Wordy Wednesday: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

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Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: A Novel

Title: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Author: Susanna Clarke
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC Rating: 4star
Publication Date: 2004 Genre: Fantasy,

Why Picked: A Friend’s Favorite

First Line:

“Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians.”


At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England’s history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England—until the reclusive Mr Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight. Soon, another practicing magician comes forth: the young, handsome, and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell’s student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership with Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear. [1]


This has been on my TRB shelf for years. A favorite book of one of my dearest friends, recommended over and over again by so many people, yet every time I would try to read it I could not get anywhere. It was not for lack of trying, nor was it because I did not like it. What truly baffled me was I was easily able to read and adored Clarke’s book of short stories “The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories .” So why could I not tackle the story of Strange and Norrell.

After years, I finally figured out it out. I found that since children entered my life I rarely have long, leisurely reading time. My reading is like an affair committed in hallways and cars. I read 5 minutes here and 15 minutes there and often am, like so many other American adults, so sleep deprived that if you put me in a warm car with a book I am asleep before I am 5 pages in. So a book rich in story and elegant in language? It didn’t stand a chance. These are the books that need time and chucks of it to be read and savored. This book was a commitment not an affair.

Jump forward to my discovery that, while I could not easily listen to audio books in bit and pieces, because my mind would wander into the never ending list of 100 things I still have to do today, I could listen to them during long drives alone to visit friends. Coincidentally one of them the friend who loves JS&MN so hard he never gave up trying to get me to read it. Fast forward again to my taking on a barter situation where I clean for someone about 6 hours a week and suddenly I am whizzing through audio books. So I finally broke down and I got an Audible account. I listened to all of the available Dresden files. I listened to all of the available Fairyland books. So what was next? I suddenly remembered that when I could not get though a book I loved called Chime, which is another story of how I learned to love the audio format, I tried the audio of JS&MN.  And I discovered that while I could not read it I absolutely could listen to it.

There were some bumps which I was concerned about. The major one was footnotes! How do you listen to a story with something along the lines of 180 footnotes and not lose the narrative of the story? For me this was not an issue beyond wanting to write down the books mentioned in many of them for future reading and then remembering the majority of them are made up and do not exist. Simon Prebble, the narrator, was able to handle these footnotes with smoothness and grace which made them a non-issue for me.

The story itself is a beautifully told story of magic and longing, of miserliness and need, of the fae and the folk. It is a story of Napoleonic Europe and an England which is undone by a handful of people and their need to see magic restored. It is a story of how friendship can drive you to madness and how love can do the same. It is a story of Otherness, and by that I do not mean the fae, but persons of color and women and poverty. For me it was these people who were the most intriguing. The wives and the street people, the servants and soldiers, these were the stories I was interested in. Strange and Norrell and their story is that on which all other hung. But tell me more about John Uskglass and more about Vinculus. I want to know about Emma and Arabella, Segundus and Martin Pale.

Overall, I am extraordinarily glad I finally got to hear the story of how magic returned to 19th-century England. And while I know no author owes their fans anything Clarke has hinted at more of this story. That would be wonderful.

Never Gonna Give You Up: Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday

Each week The Broke and the Bookish will post a new Top Ten list that one or more of their bloggers will answer. Everyone is welcome to join.

Big Breasts and Wide Hips: A Novel (Arcade Classics)
Big Breasts and Wide Hips by Mo Yan

This was the first of my “Around the world in 80 Books” self challenge. It may have spoiled me. I really dislike almost everything about this book. I wanted to like it; I did. It took 4 months and everything I had to finish it. I since then I have barely touched this challenge.

(THE CELL ) BY King, Stephen (Author) Hardcover Published on (01 , 2006)
Cell by Stephen King

Gross and gory and not one likeable character. This was one King I could have passed on.

Chime by Franny Billingsley

I did put it down but than thankfully I picked up the audiobook. It is one of my favorites and gave me a newfound appreciation of audio. And that my friends led to Dresden.

Feed by M.T. Anderson

Meh. Dystopian science fiction is not my favorite. But everyone was raving about this book called Feed so I kept reading. Then I discovered it was this book: Feed (Newsflesh, Book 1) which is 100% better.

