Friday, November 29, 2013

Monstrous Regiment

Monstrous Regiment (Discworld, #31)Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Polly cuts off her hair, names herself Oliver, and joins the army of Borogravia - only to discover that she may not be the only one in her regiment of fresh-faced recruits hiding a secret.

Borogravia is a backward place, with nothing to be proud of but its own excessive pride. This pride has led to endless belligerent warfare, ostensibly under the rule of a Duchess no one has seen in 30 years. Adding to the tiny duchy's woes is the insane god Nuggan decreeing everything an Abomination - from accordion players to cats, redheads, sneezing, and the color blue. Women dressed as men is an especially heinous abomination, you can bet your socks.

But Polly has a plan to save her big brother, so she follows him into the army. She joins up with other new recruits and they soon find themselves playing an important part in the war effort - in spite of their lack of training and supplies.

They are soon dubbed the Monstrous Regiment. The Monstrous Regiment is called such because it contains a Black Ribboner (a teetotaler vampire), a lisping Igor, a lichen-covered troll, and an assortment of humans - including one fervent Joan of Arc who believes she is in spiritual contact with the Duchess herself. (The original phrase Pratchett is playing with belonged to John Knox, and you can read about its origins here.) In fact, most of Polly's fellow recruits prove to be surprisingly feminine, each with his (or her) own reason for joining the army. Heck, even the warhorse is a mare, a fact unnoticed by a near-sighted lieutenant.

For me, this is one of the lesser Discworld novels. It lacks the fizz of Pratchett's best work, especially since the wheels of the plot turn heavily on coincidence and semi-divine intervention. Vimes makes an appearance, always a treat, but Polly, the main character, lacks depth. The supporting characters are much more interesting than she is (though I confess, I do like the implication that she's a natural-born noncommissioned officer).

Still, if you're interested in historical women who passed as men, there are plenty of great stories (from Shakespeare on down). Of course, anyone who likes this book can easily move to any of the other Discworld novels. If you lean towards feminist themes in your fiction, the Witches subseries is a great place to start.

But let me diverge from tradition and recommend a few of the great cross-dressing movies instead of books (though I confess that my list skews to male cross-dressing comedies): First, one I consider to be among the greatest comedies of all time: Some Like It Hot, starring Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis. (Pratchett alludes to it by having one of his many, many cross-dressers assume the nom de guerre of Daphne, which is Lemmon's pseudonym in the film.) And modern drag comedies that aren't Mrs. Doubtfire? First, Tootsie, starring thespian Dustin Hoffman (plus Bill Murray!), then Robin Williams and Nathan Lane in The Birdcage. Thinking of going Shakespearean? Well, I have a soft spot in my heart for She's the Man. Don't judge!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The City and the Stars

The City and the StarsThe City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the immortal city of Diaspar nothing changes - until Alvin is created, the first new human in eons, and the first to ask what lies beyond the city's gilded walls.

Diaspar is populated by immortal humans who stave off boredom with art and science, and by a process of artificial reincarnation that allows them to cycle through stages of existence and storage. The agoraphobic inhabitants long ago imprisoned themselves in the face of an alien threat, becoming risk-averse and incurious, content to exist in a labyrinth with no exit.

Alvin, though, is a Unique. He has no memories of past lives to discover when he reaches adulthood, because he is a completely new person. In his beautiful, self-contained home, Alvin finds himself growing restless at its inhabitants' futile, inward-facing lives. But there is nowhere else to go - beyond the walls they are surrounded by a cold desert: all that remains of Earth. Alvin attempts to learn long-forgotten secrets and is aided by a Jester named Khedron (part of the city planning was to insert agents of controlled chaos to keep things interesting), a man who describes himself as "a critic, not a revolutionary" (57).

What Alvin finds outside could either annihilate the highly polished remnants of human civilization or grant them a freedom they never imagined, and possibly begin a rejuvenation the species so desperately needs.

There is no writer quite like Clarke, who delights in introducing mysterious landscapes and contemplating huge swaths of time. Long-view science fiction like this can be dizzying (and sometimes defeatist, full of dying suns and senescent species), but Clarke keeps Alvin moving from discovery to discovery. There is an optimism that I find appealing, particularly since so much modern science fiction skews toward absolute dystopia.

