a jane of all reads

Author: Rachel Hartman
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Date: July 10, 2012
Pages: 467
Genre: YA- Fantasy
Source: Book Fairy

From Goodreads: Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

I’ve been stewing over writing this for days. I honestly didn’t know where to begin because it can be hard to write what’s in your heart when what you feel is just a big ball of love and light with no words. There have been many enjoyable books in my reading life, but very few that stay with me past the initial honeymoon phase after reading them. But this book, this little book…well it’s one of those books that move in. A small earthquake happened in my house, which is odd considering I don’t live some place where those things happen. Upon closer investigation, the rumbling was discovered not to be an earthquake but was instead coming from the locked book cabinet that is the top half of my antique secretary desk. It was the Favorites cabinet, and it was clearly shaking. The books were afraid. They felt it. They knew. They knew that one of them would most likely be leaving the over-full case because upon closing the book after the final word, we both knew that Seraphina had claimed a spot.

This book has dragons in it. Who amongst you can deny that when you hear tale of a story about dragons, your inner child’s little face doesn’t still light up with that dreamy glow of wonder? It’s about dragons and there’s a lot of magic in that alone. I could spend hours chattering on about the many, fantastic, little idiosyncrasies that add up to make the marvelous whole that is Hartman’s idea of a dragon. I forever picture them, studying mankind with their own, fake humanoid heads cocked slightly to the side in awe and bewilderment at how we are ruled by our emotions when to them the deciding factor should only ever boil down to what is logical.

      “Do your people pass emotions through your blood, mother to child, the way we dragons pass memories? Do you inherit your fears? I do not comprehend how this persists in the population- or why you will not crush it,” said Eskar.
      We prefer not to crush our own. Call it one of our irrationalities,” said Prince Lucian, smiling grimly. “Maybe we can’t reason our way out of our feelings the way you can; maybe it takes several generations to calm our fears. Then again, I’m not the one judging an entire species by the actions of a few.”

Seraphina was a marvel of a main character. Flawed from start to finish and hampered by society’s idea that she shouldn’t even exist, she doesn’t just overcome nearly impossible obstacles (like a trumped up female superhero), she does the bravest thing anyone with nearly insurmountable odds against them can do and that is to get on with her everyday life. Tied to both the dragon and human worlds, in ways she dare not speak aloud, Seraphina finds herself in a position to exert considerable influence upon some of the celebration’s key players. Her love of music, inherited from a mother she never knew, has led her to the royal court where, as music mistress, she keeps close company with the royal family. On the other hand, she coexists easily with the city’s dragon population, thanks in part to a loved one who saw to the more secretive aspects of her education. But even with the key role she ends up playing, Seraphina’s actions were never once focused on bettering her situation or easing her struggles. She was entirely selfless…save for that one kiss.

A beautiful fantasy, set in a rich world, teeming with extraordinary creatures, and a heartrending and heartwarming tale of self-acceptance.

“The world inside myself is vaster and richer than this paltry plane, peopled with mere galaxies and gods.”

I want that tattooed on my body.

A bit of a spoiler- highlight to spoil: Reading Seraphina’s thoughts and feelings on her well guarded secrets and struggles, I couldn’t help but to relate it to one I carry, and perhaps to one any of us carry. Maybe we’re not flawed. Maybe we’re not imperfect….maybe we’re just dragons. And I can live with that.

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie @ Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

The Wee Free Men

Author: Terry Pratchett
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date: April 29, 2003
Pages: 263
Genre: Fantasy
Source: The locked cabinet- for only the most special books.

They say that the Chalk is too soft to grow a witch. Witches flourish best on land made of the tougher elements and where a good hard earth has been known to produce a good hard witch, no one has ever heard tale of one being born of Chalk. The Chalk is made of millions of seashells, of the bones of tiny creatures that lived when the land was under the waves. It is softer than clay, covered with a fine green down of grass and has been the home of the shepherding family, The Achings, for as far back as anyone would care to remember.

An Aching has always watched over the hills, guarded the sheep and in their own quite mundane way, kept safe their world, from any other wandering worlds that might threaten to collide with it. It’s a simple matter of doing what needs to be done, and being the one willing to do it. It may be nothing more than finding a lost sheep, curing an ailment, showing someone a different way to do things- whatever it takes, to finish the job.

“It doesn’t stop being magick just because you know how it works.”