The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt 

Book club selection. We read this in January and February which I must say are not my finest months and this was a depressing read. I wonder if I would have been so tempted to put it down if it was June and a beach book.

Horns: A Novel
Horns by Joe Hill

Let me start with the fact that I loved Heart-Shaped Box and 20th Century Ghosts. But this one was a hard read. I know people are horrible but I really have no need to read about just how horrible they are on the inside.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell : A Novel
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: A Novel by Susanna Clarke

Another I put down at first. Actually this one I put down a lot. But it is the favorite book of a dear friend I could not give up on it. So I kept picking it up. But the language was such that my scattershot method of reading now never let me immerse myself in this story. This was another audio one for me. I usually only listen to audios when I am travelling or when I am cleaning so those are long chunks of time. I found a groove and fell in love.

The Road
The Road by Cormac McCarthy

I have talked about this book over and over again. it is on lists titled things like “Bleak Books – the Top 10 Most Depressing Books” and “10 Devastatingly Sad Books – Flavorwire.” So yeah, I almost put it down. I recently read this review of the movie which describes reading the book perfectly.

This entire movie hurts to watch. It builds dread the way bricklayers build walls, and it surrounds you with it. Reading Cormac McCarthy’s beautiful novel is hard enough – I first read it on a plane, in one sitting, and by the end I felt as if I’d been stuffed into a sack and beaten while listening to my family get killed and eaten somewhere nearby. I was drained for about two weeks. The movie takes that theme and runs with it. It’s based on my favorite book, and it’s one of my favorite movies. But I’ve only watched it once.


And No I have not seen the movie either.

Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1)
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer 

Read all of them. Wanted to gouge my eyes out. I know people love them. But I was weaned on real vamps and these are not real vamps. I kept going because the girl was such a reader and she was young when these were hot and I needed to know if they were OK to read. My answer – No because this models a horrible relationship and a worse reaction to breaking up.

Witch & Wizard (Witch & Wizard, #1)
Witch & Wizard (Witch & Wizard, #1) by James Patterson

Another I endured for the girl. I read this one out loud to her. I was pleased when she decided to read the rest to herself.



5 Deeply Unsettling Movie Scenes You Can’t Un-See


The Ocean at the End of the Lane: Wordy Wednesday

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel

Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: William Morrow Books


Publication Date: 2013 Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Magical Realism, Magic, Memory

Why Picked: It’s a Gaiman and it was my book club pick.

First Line: “It was only a duckpond, out at the back of the farm. It wasn’t very big.”


Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.
A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Laneis told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark. [1]


As you all know I was lucky enough to get to go and hear Neil Gaiman read from this book and hear him talk about how this novel came to be. He talked about how he wrote this book for his wife when she was in Australia making an album and in he was in Florida working and he missed her. He decided to write her a short story and since she was not a fan of fantasy and all the things which he is known for but instead of feelings and honest stuff which he feel he is not good at because “I’ve never been into doing a lot of feelings because — well, I’m English,” he decided to write her a short story based on a memory. And that turned into one of his shortest but best adult novels to date.

Ocean is at once the most real, most magical and most horrific story I have read so far from Neil Gaiman. Its realism comes from the voice of the 7 year old boy who narrates much of the story. As one of the woman in my book club mentioned he was so very good at getting that voice. Realizing that the entirety of the world is still new and different enough that magical events that take place here are, while not exactly hum-drum, nothing that one cannot incorporate easily into one’s understanding of the world is part of what 7 is and Gaiman nails it. That is the reality of Ocean, that voice. Additionally, one of the most magical scenes at the very end, I also think is one of the most real. The need to go home, the need to know if it is all OK, the search for confirmation that we are living our lives well and good. And while I do not want to give away the resolution of the last scenes, there is something comforting in thinking maybe we all have check-ins but none of us get to remember them.

Magic is Gaiman’s stock and trade and one of the reasons I love his work. His magical sense and use is amazing and makes me long for a world were these things are true and real. His vision of the aspects of a triune goddess, which are scattered all over his work, embodied in the Hempstocks is at it finest here. Lettie, Ginnie and Old Mrs. Hempstock are Grave’s trio as they should always be. And his description of “the language of shaping” was glorious. When the narrator talks about understanding the language of shaping in his dreams, I realized Gaiman understands people’s true desires, perhaps mine even more so, at a bone deep level.

