mid-June miscellany

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After reading several really good books in May I’ve found myself in a bit of a reading slump, with a stack on my bedside table I haven’t been able to get into. Of those I have read, these were the most interesting:

Kindred by Octavia Butler: I’ve been meaning to read this for such a long time so I’m pleased to have finally got hold of a copy. It had some interesting (and sadly very relevant) things to say about how easy it can be to accustom yourself to terrible things, while not excusing those who do.

The Shortest Way to Hades and The Sibyl in Her Grave by Sarah Caudwell: Skipped The Sirens Sang of Murder only because these were the two Caudwell books immediately available, and they were the only books I felt like reading while I was sick. Not as funny as Thus Was Adonis Murdered but still enjoyable.

From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon: Mean Girls in book form. I enjoyed it for what it was — Twinkle makes some stupid choices but usually they were stupid choices I could imagine myself making at that age.

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson: I loved this one, puzzle books are my favourite and I found the history fascinating.

Out of Left Field by Ellen Klages: This is more what I was hoping for when I read A Season of Daring Greatly last year. Out of Left Field is so much more engaging than its YA counterpart and even made baseball interesting for someone who lives and grew up in a baseball-free country. (I’ve seen American movies and know what it looks like, but that’s about it.) My only caveat is that there are several comments to the effect of “girly-girls” are bad and tomboy girls are good. It always frustrates me when women stomp on other women, and I find it especially disappointing in a children’s book. Why do we have to despise people who don’t share the same interests as we do?

The Raven Ring by Patricia Wrede: I was feeling crappy so I grabbed this for a reread. I don’t know if I would like it as much if I’d read it first as an adult (I’ve had little luck with the other Lyra books which I only got hold of in my twenties) but because I read it several times as a teenager it’s a good comfort read. Plus I like Eleret, pragmatic and competent and dealing with the grief and anger of losing a parent. I can’t relate to the first part but I definitely can with the last.

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Monthly round-up

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Didn’t manage to read any of the ARCs languishing on my to-read pile this month, but did enjoy the books I did read a lot (with some exceptions). Both the Greenglass House books and the Murderbot novellas continue to be delightful in very different ways. I’ve been consciously avoiding novels in verse but The Poet X snuck up on me. Considering Xiomara is into slam poetry it seems an apt medium.

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I’m still not sure how I feel about the Planetfall books — I will automatically read any books that combine mystery with science fiction (I recommend Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty, murder in space!), and I definitely enjoyed reading them, but I’m still ambivalent about the endings. I guess I’ll just have to read Before Mars when it comes out to make up my mind.

I just finished reading The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle which while not being set in space (can’t have everything I suppose) definitely has science fiction elements to its mystery. It’s delightfully twisty and works best if you don’t know anything beforehand and have time to read it quite quickly so you don’t get too confused about the characters.

A more even spread of children’s fiction/YA to adult fiction this month which pleases me. I do like reading YA but I tend to prioritise it due to my job, so my adult reading tends to suffer.

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Board games

Finally tried Dixit and Saboteur. I love Saboteur but I think Dixit will need more plays to grow on me.

Creative misc

Made a repeating kea pattern after puzzling through some tiling tutorials. I have a bunch of ideas for pattern designs but haven’t decided where best to get them printed yet as the quality of print-to-order sites tends to be a bit sub-par.

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Three YA romances

American Panda by Gloria Chao

35297380Germaphobe Mei is a liar — lying about dropping dance, lying about being in contact with her disowned brother, and lying about dating someone who is Japanese. But most of all she’s lying about intending to become a doctor. As her secrets pile up, Mei has to find a way to confront her parents with her own needs instead of conforming to all of their strict Taiwanese traditions.

Overbearing Asian parents can be a bit of a trope in YA novels but Chao portrays Taiwanese families of varying levels of attachment to tradition, helping Mei to see that some rules might need to be broken. While Mei really struggles with her family there is also a lot of humour (especially in the phone messages left by relatives) and her developing relationship with Darren is very sweet. I’d recommend it to fans of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I Loved Before as it has a similar cosy hot chocolate vibe even when it’s dealing with serious issues.

Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

31625039After being dumped by her girlfriend for being asexual, Alice throws all her energy into her part-time job at the library and ignoring parental pressure to study law — but when Takumi starts working there too she finds herself somewhat distracted by his good looks. With friendship drama, therapy, and a million missed phone calls from her family, will Alice ever get her act together enough to articulate her own feelings?

I bounced off this book pretty hard, I think mostly for personal reasons — I got too frustrated with how she just ignored all problems, which included her family and her (weirdly needy) friends, and how half the time she complained about her wealthy family paying for her rent and education, and the other half she was surprised and upset when they didn’t. I didn’t buy her romance with Takumi and found her obsession with his looks kind of gross. On the other hand there still aren’t that many books featuring asexual main characters out there so this will probably be a great fit for someone else.

Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi

35297272Penny and Sam are both looking for escape — Penny fleeing her mother to go to university, and Sam fleeing pretty much everything. When Penny discovers Sam having what he thinks is a heart attack she rescues him and they exchange contact details, leading to a friendship via text as Penny pursues her dream of becoming a writer and Sam attempts to become a film-maker, with personal complications along the way.

Not a very compelling summary but this is probably my favourite of the three, similar in feel and content to Eleanor and Park. Penny and Sam are both awkward, creative individuals dealing with difficult backgrounds — Penny with her anger towards her flaky mother, Sam with his checked-out parents and newly pregnant ex-girlfriend — but despite this there is a lot of humour in their exchanges, with many funny moments. If you’re a fan of Rainbow Rowell then I’d add this one to your to-read pile.

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Misc update

Books that I’ve enjoyed recently:

Truly, Devious, Maureen Johnson — a romp of a mystery (I call all delightfully enjoyable books romps) that kept me up late reading at the lake, despite feeling sleepy from the cozy fire.

The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You, Lily Anderson — another romp, this time a Much Ado About Nothing retelling set in a school for super smart teens. Still my favourite Shakespeare comedy so not a very high bar for me but I loved it, possibly more than Not Now, Not Ever? A new author for me to buy physical books from, anyway. Geeky teens solving puzzles is my jam.

Current interests:

After visiting Orokonui and the lake and realising how much I miss tui, and feeling angry and depressed about the barren Canterbury plains and the lack of native birds in our garden, I finally realised I could try actually doing something about it. First steps are looking at which native plants to put at the back of our garden which has recently been cleared (although I’m hesitant to get too ambitious given we’re not sure of our long-term living situation), joining various local societies and taking part in their replanting days, and putting up rat traps outside. I could hear a bellbird a few houses away this morning so hopefully these measures (plus setting up the nectar feeder we bought at Orokonui) will encourage more than just blackbirds, sparrows and silvereyes to frequent our section.

This has also led to me poring over native plant books and trying to get better at identifying birdcalls — this was something my dad was really good at and I now wish I’d paid a lot more attention (a familiar sentiment of the last year). Hopefully with some practice I’ll be able to bore people with my knowledge of native flora and fauna. I also got pretty excited last week when we were walking the Mananui tramline on the coast and all the mushrooms were out (our holidays are full of excitement), it was like an easter egg hunt but with fungi.

I’ve been wanting to get back into tramping for a while now and meeting up with an old friend of my dad’s while at the lake feels like a good start — he suggested Mt Alexander sometime in the spring. I’ve been looking at a few other tracks that might not be too crowded and still viable for someone without much recent back country experience — with Spouse’s bunions super long walks aren’t currently very pleasant but I’m hoping the podiatrist might be able to recommend some solution. We’ll have the car while my mother and sister are overseas so I’m going to make a list of day walks and excursions we could tackle. I remember liking Peel Forest which isn’t too far away.