He's also a golden age author, which leads to some drawbacks; it's a male-dominated world (the only female character worth even a passing mention is Alvin's stalker, Alystra). Clarke also expresses an insulting view of religion, calling it a "disease" to be destroyed by science, a form of irrationality inevitably overruled by superior logic. I find this incredibly narrow-minded, but it's a common philosophical difference I have with much of hard science fiction. (Clarke was a firm atheist as well as a logical positivist.)

As the title hints, this book is less about character or plot than it is about setting, so fans of Clarke's novel Rendezvous With Rama will find much more to enjoy here. Other books where setting is primary are the fantasy classic Titus Groan (first in the Gormenghast books) by Mervyn Peake and the modern speculative fiction novel The City and the City by China Mieville. You might also try Larry Niven's Ringworld if old-school sexism isn't overly bothersome to you as a reader.


"Diaspar had been planned as an entity; it was a single mighty machine. Yet thought its outward appearance was almost overwhelming complexity, it merely hinted at the hidden marvels of technology without which all these great buildings would be lifeless sepulchres." - 28

"No single individual, however eccentric or brilliant, could effect the enormous inertia of a society that had remained virtually unchanged for over a billion years." - 30

"Sympathy, for one whose loneliness must be even greater than his own; an ennui produced by ages of repetition; and an impish sense of fun - these were the discordant factors which prompted Khedron to act." - 58

"There was only one thing of which he could be certain now. Boredom would not be a serious problem for a considerable time to come." - 102

"Alvin would never grow up; to him the whole universe was a plaything, a puzzle to be unravelled for his own amusement. In his play he had now found the ultimate, deadly toy which might wreck what was left of human civilisation - but whatever the outcome, to him it would still be a game." - 177

Monday, November 25, 2013

Which Witch?

Which Witch?Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kindly white witch Beladonna has never been able to do black magic, but when the handsome wizard Arriman sets a contest to find the wickedest witch to be his bride, she is determined to give it her best shot.

Beladonna has her work cut out for her if she wants to shake her embarrassing affinity for begonias and cute woodland creatures, but she is helped out in the contest by an orphan named Terence Mugg. Terence owns a pink earthworm named Rover, and Rover seems to be just the familiar to help Beladonna accomplish the necessary nastiness.

The good witch's competition is her own coven - and each witch is icky in her own way, accompanied by a familiar (none of the black cat variety, but far more ingeniously odd). The contest is inventive and sometimes even scary: Madame Olympia's hideous Symphony of Death is a stomach-turning trick that H. P. Lovecraft would have been proud to write.

The side characters are as fun as the witches - I particularly liked Mr. Leadbetter, Arriman's tailed but rather ordinary secretary, who enjoys watching Miss Universe competitions. There is also Arriman's silent friend, a creepy wife-killer ghost named Sir Simon: Sir Simon's fate is amusing and appropriate (actually, if Ibbotson had written a sequel about that relationship I would read it in a heartbeat).

Ibbotson's witches possess a Charles Addams type of evil (you may want to check out The Addams Family: Evilution if you're a fan of macabre humor). They have an affinity for creepy-crawly things but doing little actual harm to innocent strangers - with the exception of the truly wicked Madame Olympia, whose evil is just a tad too evil for everyone's taste. If you want real wickedness, you'll have to turn to Roald Dahl's The Witches.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I Shall Wear Midnight

I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld, #38)I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tiffany Aching, Chalk witch, must cope not only with everyday human failings of the people she watches over, but also the rise of an old evil that is out to destroy witches everywhere.

Tiffany is overstretched at the beginning of this book, but by the end (it's not really a spoiler to say it) witches seem to appear like mushrooms and there is no doubt that Tiffany is on her way to become one of the great hags (as the Feegles would say). Before that can happen, she must face the awkwardness of coming back to her sheep-raising community, which is unaccustomed to having a witch around - particularly one who is only sixteen years old.

Roland, the Baron's son, is engaged to a soppy young woman, and that adds a new layer of awkwardness given his past relationship with Tiffany. Tiffany is soon distracted by the plight of a young woman in a terrible home situation, the job of keeping peace in her community, and tending to the quotidian needs of the overlooked. Unfortunately, the young witch is being pursued by an ancient force known as the Cunning Man. Fortunately, the Kelda of the Nac Mac Feegles is there to provide guidance and friendship, and Tiffany is never far from the help of the blue-skinned Pictsies or of her fellow witches.

