We’ve come to the end of the giveaway for a slightly horrific fairy tale re-telling (and that makes it all the more AWESOME. No, really!): Peter & Max by Bill Willingham. This novel has everything necessary to make me happy. It’s dark, hilarious, bizarre, ‘Once upon a time,’ and a mix-up of all the most compelling fairy tale stories. But best of all? My brother got me a copy for Christmas. I’ll be reading this over again for years to come, and so will the winners. Yes, you read that right! I’m picking two. Spur of the moment! So without further ado, they (the winners) are:
Who said, “When I hear "dark," I think of a high dose of reality (not reality as in non-fantasy, but reality as truth of human nature and society) and usually violence without the happy ending to make it easily digestible.”
Who answered the same query, “When someone says a book is dark, I think of very extra evil villains and/or ambiguously good heroes, and of course the possibility that any of the characters I like will die.”
Congrats! And a huge shout-out to everyone who entered - you guys are the bestest. For cereal. Have a Happy New Year!
Grab your current read and let it fall open to a random page. Post two (or more) sentences from that page, along with the title and author. Don’t give anything vital away!
“‘Lucy–’ Elinor began, removing her oar from the water and holding it high above her head, prepared to crack it down on the back of the beast, at the instant it should raise its head to strike.
‘And I am sure I should not have the smallest fear of trusting you,’ the other girl continued, noticing neither Elinor’s defensive crouch, nor that the "rock" was now rising slowly from the water, revealing more of its slimy, silvery bulk—and here were two red eyes, deep-set and glowering, set above a pair of nostrils breathing hot steam.”
-p. 123 of Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters’ Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
Best of 2009 (in no particular order)
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – You’ve probably heard all the hype by now. I thought it was completely warranted. This book made me cry in public. Yep. Couldn’t stop, and I didn’t care.
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness – A gripping, rattling, non-stop action read. It ripped me up inside, and I was amazed again by the strength of dystopian YA lit as a genre.
Angels’ Blood by Nalini Singh – I love paranormal romance with a strong heroine and unique world-building. This one sucked me in with a dark story and characters I loved/hated/thought were really hot.
Wake by Lisa McMann – Up-front one of the most engaging and mysterious YA novels of the year. Really gripping storyline, and a couple of completely unforgettable teenage protagonists.
The Mysterious Benedict Society – I’m a sucker for clever films. Turns out I’m a sucker for clever children’s books, too. This was so SMART, and fun, and I loved it to pieces. I gobbled it up and was absolutely enthralled by the plotting and pacing of this delightful mystery.
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld – My first foray into proper ‘steampunk.’ A delightful action adventure that ran across Europe and introduced the reader to characters as inventive and courageous as anyone could wish for. Left me DYING for Behemoth, the sequel.
Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede – Wrede is one of my all-time favorite fantasy authors, and she doesn’t disappoint in this first entry in an alternate American West. Eff and her multitude of brothers and sisters are a joy to hang with, and I’m all set for the next installment.
House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones – A follow-up of sorts to Howl’s Moving Castle, and another quirky, funny, and sometimes bizarre fantasy tale. All sorts of fun. Really.
Peter & Max by Bill Willingham – Bloodthirsty. Fairy. Story. Adventure, murder, mayhem, magic, Happily Ever After. “What?” you say? Just plain awesome. Go read it.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith – A rollicking good mash-up of zombies and a fiction classic. Both the writing and the illustrations made me laugh aloud at various points, and I gained a reputation as a zombie-lover by recommending this to friends.
Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev – Theater/fairy story with a surplus of charm and energy and verve. Really wonderful writing to boot. What’s not to like?
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie – The man can WRITE. Like, whoa. I read an excerpt from his recent War Dances, and that led me to this one. Full of laughter, tears, life lessons and again, ridiculously good writing.
Soulless by Gail Carriger – You know how I mentioned love of paranormal romance and steampunk? This one marries the two with the wittiest and most entertaining dialogue I can remember reading. A jolly good time.
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis – I read theological books, but don’t often “enjoy” them. This one…it makes you think about heaven and hell and what the divide between the two really is (if there is one). Lewis is a classical scholar and writer who can couch these deep spiritual truths in simple language and metaphors.
Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link – Take bizarre to outer reaches. Make me laugh at alien abduction stories. Do the dark in a light fantastic sort of way. You end up with this stellar short story anthology. I wasn’t a fan of the form before, but I sure am now.
Troll’s-Eye View by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling – A children’s short story anthology, with contributions by the masters of fantasy. Fairy stories told from the villain’s point of view. Another volume that made me re-think my aversion to short stories. Super awesome.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – An absolute classic in sci-fi – the only mystery is why it took me so long to read this one. Because it blew me out of the water. Isolation and genius so well-portrayed. Was beyond impressed.
The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan – Hottest teenage hero of the year award goes to Nick. He’s not good for you, but he’s compelling and you have to love him. I can’t wait for more of Brennan’s writing – and swords kept under the sink.
Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund – Space school, mystery, touching romance. Put in pot, stir, add a dash of betrayal, uncertainty and distrust. Produces an amazing book that you’ll want to re-read.
What I Did For Love by Susan Elizabeth Phillips – This author guarantees multiple laughs, teary eyes and a happy ending. Truly wonderful romance/women’s fiction. I can’t get enough of Ms. Phillips – some of my favorite standby comfort fiction, and this one will join the stable, no problem.
And that's all for now, barring any intense, amazing reads in the next couple of days. *smile*
I asked my brother Joey to help me think of a favorite book with Christmas, or at least winter in it. In honor of the holiday, you understand. We came up with C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It hardly needs an introduction, what with the massive popularity of The Chronicles of Narnia book and film series. But in case you think they’re only kids’ stories or have been living under a rock, check out this synopsis.
They open a door and enter a world. Narnia... a land frozen in eternal winter... a country waiting to be set free. Four adventurers step through a wardrobe door and into the land of Narnia - a land enslaved by the power of the White Witch. But when almost all hope is lost, the return of the Great Lion, Aslan, signals a change... and a great sacrifice.
My mom first read this book to me at age eight. Well, she read it to all of us kids, but I was the one begging hardest for just ‘one more chapter!’ And then a couple years later, I read through the whole series by myself, and relived the magic and mystery and wonderful storytelling of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It’s a classic tale of magic just beyond the ordinary, redemption of the world and heroic deeds in the face of danger, all flavored by sibling dynamics and the unbelievable made somehow real and immediate.
In college I purchased the entire paperback set for myself, and then lent it out to friends and roommates when they took the C.S. Lewis literature class. I was rewarded richly my senior year when our school was picked as one of the premiere spots for the film. We all trudged down to the one-screen theater in town to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe two days before the rest of the nation. And when we came out of the theater, snow was falling softly, muffling all sounds, and the college’s streetlights looked EXACTLY like the lamppost in Narnia. It was perfect, peaceful, and just the tiniest bit eerie. That counts up there with one of the most magical moments in my adult life.
I really do love this book, and this series. They are rocks of my childhood, and I haven’t tired of them this far in my adulthood. I hope the magic of Narnia and Aslan will stay alive in my heart forever!
Silly Holiday Poem
Wrapping presents, stuffing stockings
To the Walmart shoppers flocking
Candy caning, misltetoeing
Tasty eggnog freely flowing
In the air is Christmas spirit
You can see it you, can hear it?
Sleigh bells ring but where’s the snow?
Is it coming? Prob’ly no
Cousins, friends, all invited
Not that I’m all that excited
Yet they’re here to share the fun
But I’ll be glad when it’s all done
I have a thing for mail. Post. Correo. Whatever you call it, I love it. I embraced the internet shopping phenomenon because it meant getting packages in the mail. I seriously get a rush when I see the mail truck or UPS truck pull up. I keep stamps and extra postcards in my notebook. Weird? Possibly. Probably.
When I was younger I had over thirty pen-pals from all over the world. I spent exorbitant amounts of money on postage, and always waited eagerly for the next missive from Norway, the Czech Republic, Madagascar or whatever other corner of the world I’d been writing to. We’d exchange elaborate ‘friendship books’ with addresses from all over. I adored my pen-pals, though I think I must have been a very boring correspondent. I eventually gave them up right before college – after all, I was off on a grand adventure (real life!).
But…I trace it (the obsession with mail) back to a childhood favorite: The Jolly Postman. The Jolly Postman and its companion picture books The Jolly Pocket Postman and The Jolly Christmas Postman were gifts from my grandmother to the family at large. They’re beautifully illustrated stories, but more than that, they’re interactive. The basic idea is that as Mr. Jolly Postman makes his rounds he drops off letters – and all of this mail is there to read in envelope-sized pockets attached to the pages. It’s charming and fun, and if you’re reading to more than one child at a time, sometimes a bit of a nightmare too. I remember wanting all of the envelopes TO MYSELF as a child. Well, I still do, but you know, we’ll forget that for now. Sharing is key. *smile*
Anyway, back to Mr. Jolly P. I believe that this book, along with another favorite, A Christmas Card for Mr. McFizz, were the beginnings of my obsession with correspondence. I’m a letter-writer, and more recently a postcard-sender. I have stacks of stationery because I actually use it. Of course, these early reading experiences with the epistolary style were shaped by other encounters with letter-type literature as I grew older. The Screwtape Letters made its mark at age 14, and all of Austen’s novels contain letters. The Diary of Anne Frank is a sort of series of letters. But letters in literature aren’t QUITE as awesome as letters or mail in fact.
And that’s where The Jolly Postman comes in – a perfect marriage of the two. It’s a book, and a highly enjoyable one at that. It’s also packaged as MAIL, with postcards and pamphlets and everything. I know I’m just a little kid at heart – because I love that. And speaking of mail…all this talk is making me antsy. I think I might go write some Christmas cards…
This British import is great fun, sure to entertain children and parents alike. The Jolly Postman goes from home to home in a fairy-tale kingdom, delivering letters to such familiar addresses as "Mr. and Mrs. Bear, Three Bears Cottage, The Woods." Every other page is an actual envelope, with a letter tucked inside. The letter to the three bears, for instance, is from Goldilocks, who apologizes for the trouble she's caused and invites Baby Bear to her birthday party.
The story of the postman's travels is told in charming verse; the pictures are delightful, full of clever detail; and the results are frequently hilarious. (The wicked witch of "Hansel and Gretel" fame, for instance, receives a circular from Hobgoblin Supplies Ltd. which advertises such appealing products as Little Boy Pie Mix.)
Recommended for: picture book lovers, kids, kids-at-heart, and other (fellow) post fanatics. Are you out there?
Grab your current read and let it fall open to a random page. Post two (or more) sentences from that page, along with the title and author. Don’t give anything vital away!
“When word of my father’s death was brought to my mother, she left the camp and walked to the edge of the river along whose banks the battle had been fought. There, she filled the pockets of her apron with stones. Then she waded out until the swift current swept her feet from under her and the stones in her pockets pulled her down to the river’s floor. In this way, I lost both my parents on the very same day.”
-p. 15 of Cameron Dokey’s Winter’s Child
Razor sharp, bloody, carnivorous teeth. Wolf’s teeth. The Big Bad Wolf, in fact. Oh yes, he makes an appearance. And his name is Bigsby in Bill Willingham’s universe – the FABLES universe. It’s a compelling and fascinating place.
Let me backtrack a bit. FABLES started as a graphic novel series (comics!). Peter & Max is a novel, with occasional, ancillary illustrations. You don’t need to know the comics to get the story. I didn’t, at any rate. But the story left me wanting more, and interested enough to pick up the first FABLES volume from the library. Now…what is so wonderful about Peter & Max?
At about the halfway point of Peter & Max, I came up for air. I told my sister, “This is the most bloodthirsty story ever!” To which she replied, “Yeah, but you can’t put it down.” And I think an unexpected juxtaposition is what made me fall in love with the story: the fanciful, fairy tale themes and familiar characters, mixed with the dark, horrible and bizarre. It makes the story twisty, recognizable, surprising, melancholy and hopeful all at once. If that makes any sense. Also, the illustrations are amazingly detailed and wonderful. I didn't necessarily enjoy every little bit of the reading experience, but I DID think to myself afterward that it was one of the best books I've read this year.
This story stars Peter Piper and his incorrigible brother Max in a tale about jealousy, betrayal and revenge. Set in two distinct time periods, prepare to travel back to medieval times and learn the tragic back-story of the Piper family, a medieval-era family of traveling minstrels. Then, jump into the present to follow a tale of espionage as Peter Piper slowly hunts down his evil brother for a heinous crime, pitting Peter's talents as a master thief against Max's dark magical powers.
The course of true love never did run smooth. And neither does any good fairy tale worth its salt. Peter & Max is an account of Peter Piper’s “story” with many travails and miscarriages of justice and goodness along the road. Fairy tales traditionally end “well,” but will this one follow the pattern? Read it and find out – but beware blood and villains along the way!
Recommended for fans of: Neil Gaiman, fantasy and fairy tales all grown-up, a dollop of horror with your slice of dreamland, and the strange and wonderful expertly told. Warning: not for the faint of heart. This would make a really awesome gift for…almost anyone. But especially those who maybe long ago dreamed of growing up to be Prince Charming or the plucky princess. And then got over it and went out adventuring instead…
If you’d like to win your own copy of Peter & Max, this is your chance! I’ll give away one (1) book to a lucky entrant.
Leave a comment on this post answering the question, “When someone says a book is ‘dark,’ what do you automatically think of?”
Please include your email address or another method of contact. Giveaway is open internationally – I’ll order through The Book Depository. Comments will close on December 28 at 11:59pm PST, and I will notify the randomly selected winner via email.
A special food I served for St. Lucia breakfast was meat and cheese biscuits. Here’s a recipe that I haven’t tried yet, but will sometime soon. It looks savory and wonderful for any meal of the day!
Cheddar, Onion and Bacon Biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup fresh, chopped cilantro (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
4 slices of bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled (or 1/2 cup bacon bits)
2/3 cup milk
Combine flour, baking powder and salt in mixing bowl. Cut in butter with pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in cilantro, cheese, onion and bacon, mixing well. Add milk all at once to dry ingredients, stirring with a fork to make a soft dough.
Turn out onto floured surface and knead 5 to 7 times (not too much!). Roll dough out 1/2 inch thick; cut into rounds or rectangles. I usually use the mouth of a small glass to create uniform circles. Place biscuits onto an ungreased baking sheet lightly sprinkled with flour.
Bake at 450°F for 10-13 minutes or until light golden in color.
*photo courtesy of The Food Network