“I have dreamed of that song, of the strange words to that simple rhyme-song, and on several occasions I have understood what she was saying, in my dreams. In those dreams I spoke that language too, the first language, and I had dominion over the nature of all that was real. In my dream, it was the tongue of what is, and anything spoken in it becomes real, because nothing said in that language can be a lie. It is the most basic building brick of everything. In my dreams I have used that language to heal the sick and to fly; once I dreamed I kept a perfect little bed and breakfast by the seaside, and to everyone who came to stay with me I would say, in that tongue, ‘Be whole,’ and they would become whole, not be broken people, not any longer, because I had spoken the language of shaping.”

And the horror, the horror of the monster who wears the human face. The horror of the parent who suddenly is no longer loving but a monster also. And the true horror of all the things that you do not understand at seven but you will understand when you are older. The horror that adults will not believe the things you need to tell them and show them. They do not see the things you see. And in many ways you are totally alone. And the horror that the magic of year seven, while we can glimpse at it through stories like these, we will lose it again, at the end.

Review: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

The Magician King: A Novel (The Magicians)

Last week I mentioned the best read all year and teased you about what it was. I then spent a week wrestling with a review that would do this book justice. I failed. All the words seem trite and little; awesome, amazing, wonderful, magnificent, etc. Over the weekend at WorldCon the Hugo Awards were given out. Lev Grossman won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. It was so well deserved and makes me glad that people agree with my assessment of his talent. Without further delay here is my review of The Magician King, the best book you will read this year.

 TitleThe Magician King  Author: Lev Grossman
 Rating:  Publisher: Viking/Penguin
 Year Published: 2011  Fiction/Non-Fiction: Fiction
Genre: Fantasy; Magical Realism; High fantasy, Parallel universe Why Picked: I was so in love with The Magicians I really couldn’t wait to get my hands on this one.
 Number of Pages: 400

The Magicians was praised as a triumph by readers and critics of both mainstream and fantasy literature. Now Grossman takes us back to Fillory, where the Brakebills graduates have fled the sorrows of the mundane world, only to face terrifying new challenges.
Quentin and his friends are now the kings and queens of Fillory, but the days and nights of royal luxury are starting to pall. After a morning hunt takes a sinister turn, Quentin and his old friend Julia charter a magical sailing ship and set out on an errand to the wild outer reaches of their kingdom. Their pleasure cruise becomes an adventure when the two are unceremoniously dumped back into the last place Quentin ever wants to see: his parent’s house in Chesterton, Massachusetts. And only the black, twisted magic that Julia learned on the streets can save them.
The Magician King is a grand voyage into the dark, glittering heart of magic, an epic quest for the Harry Potter generation. It also introduces a powerful new voice, that of Julia, whose angry genius is thrilling. Once again Grossman proves that he is the modern heir to C.S. Lewis, and the cutting edge of literary fantasy. (Viking)


This is a hard review to write without spoilers. But I am going to try because everyone needs to read this book so we can all have a big Internet coffee and chat about it.

I am always afraid of sequels to books I love. There are so many “what ifs” to worry about. What if it’s bad? What if it’s so bad it ruins the first one? What if the author does unspeakable things to setting, plot, or characters I came to love? At the same time, when I read a really good book, I don’t want it to end. So as I started Lev Grossman’s The Magician King, I was both excited and apprehensive.

Gabrielle over at Viking/Penguin emailed earlier this summer and asked if I might be interested in an ARC. (She probably heard me screaming the answer before she ever got my emailed reply.) I had been recommending The Magicians all summer. At the pool, at the park, at family gatherings, when people have asked I said “you have to read this book. It is magical. No, really it is about magic and it will be the best book you read all year.”

I was wrong. The Magician King will be the best book you read all year.

The Magician King is extraordinary. I do not even have the words to describe this story. It is in turns charming, heartbreaking, horrifying, snarky, beautiful, witty, and, well, I could go on. Whereas The Magicians was about college aged kids coming to terms with getting what you ask for; The Magician King is about deciding what you need. While the majority of The Magicians was magical realism; The Magician King is high fantasy. While I loved The Magicians in spite of its main character I love The Magician King because of them. I was so excited to get Julia’s back story. Why didn’t she pass the test? How did she learn magic? Where do non-Brakebills people find it? How does it affect them?

