#Wyrd and Wonder Day 12: Desert Island Reads

I’ve always hated when people ask me about my one favorite book or which 10 reads I’d bring to a desert island. Why are you putting me thorugh the stress of even thinking about this?! I’m not making you choose your favorite child, am I?
Well, for Wyrd and Wonder, I’m embracing the anxiety and I know that, whatever I post here, I will immediately regret at least half of my choices and think of different, better ones. Let’s do it anyway. Because this is fun. Right?

You can find the rules here. The very basic summary is: Choose 8 books, 1 movie/TV show and 1 luxury item/whatever you want to bring to bring on a desert island with you. TV shows include all episodes, movies include all volumes if part of a fanchise. Book series count as individual books unless there’s a bindup version (Lord of the Rings would count as one book, for example).

IMAGE CREDIT: pegasus image by Svetlana Alyuk on 123RF.com

MY DESERT ISLAND READS… I’m not taking any chances here. Nothing that I haven’t read, unless it’s by one of my favorite authors.

  • The Tiffany Aching Series by Terry Pratchett
    Yes, there actually is an omnibus edition of these five books and you can imagine how happy I was that I didn’t have to choose just one Discworld book for my desert island. Although I would have loved to take all the Witch books.
  • Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine
    I’ve been meaning to re-read this book forever. It’s rather short but Valentine creates a whole world within its pages. It’s got steampunk elements, complex character dynamics, secrets and mysteries, and it’s about a wandering circus in a strangely broken world.
  • Flora’s Dare by Ysabeau S. Wilce
    Choosing the middle book of a trilogy may seem weird but it’s my favorite. It has some really great twists, the characters have grown up a bit from the first book and I just adore Wilce’s world building and writing style. Her alternate California and clever protagonist Flora are just amazing.
  • The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales Angela Slatter
    I have read the first two story collections in this loosely connected series and they are both favorites of mine. This new one is probably just as amazing so I’m bringing it even though I haven’t read it yet.
  • Nation by Terry Pratchett
    Well, you can’t have too many Pratchett books and this one especially fits the island setting. It’s a non-Discworld book but it has made me laugh and cry and fall in love with its characters. Pratchett’s deep understanding of and compassion for humanity gets to truly shine here.
  • Bone Swans by C. S. E. Cooney
    For someone who doesn’t read many collections, I sure do love a lot of them. Cooney is a poet and it shows in her prose writing as well. Her tales are fantastical, bizarre, creepy, atmospheric, inspired by fairy tales but utterly original. I adore her!
  • The Fairyland Series 1-3 by Catherynne M. Valente
    Unfortunately, only the first three books exist in a collected format but I’ll take what I can get. I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of Cat Valente, her writing, her ideas, and especially what she did in this series. Infinitely re-readable.
  • In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente
    Yeah, it kills me that there’s no edition with both volumes of The Orphan’s Tales but, fine, I’ll take the first and that’s that. Unless I should take Deathless instead?! Have I mentioned that I hate this game?

TV, MOVIE OR PODCAST… This is just mean. I want to go with a TV show, simply because more episodes means more hours of entertainment. But leaving Willow off the island? Or The Neverending Story? I guess the smart choice would be Friends but that’s not fantasy and I’m not that smart anyway. Battlestar Galactica (2003) and Deep Space Nine also aren’t fantasy so I guess I’ll just have to choose my perennial favorite Labyrinth. I’ve loved this movie since I was a child and I’m still not tired of it.

I CAN’T DO WITHOUT… I wanted to bring my boyfriend but he is far from inanimate and the rules say to bring only things. Favorite foods will only last until they’re eaten, so I think I’ll pick something more useful. How about one of those Swiss Army knives that can do practically anything? I can open coconuts, cut some wood, gut all the fish I’m catching… Yeah, I’ll go with that. 🙂

Cute but Kind of Distant: Darcie Little Badger – Elatsoe #WyrdAndWonder Book Review

Ah, making my way through the Lodestar finalists has been a great pleasure so far. With only one book left to read (T. Kingfisher’s A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking), I can already say that this year offers a brilliant ballot and ranking these books will be a tough job. Elatsoe was different from the other finalists in that it reads more like a Middle Grade book than YA. I don’t know if that was intended or if it’s just my personal impression but it didn’t make the book any less charming. But maybe a tad forgettable?

ELATSOE
by Darcie Little Badger

Published: Levine Querido, 2020
eBook: 368 pages
Standalone
My rating: 6.5/10

Opening line: Ellie bought the life-sized plastic skull at a garage sale (the goth neighbors were moving to Salem, and they could not fit an entire Halloween warehouse into their black van). 

Imagine an America very similar to our own. It’s got homework, best friends, and pistachio ice cream.

There are some differences. This America been shaped dramatically by the magic, monsters, knowledge, and legends of its peoples, those Indigenous and those not. Some of these forces are charmingly everyday, like the ability to make an orb of light appear or travel across the world through rings of fungi. But other forces are less charming and should never see the light of day.

Elatsoe lives in this slightly stranger America. She can raise the ghosts of dead animals, a skill passed down through generations of her Lipan Apache family. Her beloved cousin has just been murdered, in a town that wants no prying eyes. But she is going to do more than pry. The picture-perfect facade of Willowbee masks gruesome secrets, and she will rely on her wits, skills, and friends to tear off the mask and protect her family.

Ellie is seventeen years old and can call animal spirits back from the dead. Her ghost dog, Kirby, is her constant companion and not only a Very Good Boy but also quite useful when it comes to sensing bad stuff happening. After Kirby has a freak-out, Ellie and her family find out that her cousin, Trevor, has died in a car accident. But Trevor visits Ellie in a dream/vision and tells her that he has, in fact, been murdered by a man named Abe Allerton from Willowbee. He asks her to protect his wife and small child and to bring justice to Allerton for what he has done. So Ellie’s murder investigation/adventure begins…

First of all, let me say that I grew to like this book a lot but I found it hard to find my way into it at first. Sure, the synopsis says this particular version of America is only similar to ours, but has magic and stuff. But it took me a while to find my footing with the world building because it wasn’t quite clear how much or what kind of magic. New mythological creatures or fantasy elements kept coming up whenever appropriate or convenient for the plot and there didn’t appear to be any rules. There’s ghosts and vampires, suddenly there are also fairy rings (which are used for transportation across the country and that’s super cool, if you ask me), but then there are different kinds of magic as well that were never mentioned before.
I know this isn’t supposed to be an Epic Fantasy but I still like a little bit of foreshadowing or at least a mention or two of an element that will be important later. Darcie Little Badger just went with the flow and told her story and whatever magic was needed at a certain point would be introduced and explained at that point, and not before. It doesn’t make the book bad, by any means, but it is a matter of personal taste. And I wasn’t a fan.

I was, however, a fan of the story in general and the murder mystery in particular. The solution to the mystery is impossible to figure out – because the author doesn’t give out any information that could let us deduce anything – but I still found that things fell into place quite cleverly. Ellie and her friend Jay research Abe Allerton and try to find a way to convince the authorities that he’s a murderer, and during that research, they collect a whole lot of interesting information, newspaper clippings from the past, anecdotes, pictures, and so on. When Ellie figured out what’s going on, it gave me this “of coooourse” moment, like I should have seen it coming. As mentioned above, I couldn’t have seen it coming but the magical and real world aspects fit together so well that I found it utterly satisfying anyway.