Tiffany wouldn’t call herself a witch. Well, she’d like to, if such a thing were allowed, but the folk of The Chalk do not take kindly to witches. Oh they like the results and rewards of one well enough, but they, like most ignorant people, don’t like the idea that there’s someone out there with more know-how than themselves. Tiffany is plagued with uncommonly level-headed sensibility and reason, and she often finds herself thoroughly overcome with logic. And when she sees a strange green creature lurking in her river and threatening to eat her little brother, it’s that very same clear-headedness that makes her whack it a good one, with the frying pan.

Now Tiffany is seeing a variety of creatures that she’s not suppose to see. She’s being watched..er..stalked…no wait helped, strike that- plagued by strange little blue men, with filthy mouths and even dirtier feet.

“They’re not like brownies. If you get Nac Mac Feegle in the house, it’s usually best to move away.”

When the onslaught of magical creatures results in the kidnapping of her brother by their meddlesome Queen, Tiffany, being the one that does the things that no one wants to do (because someone has to), backed by an army of crazed blue warriors and armed with a frying pan, ventures into the world of fairy to take back what’s hers.

“Them as can do has to do for them as can’t. And someone has to speak up for them as has no voices.”


Here I go again, singing Pratchett’s praises and proclaiming my adoration for his stories to anyone who will listen, even if it’s only my inner dreamer, that part of me that still holds hopes that one day, magic will prevail and I’ll find myself becoming the very best witch. When Pratchett decided to venture into the the world of Middle Grade/Young Adult literature, he began with a little book called The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. It was a cute little spin on the whole Pied-Piper legend, and was written with his usual dry, good-natured, wit. And while it still took place in his imaginary Discworld, I wasn’t as enamored of it as I am his adult books. So when he pinned The Wee Free Men, a book about a young witch with Pratchett’s own very special brand of magic (good sense, paying attention and learning to read people, places and situations, doing what needs to be done and keeping in mind that there are quite possibly unseen forces at work so don’t piss them off. Oh and Headology), I was just a bit overjoyed. I want everyone to experience his world and writing- these marvelous books that subtly poke fun at our society and very quietly urge us to THINK and QUESTION and BELIEVE IN SOMETHING, anything at all! And bringing his wisdom to those untainted enough to benefit from it (youngins), well, I just love it.

This first book in the Tiffany Aching series, introduces us to a very young witch as she comes into her “powers” and realizes just how important being the-person-who-does-the-hard-things is. Pratchett likens his witches to teachers, nurses, paranormal policeman and and other professions that our more delicate sensibilities don’t like to think about needing to be done. They are, in the Discworld, those people who are reliable and trustworthy, and Tiffany’s desire to become one is quite an honorable thing.

The series follows her development and growth as a witch, deals very much in right and wrong (and right again), and holds some of the most powerful book-magic I’ve ever read. This is a good place to start if you’re ready to learn some. And it won’t even cost you an egg.

“Here is a story to believe,” she said. “Once we were blobs in the sea, and then fishes, and then lizards and rats, and then monkeys, and hundreds of things in between. This hand was once a fin, this hand once had claws! In my human mouth I have the pointy teeth of a wolf and the chisel teeth of a rabbit and the grinding teeth of a cow! Our blood is as salty as the sea we used to live in! When we’re frightened, the hair on our skin stands up, just like it did when we had fur. We ARE history! Everything we’ve ever been on the way to becoming us, we still are. Would you like the rest of the story?”
“I’m made up of the memories of my parents and my grandparents, all my ancestors. They’re in the way I look, in the color of my hair. And I’m made up of everyone I’ve ever met who’s changed the way I think. ”

It’s May 25th and it’s a very special day. Why? Well for one, today is Towel Day, the day in which any hitchhiker worth his (or her) mettle, proudly displays his preparedness with a towel! It’s from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the galaxy by Douglas Adams.

From The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Douglas Adams left Earth to start out on his own tour of the galaxy on May 11, 2001. His leaving was the first time that I ever realized that my heart could break from the lose of someone I never even knew. This book was my first introduction to that dry, sarcastic English wit that I so love today. Honestly, I don’t think I would love books nearly as much as I do now if it weren’t for him. There are several books in his famous “trilogy” as well as others penned by him, and you need to read them all. So be sure to remember him today by locating and loving your trusty towel.

“Truth, Justice, Freedom, Reasonably-Priced Love and a Hard-Boiled Egg!”

And while you’re sporting your towel, don’t forget to Wear the Lilac today. We wear the lilac in remembrance of those brave members of the Night Watch and The People’s Republic of Treacle Mine Road.

