Stardust Read-along, Part the Second

StardustReadAlongI totally forgot that I was supposed to come here and talk about the rest of this story today, and when I picked up the book last night to start finishing it, I figured I’d be posting this a day late. But then I couldn’t put the dang book down, even well past my bedtime, and so here I am, prepared to have thoughts!

Spoiler: My thoughts are that this is a pretty cool book.

If you missed last week’s discussion, check it out here, unless you haven’t actually read this book yet, in which case go do that and then come back!

1. In the first part we saw a naive, wool-headed and self-involved Tristran. What are your thoughts about Tristran and his personal journey now that the book has ended? I still think he’s a dolt, but of course now he realizes that he’s a dolt so that’s okay, I guess. I found it interesting that he stayed pretty focused on getting this star back to Victoria basically right up until he saw Victoria again. Then he was like, wait, brain wave, I was doing perfectly fine without this particular beautiful woman. It was a little sudden, but then so was his return to Wall, so I’m fine with this. I also appreciated how he took on his new mantle by lending it to someone who actually wanted it for a while and going off and doing probably awesome things instead. He’s a good kid.

2. The star, who we now know as Yvaine, also experienced a transformation of her own. So I ask the same question, what are your thoughts about Yvaine and the journey she took? I didn’t get a lot out of Yvaine’s story, unfortunately. I suppose her ability to overcome Tristran’s doltishness was useful, but I feel like most of her life really took place off the page when she was being a star at the very beginning or being a queen at the very end. I wish she had had a little more to do than be a vessel for a heart and a topaz stone the rest of the time!

3. The villains of the story came to interesting ends, but not necessarily expected ones. How do you feel about Neil Gaiman’s handling of the Stormhold brothers (who had remained at the end of Part 1) and the two witches, the one Lilim and Ditchwater Sal? I thought the Stormhold brothers came to appropriate ends, especially that awful Septimus. It was certainly interesting to see the power of Stormhold up in the air for a little bit, and to see how this fairy tale was going to come together in the end. As to the witches, I was highly amused that the Lilim was foiled by her own spell, and that Sal also deserved her loss in the end, however anticlimactic it was.

4. Were there any descriptions, characters, settings, plot threads that stood out to you personally during this second half of the book? I was hoping for a bit more out of the flying boat and the whole Fellowship of the Castle that kept coming up, and I was quite disappointed that so many awesome things kept happening to Tristran and Yvaine off the page. I would have preferred maybe a little more swashbuckling in this book, but I suppose that’s what the movie is for!

5. At the very end of the book we see that Tristran and Yvaine’s relationship and fate echoes that of Aragorn and Arwen from The Lord of the Rings. If this question makes any sense to you (lol), what comparisons and/or contrasts do you see, especially in the fates of Yvaine and Arwen? I am gonna go ahead and skip this question, because I do not have the knowledge to answer it. If you want to drop me some knowledge in the comments, I’m totally up for it.

6. What are your overall impressions of the story now that it is done? I feel happier about it than I did last time I read it, when I was not expecting this slow fairy tale story. I really love the way Gaiman plays with fairy conceits and even how he doesn’t always give me what I’m expecting, no matter how frustrating that is. I just wish we could have spent maybe twice as many pages with these characters!

7. If Gaiman were to return to Wall/Faerie, would you take another journey there? If so, are there any adventures hinted at in Stardust that you would like to see Neil expand on? Um, yes! I would love to learn more about the Fellowship of the Castle and whatever Tristran might or might not have done with them, and definitely more about his adventures on the ship.

Have you read Stardust? What do you think about these questions? Let me know in the comments!

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Stardust Read-along, Part the First

StardustReadAlongMy husband, to me, last night: “What are you reading?” Me: “Stardust.” Him: “Didn’t you already read that? Why are you reading it again?” Me: “Because it’s good?”

And, I mean, yes, that, but also I am reading it again because I am talking about it with people on the internet! And I can’t keep the internet waiting, so here’s the first batch of questions for approximately the first half of this adorable little novel. There may be spoilers ahead, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum!

1. We have spent a little time with Tristran and even less time with the star. What are your initial thoughts/impressions of our two protagonists?
Oh, Tristran. First of all, what’s with that extra R, and second of all, you are an idiot. Chasing after a fallen star? Continuing to kidnap a fallen star after it turns out to be a person-shaped star? Love is weird, but you, sir, are weirder. At this point in the story the star has just run off, and I do not blame her, and also I don’t remember what happens to her next so I am quite worried. It doesn’t seem fair, getting thwacked and then broken and then kidnapped.