Some months ago, when Cat Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making was released, she wrote an essay on John Scalzi’s blog “whatever“. He has an on-going series called “The Big Idea.” Her contribution was about heroines saying “Yes.” She talked about how many of the classic female characters get whisked away into magical situations or new magical lands and spend the whole story trying to return to their mundane, normal life.  She compares this to September, the main character of TGWCFSOM, who embraces the adventure, who chooses to go.  Her Big Idea is that girl, the girl who says YES. 

I bring Valente’s essay up for a few reasons. First, Julia could have easily been the girl who is thrown into a magical setting, if in The Magicians she had not failed the entrance exam.  But she did fail. The Magician King, tells us Julia’s story between being rejected by Brakebills and becoming Queen of Fillory. It is, like TGWCFSOM, the story of a girl who says yes.  Actually she doesn’t just say yes, she actively goes out and hunts magic down, hits it over the head and drags it home.

Second, Julia says yes to the land of Fillory.  She chose to go to the magical land and live there and never wanted to look back.  And Fillory rewards her for that. For me, this is the true story of The Magician King. While Quintin’s story is that of the “Sacred King” willing to sacrifice everything for his land and the people he is responsible for, Julia’s story is the story of the rest of us who want desperately to say yes to being whisked away by a hurricane, fall down a rabbit hole or stumble through the back of a wardrobe. We just want a world wild with magic and, at least in Julia’s case, are willing to pay a huge price for it.

Valente says, in her Big Idea,

“… I would have run wild through a magical kingdom and never looked back. Talking animals? Yes. Witches and monsters? Yes. Dark queens? Absolutely. Give it right here. I would have said yes to all of it.”

Growing up that girl, that one who would have said yes to any hope of magic is one of the main reasons I love this book. Because in The Magician King magic and magical realms are something you can have access to even if you are not the “special hero” of the story and even if you are rejected by the portal. And that is something I could say yes to.

Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The Magicians: A Novel
The Magicians

Lev Grossman

Year Published:
Non- Fiction:
Why Picked:
I can’t remember where I first heard about it but I was finally sold when I read reviews from places as diverse as The Washington Post, Cory Doctorow, The Onion AV Club and The New Yorker all praising this book.
Fantasy; Magical Realism; Speculative Fiction; High fantasy, Parallel universe
Number of Pages: 
A thrilling and original coming-of-age novel about a young man practicing magic in the real world Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he’s still secretly preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery. He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. Something is missing, though. Magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he dreamed it would. After graduation he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. But the land of Quentin’s fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined. His childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart. At once psychologically piercing and magnificently absorbing, The Magicians boldly moves into uncharted literary territory, imagining magic as practiced by real people, with their capricious desires and volatile emotions. Lev Grossman creates an utterly original world in which good and evil aren’t black and white, love and sex aren’t simple or innocent, and power comes at a terrible price. From: Shelfari
How can I tell you about The Magicians? This was a fabulous story, engaging from the moment I started and one that had me leave my multi-book habit in the dirt.  I read this and nothing but this until it was finished.  I carried around the relatively bulky hardback.  I ignored Facebook and LiveJournal and Twitter to finish this. I think the last book I loved this much was Water for Elephants. I’ll be honest I loved this more. This is the book that you ignore your TBR pile and put at the top of your list.
The Magicians is like Harry Potter goes to college and then to Narnia written in the style of Less Than Zero.  Oops, did Less Than Zero date me.  I can’t help it.  The section of the book after College but before Narnia reminds me of the tales of rich club kids in NYC in the 1980s.
Things I love about this book? 
1.  Magic is hard.  Not only do you need to have an affinity for it but you need to study hard to master it.
2.  Lines and sections of the story which make you sit up and reflect on life, living and dreams.
“Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it: there’s nothing else. It’s here, and you’d better decide to enjoy it or you’re going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever.”
3.  You can make your main character an unsympathetic ass and I can still love your story.
4.  Realizing your dreams is not all it is cracked up to be. Sometimes it is so much worse than where you started.
5. There is a sequel coming out soon and I am crazy excited about it.
Unlike other reviews, here are some links of interest: