Welcome to Smugglivus 2010: Day 10
Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors, bloggers and publishers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2010, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2011.
We are happy to welcome the geeky crew of TDF!
Winter has set in, and the writers of The Discriminating Fangirl are getting ready to hibernate. Well, by hibernate, we mean curl up in front of the fireplace under a blanket with a cup of cocoa and a good book. Our post for Smugglivus is all about our favorite books for a cold winter’s night, the literary equivalent of a safety blanket.
Tell us about your comfort books! Which reads do you keep coming back to over and over?
TDF Pamela: The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Every year, I re-read J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series at least once. I’ve read the first four books an obscene number of times (I literally can’t remember how many times, I’ve read them so often), and I’m catching up on the later books. There are many books that I love and re-read, but none so much as the series about the Boy Who Lived.
I first started reading the series while living overseas, and I think that contributed to my love of the series. See, I’ve always read fantastic fiction, and it’s always been an escape for me. Living overseas was tough, since I was young and missed my family desperately. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone opened up an amazingly imaginative world that I could dive into headfirst, an immersive experience that let me escape from being lonely.
I’ve read a lot of fantasy novels, but there are few that have captured my imagination the way this series has. If I find myself waffling about what to read, I almost inevitably go back to the Harry Potter series. The wonder of discovering along with Harry that a magical world existed alongside ours and that he had always been a big part of it without knowing is the ultimate escape from reality. Even as the series grows more and more dark and serious, I still find it a comfort to step into the Wizarding World for a while.
Lady T: The Tales of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
The Lies of Locke Lamora is the first book in the Gentleman Bastard Sequence, a series of seven novels of which so far only the first two have been published. Admittedly it’s not the quickest read, but when looking for a good book to lose yourself in this is one you can come back to time and again. The world-building is lavish and intricate, creating a visceral and believable portrait of a society straddling the mixed realms of fantasy and history.
It’s a complex and slightly sinister place, filled with swirling mists and dubious politics. Plotlines wind through a sprawling cityscape that crawls up the edges of other-worldly glass spires, a rough and corrupt underbelly living in the ruins of a long-gone civilisation. It has flavours of the Renaissance accented with touches of Steampunk, side by side with almost Medieval brutality. Guilds, Gods and magic all lie underneath the plot, colouring what is ultimately a very human story. The characters are rich and well developed, a band of thieves playing a long-con far longer than anyone imagined, tied together by almost aching fraternal loyalty.
It’s a story by turns heartbreaking and horrifying, but once it’s sucked you in it’s very hard to escape again. The prose is beautifully evocative and the multi-layered society incredibly convincing. It’s a place where you can trust no one and, if you let it, at times this book will probably rip out your heart and jump up and down on it. Despite that, what I keep coming back for are the characters. You can’t help but feel for them, clever and flawed and loyal as they are. It’s a loving portrait of brothers-in-arms, and by the time you’ve made it through both this book and its sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies, it ends on a cliffhanger so painful it’s been genuinely torturous waiting for the third part.
Ultimately though it’s just a great series and well worth diving into head first. I promise you won’t regret it.
Amanda: Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Saint-Exupéry’s tale of a downed pilot who meets a little prince in the Sahara isn’t for just kids. In fact, when I read it again in college, I found a deeper meaning to the story than the first time I read it. You really get to see the difference in how adults and how children see the world through the story. Though they may differ, sometimes it’s the little prince who truly understands life. It’s just a beautiful and
funny story that everyone can enjoy time and time again.
Stacy: Quest for the Faradawn by Richard Ford
This is one of those books I found one winter while complaining (loudly) that I couldn’t find anything to read, and my mom put her foot down on letting me dig into her Stephen King books. I think was nine or ten, so possibly a bit early for that even though they were within my reach in terms of reading level. She pulled it off the shelf, a sun-bleached dust jacket with an inscription inside the front cover to her for her birthday. It’s not a children’s book, nor possibly even YA (which didn’t really exist when it was published), but it is a fantasy that is appropriate for all ages despite some themes. (I read Where The Red Fern Grows about this time, so consider that when I mention certain themes that I could handle at this age.)
