December 5th, 2011

witch muse, hallow muse

Books 129-130: The Secret Circle Trilogy by L. J. Smith

OK it is technically a trilogy but my copies came bundled together containing 1.5 novels each so I am only counting as two books.

Book 129: The Initiation and The Captive Part I (The Secret Circle #1-2).
Author: L. J. Smith, 1992.
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance. Wicca/Witchcraft
Other Details: 2010 Paperback edition. 319 pages.

Sixteen-year old Cassie Blake has been living in California with her mother. While on summer holiday in New England, her mother advises that they will be returning to her birthplace of New Salem as Cassie's grandmother is sick. This follows Cassie having an encounter at the beach with a mysterious boy. Enrolling at New Salem's local high school, Cassie comes into contact with a group of students who set themselves apart from the locals and identify themselves as witches. When Cassie discovers that her own family is part of the same lineage she reluctantly becomes part of the coven.

The first book ends with Cassie's admittance to the Circle and the second focuses on her tumultuous relationship with Faye Chamberlain, whose main ambition is to depose the current leader of the coven, her cousin Diana Meade. There is a nice dynamic between Cassie and the more experienced witches with Diana very much taking on the role of her namesake and Faye representing the sexier and more dangerous enchantress figure as found in legendary figures such as Morgan le Faye.

Book 130: The Captive, Part II and The Power (The Secret Circle #2-3) .
Author: L. J. Smith, 1992.
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance. Wicca/Witchcraft
Other Details: 2010 Paperback edition. 415 pages.

The Captive ended in my bundled edition at a very exiting cliff-hanger and so I immediately began the second volume. Without giving too much away about the plot, in the second and third books the adults of the town come more into play as well as a group of external witch hunters, who were introduced at the opening fn The Initiation when Cassie and her mother were on holiday in prior to the move to New Salem.

I've reviewed a number of books that feature teenage witches (and sometimes older ones) and found myself dissatisfied at the 'nose twitching' factor. That is, the magic shown is very physical and not at all subtle in terms of inner experiences. Of course, there needs to be some fantasy elements but it is a matter of degree. To date the best I had found was Cate Tiernan's Sweep/Wicca series until I opened The Secret Circle . Both writers have have compelling heroines, who are not ruling the universe after reading a few pages of a Book of Shadows. They may be gifted or natural witches with a birth-right but they are also beginners on a journey of self-discovery as women and witches.

These early books of L. J. Smith's are very tightly written and I do wish that she would return to this style over the more padded one that Stephanie Meyer appears to have made fashionable. I also really liked that in contrast to the TV adaptation, the coven has 13 members.
Kels red nerd on beach

Books 61-65: Flannery O'Connor, Sarah Vowell, young adult fiction

"Meanwhile the hen goes about her business, diligently searching the ground as if any bug in the grass were of more importance than the unfurled map of the universe which floats nearby."
"I am always having it pointed out to me that life in Georgia is not at all the way I picture it, that escaped criminals do not roam the roads exterminating families, nor Bible salesmen prowl about looking for girls with wooden legs."

61. Stories and Occasional Prose by Flannery O'Connor (169 pages) The last bit of Flannery O'Connor's work for me to devour. Most of the stories were either rewrites or rough drafts of earlier or later works, but that doesn't diminish any of her amazing skills. Her stories are so full of character that they nearly burst with it. O'Connor is the queen of grotesque writing because she isn't merely grotesque, but grotesque with an illuminating, radiating, graceful beauty that no other short story author ever captured.

Her prose/essays were also fascinating. I particularly enjoyed her piece about her flock of peacocks. Her essays on the Catholic writer and the Southern grotesque certainly show her brilliant and original view of literature, religion, philosophy, and the world itself. She never shied away from the horrific, the grotesque of the world, and in it, she saw the beauty through the possibility of its opposites. No wonder I love her.