If you’re a fan of the Discworld series by Sir Terry Pratchett, you’ll understand the importance of the revolution in the books. But in the real world, for those of you not in the know, Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2007, and we wear the lilac on May 25th in tribute to Terry and to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s.

I can’t say much here that I haven’t already said about Pratchett in the past. He is my favorite author. I have learned more about life (how to live it better, how to see it from different angles and how to accept the fact that I do not believe in certain things the same way the people around me do) from his books than I could ever have learned on my own. They are that important to me. He spends a great deal of time on belief, the power of words and the undeniable ability a story has to change the past, present and future of just about anything. I get a little choked up when I think that one day he will leave us for that marvelous flat world that rides through space on the back of a great turtle and deny me any more of his life lessons. In him I have a god anchor.

So do it. Grab your towel, wear the lilac and celebrate. If not for Adams and Pratchett, than for the fact that there are dedicated silly days for the things readers love most of all- books.

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie @ Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

Small Gods

Author: Terry Pratchett
Publisher: HarperPrism
Date: 1992
Pages: 344
Genre: Fantasy
Source: A much loved, battered paperback that I keep with me always.

Dear Reader,
There are some books that are nearly impossible to talk about. The silence that follows the reading of such books isn’t because they are bad books, or even worse, books that you feel nothing for, so in turn you have nothing to say. It’s quite the opposite in fact. There are books, that once read, are no longer just paper between, er- thicker paper. They become something else entirely. These books seek out the little empty places in your soul, places you don’t even know exist because they’ve never had anything fill them that you would miss if they were to up and leave it vacant. These books slide right into those little empty soul pockets, settle and suddenly, just like that, there’s a little more you. They become…books that move in. It makes them difficult books to talk about because, well, not many of us can accurately and eloquently express who we are. There in lies the problem. You can no longer make a distinction between yourself and the book.
Small Gods is one of those books, so please forgive me as I fumble inexpertly through this post.

– Laura


It is once again time for an Omnian Prophet to appear. A prophet that will impart to the people the will and commandments of the Great God Om. There’s been a whole slew of prophets and they all amble up to the pulpit, like their prophetic predecessors, and decree a new set of rules that they swear were handed down to them by the Great God “Holy Horns” Om. It’s rather difficult to refute the prophet’s claim when the church fully backs the prophet and his commandments- most often at knife point. The Omnian church prides itself on the efficiency of The Quisition, a division of the church whose responsibility and privilege is to uphold enforce the will of God.

“…they were engaged in religion. You could tell by the knives (it’s not murder if you do it for a god).”

So the Omnians believe. They believe like their lives depend on it. Belief gives Om strength. The more belief, the stronger the God. So it comes as a great surprise to the Great God Om when he wakes up in the body of a mere turtle, with powers equal in size and strength of any small, shelled reptile. This shouldn’t be! He has many believers! Or he did. In his absence, the people haven’t stopped believing, oh no, the Church would never allow that. They believe. They believe in fear.

“Fear is a strange soil. It grows obedience like corn, which grow in straight lines to make weeding easier. But sometimes it grows the potatoes of defiance, which flourish underground.”

I know I’ve talked about this before, but let’s just rehash. Pratchett writes what on the surface appear to be fantasy novels, stories about his made up Discworld and the people in them. And while they have a nice neat fantasy setting, each book is in fact, a very clever little satire on something the human race holds dear or more often than not, something we take for granted. They are a gentle little nudge, an OK of sorts, to question what we are told to believe. This little number does of course, poke fun at religion, one in particular but essentially all of them, and if you aren’t too tightly wound on the subject (and more so if you are) it contains a great deal of wisdom that outlines centuries worth of “what the fuck?” You’ll follow Brutha, Om’s chosen prophet as he faces the harsh realization that simply believing in something doesn’t make it truth and expecting the world to only see things as you and yours do, isn’t going to do much more than get more knives pointed at you. And I liked the little poke at Om, in which he is basically told that if he’s going to be God, and all these people are going to go to the trouble of believing in him (he gets something out of the deal too- he gets to exist) then he has a bit of a responsibility to his people, to uphold his end of the deal.

“It’s hard to explain,” said Brutha. “But I think it’s got something to do with how people should behave… you should do things because they’re right. Not because gods say so. They might say something different another time.”

But anyway. This is one of those books that move in for me. It’s with me always, shapes how I think and feel which in turn affects how I live. This isn’t exactly rare. After all, so many of us have our thoughts and feelings shaped by a book, and the book affects how we live. Just remember, there are lots of different books.

