Friday, August 28, 2009


Currently Listening To: Shadowfeet by Brooke Fraser
My Favorite Quote from Project Runway this week: "Malvin, your chicken egg design was just not flattering." - Heidi Klum

I'm doing a few book giveaways in the coming months. One is a Young Adult novel (well ... maybe a smidge more middle grade). It is fantasy flavored. Reminds me just a bit of Lemony Snickett. And the Penderwicks. It involves toothy cows, and they are not the peaceful, grass eating bovine of the field you are picturing. I'm trying to read it slow and make some notes so I can give you a very fun, very unspoilery review before I give it away (sometimes I'm not so good at unspoilery ... have you noticed? :). I'm excited about shipping it off to you. It's a fun read. I'm planning to give it away on September 14th (or around then). Then, later this fall, I'm going to give away a new novel I am so excited about and have been anticipating for months (click here to read more about it ... :). I'm only a few chapters in, but I'm already crushing hard core on the guy in this novel. And then, at some point, I'll give away a few Paperdolls too. They're cute. They're pink. They need good homes. So if you love to read, but your reading budget is waning, fret not. Exciting bookish times lie ahead! Also exciting ...

Sarah, who blogs over at the very funny, very sweet I Think Therefore I Blog gave me an award! It is rather adorable looking. Behold our very first bloggy award ever fellow swampmates:

I was going to draw Blog the Monster, and photoshop the award into his warty hands, but I'm not so savvy with Photoshop yet. Technology hates me, really.

Thanks so much for the sweet award, Sarah! If you haven't clicked over to Sarah's blog yet, you should. She frequently updates with talk about YA lit, Johnny Depp, and her novel in progress. In other words: Win, win, win. Speaking of Sarahs, my best friend Sarah (she saw Elvis walking around her house, remember?) is getting married soon.

I finally found her wedding gift. She'll be thrilled.* Speaking of thrilling things ...

I was almost in a taco commercial this week. I walked into a small Mexican restaurant, which is mostly like Subway but with tacos, when the owner asked me if I would stay and be in a commercial. I raised an eyebrow. Actually, I didn't. I can't raise just one eyebrow. I mostly just panicked and screamed, "NO!" He smiled and said, "but we need people to think all our customers are pretty as you are."

Now. It is true that flattery will get you everywhere. But one look around, at the empty restaurant, and I realized he was maybe a little desperate. I think the concern was more that they wanted people to think they actually had customers. Jabba the Hut could have walked in (slithered in?), ordered a burrito, and made his television debut. Also it is proven: Jabba is better on camera than me. I am horrific in front of a camera. Awful, awful. I can only imagine that awfulness would be even greater if I were stuffing my face with tacos (is there a non-messy way to eat a taco? I'm not aware of it). I politely declined. My commercial days are over anyway (once Sarah, of Graceland East, and I were in a commercial. Quite by accident. That is a story for another day). Speaking of restaurants ...

I shot a lemon half across a crowded restaurant the other day. The idea was to squeeze the lemon onto the entree. I squoze**. I failed. I ended up flinging fruit across the room. Slippery little suckers, those lemons. (Great way to meet new people though. When all else fails, throw food.) My parents laughed at me, not with me. My brother still regrets not being there. Speaking of my brother ...

My brother is somewhere between Utah and Colorado right now. He and dad are off on a manly bonding trip. Last night, they stayed in Bryce Canyon, which is supposedly one of the starriest places in the USA (I wish I could have seen it! :). He also saw a real cowboy herding cattle and almost ran over a coyote. Dad almost hit an antelope. Yay for the wild wild west! :) (The Will Smith song "Wild Wild West" started repeating in my head when I wrote that. Is that showing my age?)

... Uh oh. I don't know how to tangent from Will Smith to wizards. Just pretend they're connected somehow.

Have Castle? Will Travel
I like fantasy and paranormal novels, but I'm picky about which ones I read. I prefer urban-fantasy (rooted in the real world in some way) and I like fantasy more in the vein of Young Adult than Adult. Young Adult fantasy is typically just very sparkly wrapping for a story about becoming ...and I like that a lot. Every now and then, I get in the mood for fantasy that runs a little more intense. And usually, if heightened fantasy is my destination, I must have humor and snark to carry me through. The book with the toothy cows is high concept fantasy. But, I forgot it was en route to my house. So I checked out the novel Howl's Moving Castle from my super swanky local library. The cover looks a little bit dated, so don't judge it until I tell you about the book:

Are you familiar with this story? Howl's Moving Castle is a novel by British writer Diana Wynne Jones. It came out in 1986 so there's a good chance it's already in your library somewhere too. In fact, if it is similar to my checked out copy, it might still have the card holder in the back. Remember ye olden days when you signed the card and then the librarian stamped it?** I didn't know what to expect from this novel. I was just looking for some fun fantasy and this one has been on the reading list a long time. Plus the cover intrigued me. Nothing says summer reading like a flaming head and a man in a red Snuggie being hit by lightening.

I finished Howl early this morning.

... I really really like it. I had no idea how much I would like it. Let me count the ways:

Way the First: I thought the setting was fantastic.
Enter the town of Market Chipping, which seems a quaint little village at first. There are no cars. No televisions. No phones. Sophie Hatter, the lead girl in this story, is a hatmaker. Sounds very sweet, no? Gives off a sing-song fairy-tale vibe from the start. At first, I assumed the novel was historic. But then it kind of wasn't. Something about the fantasy aspect of this novel, something about the castle in particular, gave off a steampunk-ish vibe for me. It is not steampunk, technically. There are no steam engines, no whirring machines, no Hugo Cabret-esc balloons. The novel is sort of modern, in an old-fashioned sort of way with a very inventive structure at it's center. It's more Castlepunk, maybe? :)

Way the Second: I like that the magic fuses with the non-magic.
The names are normal in here (a good thing. Sometimes in fantasy you get characters named Vortex and Frumpnode and I'm not into that). The jobs are fairly normal. Normal family dynamics. But they all live in this magical world full of wizards and witches and that is also normal. There is a King at his wit's end because of a stupid witch terrorizing the town. There's the aforementioned Witch of Waste, who lives in the swamp (but not our swamp!), who threatens the well being of the people. And then ... there is a wizard named Howl.

Here's a passage in the beginning that won me over:

So when, a few months after that, a tall black castle suddenly appeared on the hills above Market Chipping, blowing clouds of black smoke from its tall, thin turrets, everybody was fairy sure that the Witch had moved out of the Waste again and was about to terrorize the country the way she used to fifty years ago. People got very scared indeed. Nobody went out alone, particularly at night. What made it all the scarier was that the castle did not stay in the same place. Sometimes it was a tall black smudge on the moors to the northwest, sometimes it reared above the rocks to the east, and sometimes it came right downhill to sit in the heather only just beyond the last farm to the north. You could see it actually moving sometimes, with smoke pouring out from the turrets in dirty gray gusts. For a while, everyone was certain that the castle would come right down into the valley before long, and the Mayor talked of sending to the King for help.

But the castle stayed roving about the hills, and it was learned it did not belong to the Witch but to Wizard Howl. (p.2-3)

It's a book made for dark and stormy nights, don't you think? :) A spooky castle appearing and reappearing on the moors and hills around Market Chipping. A seriously feisty teenage girl who gets haphazardly tossed into a curse.

... A mad old wizard who lives in the castle who, according to the towns people, eats the hearts of young girls. And Yet.

Way the Third: I heart Howl.
Sophie ends up crossing paths with Howl, which is probably predictable. But here was the big surprise of the novel for me ... (and this is pretty spoilery so read with caution):

Howl the Wizard is not the flaming head on the cover. Nor is he the man in the Snuggie. He does not enter the scene with a long white beard or a pointy blue hat. In fact, he is not even old. Howl is a handsome twenty-something who wears dapper (and somewhat flamboyant) suits. He doesn't sparkle in the sunlight (though there is a moment she calls his smile "dazzling"). He doesn't quote flowery prose to win Sophie's heart. In fact, Howl is hilariously sarcastic and jaded.

He's described as tall and thin with messy hair, like he could be any hollow-jawed British import gracing tabloid pages right now. When he flings open the door of his castle and sees Sophie the first time, he isn't holding a Gandalf-esc staff. He's holding a guitar. Howl is a total rock star ;) And this shtick about eating little girl's hearts? Not so much. Here's another passage I find particularly great (and funny):

"Now let's get this straight," Sophie said, clenching her fists knobbily in red satin. "What does Howl do to these poor females? I was told he ate their hearts and took their souls away."

Michael laughed uncomfortably. "Then you must come from Market Chipping. Howl sent me down there to blacken his name when we first set up the castle. I - er - I said that sort of thing. It's what aunts usually say. It's only true in a manner of speaking."

"Howls very fickle," said Calcifer. "He's only interested until the girl falls in love with him. Then he can't be bothered with her."

"But he can't rest until he's made her love him," MIchael said eagerly. "You can't get any sense out of him until he has. I always look forward to the time the girl falls for him. Things get better then."

After I read that, two things became abundantly clear: 1.) I'm pretty sure I've known some wizards. And 2.) This book is so fun.

That's not to say I liked everything about it. There were a lot of characters to keep up with by the end. There's a love story, but I sort of wish it had picked up sooner. The parts I enjoyed most were the beginning and the end. In the middle, I got a little confused. Still, so glad I read it. On the surface, Howl's Moving Castle is a wildly imaginative fairy-tale. But there is definitely more to it than that. I never really knew what to call the book. Is it edgy or traditional? Is it historic or futuristic? Who the heck is this girl? Why can't Howl see who this girl is?! The humor is wickedly dry and snarky (the character Calcifer has some zingers). At times, the story was also strangely endearing. And strangely romantic. If I'd read it when I was younger, I don't know that it would have lagged at all.

I won't tell you how it ends (since, uh, I've told you everything else), but the ending doesn't matter so much anyway. Getting to the end is quite fun. If you like fantasy, or just need a fun read, give this one a try. Howl's Moving Castle is an enchanting story full of disguises, evil spells, romance, a funky castle, a handsome jaded wizard, and a very bright girl. What's true of Sophie, Howl, and his castle is pretty true of our world too: people are rarely ever what they seem to be.****

Apparently, Howl's Moving Castle was adapted into a full length animated film a few years ago. I looked online and saw it was anime, dubbed over into English (I guess all anime is dubbed into English? I'm not in the know), and thought "Meh." Then I did some research. By which I mean, I consulted YouTube. And I discovered Christian Bale voices Howl (fun!). And it sort of sounds like Professor McGonnigal talking too, doesn't it? Anyway. The trailer for the movie actually looks fun and very close to the book. I think I'll give it a try. I'll post the trailer here but do note it is WAY spoiler heavy. (Interesting that the castle in the movie does look a little bit steampunkish!)

Anybody read any great books lately? Been in any taco commercials?

Happy Weekending :)

* I think this goes without saying, but as there is no font for sarcasm: I am very, very, very much joking.
** A friend of mine once tried to convince me the past tense of "squeeze" was "squoze" (pronounced sq-woze). I am not convinced, but I like the word.
***That was always kind of empowering, singing the little card in the back so the librarian would stamp it. But I bet librarians do NOT miss those days at all! I bet scanning the books makes the process much easier for them. Plus, I never understood the Dewy Decimal thing. I'm glad I can look stuff up online.
****Just a random thought: In Howl's Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones mentions invisibility cloaks, wizards, and mandrake root. The novel was published in 1986. Which makes me wonder if, maybe, JK Rowling was a little bit inspired by Jones. Maybe not. The books don't read similar (there's a lyrical element that is kind of similar ... also the snark factor :). Sometimes when you read a novel, you can make a pretty darn good educated guess as to who the writer reads. I have no clue if Rowling was a Jones fan, but I wonder.


  1. You're so brave to read a book with a questionable 80s cover. I could never be that brave. And yet, look at all I miss!

    Squoze is pretty much the best word I've ever heard, and I am going to try and use it this weekend. And thanks for the book mention. ; ) Too kind.

  2. I would sure have loved to see Blog the Monster! Thanks for your kind words:)
    I'm a bit (okay, a lot) of a cover snob. If I can't get past a cover, I usually won't read the book. Howl's Moving Castle sounds intriguing. Are your favorite books to read fantasy?
    I tend to like contemporary fiction and have a hard time reading fantasy that hasn't been sold to me. I suppose it's why the last fantasy book I read was New Moon. Sigh.
    Right now, I'm reading Twenty Boy Summer. So far so good. I'm hoping to start Pure by Terra Elan McVoy soon.
    Have a good weekend!

  3. My feelings were hurt for just a bit when I saw Sarah's wedding gift. I wondered where my Team Jacob shower curtain was. Then I read that you were being sarcastic, so all is forgiven. Perhaps they have these at Bed, Bath, and Beyond? :)

  4. JBJ, may you rock the squoze. Also, I can't wait to write about your novel on here!

    Sarah, I go nuts over pretty book covers too. I've made many book purchases based on cover alone (which is so dumb, I know). I just saw where Penguin reissued some cloth covers of classics and I'm crazy about them. I want them all ... but I'm forcing myself to pick ONE :) As far as books, I like contemporary and fantasy equally (when talking YA ... in adult I prefer contemporary). If a book is full of great characters, I tend to fall for it. 20 Boy Summer sounds very interesting. Let me know what you think of it! (Speaking of YA contemporary ... are you a Sara Zarr fan? I read Sweethearts this year and thought it such a sweet/moving story.)

    Mel, seeing as how Edward spurred a line of body glitter, I'm trying to think of what Jacob could spin. I'm thinking like a very furry sweater. Or some kind of roll on perfume that actually made faux-fur grow wherever you roll. As far as the shower curtain: Can you imagine trying to make use of bathroom facilities with Edward staring at you?! That is so creepy/hilarious to me. :) If they have these at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, we should get one for Sarah. Nothing says house warming like an angry vampire shower curtain! She may have already purchased it though, as it was sold out on the site ...

  5. I'm not really a fan of most anime, but the director Miyazaki does great stuff... and his films, like Howl's moving castle, are all released in the US by Disney now because of how good they are. I've not seen HMC, but so far, I can say that you can't go wrong with a Miyazaki film.

  6. I agree with thisisntjimmy--you can't go wrong with a Hayao Miyazaki film. Howl's Moving Castle is one of my fave's (followed closely by Spirited Away). If you like imaginative stories and settings, you'll like the movies. I recommened watching with the original voice actors and subs. But Disney does a pretty good job with the voiceovers--and they get some pretty big names, too.

    As I am a YA junkie (though far older than the target audience...), I recently finished reading Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson--an AMAZING author. She tackles tough topics, her writing is lyrical and moving, and she totally gets into the heads of her characters. I think Wintergirls is her best since her debut, Speak.

    I also just read the Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society. Very cute!

    Congrats on the award!

  7. Jimmy, thanks for the nod of approval. I was just about to send you an email and ask what you thought of it. Are you planning to watch it?

    Carra, thanks for both those recommendations! The trailer didn't look anything like I thought anime looked. My favorite part of Howl was how imaginative it was, and it looks like the director totally caught that vision and did something incredible with it. I'm really excited to watch it! I don't know anything about Spirited Away (only seen it at Blockbuster), but I'll give it a try too.

    Thanks for these book recs too! I haven't read Wintergirls yet, but want to. My only hesitation is that I know it's dark, even though I have no doubt it is beautiful. I feel like I need to prepare myself for the dark though :) Speak is one of my favorite novels. I couldn't believe every single page was so beautifully written. Guernsey is on my to read list. I need to bump it up. Now I feel like I'm the last one to read it, and I'm dying to get in on the conversation. :) Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Hey, so I haven't been to your blog in a long while and I'm catching up. :)
    First of all, I LOVE that you are listening to Shadowfeet! I totally loved the soundtrack part in the back of Paperdoll, and I was so excited to realize I had some of those songs! I'm thinking about trying to teach a teen girls' Bible study next summer, and if I do Paperdoll, I'll totally make a soundtrack and play it in the background. :)
    Some of my friends who are crazy amazing at manga and love anime have raved over Howl's Moving Castle (and the movie) for a while. I am not usually into fantasy, but that sounds pretty good. Have you ever read Spindle's End by Robin McKinley? It's a really cute imaginative take on Sleeping Beauty, and it is one fantasy book I love.
    Actually, concerning book covers, I am sometimes the opposite - I look for old plain ugly covers because some of those books are hidden treasures! When I was in elementary school and I was into biographies, I realized that the ones that were the most well-written were the ones with the old covers that were plain and had a cloth covering. I think I read all of those books the libary had!

  9. Rachael, just saw your comment on here! Cloth covers are really beautiful, I agree. I collect old books (not expensive old books - I like it when they have stains and rips and notes and all :) and I like the ones with distinct covers. When it comes to new releases, I always hope for a cool cover. But old books and their quirky covers ... those are sublime. I hear what you're saying for sure. Brooke Fraser's whole album blew me away. And Hosana? Oh Mylanta. No matter how many times I hear that song, I still get chills :)