The story is that of a young boy left in the forest on a wintry evening, and taken in by a family of badgers who raise him as their own. It might sound childish, but reading it as I got older I found it was a coming of age tale with epic themes of good and evil that seemed to take in territory (physically – these folks walked a good long stretch) like Lord of the Rings. As a young teenager, the boy (named Nab) realizes that hunting season in the Silver Wood ends in the deaths of friends every single year, and sets out to find a way to protect the Silver Wood. He is charged with obtaining three Faradawn – from the forest, the mountains, and the seas; tasks which endanger himself and his companions, including a young girl from town named Beth.
It recalls Watership Down to some with the humanization of the animals characters who communicate with Nab and are his closest friends, but I believe this book stands on its own – it is no poor man’s version of anything. Ford wrote two sequels which I have not yet read because they’ve been out of print for twenty years, but he never put pen to paper again after that.
The descriptions of the silent, snowy woods always makes me look forward to the first dusting of white stuff that signals the “real” start of winter, and gives me just enough cold chills that I always seem to be reading this book wrapped in a blanket (or at least a hoodie and fuzzy socks). I re-read it nearly every year, and it’s become an old friend and even three thousand miles from home, opening the book and running my fingers over the pen and ink illustrations bring back memories of toasty-warm woodstoves, snuggling with pets long since departed, and apple cider, which was always in the house in the fall and winter months…especially good warmed up with a cinnamon stick in it.
LamoreVincera: The Abhorsen Series by Garth Nix
Nothing could be less Christmassy than the book I’m about to confess my love for. (Well, maybe the Song of Ice and Fire series, but I pictured myself reading that by the lights of a Christmas tree and my brain kind of cracked.)
I happily snuggle up, on many occasions, with the Abhorsen series by Garth Nix. It’s high fantasy at its best, featuring witty dialogue, an amazing plot, mindblowing world-building, and smart, strong female characters.
The first novel in the trilogy is Sabriel. She’s a teenage girl who gets dumped into the deep end of her dead father’s job, as a sort of reverse necromancer. Necromancers bring the dead back to life; it’s Sabriel’s job to drag them back into Death, using potentially deadly bells endowed with the power of seven spirits. (Now doesn’t that just scream “Happy Holidays” to you? No? Okay.) Sabriel brings a young man frozen in time back to life, just in time to get his help in defeating someone from the young man’s past who wants to break all magic.
The next novel is my favorite, Lirael. Lirael is a girl living with the Clayr, a women-only commune in the icy northern lands. She’s a perpetual outcast; she’s dark where they are all light, and all Clayr have the ability to foresee the future – except Lirael. She’s so ashamed at her lack of ability that she hides herself by working in their Great Library, and finds a shocking discovery – her own special path that the Clayr of long ago had seen for her. Anyone who felt different or alone at any time in their childhoods will feel that Lirael is a completely kindred spirit.
The third novel, Abhorsen, brings Sabriel and Lirael together with their friends, family, and allies in order to save the world from a being trapped at the beginning of the world. Orannis is a perfect example of high, epic fantasy – the villain who wants complete world destruction. Can they take him down before he breaks out?
Beautifully written and innovative, the Abhorsen trilogy is a real treat. I rank Garth Nix among my favorite authors, right up there with heavy hitters like George R. R. Martin and Neil Gaiman. Pick it up; you’ll find you’ve gotten yourself quite a lovely present.
Strangeness Abounds: Tales of the Otori: Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn
As I was scanning for a book I had not yet read in the young adults book section at my local library, I came across a new arrival: Tales of the Otori: Across the Nightingale Floor, the first book in the Tales of the Otori series by Lian Hearn. Since then, it has become a New York Times Notable Book.
Tales of the Otori is a bildungsroman narrative following a young boy, Takeo, adopted into the Otori samurai tribe. He follows in the footsteps of his mentor and adopted father, Lord Otori Shigeru, to become a samurai himself. Of course, the series would be a quarter of the fun if it weren’t for the scalp-tingling, hairy situations in which Takeo finds himself.
Across the Nightingale Floor and the books following it are lush without going overboard. There is a lyricism in Lian Hearn’s writing that I encounter only with Stephen King’s and Anne Rice’s modern day writing styles. I fell in love with the plot, the characters, the action and love to be found in Tales of the Otori and I highly recommend this series for anyone who enjoys a well-written, action-driven story.
Thanks y’all for the great choices and Happy Smugglivus!