This book is sprawling and overstuffed compared to the other Aching books. Tiffany is always on the move from Feegle mound to Baron's castle to Ankh-Morpork (where, delightfully, we get a glimpse of the Watch's Commander Vimes, my favorite Discworld character, from Tiffany's perspective; and as a bonus a foundling finds his people). It's always a pleasure to follow Pratchett's characters and see them interact, particularly as they continue to do what they do best.

We get a glimpse of several important characters from Equal Rites, one of Pratchett's Discworld novels for adults. In an afterward, Pratchett mentions his personal experience growing up in a rural community like the one on the Chalk (which accounts for the realism of the details he chooses), and also points to a book where he drew the most striking images in I Shall Wear Midnight (even, in some ways, better than the title image) of the hare leaping through fire: The Leaping Hare by George Ewart Evans and David Thomson.

Monday, November 18, 2013


Wintersmith (Discworld, #35)Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When junior witch Tiffany Aching joins a dance of the seasons, she attracts the attention of the Wintersmith and needs all of her ingenuity to rebalance the world before it plunges into permanent winter.

Tiffany is still in the mountains completing her training under the many borrowed eyes of her blind mentor, Miss Treason. When they attend a Dark Morris one night, Tiffany joins in, little realizing that she's inserted herself into a far larger story. Now the Wintersmith is in love with her, and in the pursuit "it" is striving to become a "he". When spirits act like a smitten human boy, odd things tend to happen - like millions of identical Tiffany-faced snowflakes. While flattering, it's also terrifying, and Tiffany is determined to correct her mistake before anyone is hurt.

The young witch has other worries, too. The Nac Mac Feegle are still around causing trouble and watching over her. She has to preside over an unusual funeral and burial of one of the older witches, and help the witch's useless replacement, Anagramma, learn the ropes of caring for a community. Navigating the society of witches is always tricky, since witches are by definition bossy, opinionated, and self-confident. Tiffany also learns the magic of "Boffo" and how to disappear.

There are Pratchett's usual comedic touches to enjoy: one of my personal favorites is the dilemma of librarians stranded in the cold chalk country who are earnestly wondering what to burn next. Then there is Tiffany's critical reaction to the farm setting of a steamy romance novel procured for her by the Mac Feegles from said librarians. There are also appearances by Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, two characters who appear in the Discworld Witches subseries.

For recommendations on what to read next, check out my review of the first Aching novel, The Wee Free Men.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Wee Free Men

The Wee Free Men (Discworld, #30)The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the Queen of the Fairies steals her whiny little brother, witch-in-training Tiffany Aching joins with a rowdy group of tiny kilted men to rescue him.

This is the first of Pratchett's excellent YA Discworld series starring young witch Tiffany Aching as she grows up and into her considerable powers. It's full of Pratchett's usual wit and throwaway jokes - educations in sheep country, for example, are purchased with eggs or root vegetables - and introduces a female protagonist who is a worthy addition to the Witches of Discworld.

Witchcraft in Discworld is less about showy wand-waving and more about clever, clear-sighted women doing what needs to be done in their communities. In this spirit, Tiffany dispatches monsters with a frying pan and the uncommon sense granted to her by the gifts of First Sight and Second Thoughts. Her role model is her Granny Aching, a woman whose entire life was given to keeping sheep and influencing people with her quiet wisdom and power.

Tiffany stumbles into a clan of Pictsies known as the Nac Mac Feegle, a rowdy bunch of tiny blue men whose chief talents are fighting, drinking and stealing. They don't know the meaning of the word fear (not being great readers), and are only intimidated by lawyers and things written down - like arrest warrants and legal summonses. They are led by the appropriately named Rob Anybody, and primarily act as kicking, cursing comic relief.

For Pratchett, stories that obscure truth or try to make reality too simple are the real evil. The worst kind of sight, worse than being blind, is seeing things only as you think they should be instead of as they are. (He steals a good idea from C.S. Lewis's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in creating a world where "dreams come true", then asserting that a world like that is the most uncanny and terrifyingly eerie one imaginable.) One of the most moving aspects of the story is Tiffany's reaction to the tragic death of a local woman who was accused of witchcraft, a thread that Pratchett picks up in a later Aching sequel, I Shall Wear Midnight.

