Bonus Summer Reading

 These are some bonus books I read in August.  They don't fulfill a single thing on my lists; they are not from other countries, or on my TBR piles, or anything; I just felt like reading them, which is the best reason of all.

 The Way Home, by Peter S. Beagle: A short story and a novella set in the world of The Last Unicorn.  I only just got around to reading that, so I thought these would be good to read too.  They are both about Sooz, a little village girl.  In "Two Hearts," a griffin comes to terrorize the village, and eats not only sheep, but children.  Any knights who challenge it are killed, and Sooz sets off to see the king to convince him to come himself.  On the way, she meets Schmendrick and Molly Grue, and sees the king...who is Lir, now grown old and feeble.  Or is he?  Perhaps he's the only one who can challenge the griffin....and Molly tells Sooz to whistle a certain tune on her 17th birthday.

In "The Way Home," Sooz keeps the 17th birthday appointment and discovers that she has an older sister who was taken by 'the Dreamies' long ago.  Sooz determines that she must go and find her sister, and on the way she meets Dakhoun, a woman of stone who becomes her best friend and source of wisdom.  Dakhoun is searching for Uncle Death, and if Sooz ever finds her sister, will anyone be able to find the way home at all?

These were both excellent short pieces that had a different flavor than The Last Unicorn -- it's not the 70s anymore -- but were certainly related.

Labyrinth: Coronation, by Ferrier, et al.:
This is a three-volume graphic novel that tells the story of how Jareth came to be the Goblin King.  I read the first two some time ago, but I don't seem to have written them up, and I finally found the last volume.  I presume I was waiting for that to post.  

This is the story of Maria, from 18th century Venice, and her baby boy -- the father has died -- and how the Owl King has determined to steal this baby and eat his life to prolong his own reign.  Maria travels through the canals of Venice and then the Labyrinth, gathering a few allies on the way (a failed goblin knight, an animated rose bush, a worm with enormous ambition) to confront the Owl King and reclaim her boy....

This was a pretty good trilogy.  The world of Labyrinth wasn't really built to carry huge amounts of backstory or logic, but I think this did better than the manga sequel did.


A Contract With God, and Other Tenement Stories, by Will Eisner: Eisner was one of the
foundational writers in comics, and in his later years he wrote some stories based on his childhood in the Bronx and called them a graphic novel.  Publishers didn't know what to do with them, but they were a hit anyway.  These stories center on a tenement at 55 Dropsie Avenue, where Frimme Hersch has made a contract with God and when his daughter dies, figures God broke the deal.  An alley singer attracts a down-on-her-luck former star, who plans to make him her protege (and ticket back to the top), but fate intervenes.  The super is a rotten guy, and his life implodes.  And in summer, families stream out to the country, to rent cookalein rooms and let the kids run around.  Just like the tenements, these stories are crowded with life, neighbors, ugliness, tragedy, and comedy.

What Moves the Dead
, by T. Kingfisher
: I have yet to read a dud by Kingfisher/Ursula Vernon.  This short novel is straight-up horror, a retelling of Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher" that asks what killed Madeline, and just what is in that tarn?  It's narrated by Alex Easton, a soldier and old friend, and in a fun nod to the tradition of Ruritanian romances, it's set in Ruravia and Gallacia ("home to a stubborn, proud, fierce people who are also absolutely piss-poor's cold and poor and if you don't die from falling in a hold or starving to death, a wolf eats you").   Nightmarish, very enjoyable indeed, and would make an excellent choice for RIP.


The Lives of Christopher Chant, by Diana Wynne Jones:  I'm feeling the need for a DWJ reading binge.  Christopher Chant is definitely my favorite of the Chrestomanci novels, and I go back to it fairly often.  I might pick up Witch Week next!  I haven't got much in the way of new insight, but I will recommend a video that brought me great delight, especially since I was driving a long distance by myself at the time (which makes me nervous, because I get sleepy easily, but this and a lot of caffeine fixed me right up): a panel discussion from 2021, What Does Diana Wynne Jones Mean to Readers Today? featuring her son Colin Burrow, his son Johnny as host, Neil Gaiman and Katherine Rundell.  It was just lovely to listen to them tell stories and to discuss her work in the depth that I want to hear.

I'm not sure when I first read this one.  After Witch Week, which was the first Chrestomanci book I found, and I suppose quite early on, since this is the cover I remember -- the first American edition.  I am luckier than Neil Gaiman, who first read a DWJ book (Charmed Life) at 17 and was angry that he was not eight.  I wasn't eight, but I was 11 when I started, which is pretty fortunate.

Anne of Windy Poplars, by L. M. Montgomery:  I wanted to look up an episode in this story, which I hadn't read for years -- mostly I was trying to remember the differences between the mini-series and the book in the Summerside school parts.  (I had not remembered that in the book, it's a regular public high school and there are boys too, not only girls!)  This, as any Anne fan knows, is a story set in the years while Anne is engaged, but teaching, and Gilbert is in medical school.  Much of it is epistolary, but not all.  The fun part for me was that I had forgotten all the little weird stories in there.  L. M. Montgomery had quite a talent for sketching odd personalities and strange tales, and in the later Anne books she really lets that go.  So you get a mention of the tyrannical husband who didn't like his wife's new hat, and "et it."  The uncle who was sort of absent-minded, and married the wrong woman, but never let her know it since he was very gentlemanly.   And the father who wants his daughter to have a happy marriage, but knows full well that the Jarvis men never value what they get too easily -- so he forbids the young man to court his daughter and stage-manages an elopement.  It was all great fun.

This cover is pretty terrible, but it's the one I had as a teenager.  And it could be worse!



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