2. There are some very interesting potential villains introduced in this first half of the book. Do any of them particularly stand out to you? If so why or why not?
I adore the brothers, and especially the ghost brothers as portrayed in the movie, but we’re talking about the book right now. I love their ruthlessness and I was greatly impressed by Primus’s fancy plan to send his brother on a wild goose chase. The witches… they haven’t really done anything yet, but not-Morwanneg is pretty much terrifying.

3. In Chapter Three, just after the section with the brothers in Stormhold, Neil Gaiman gives us a description of Faerie that includes “each land that has been forced off the map by explorers and the brave going out and proving it wasn’t there…”. What imaginary lands do you then hope are a part of Faerie?
Um, all of them? Especially the ones labelled “Here there be dragons”? I guess I don’t really see Faerie as, like, the land of actual fairy tales and Snow White and all, but as a place of general magic and wonderment and the “what could have been” that our quest for absolute truth has worn away.

4. We do not get to spend a great deal of time in the market but while there we are given a number of interesting descriptions of the wares being bartered or sold. Which if any of them caught your eye, either as items you would like to possess or ones you would most certainly hope to avoid.
I do very much like the glass flowers of which one is given to Dunstan, because pretty! They can keep the miniature cats (I have enough full-sized ones, thanks) and the eyeballs, but all the shiny things are coming home with me!

5. If you have read much of Gaiman’s work, particularly his short fiction, then you have come across some rather graphic and disturbing portrayals of sex. Gaiman offers up something very different in the way of a sex scene early on in Stardust. What are your feelings of the scene either in general or as a contrast to other Gaiman-penned scenes involving sex?
Ugh, thanks for reminding me of those awkward stories, Carl. Ugh. This one was much much better than those, although differently awkward on account of the servitude and the chain holding that poor girl. There’s a real sense of melancholy and of a need for escape that’s quite depressing, which is oddly an improvement over the seeming gratuity of those aforementioned awkward stories.

6. I suspect Neil Gaiman is influenced by a number of fairy and folk tales in Stardust. Are there any elements of the story that made a particular impression and/or reminded you of other fairy stories you have read or are familiar with?
Not… particularly? Gaiman tosses the reader a couple of poems that I don’t personally recognize and so therefore I assume are British things that I didn’t grow up with. But even though I can’t pinpoint any one thing and say, hey, that’s from that one story I’ve heard, the sense of fairy tales and fantasy is definitely strong. If there are specific stories that Gaiman is referencing, I’d love to know so that I can track them down!

7. And finally, which of the many side characters introduce have caught your eye and why? Or what else about the story thus far is of interest to you?
Currently I am rooting for our friend the bird slash Tristran’s mother. I’m pretty sure she comes back later in the story, but I think even reading this for the first time I wanted her to break free and take back her life. And, of course, I’m cheering on Primus in defeating his younger brother, if not in actually capturing the star because that’s just mean.

Are you reading along? Have you read this delightful tale before? Tell me what you think of this first half!

Fragile Things, by Neil Gaiman

Yeah, I know we’ve been through all these stories together already (see parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8), but I want to have a nice little place where I can summarize my thoughts, so bear with me here!

First note: I’ve read a few short story collections in my time, but only a few, and with this read-along I think I’ve figured out why — short stories are meant to be read on their own, not all at once. It’s just more cost-effective to lump them into a big book and call it a day. For most of the read-along I listened to one story a day, four days a week, and it worked amazingly better to have that 24-hour period to think about the story before moving on than it ever had to mainline a whole book of them. I am going to follow this slow-reading practice in the future, for sure.

Second note: I read each of these stories twice, once with my ears and once with my eyes, generally in that order. This turned out to be a pretty good practice, especially with Gaiman narrating his own stories, because some of the stories and the poems in general were much better when I could hear the cadence and the word patterns that Gaiman had written in, and others were better when I could see how he formatted them or see the sentences to parse them correctly. And of course, the second time around I could get a better appreciation for the story as a whole since I already knew how it ended. That worked out really well for writing up the stories every week, but I probably won’t do that in the future unless I know I’m going to discuss the stories!

Third note: I don’t usually read story collections that are comprised of such very different stories, and it was really just amazing to me how large the gap was between the stories I loved and the stories I disloved. I don’t think there were any I absolutely hated, but there are a few I don’t need to ever think about again, and also there are a few that I would like to have metaphorically tattooed to my body so I could read them every day. It also intrigued me to see that the kind of stories Neil Gaiman writes are not always the kind of stories I think that Neil Gaiman would know how to write. I like that Gaiman is willing to write things that are so outside of the pattern of his popular stuff and just let you like it or not.

Okay, I think that covers it! I hope you guys that did the read-along with me enjoyed the experience as much as I did, and I hope that those of you who didn’t are at least moderately interested in picking up this collection, because there really are some fabulous stories. I think my Top Five list would be, in rough order, “Goliath,” “Sunbird,” “A Study in Emerald,” “Feeders and Eaters,” and “October in the Chair. I think. Care to share yours?

Recommendation: Fantastic reading, a must for Gaiman-lovers and a should for people who like their stories short and a little fantastic.

Rating: Oh, gosh. I’m going to just throw out the stories I disloved and call this a 9/10.
(RIP Challenge)

Fragile Things Read-Along, Part the Eighth

But I don’t want the read-along to be over! I’ve had so much fun these last eight weeks reading and commenting and enjoying everyone’s posts! Guys, let’s all trade addresses and stuff so we can keep in touch when we have to go back home! Or URLs, I guess. I’m getting old. My point is, I like you guys. Thanks for hanging out with me. 🙂

I was sort of hoping that this book would go out on some amazing high note and that I would explode from the happiness of it all, but of course this is real life and so it didn’t quite do that. But, I did add another story to my list of Awesomest Stories of the Collection, so it was certainly a good week. Let’s see what else happened!

“The Day the Saucers Came”
Niiiice. I liked listening to this first, because I couldn’t skip ahead and see how long it was or see how it would repeat itself, and so I was pleasantly surprised on both counts. It’s a short poem-shaped story about a day when a lot of crazy stuff happened but you didn’t notice. I liked that Gaiman just piles on the crazy stuff and that he makes it sound so good — I just want to say “the saucer day the zombie day / The Ragnarok and fairies day” over and over — and I like that the reason you miss out on it all is because you’re hoping someone will call you. That is some serious hope, people, and I have certainly experienced it in my life! Did I miss Ragnarok? I’m gonna be so mad if I did, largely because I’m gonna have to go repopulate the world now, and that sounds like effort.

“Sunbird”
This is definitely on my top stories list. I loved listening to it and I loved reading it and I may go do both again because it just makes me so happy. I’m not quite sure why. Let’s see. I like the Epicurean Club and how they’re all, “But I am le tired of beetles and I’ve eaten everything else!” I like that no one takes Zebediah seriously until it’s way too late. It tickles me pink that one should leave on a Sunday to go to Suntown to catch a Sunbird. I love the line, “I am an academic […] and thus have no finely developed sense that would be comprehensible to anyone who has not ever needed to grade papers without actually reading the blessed things.” And I would really like to try some beer-can phoenix. After I go eat some charcoal, of course.

“Inventing Aladdin”
Eh. This is definitely the weak story of the bunch. It’s another poem thing, this time about Scheherazade and her thoughts on making up stories and stuff. So it’s really about making up stories in general, and how you work with what you’ve got and hope for the best. It’s not bad, but it’s not especially excellent and I’ve not much to say about it.

“Monarch of the Glen”
Apparently I’m to end up reading through the American Gods universe backward, seeing as how I started with Anansi Boys and may someday get to American Gods proper. So I’m not quite sure what I’m missing in the background to this novella, is what I’m saying. But I still quite enjoyed it. You’ve got this fellow called Shadow and all he wants is a nice quiet holiday, but then he gets drawn into a very strange set-up perpetrated by our old friends Smith and Mr. Alice. There’s a mysterious house and a mysterious party and a very mysterious tradition that I’m still not entirely clear on. But, there’s also Norse mythology and Grendel and so who needs clarity? Well, no, I would have liked a bit more… I feel like I’m missing something very obvious (like when I couldn’t recognize a vampire in The Graveyard Book) and if someone could just tell me what, exactly, Gaskell was lying about, that would be fantastic. The other thing that kept me from really appreciating the story isn’t exactly the fault of the story, but is that after reading, what, thirty short stories in the rest of the book, I was not quite prepared for such a long story, with its description and sidebars and taking its sweet time and all. I think it’ll probably be much better once I go get some American Gods in my brain and come back to this story on its own, yes?

So that’s it! Thank you all for joining me in this delightful adventure; we really must do it again some time. And maybe this will be the start of a lovely short-story reading habit? I think that’s a good idea!

The Lantern, by Deborah Lawrenson

So, in case you haven’t been paying any attention to the blog lately, I just finished up a read-along of The Lantern (first week here). If you want my as-they-happened, totally-spoilerful thoughts, you should go check those posts out. If you don’t, or if you want to know how I felt about the book as a whole, read on!

The Lantern is not really a story I’d have picked up on my own. It’s one of them gothic novels, except set in the present-ish day, and I have not always been a fan of the melodrama and the sekrits and the falling-apart houses. But I think I’ve read enough of this type of novel to at least sort of know what to expect, and that certainly helps. But but, I have not read Rebecca, which is apparently the basis for this book. Sooooo I may be missing a lot of stuff here.

But but BUT, I still managed to really like this book. It has two narrators, which I love, and goes back and forth in time, which I love, and starts at the end, which I love, and has an entirely unreliable narrator, which I love. It’s also got a sensory theme to it, which I am starting to like, and lots of spookyness, which I appreciate. Not terrible, right?

And the stories proper are quite interesting, too. The primary narrator, who is nameless but sort of goes by Eve, meets a guy and sets off on a romantically romantic adventure, moving to the French boonies and fixing up an old falling-apart house, and it’s all delightful except that he won’t talk about his ex-wife, like, at all. Not a whit. And Eve thinks that’s all suspicious and stuff, and so does one of her new neighbors who has at one point met said ex-wife and… misses her? I guess, and then some even more suspicious stuff happens and Eve is like, oh boy. The other narrator, Bénédicte, is from the past and lived in the falling-apart house before it started falling apart. And her brother is insane and her sister is blind and her parents are not terribly good parents and Bénédicte does her best to take care of everyone but you know from early on that they’re all haunting her in her old age and she’s sure she deserves it.

Quite good, and as of the end of the fourth of five parts, I was like, greatest book ever? It was wonderfully compelling and spooky and interesting and things were quite exciting. But then things kind of derail as the slow build of the book turns into a lot of exposition and explanation, and I think if I had been prepared for this I might not have been so irked by it, so I am telling you now! And certainly with the book a few days in my past now, I’m feeling much better about the ending, but oh my goodness while it was happening… whatever! Moving on!

So I can’t give it my endorsement of absolute awesomeness, but I can definitely say that it’s worth a read, especially if you can talk about it with others who will pick up on all the things you didn’t, like those darn Rebecca parallels. And it is totally perfect for a cool fall evening and a cup of hot cocoa. Mmm, hot cocoa. If you need an excuse to drink some, this is a good one!

Recommendation: For lovers of the Gothic, the spooky, ghosties, and hot cocoa.

Rating: 9/10
(RIP Challenge)

The Lantern Read-Along: Part V

Ehhhhh, I probably should have just kept reading last week like I meant to. This last part just doesn’t have the same momentum as the rest, and while sheer interest in the story kept me going, it was not nearly as exciting as the previous sections. But hey, let’s talk about that, shall we?

1. Now that it’s all said and done; what did you think of the book? Did you see the ending coming? Um, well. Let’s see. I called the dead bodies, I did not call Dom’s secret, I called Sabine’s over-interest if not the reason for it, and I did not manage to call Rachel’s pathological lying though in retrospect it seems pretty obvious, I definitely did not call Bénédicte’s recordings, I totally called the ghost. So, overall… no, I did not see the ending coming! I am actually fairly disappointed in the ending for being essentially a giant info-dump when Lawrenson did such a good job of weaving in details throughout the story — I would have been content to have fewer answers, better written, I think.

2. What do you think of the characters? Lawrenson took us on a twisty little ride there, I had trouble deciding who was good and who wasn’t for a while there! What do you think of Dom? Of Sabine? Rachel? I can understand much better now why Dom was insistent on not sharing his deep dark secret and insistent that it had nothing to do with Our Narrator. I still don’t really agree with it, but I understand it. Sabine, I have no idea why she was keeping herself a secret, and so I continue to be very irked with her especially with the insinuations and all. Rachel, I am much more intrigued by — I really didn’t give much care to her throughout the book, but with the ending and all it might have been nice to see more of her in the story to take off some of that exposition in the end! Our Narrator, I’d like to see what happens to her the next time Dom tells a half-truth. I don’t think she’s as comfortable as she thinks she is.

3. Pierre was such a conflicted character. In the end, do you think he killed Marthe and Annette, or did the fall to their deaths because of their blindness? Oh, he totally killed them. He lied about them leaving and blaming Bénédicte, and the fact that he knew he could go get Marthe’s stuff shows he knew she wasn’t coming back for it. And it really fits in with his completely insane character that he would rather torture Bénédicte for the rest of her life than get any money out of Les Genevriers.

4. The book is being compared to Rebecca and Daphne du Maurier’s writing. Do you think the book lives up to that description? I swear I will get around to reading Rebecca. Someday.

5. Did you have any problems with the book? Narration? Plot? The back and forth between two different characters and times? No, I generally liked the format of the book and the way Lawrenson brought the two stories slowly together. I’m just still quite miffed about the ending. In looking back through the book to make sure I’m remembering things correctly to answer these questions, I happened upon this line again: “All of which goes to show how dangerous it is [. . .] to want tidy storytelling when real life is not like that.” And I just stared in the general direction of Lawrenson and thought, then why did you work so hard to answer all these darn questions?! Let me have some ambiguity, here. Though the more I think about the ending, the more I’m thinking that it’s not really Lawrenson making answers for everything, but instead Our Narrator trying to rationalize everything that she has done and that has happened to her. Oh, this book, it is giving me a headache but largely in a good way.

6. Do you think Lawrenson tied both stories together well in the end? Is there anything she could/should have done differently? I do like the way the stories came together, and how Bénédicte’s narrative has this sort of extra layer to it, not just of Lawrenson placing it within Our Narrator’s narrative, but of Our Narrator placing it within her own narrative, and so suddenly all of those ghostly things that are happening to Our Narrator ring rather less true. [Insert thoughtful ooooooooooh here.]

7. One problem I had with the novel is the reliability of the narrators. Do you think any of them were telling the truth? Which ones? Oh, I don’t trust any of them, which is really how it should be. I can’t find a specific reason to doubt Bénédicte’s story as told, but I still get the sense that she did a lot of lying to herself, at least, throughout her life. Our Narrator is more obviously doubt-able, with her constant reminders to herself that she’s getting a bit hysterical and her own omissions to the other characters. And if that’s what she’s willing to admit to, I mean, there’s probably more to it. And of course the other characters we only see through these two (possibly only through Our Narrator? What’s she leaving out of Bénédicte’s story?), so I declare them entirely unreliable!

So, true story, I’m way more excited about this book after going through and answering these questions. I stand by my statement about the momentum of this section, but I’m appreciating the results of this section rather more as I think about them. By the time I write up my regular review of this book, I may like the ending even more, but I make no promises! How about you guys?

Fragile Things Read-Along, Part the Seventh


We’re closing in on the end of this book! It’s been really nice reading this over the course of several weeks, because I feel like I’m really getting to spend time with the stories instead of just zooming through them to get to the end and move on to the next book. I will definitely have to try to try this with short story collections in the future! It’s also nice because I’m finding favorite stories each week, rather than ending up with one favorite story of the whole book, as often happens, although I think this week’s favorite story might be the winner of the latter crown, because, yes. Amazing. But let’s get to that, shall we?

“In the End”
Ohhhhhh. I am so glad I am both listening to these stories and reading them, because when I listened to this, it was too short and I apparently missed the point entirely, which is that this is a reverse retelling of the Garden of Eden story. Reverse. Yes. Excellent. And intriguing. But also only half a page, so I’m not sure I have much else to say. Moving on!

“Goliath”
Yes. This. Fantastic. Best story. And it really reinforces my position that it shouldn’t matter if you’ve done the homework to enjoy a story based in other stories. I managed to completely forget that this was supposed to be a story of The Matrix, even through the bits with the déjà vu, which are excellent, by the way, though I did finally remember once I got to the weird alien ship thing. But even then I was like, oh, right, and just moved on, because it’s a story of The Matrix‘s world, not of its characters, and Gaiman’s own character is fascinating in his own right. I love how he deals with the déjà vu, how he manages to get into the military, and how he deals with the harsh reality of his creators. And the last line, which is probably not too spoiler-ful: “But the last twenty minutes have been the best years of my life.”

“Pages From a Journal Found in a Shoebox Left in a Greyhound Bus Somewhere Between Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Louisville, Kentucky”
And… this is the opposite. I have no idea what’s going on here. There’s a chick, and she’s travelling, and she’s looking for Scarlet, and aside from being intrigued by Friday the 32nd, and being pretty sure that this chick is actually Scarlet, I’ve got nothing.

“How to Talk to Girls at Parties”
Well. I had the twist of this story called as soon as I saw the line “‘They’re just girls,’ said Vic. ‘They don’t come from another planet.'” And I could really have done without the going on and on about alien things. But, otherwise, this was a pretty spot-on story about being a teenager and trying to talk to girls at parties. I love that Enn is just terrified of talking to the ladies, and that when he does he’s so concerned about the actual talking part that he just completely forgets to listen and even when he’s listening he’s just like, whatever, must focus on chatting up this nice-looking girl. AND that he reads more than he talks and therefore mispronounces contradictory. I can’t tell you how many times that has happened to me. I really must get out more!