As for the characters, they were… mostly cute. I wouldn’t say they are the book’s strongest suit. Ellie, although said to be 17 years old, reads like a much younger girl. I kept picturing her as a 12-14 year old. It’s not so much that she is particularly immature or anything but her interests and the way she talks and behaves just came across as super innocent and young. The same goes for her friend Jay. They are a team of adorable young sleuths but definitely didn’t feel like 17-year-olds. I think the dialogue is partly to blame for that. I found most of the dialogue – not just between the teenagers but also between Ellie and her parents – a bit unnatural. Ellie’s parents were weirdly okay with her dangerous plans and ideas, and at times it felt like she was the parent in that family, making the decisions, and her mom just got to follow along for the ride and occasionally express concern. The dialogue was usually comprised of short lines and probably more what people would actually talk like. Unfortunately, the way people talk in real life doesn’t make for good reading. For example, repeating something your conversation partner has just said may happen a lot in real life, but in a novel, it feels strange and wrong.
The good thing about the short lines is that it makes the book super easy to read and follow. It was also only throught the dialogue that any humor came across. The character’s don’t really get all that much personality so I found it refreshing whenever Ellie would make a joke. Ellie, Jay, and Jay’s soon-to-be brother in law (and also vampire) Al were the most fleshed-out characters. Ellie’s parents are just there but don’t really do much until the end and I got the feeling the author didn’t quite know how to get them out of the way for the kids to have their own adventure. That said, the good guy characters were all easy to like, the villain was so evil that he was easy to hate and sometimes it’s nice to read a book with such clearly divided camps, where good can triumph over evil.

But despite these weaknesses, I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t like the book, because I really did! I am, of course, automatically comparing it to the other Lodestar finalists which is probably why my inner wannabe critic is acting up. It’s a great story that incorporates mythology in intriguing ways, but it also feels rather childish and simple, and resolved almost too easily. Which again makes me think it might be intended for a younger audience.
Ellie (which, by the way, is short for Elatsoe) and her family are Lipan Apache and although this is not a very big thing in the book, it is part of who she is and comes up several times, and for good reasons as well. But mostly, we get to hear stories about Six Great – Ellie’s six-times great grandmother and something of a legend – and her adventures and feats. These stories were lovely and so are the illustrations by Rovina Cai! Some of the stories are told by Ellie’s mother, some Ellie remembers for herself, some come up in her dreams, but they all show how important family is to Ellie and how knowledge and magic has been passed on over many generations. And while Ellie has a ghost dog named Kirby, Six Great had a whole pack plus a woolly mammoth. Again, I had hoped for more world building because I’d really like to know where that mammoth goes when it’s not called by Six Great – does it slip back to the Underworld? Does it have to physically (although invisibly) find a place here on Earth to go and wait? Ah, this is not the kind of book that spends any time answering those questions. It’s about a girl solving a murder with the help of her family and friends.

As cute as this story was, because the characters are kept quite vauge and the world building changes is a bit haphazard, I never really felt immersed in the story. I appreciated the ideas, especially when it comes to the way magic is used, and the rituals to make sure dead humans stay dead and don’t come back as vengeful ghosts. And I had fun racing through the pages, watching Ellie bring justice to the bad guy. But rather than be on this adventure with Ellie, I watched from the outside. We’ll see how the book holds up in my memory but I have the suspicion that, because of my lack of emotional connection, it will end up as a fun little adventure that I won’t remember very well in a few months.

MY RATING: 6.5/10 – Pretty good

#WyrdAndWonder Day 8: Currently Reading

Oh boy, this really is the perfect challenge prompt for me at the moment. While I am okay with reading several books at once, I don’t usually go overboard the way I am doing currently. But you’ll see it’s really not my fault. How can I help it when reading challenges have great prompts, finalists for some major SFF awards are announced, and then an e-ARC falls into my lap that actually made me run around the house screaming because I’m so happy. Add to that my long-time projects or books I’ve put to the side hoping the right mood will strike me soon to finish them…

ACTUALLY currently reading

Tade Thompson – The Rosewater Insurrection

I read the first book in the Wormwood Trilogy last year because it was a finalist for the Best Series Hugo Award. Although it was a difficult book to read – different timelines, crazy ideas, complex characters – I really enjoyed it. Just before Wyrd and Wonder started, I got the audiobook of the second volume and I think I’m enjoying this one even more than the first. It’s science fiction, not fantasy, but I don’t think I can wait until the end of Wyrd and Wonder to finish the book. I may just finish it today which means more time for the next fantasy book.