The character of Tiffany is a great one: she is a quiet, watchful girl with strong opinions. She reads the dictionary and enjoys thinking about words. She can be counted on to do what needs doing even if it seems impossible or dangerous, and is unflinchingly observant of human nature, including her own. (For example, she pursues her younger brother less out of affection than from a sense of outraged ownership because he is, after all, her brother.)

Tiffany can easily join Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (let's not forget Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, who could easily stand toe to toe with Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax) or Coraline from Coraline by Neil Gaiman. I would also compare her to Victoria Wright from Claire Legrand's The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, another unsentimental but thoughtful heroine who boldly goes to rescue others from danger.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Girls

The GirlsThe Girls by Lori Lansens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Can you really know another person, even if you spend every waking moment with her? Ruby and Rose are conjoined twins narrating the story of their remarkable shared lives.

They are on the cusp of their 30th birthday, which will make them the oldest surviving pair of conjoined twins in history (though in reality that honor goes to Lori and George Schappell, born in 1961). Rose and Ruby are joined at the head and everyone in their small Canadian town refers to them simply as "the Girls." Rose, an aspiring writer and poet, begins recording their history: from the tornado that touched down on the day of their birth to the love story of their parents, Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash, to their present independent lives.

Aunt Lovey, their adopted mother, is the queen of love that is clear-sighted and tough. She has been married to Uncle Stash, a Slovakian immigrant, for most of her life. Rose narrates their love story and it is clear that there is a kind of conjoinment that is spiritual rather than physical.

Ruby, who is far more interested in archaeology and television than in literature, tells the Girls's story from her own perspective. Lansens is skilled at making their separate voices distinctive and convincing; she not only captures the difficulties of being conjoined, but also emotions that are not exclusive to sisters or twins.

Ruby and Rose have never met eyes but can feel the other's blush or the movement of a frown, and frequently misunderstand each other; it is this tension that Lansens uses to unforgettable effect. Ruby, herself not a writer, tends to blurt out the stunning details of their shared lives that Rose leaves out (or is perhaps working up to reveal in a more literary fashion). It's a virtuoso performance of narrative and voice.

The daily awkwardness of their condition is thoughtfully explored - for example, how do you plan a surprise party for someone who is with you literally every waking moment? What happens when one sister is sick and the other is not? The Girls are frequently embarrassed to be treated as a single person instead of two separate women. They are normal sisters with secrets and different opinions and tastes - some of my favorite moments are when you see the mixed results of one sister's occasional attempts at deceiving the other.

The events near the end of the book seem a bit unconvincing, but ultimately it's the characters and their separate but parallel journeys - as well as the secondhand love story of their parents - that make this novel so readable.

For your next read, character-driven stories abound, but Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson is a gorgeously written tale of sisters and family by a modern literary master. One of my other all-time favorite books about family love is Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. In her afterward to The Girls, Lansens provides a list of books for further reading, including Millie-Christine: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made by Joanne Martell, a historical account of two conjoined women born into slavery in the 1850s American South.

Cover note: I don't usually quibble about bad cover art, but in this case the jacket image of The Girls is so misleading that I have to say something. It's not only inaccurate, but also gives readers absolutely no indication of the content of the story and is guaranteed to lose your interest. Trust me, this is one book you can't judge by the cover.


"I've never set eyes on my sister, except in mirror images and photographs, but I know Ruby's gestures as my own, through the movement of her muscles and bone. I love my sister as I love myself. I hate her that way too." - 5

"We're not weird. We just have a weird condition." - 114

"I started to hum, and Aunt Lovey knew that I was gone, not physically of course, but that I had walked through a door and closed it behind me and could not be reached for comment. (Ruby has the same capacity to make a swift mental exit, and I've read about the phenomenon in other conjoined twins. Some people call it 'wandering.' It's a state of consciousness that is not quite here and not quite there, deeper than a daydream, not awake but not asleep. ...)" - 155

Monday, November 11, 2013

Ender's Game

Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1)Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A brilliant young boy is molded into a military leader to save humanity from an alien threat in this classic work of science fiction.