Board games played recently:

I can’t believe I’d never played Carcassonne before, but now I have and I can see why it’s a classic. Very simple gameplay. I also like the rising tension of Forbidden Island and Tsuro is elegantly simple. Played Rat-a-tat Cat recently (my sister’s favourite as a child) and enjoyed that, especially as doesn’t require long term strategy, making it a good game for when I’m too tired for something complicated. Probably my new favourite though is Sherlock Holmes (the Thames murders one) — Spouse and I played through the first case during one of our cozy evenings at the bach, rain on the roof and the fire toasting our toes. We didn’t get the culprit correct (and exhausted every single lead) but had a wonderful time investigating. Can’t wait to start the next case.

Creative miscellany:

I’ve almost finished the main body section of the (first ever) jersey I’m knitting, soon to brave the double-pointed needles required for the sleeves. I also did some plotting for a story idea that’s been bouncing around in my head for a long time, so I’m hoping to get to the point soon where I might actually be writing something again (and know roughly where I might be going).

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Fiction review: A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals

Cummins, L. (2016). A hungry lion or a dwindling assortment of animals. New York, United States: Simon & Schuster.

There’s a hungry lion, and some animals. And now there aren’t as many animals. You think you know where this story is going… until it doesn’t. And then it does. Cummins brilliantly fulfils and subverts expectations in this simple tale of subtracting animals, with a happy-ish twist ending.

The language is more advanced and may require some explanation but is told in a very easy, conversational style — although the story can be enjoyed just from the progression of pictures alone.  Interaction is encouraged as the reader can anticipate what is happening on the next page. The illustrations have a Quentin Blake feel to them, loose and messy but with very expressive faces, especially the titular lion. The plain background keeps the eye focussed on the characters appearing and disappearing, so it’s a great book for practising counting together in a fun way.

I would probably recommend this for children from age five up to get the most out of this story, but a more sensitive child may not enjoy the carnivorous nature of the book. It would be perfect for those who enjoyed I Want My Hat Back (Klassen, 2011), as it has a similar sense of humour.

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Fiction review: Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans

Evans, L. (2017). Wed wabbit. Oxford, United Kingdom: David Fickling Books.

During a thunderstorm Fidge is thrown into the land of her little sister Minnie’s favourite storybook — the Wimbley Woos — and so is her awful cousin Graham, his transitional object Dr Carrot, and Minnie’s toy Ella the Elephant. All Fidge wants to do is get home and see her sister in hospital, but things seem increasingly not quite right with the land of the Wimbley Woos. It seems a dictator has recently taken over and is literally sucking all the life and colour out of the inhabitants. Fidge might have to team up with the others in order to save the Wimbley Woos, get home, and fix the terrible decision that sent them there in the first place.

If this all sounds totally bonkers to you, you’re right — it is! But it’s also incredibly funny, and between the rhyming Wimbley Woos, the Monty-Python-esque Wed Wabbit, and a maternal drama teacher of a toy elephant, there’s a lot about embracing each other’s differences and growing as a person. If you think you can’t be emotionally moved by a toy carrot on wheels, think again. Wed Wabbit can be enjoyed by children aged eight to twelve, but it’s great for reading aloud to younger readers too.

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Fiction review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Thomas, A. (2017). The hate u give. London, United Kingdom: Walker Books.

A challenging read inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, soon to be a movie.

Sixteen-year-old Starr witnesses her childhood best friend Khalil get murdered by a policeman, and her life changes. Her angry and grieving neighbourhood is lashing out, making living there more and more precarious, while the response from Starr’s predominantly white school is to use the tragedy as an excuse to skip class. No punishment seems forthcoming for the policeman who committed murder, yet Khalil is slandered every day in the media.

As anger rises and violence grows, Starr has to decide whether to speak out to set the record straight and potentially gain justice for Khalil’s death, or stay quiet and protect herself and her family from retaliation.

While the book deals with heavy themes it isn’t an unrelentingly grim read; Starr has a warm, funny family and while one of her friendships goes sour, the others get stronger as a result. There are well-needed light moments spaced throughout the book and the feeling upon finishing is ultimately hopeful that positive change is on its way, and that we can be a part of that.

 

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