Catherynne M. Valente – Under in the Mere

This take on Arthurian legends by my favorite author is one of her older works, which means it’s even wordier and has even less of a plot than her newer books. Although it’s very short, I’m reading this in half-a-chapter-increments because, man, does Cat know a lot of words! Some chapters are more readable than others, painting a picture of one of Arthur’s knights and his particular plight. Others are more like a fever dream, with tons of references to classical myths, and very little substance. It’s just pretty words strung together prettily. Also, I am not sure I completely understand it. It’s told from the POV of Arthur’s knights but they’re in California? Maybe you need to know a lot more about Arthurian legend than I do to get it.
So this won’t end up at the top of my Valente list but it also doesn’t change her status as my very favorite author!

Brandon Sanderson – Words of Radiance

This is a re-read (or technically a re-listen) because I haven’t actually read Rhythm of War yet and want to get myself back up to speed. The third book in the Stormlight Archive, Oathbringer, especially had lots of new important information about the world and characters and I remember very little of it. That’s no way to go into a new Sanderson book, so I’m re-reading the series before diving into the newest book. I actually started with the last two parts of The Way of Kings (just the ending, which in Sanderson means 250 pages) and am now reading all of Words of Radiance. It’s still as exciting as it was the last time, except now I am catching more hints for things to come than I did on my first read.

T. Kingfisher – The Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking

I’ve only just started this book but ever since I met the sourdough starter named Bob in the very first chapter, I knew this would be hilarious. T. Kingfisher has been a favorite of mine for years (I actually first loved her fairy tale retellings) but combining baking, magic, and her brand of humor must be a new high. I cannot wait to join protagonist Mona on a search for who dropped that dead body in her bakery…

Marjorie Liu – The Tangleroot Palace

This isn’t technically a current read as I write this but by the time this post goes up, I will have started it. It’s an e-ARC (not the one I screamed about, but another one that makes me fairyl excited) and it comes out in June, so now is the perfect time to read it. This short fiction collection promises twists on fairy tales, magic in cool settings, and a full-length novella. And it’s by the writer of the Monstress comic book series.


Officially but not really currently reading

Okay, so I maaaay have started a book last year (!), put it aside and never picked it up again. I still want to finish it but there’s always other stuff that I need to read first. The book in question is Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James and if you’ve read, or sampled, that book, you’ll know why I needed a break. It’s not only dark in terms of subject matter, plot, and characters, but the language is complex and sometimes difficult to understand. At least for me, as a non-native speaker. I’ve been waiting for the urge to read the second half of that book for months now and it hasn’t really struck yet. But I’m not giving up. I definitely want to know how that crazy story ends!

Second, a similar situation, although I do read a few pages here and there, is Little, Big by John Crowley. This book was fun enough for the first third or so. Then I kept wondering when the plot would finally start or at least when all those stories about multiple generations of the Drinkwater family would make sense. I am at about 65% and the thought of picking this book up feels more like a chore than fun. But it’s my favorite author’s favorite book and I do like the general atmosphere of it. I just hope that I’ll get some kind of plot within the next 5% or at the very least a mind-blowing twist at the end…

And last but not least, a book I’m only reading casually to practice my Spanish (or rather to revive my Spanish, as it seems to have mostly left my brain after years of not using it). Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal, the first Harry Potter book, is something I’m reading without any pressure. I’ll pick it up and read a few pages one day, then put it down again for a few days – it’s not like I don’t know the story after all. The first few chapters took me forever because I had to look up so many words. By now, I can read without pausing after every sentence, but my brain is still much slower when processing Spanish than German or English. If I finish the book before our trip to Barcelona (if that even happens), that’s fine. No pressure, just lechuzas and varitas. 🙂


In case you’re wondering, the e-ARC I mentioned above is Cat Valente’s The Past is Red and I do want to dive into it right away. But. It’s science fiction, so not really the right fit for Wyrd and Wonder. And I am also feeling super guilty about those other books and feel like I should at least use this beautiful monthlong event to read a few chapters of them.

Then again, I already know reading everyone else’s #currentlyreading posts and tweets will distract me and draw my attention to all those exciting books I’ve been meaning to pick up and then my current reads will suddenly be forgotten again. It’s like a curse but at least we’re all suffering it together. 🙂