I was inspired to reread this novel by the release of the long-awaited movie version. The gorgeous visuals fail to convey the emotional complexity of Ender's Wiggin's journey from six-year-old boy to pre-pubescent general, so I was glad I went back to the original to refresh my memory.

It's a classic Chosen One story, much like Harry Potter or Dune, where a special child is the only one who can save his people from total annihilation. Ender is special, so special that he was actually requisitioned by the government in the hopes that he would balance out the traits of his sociopathic brother, Peter, and his compassionate sister, Valentine.

Humanity is united by two previous invasions by an alien species known as the Formics (or colloquially as the buggers). Having barely won the past two encounters, Earth's government sets up a special Battle School designed to train young children to be tactical geniuses.

Battle School is full of games to challenge Ender. The most important of these games takes place in the battleroom (like zero-g laser tag), where children fight each other in armies. The students at the school are brilliant, aggressive, and frightening: Ender is the best of them all. He's manipulated into a precision weapon, proving himself lethally competent to face whatever the adults throw his way. Ender is aware of the manipulations and hates them, but he chooses to fight, recognizing the greater threat.

There are intriguing characters (mostly children), tense and clever battle sequences, a bizarrely unsettling mind game, and an overarching mystery about the true nature of the enemy. It's Lord of the Flies in space, and the perfect intro novel for those who have never read science fiction and want to try it. Its exploration of free will, warfare, and the helplessness of childhood is part of the best tradition of classic science fiction.

Ender's Game stands alone but is the first in a series, and the sequel Speaker for the Dead follows an adult Ender into self-imposed exile. There is also the great parallel series, beginning with Ender's Shadow, that tracks the Battle School life of Ender's second-in-command, Bean. Bean is a unique character, and his story may echo Ender's but ends with very different results.

If you want another sweeping novel about fascinating alien species and child protagonists, definitely try Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep.


"Survival first, then happiness as we can manage it."

"Any decent person who knows what warfare is can never go into battle with a whole heart."

"Welcome to the human race. Nobody controls his own life, Ender. The best you can do is choose to fill the roles given to you by good people, by people who love you."

Friday, November 8, 2013

Something Fresh

Something Fresh (Blandings Castle, #1)Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Trouble and romance are in the offing when two adventurers descend upon Blandings Castle incognito - all because of Lord Emsworth, an innocent kleptomaniac who steals a collector's rare treasure.

Ashe Marson and Joan Valentine meet by accident and you know it will soon be love. But the two young people, both starving writers, find themselves at odds when they independently accept the challenge of retrieving a precious scarab for an American collector. They infiltrate Blandings' complex caste system of the servants, braving a keenly suspicious secretary and Lord Emsworth's reckless use of firearms.

Meanwhile, young muttonhead Freddie Threepwood (an equal to Bertie Wooster in lazy amiability, and with much the same taste in literature), is engaged to the American collector's daughter, Aline. But he has an energetic rival who plans on wooing Aline right out from under Freddie's nose....

The coveted Egyptian scarab (a worthy rival to the silver cow creamer in its ability to act as a cursed object) that drives the plot in the first of the Blandings Castle stories. Wodehouse showcases his usual effortless wit and introduces the Blandings crew, though Ashe and Joan steal center stage with their (non-malicious) plotting. We are treated to a glimpse of the stratified serving class and a very funny conversation about women's suffrage where Joan compares Ashe's chivalry to a dead mouse her proud cat might bring her as a gift. The romances are sweetly credible - especially Joan and Ashe, who are each other's equals as well as soulmates.

The third person narration gives Wodehouse scope to move into different perspectives, but his wonderful storytelling voice remains true (though this isn't his most cohesive plot). The best thing to follow Wodehouse with is obviously more Wodehouse, so The Code of the Woosters, featuring another MacGuffin plot and country manor setting, may be right up your alley.


"Collecting, as Mr. Peters did it, resembles the drink habit. It begins as an amusement, and ends as an obsession." - 50

"Oh, I've nothing to say against Freddie. He is practically an imbecile and I don't like his face, but apart from that he's all right." - 61

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The quiet folk get their due in this mix of business psychology and self-help that describes the power of introversion in business and daily life.

