Got Milk?

Hard to believe it’s been almost a year since I was planning to see old friends in California and attend the annual Literary Conference to meet authors and pick up ideas.  My airline ticket is still outstanding and I won’t be using it because the conference will be virtual this year.  I do plan to log on but it will not be the same.

Reading is not the same.  When I can muster the motivation to open a book, it’s more likely a sequel to the  Bridgerton saga or the wonderful fable by Jane Smiley – Perestroika in Paris – recommended by my good friend.  And I read much more slowly, but perhaps the story of the horse, the dog, the raven, the rat, and a couple of ducks in Paris – and the map inside the cover – was one I was reluctant to see end.  How else could I vicariously be in Paris, and will I ever be there in person again?

The newsletter announcing the virtual literary conference had a few recommendations for books, and one title inspired me to look for it in Libby.  Neil Gaiman, author of so many of my favorites – The Good Omen, Coraline, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and more – delivered another gem in 2013 I missed – Fortunately, the Milk.

The story is simple: Dad goes out to get some milk for his kids, taking a long time,  but eventually returning with a carton. When asked why he took so long, he tells them a fantastical tale involving a spaceship of green globby aliens.   But it was the first paragraph that grabbed me – possibly because buying cartons of milk has become the bane of my existence these days when I fully expect to meet virus laden aliens in the grocery store.  It could be my story.

“There was only orange juice in the fridge.  Nothing else that you could put on cereal, unless you think that ketchup or mayonnaise or pickle juice would be nice on your Toasties, which I do not, and neither did my little sister, although she has eaten some pretty weird things in her day, like mushrooms in chocolate…”

Maybe I’ll read a little Gaiman today and pretend it’s green globby aliens who’ve taken over the world.  Oh wait, they have.

Review of the Year That Shall Not be Named – in Books

With the end of a year like no other, I am again looking back to list the twelve books, one for each month, I especially loved reading.  This year, however, is tinged with the evolution of 2020 from high expectations at January to slow disintegration as the months wore on.

One of my favorite authors, humorist Dave Barry, offered his observations in his Year in Review 2020 – giving a few laugh out loud moments in following his monthly reminder of a year gone awry.  He inspired me to think about how my reading morphed with my own view of the world as history marched through a challenging year.

Here is my list of twelve books read and reviewed (click on the title to read the review) throughout the year.  My favorite has a star.

January:  What better way to start than a book with January in the title and doors magically opening to new worlds- Alix Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January

February: The world news was getting a little scary, so I kept escaping to fantasy land with A.J. Hackwith’s The Library of the Unwritten

March: The world was really looking grim by now, so I turned to Jose Saramago’s story of how it all could be worse in Blindness

April: Spring didn’t really look like a flowery bower, so I buried myself in Eric Larson’s epic observation of Winston Churchill in The Splendid and the Vile

May: As the pandemic raged on, many of us wondered what life would have been like if 2016 had brought a different president; Curtis Sittenfeld filled the void with Rodham

June: By now, I was looking for a fictional world I did not live in; thankfully, Anne Tyler, one of my favorite authors, came through with a delightful The Redhead by the Side of the Road  *

July:  We all knew the pandemic was real when we heard beloved actor Tom Hanks had it in March, but his recovery led to his role in the movie adaptation of Paulette Jiles’ News of the World in July.  In July, I enjoyed Jiles’ new book Simon the Fiddler 

August:  By now it was clear my European travels were going to be curtailed for a while, but my dreams of Paris were fed vicariously by Liam Callanan’s Paris By the Book

September: Although I couldn’t visit my Los Angeles family, I could revisit favorite landmarks in Abbi Waxman’s The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

October: Graphic novels with short but philosophical views of life are hard to find these days. Calvin and Hobbes is in retirement, but Allie Brosh has her own brand of art and humor, easy to read and fun to explore, in Solutions and Other Problems

November: By now I was watching more TV than reading, and Netflix lured me into a series called “The Undoing.”  When I discovered it was based on a book, I had to reread Jean Hanff Korelitz’s You Should Have Known

December: The year is finally coming to an end, and I have been drinking a lot of coffee to wash down all the cookies, but none taking me back into the past like the Japanese translation of Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s Before the Coffee Gets Cold

* Although I am still careful to drink up all my coffee before it gets cold, Anne Tyler’s Redhead by the Side of the Road was my year’s favorite.

What books do you remember from this year?  Any favorites to recommend?

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

In making a Faustian deal, an eighteenth century young woman escapes an arranged marriage. But the devil is in the details.  

Addie LaRue gets her freedom and her wish to be her own person, even gaining immortality, but no one she meets remembers her.  In The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, V.E. Schwab cleverly spans three centuries across Europe and the United States in a time travel fantasy examining the value of a legacy.

Addie initially struggles through the hardships of suddenly being without family or any means of support, but she does have her freedom, including the ability to steal what she needs and being instantly forgotten for doing it.  She makes it through the plague (not the current one), fashions herself into a well-read and astute thinker when women were not expected to do more than marry and bear children.  As she gallops through the centuries, her accomplishments are bittersweet because no one knows about her, forgetting her almost instantly.  Later, this talent to reintroduce herself to the same person gets a little strained.

Known by her seven freckles resembling  a galaxy of stars across her face, she discovers she can make her mark through others as artists use her as their muse. She fills art and music with the memory of ideas she has planted. Her devil appears occasionally over the years to taunt her with difficulties but she is never willing to surrender her freedom and her soul.

Suddenly, after 300 hundred years, she finds a soulmate in Henry, a bookstore owner who has made his own deal with the devil.  To her surprise Henry does remember her, and for the first time she can hear her real name from her lover. Although Schwab nurtures the romance, true love really does not lie with these two characters.  Addie’s true love is her freedom and, despite the devil’s machinations, she finds a way her to leave her mark and be remembered.

As I finished the story, with its unlikely and clever ending (I won’t spoil it for you), I remembered my own much shorter journey so far, and the marks I’ve left behind.  Like Addie, most have morphed into an amalgam of pieces leading to others’ adaptations.  The ideas I created may not have the same name, but most are still viable and progressed with the times, as they should.  Yet, we all want to be remembered.

Caitlyn Paxson for NPR said: “Addie LaRue manages to pull off like the prestige of a particularly elegant magic trick, leaving us with the feeling that we too have been a part of Addie’s long and invisible life. I for one will most certainly remember her.”

So will I.

 “Strive not to be a success but to be of value.” Albert Einstein

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