James novel again, she considers herself on the road to recovery.  I am not a fan of Henry James, but I did find her book, What Maisie Knew, in my library system – and maybe I’ll read it, but I doubt it.

Penelope Lively’s characters follow life’s chaos and uncertainties, a comfort to all of us living in that inevitable vein. Lively was a children’s book author before writing novels for adults and her first book, the children’s novel Astercote (1970) is about modern English villagers who fear a resurgence of the medieval plague – seems timely with the recent outbreak of a deadly virus from China. I’ve ordered the book from my library.

 

Other books I have been reading:

Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

Famous for her Ruth Galloway mystery series, Elly Griffiths new book – Stranger Diaries – has none of her familiar characters but this stand alone mystery seemed familiar. I was sure I had read the book before and even knew the murderer, but I was wrong on both counts.  I was sure she was the murderer, but she was not.

 

The Key by Patricia Wentworth

A 1946 paperback with browned pages, some taped back together, turned out to be a great story.  When Michael Harsch is found dead (soon after he finally perfected his formula for the government) in the church behind a locked door with a key in his pocket, the mystery begins.  The inquest rules suicide but Miss Silver knows it is a murder, but who did it?  Despite its age, the mystery had a modern twist and held my attention throughout.

The Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith

If you are a fan of the irreverent “Good Place” series, you will relish Hackwith’s Library of the Unwritten.  A librarian who was human but didn’t make it past the pearly gates, Claire oversees books not yet written; the library is in hell.  When one character escapes from his book to meet with his author on Earth, and another soul offers stolen pages from the devil’s Coda in exchange for living among the angels, the action starts, and never falters.  An exciting ride through different worlds where the devils are more fun and the angels tend to be judgmental and arrogant, the book swerves through lives and characters.  Noting the cautionary note to all procrastinating authors (me included) – “there’s nothing an unwritten book wants more than to be written” – I listened to the book on Audible and found myself speeding up the narrative to get to the next chapter.

AND FINALLY –

Why Don’t You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct It? – A Mother’s Suggestions by Patricia Marx and Roz Chast

Skip the introduction and go immediately to the one-liners With Roz Chast’s illustrations for motherly advice you can use.  Here are a few:

  • Never do anything you can pay someone to do.
  • If you feel guilty about throwing out the leftovers, put them in the back of your refrigerator for five days and then throw them out.
  • When it comes to raising children, nothing beats bribery.
  • Resist the temptation to buy clothes on your skinniest days.

A FOOTNOTE:

I am listening to a scary story on Audible – Lisa Gardner’s When You See Me.  Scary stories tend to keep my attention when listening, and this one started with a Mexican woman and her daughter in dire straits (before American Dirt was published).