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Book Review: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (by Catherynne Valente)

the girl3

Catherynne Valente is a truly shining author, as The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland proves with each turn of the page. I can’t say that I’ve ever read anything like this book before. Valente’s creativity blows my mind – the places she goes with her characters, the images she conjures, the words she uses to work her spell.

This book is no quick and easy read – but that has nothing to do with its length, which is normal for a young adult book. It’s a book whose premise is undoubtedly attractive to children, but the story itself has such depth, such meat and heart, that’s it’s impossibly alluring for adults as well.the girl2

September is a “somewhat heartless” twelve-year-old girl who, when the Green Wind comes to her kitchen window in the form of a leopard and offers to accompany her to Fairyland, does not even bother waving goodbye to her mother. Her journey begins on the coast of Fairyland, where she must choose which direction to take. The path to lose her way, to lose her life, to lose her mind, or to lose her heart.

Which do you think she chooses?the girl4

September meets with many adventures in Fairyland, some of them delightfully imaginative, some of them darkly troubling – all of them of a nature to keep your eyes pasted to the page, and all of them having the potential to make September’s heart grow just a little bit more. She becomes fast friends with a Wyvern who believes he is the son of a library. She makes the difficult and painful choice to part from her shadow in order to save someone’s life. She rides amidst a herd of wild bicycles and is sent by the child-like but formidable Marquess, ruler of Fairyland, to fetch a talisman.

‘There must be blood,’ the girl thought. ‘There must always be blood. The Green Wind said that, so it must be true. It will be all hard and bloody, but there will be wonders, too, or else why bring me here at all? And it’s the wonders I’m after, even if I have to bleed for them.’

Every page, every paragraph, every word of this book is placed with seamless intent, woven to spectacular advantage into a story that is so much bigger than it seems. It is truly a masterpiece.

Sometimes you know as you begin a book that you can sit back and relax because you are in expert hands. This was such a book; Valente is such an author.

For a free preview of this amazing book, go here.

What 10 Books Mean to Me in 10 Words or Less

O, there is lovely to feel a book, a good book, firm in the hand, for its fatness holds rich promise, and you are hot inside to think of good hours to come. – Richard Llewellyn, How Green Was My Valley

This week I thought I would simply share with you 10 books (ok, or series…!) from the long list of books that have meant the most to me throughout the past 20+ years of my life. I set myself the challenge of stating how each book affected me in 10 words or less – no simple task!

My words may be a description of the book, or simply the way in which the book changed me – sometimes both.

10. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingwayold man and the sea

An old man’s stubborn heart touched my young one.

 

9. Queenmaker by India Edghill

An age-old tale from an intimate perspective.

 

8. The Bible

God’s heart – the light to my path.jane eyre

 

7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

A passionate, restless, plain girl, much like myself.

 

6. Treasure at the Heart of the Tanglewood by Meredith Ann Pierce

A spell of words woven into a deep-earth, epic journey.

wildwood dancing

 

5. Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

My childish dreams merged strangely and naturally here.

 

4. The Wolves Chronicles by Joan Aiken

Quirky, edgy. Wild imagination that opened new worlds.

 

3. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

My heart’s fairytale with a true secret at center.

 

2. How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn

Proof that the beauty of words could break a heart.

 

1. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

A lesson that “Nothing is yet in its true form.”

 

Ten words … that’s hard!  It leaves much to say on the thoughts and emotions I felt for each of these books. What about you? Which are the books that have made the most impact on you – heart, mind, and soul – through the years? Can you describe one or two of them in 10 words or less? Comment below. I’d love to hear about them!

4 Characteristics of an Epic Book

booksHave you ever read a book, and for some indescribable reason you simply could not feel a connection with it?  Perhaps you’re a person who can put a book like that right back on the shelf without a problem, or drop it in the library’s return slot and never think about it again, if you begin reading it and realize it’s not for you.  But not me.

In the past, when I came upon a book like this – one I could not get into at all – I put myself through torture, made myself finish the book even if it bored me to tears.  Now that I have finished my third decade of life, I realize I simply don’t have the time to do that, and I finally admitted to myself that I just don’t like it, either.  Who says I have to finish every book I start?  What a freeing feeling!  Why did I ever think differently?

The problem is I am always left with a sense of …. well, something being wrong.  Maybe it’s a need for closure.  Not in the sense of needing to know how the story ends, necessarily, but rather in needing to understand why I couldn’t connect with it to begin with.  I have been writing stories since I could hold a pencil, and this has created a keener sense of a story’s mechanics, an author’s style, than I might have ever been aware of otherwise.

Lately this happened to me.  And instead of just dealing with the uncomfortable feeling the book gave me, despite the fact that I actually quite enjoyed parts of it, I decided to sit myself down and figure out exactly what I felt was missing.  I soon realized if you want to know what’s missing from a recipe, you have to know the recipe to begin with.  So, I decided to write down my “requirements” for a great book.

Don’t get me wrong.  If a book doesn’t have one or two of these characteristics it doesn’t mean I won’t read it.  Because books don’t follow rules.  Sometimes there is a mysterious x-factor that keeps me turning pages, surprising even myself.  So – the list is not a strict one; but it did, in the end, help me realize what was “missing” from the book I had been reading [sigh of relief!].

My list is not genre or age-specific, since these characteristics span all types of fiction books.  Here goes:

  1. A compelling plot.  No matter how great your prose is, or how handy you are with turning a unique phrase, your book simply won’t stand without an intriguing storyline that keeps the reader wanting more.  This is not an argument for fast-paced, action-packed scenes – not a bit.  It just means that the plot simply needs to be interesting.  It needs to take me somewhere unexpected and exciting.
  2. A protagonist who is human.  But you like heroes who happen to be dragons, you say?  Okay.  I still say your dragon needs to be human.  The protagonist needs to have relatable struggles, whether internal or external, that draw me in and form an emotional connection.  Because, let’s be honest, if I can’t relate to the hero, I’m not gonna care what happens to him, even if the author kills him off.  If I have the capability of shrugging my shoulders and saying “Eh,” when something horrible happens to the hero … the author is doing something wrong (and yes, I have done this before).quill.and.ink
  3. A journey.  Whether the characters stay in one place, or even in one room, for the entirety of the book, a journey needs to take place.  A journey of understanding, of love, of coming to terms with self or others, of forgiveness, of strength or acceptance … the list could go on and on; take your pick.  And if the journey happens to be an actual physical journey – well, that’s fine, too.  But my favorite books, I’ve noticed, usually incorporate the physical and emotional journeys together, intertwining them in such delicious ways that you can barely discern the difference between them (The Lord of the Rings, anyone??).
  4. Good writing.  I’m not talking about good grammar here, and I’m not even talking about writing that “flows.”  I mean writing that is unique to the author.  Writing that shows me this author has a voice and knows how to use it.  This is a hard one to describe, really, because it’s more of a feeling than anything specific you can pin down when reading a book.  But if you are a reader, you know what I mean.  And this one is also very open to preference.  Believe me, some authors have a definitive voice … and I just don’t happen to like their voice.  But it doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it.  And when I come across a book with the three former characteristics, and find that the author is just one darn good storyteller on top of everything … well, those are the books that find homes on the shelves in my house.

But that’s just me.  I’m curious to know … what makes (or doesn’t make, for that matter) a great book for YOU?

Nathan Lumbatis

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