62. The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone (300 pages) Flissy is sent to live with her strange American relations while her parents do mysterious work during World War II. While Flissy adapts to her bizarre relatives, each one seemingly nursing a broken heart, she begins to unravel a tragic and complicated past, while dealing with her own first love with orphaned polio victim, Derek. Lovely, touching story that truly captures the complex voice of a young child in a complicated world. Stone captures a young voice confused by the adult world around her and trying to make sense of her own emotions. A beautifully well-told, engaging, sublime coming of age story. Excellent novel for fifth through seventh grades. Grade: A-


"The teachers taught us to like Washington and to respect Jefferson. But Lincoln--him they taught us to love."

"The more history I learn, the more the world fills up with stories."

"We as a people have gone through a grand tectonic shift in the way we think about national parks. Basically, we don't believe in putting crap in the middle of nature anymore."

"That's what we Americans do when we find a place that's really special. We go there and act exactly like ourselves. And we are a bunch of fun-loving dopes."

"I prefer the pen to the sword, so I've always been more of a Jeffersonhead. The words of the Declaration of Independence are so right and true that it seems like its poetry alone would have knocked King George III in the head."

"I think it's one of the reasons I'm so fond of President Lincoln. Because he stared down the crap. More than anyone in the history of the country, he faced up to our most troubling contradiction--that a nation born in freedom would permit the enslavement of human beings--and never once stopped believing in the Declaration of Independence's ideals, never stopped trying to make them come true."

63. The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell (196 pages) Vowell's earlier work is a collection of essays about American life (contemporary and historical) told with humor, anger, enthusiasm, love, and passion. Deeply poignant and thought-provoking, Vowell writes about historical tourism, the Civil War and Lincoln, Salem, patriotism, football, holidays, American culture, families, nature, Roosevelt, and existentialism, all with a passionate, loving, and critical eye that is both engaging and humorous. Wonderful writer. Though, I have to say, I prefer her Wordy Shipmates and Assassination Vacation. Grade: A-


"The mysterious equation of whiskey plus music equals what can only be called happiness."

"When I think about my relationship with America, I feel like a battered wife: Yeah, he knocks me around a lot, but boy, he sure can dance."

64. Take the Cannoli by Sarah Vowell (219 pages) A collection of Sarah Vowell's essays/stories about her various travels, both internally and externally. The best are her history-travel writings, about Chicago and the heart-wrenching Trail of Tears. Vowell is a lover of America, its culture, history, past and present, and writes like she's having a lover's quarrel with America. The most thought-provoking, humorous, educated, passionate, and justifiably angry lover's quarrel. Brilliant, fascinating, engaging writing. Love Vowell. Grade: A

"Women made the best beekeepers, 'cause they have a special ability built in to love creatures that sting."
65. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (317 pages)
Lily Owens, the abused daughter of peach farmer in the south in the 1960s, runs away from home with her nanny, Rosaleen, who got in trouble while trying to register to vote. Lily follows sparse clues left by her mother, who died under mysterious and tragic circumstances, to a family of beekeepers who are devout believers in the Black Madonna and the sacred feminine. A beautiful, moving, and engaging novel, particularly for young women, about the power of maternal forces for good or evil, but ultimately, for redemption. Grade: B+

2011 Page Total: 17896

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Book 66 for 2011

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. 173 pages.
I think this is one of those books which is worth reading more for the archetypal idea it originated rather than for the actual writing.
It isn't a bad story, exactly, but I feel it's rather clumsily told, for a writer of Wells' calibre and not nearly as well-constructed as The War of the Worlds,
The story is a relatively simple one - a muffled stranger arrives in the village of Iping with an irascible manner and a vast collection of bottles. It doesn't take Holmesian brainpower to deduce that this is the eponymous character and it's scarcely a spoiler to say that he is indeed thus revealed a few chapters in.
Once exposed, the invisible man embarks on a murderous rampage across the south of England, but while his invisibility gives him a massive advantage in some ways, it has it's downsides too.
The story has a rather disjointed feel to it, perhaps because eit seems to be told in the form of a report on the whole thing written some time afterwards and collated from eyewitness reports.
A classic, definitely, but for the concept more than the story.