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Published:Published September 1st 2008 by HarperTeen (first published September 1st 2006)

From Goodreads:
What do you want from me?” he asks. What I want from every person in my life, I want to tell him. More.

Abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was eleven, Taylor Markham, now seventeen, is finally being confronted with her past. But as the reluctant leader of her boarding school dorm, there isn’t a lot of time for introspection. And while Hannah, the closest adult Taylor has to family, has disappeared, Jonah Griggs is back in town, moody stares and all.

In this absorbing story by Melina Marchetta, nothing is as it seems and every clue leads to more questions as Taylor tries to work out the connection between her mother dumping her, Hannah finding her then and her sudden departure now, a mysterious stranger who once whispered something in her ear, a boy in her dreams, five kids who lived on Jellicoe Road eighteen years ago, and the maddening and magnetic Jonah Griggs, who knows her better than she thinks he does. If Taylor can put together the pieces of her past, she might just be able to change her future.

Last week I touched on the fact that I’d finally gotten around to reading some of the books that everyone has sworn to me are must reads, and while so many books don’t live up to the hype, I don’t think anyone can deny the perfection of this book. I don’t think most people even know what to say or remember how to speak after reading it. So you were all right. It is that good.

The story starts out with an accident that happened years ago. It’s part of an unfinished book that Taylor Markham is reading. Taylor is an orphaned, permanent resident of a boarding school on the Jellicoe Road and the book is a work in progress of Hannah’s, the woman who has helped raise her. As Taylor’s story is being told, Taylor herself is reading a story set in her own school over eighteen years ago.

“My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die.

I counted.

It happened on the Jellicoe Road. The prettiest road I’d ever seen, where trees made breezy canopies like a tunnel to Shangri-La. We were going to the ocean, hundreds of miles away, because I wanted to see the ocean and my father said that it was about time the four of us made that journey. I remember asking, ‘What’s the difference between a trip and a journey?’ and my father said, ‘Narnie, my love, when we get there, you’ll understand,’ and that was the last thing he ever said.”

The Jellicoe boarding school residents, the local kids (Townies) and the boys of a neighboring military school (Cadets) are engaged in a mock war against each other. The surrounding territory is divided up into zones and for years the three factions have been fueding over territory. Though it’s all basically just a game, it is a long standing tradition and everyone must play it. Taylor is the school’s newest leader, and it is her job to help organize acts of subterfuge against the opposition to gain “territory” and strength. As she is playing the game, she is also reading about the game as it was played eighteen years ago by the children in Hannah’s story.

Taylor doesn’t remember much before she was taken in by Hannah and the school. With a vague recollection of her past, a present tangled in the make believe of a mock war and a future that is still undecided, Hannah is the only permanent, real thing in Taylor’s life. But she leaves unexpectedly, leaving Taylor and the story behind. As the game goes on, more of Taylor’s past is revealed, and the people in Hannah’s story prove to be more than fiction.

With so many stories being told, I can admit that I was a bit confused at first but I had to keep reading. I had to know what happened! The mystery and suspense was killing me but I didn’t get to learn anything until Taylor herself learned it. It’s such a marvelous puzzle. I was forced to take my time and be patient since I wouldn’t be allowed to see the big picture until Taylor saw it herself. It completely binds the reader to the story, and you can’t not read it. I felt that as Taylor’s story grew, I was growing along with it. Very rarely do I finish a book and immediately want to reread it. Most of the time I need a break from the story when it’s over but I didn’t want to give this one up. I suspect that each reread (and there will be many) will reveal something new.

While it wasn’t a sad story, some of the things that happened were. You’re involved with not only Taylor but with the five children who survived the accident in Hannah’s story which gets a little heavy. It wasn’t until the very end that I fully understood what had happened. That epilogue just about killed me and I bawled like a baby.

The writing was outstanding and I loved that the characters were real. They didn’t feel contrived or written as one would think a teenager would act or speak. She didn’t try to stereotype them; she just let them be. I don’t want my YA stories to read like they were written by adults trying to see things from a younger person’s perspective, nor do I want to feel like I’m reading a kid’s story. I want them to simply read and tell the story. Marchetta’s writing makes sure that nothing stands in the way of that. If it’s good, you shouldn’t be able to make any distinction as to what genre it fits in. A good book is a good book.

I can easily dub this book as the best one I’ve read this year and the book I’ve had the hardest time breaking away from. If you haven’t read it, well, you just have to.