Gritty magic: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

the-magiciansI’m weirdly fond of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and I can’t quite put my finger on why. It’s campy, and self-aware, and god help me I love it.

I first picked it up because I liked the look of it – one of those judge-a-book-by-its-cover situations that works out surprisingly well. Since then it’s become one of my favourites, and one of the few books that I actually reread on a regular basis.

The plot: Quentin Coldwater is a genius – at school subjects, at magic tricks, and especially when it comes to remember details about an old series of children’s books about a magical land called Fillory. He masters calculus and classic literature with an aptitude bordering on boredom – and can’t help feeling that there must be more to life than this.

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Cover to Cover with the Golden Compass

Reading The Golden Compass was a coming of age for me – it was darker and more serious than any book I’d ever read before. Philip Pullman takes his readers seriously: he might be writing for teens and pre-teens, but he pulls no punches. I mean, the series name comes from a line in Paradise Lost; rather than worry about what his readers were capable of understanding, Pullman wrote a deeply intellectual and metaphorical novel for teenagers.

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Sweet, intriguing, and not just for Kingkiller fans: The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

Untitled-14This novella is a strange one – but also completely endearing.

Rothfuss has two big bestsellers to his name: The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear. The novels follow the journey of Kvothe, a sharp-witted, good-hearted bard / mage / warrior / student. Think magical trials, school rivalries, political intrigue, and the ever-present threat of ancient evil forces. All in all, a highly entertaining world to live in for a while.

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Cover to Cover with A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time has been a best seller, a banned book, the winner of a Newbery Medal, and keeps landing on lists with titles like “Best Children’s Books Ever” and “Greatest Children’s Books”. As a kid, I loved how weird and crazy and serious it was; I loved how the main character was awkward, but also fierce and brave and loyal and clever; I loved how it’s the only book I’d ever come across that actually starts with the line, “It was a dark and stormy night…”

In terms of cover design, this post might better be described as fifty years of circle imagery (which I say in the most loving way possible):

Hardcover edition   Commemorative edition   Australian cover

The paperback editions seem to be equal parts beautiful and campy. The pink box set cover – below, centre – will always have a special place in my heart because 1. it’s the edition I had growing up and 2. it’s basically the nineties in a nutshell.  Continue reading

Top Ten Tuesday: fairy tales, fables, magic realism, and retellings

Top Ten Tuesday - Bayrock, Bookrock - Sidebar crop copyThe Broke and the Bookish has a weekly top ten challenge – and this week I’m joining in!

The challenge is to post a list of ten fairy tales or retellings, and I find the majority of popular fairy tale interpretations appear as young adult fiction – I’m thinking of authors like Holly Black, Gail Carson Levine, and Vivian Vande Velde.

Since YA isn’t really my wheelhouse any more, I’ve taken a few liberties with my list – including authors who channel the weird old spirit of Aesop or the Brothers Grimm, rather than sticking to strict retellings. Fairy tales sneak their bony fingers of inspiration into literary fiction every year; magic realism and fairy tales aren’t exactly analogous, but sometimes the two genres overlap in a neat little Venn diagram.

Long story short: if you’re looking for fairy tales without diving into the often-angsty YA, I’ve got a list for you – a good mix of fairy tales, fables, and folk stories.

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Cover to Cover with Howl’s Moving Castle

I first read Howl’s Moving Castle when I was twelve or thirteen, and I re-read it this year after (finally) watching the Hayao Miyazaki film adaptation. Diana Wynne Jones is classic fantasy reading for middle-grade readers – but it holds up for readers of all ages. I suggest the Chrestomanci series for younger readers and Hexwood for older, but Howl’s Moving Castle lands straight in the middle.

Original coverEmily Handy - Polish cover   tumblr_mnmm790GMX1rogrrzo1_500

Original coverCroation cover       Portuguese cover

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Two girls, two eggs, and Baba Yaga: Gregory Maguire’s Egg and Spoon

Egg and Spoon by Gregory MaguireIt either sounds like a great joke or a terrible time: two girls, two eggs, a platoon of nesting dolls, and Baba Yaga. Layer the mixture onto a foundation of literary talent, and there you have it: Gregory Maguire’s latest novel.

Maguire is best known for Wicked, a novel that later turned into the hit (and perhaps better-known) musical. I read Wicked years and years ago and don’t honestly remember much about it – except that it was really, really strange and oddly sad. It’s a book I recommend, but sparingly. Maguire’s Oz is a place that has little to do with Dorothy, flirting with themes of intersexuality and familial dysfunction.

I expected the new book, Egg and Spoon, to give the same treatment to classic Russian fairy tales – spice them up with a touch of discomfort and make it impossible to look away. Instead, Maguire delivers something closer to a YA novel. If the Incredible Journey and The Prince and the Pauper had a love child which grew up reading only Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, it would be this book.

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