Susan Cain, a self-described introvert, discusses the results of her years of following the stories about these hard-to-know people. You may recognize them as the ones that avoid parties, prefer books or quiet nights at home with family, and who sometimes get left behind in fast-paced business meetings. I certainly define myself as an introvert, and recognized my own experiences in many of Quiet's vignettes(Ah, finally, a business trend that will work in my favor!)

Moving from extroversion centers like Tony Robbins' self-help conventions, Rick Warren's evangelical Saddleback Church, and the Harvard Business School, Cain outlines the American cultural bias toward confident, energetic charmers who naturally gravitate toward people and are often seen as leaders. This bias weakens society by clouding our judgment of people and the true value of their ideas, she argues, and forces square pegs into round holes. Even our education system caters almost exclusively to one type of personality: the Extrovert Ideal.

Extroverts may make fine leaders, but there are certain jobs that introverts are best-suited for. Imagine life without important figures such as Rosa Parks, Steve Wozniak, Gandhi, or Eleanor Roosevelt, all of whom Cain drafts to the introvert cause. Cain argues for a balanced acceptance of different personality types, using scientific studies and anecdotes to back up her claims.

I'm generally skeptical of self-help and business books, but Cain purposefully avoids making sweeping scientific assertions. She presents intriguing facts and tries to argue for balance. Some of her suggestions may help soothe the anxiety many introverts feel about their need to withdraw and carve out time for reflection - needs that are sometimes painted as anti-social in our outgoing society.

That said, I am still hesitant to give too much credit to Myers-Briggs-type personality tests, which categorize people into neat pigeonholes with the same kind of confidence seen in phrenology or astrology. People are incredibly complex - we are only now starting to glimpse the interior workings of the human brain, and our understanding is far from perfect. I think Cain strikes the right tone here, offering her conclusions and the research results with the right amount of doubt.

Cain presents many of her ideas in this TED Talk, which I urge you to check out if you're interested in the subject.


"The way forward, I'm suggesting, is not to stop collaborating face-to-face, but to refine the way we do it. For one thing, we should actively seek out symbiotic introvert-extrovert relationships, in which leadership and other tasks are divided according to people's natural strengths and temperaments. ... We also need to create settings in which people are free to circulate in a shifting kaleidoscope of interactions, and to disappear into their private workspaces when they want to focus or simply be alone. Our schools should teach children the skills to work with others - cooperative learning can be effective when practiced well and in moderation - but also the time and training they need to deliberately practice on their own. It's also vital to recognize that many people - especially introverts like Steve Wozniak - need extra quiet and privacy in order to do their best work." - 93-94

"Once you understand introversion and extroversion as preferences for certain levels of stimulation, you can begin consciously trying to situate yourself in environments favorable to your own personality - neither overstimulating nor understimulating, neither boring nor anxiety-making." - 124

Monday, November 4, 2013

Books Read in October

Lirael by Garth Nix - Lirael is a Sightless misfit amongst the prophetic Clayr, but during her work at the dangerous Library she discovers that her destiny may lay elsewhere; helping the Abhorsen defeat the rise of the Dead.

Earwig and the Witch by Diana Wynne Jones - Strong-willed orphan Earwig is adopted by a witch and a temperamental man called the Mandrake: she must use all her wits to gain the upper hand in her odd new home.

Seven Up by Janet Evanovich - Protecting a lovable stoner, trying to hunt down a lethal senior citizen, and figuring out if she's ready to marry Joe Morelli or to take Ranger up on his indecent offer...bounty hunter Stephanie Plum's life is chaotic as usual.

Abhorsen by Garth Nix - Accompanied by a faithful Dog and a faithless cat, Lirael and Sameth step into their predestined roles, finally leaving behind childhood fears and doubts in the face of an overwhelming enemy.

The Child That Books Built by Francis Spufford - A lifelong reading addict guides us through not only his own autobiographical journey, but also through the wild geography of children's literature, from Little House on the Prairie to Narnia and beyond.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain - The quiet folk get their due in this mix of business psychology and self-help that describes the power of introversion in business and daily life.

Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse - Trouble and romance are in the offing when two adventurers descend upon Blandings Castle incognito - all because of Lord Emsworth, an innocent kleptomaniac who steals a collector's rare treasure.