Recent reads

Probably Nothing: A Diary of Not Your Average Nine Months, Matilda Tristram

Graphic novel that follows Matilda’s life before and after she is diagnosed with cancer while pregnant. I’ve decided biographical comics might be my favourite at the moment — I’m an inherently nosy person, so getting a look at someone else’s life is always interesting, even when it deals with something awful like cancer and chemotherapy. Matilda seems like a funny and snarky person, which helps.

Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers

Finally got around to reading this! I think I still like Strong Poison better, but I suspect that may change the next time I read it. An interesting snapshot of Oxford in the past, and the politics of a women’s college.

Wigram, Bee Dawson

A history of the development of civil and military aviation in Wigram/Canterbury. More interesting than it sounds! I was in the local museum recently and noticed a lady’s flying suit from the 1930s on display, and through researching the original owner became interested in the other local pilots who gained their licences at Wigram in the early days of flying.

Women Heroes of World War I and Women Heroes of World War II, Kathryn Atwood

Both books are completely fascinating, quick to read and full of amazing ladies. One of my favourite stories is of a couple of ladies (Lady Helena Gleichen and Nina Hollings) who decided that they’d learn radiography in order to help the war effort. After training and obtaining equipment, they offered their services to the British, who refused (‘women aren’t radiographers’). They offered their services to France, who accepted and then attempted to steal their equipment. Finally, they went to Italy, where they were incredibly helpful in locating internal wounds and assessing the impact of gas on soldiers. Apparently the lungs shrink to 2 inches in diameter! Ouch.

Code Name Pauline, Pearl Witherington Cornioley

This is another in the Women in Action series (same as the above two books), and is equally fascinating. If you like Code Name Verity or are at all interested in SOE and the French Resistance, you should read this.

We Landed by Moonlight, Hugh Verity

Can you sense a theme? Hugh Verity describes the pilots and flights of the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) in World War II. A bit dry, but the stories are so exciting it’s easy to read anyway.

Black Dove, White Raven, Elizabeth Wein

A bit slower in pace than Code Name Verity or The Sunbird, but gets exciting. Loved the relationship between Em and Teo — in fact all the characters, even the smaller ones, are very well observed. Despite the best efforts of the cover, nothing about this book is black and white. (Except maybe mustard gas. Mustard gas is just evil.) I’ll write a more detailed review when I get back from holiday, because this deserves more than my frazzled brain can come up with pre-flights.

D.A., Connie Willis

Very short novella. Can’t say much without spoiling the plot, but if you like Connie Willis (which I do) then you’ll enjoy this.

There won’t be any posts for about a month while I’m overseas, unless I manage to write some up and schedule them before I go. I’m currently reading Under the Painted Sky by Stacey Lee and Persona by Genevieve Valentine, both of which I’m really enjoying and want to write about, so I might have to enthuse about those tomorrow. We’ll see.


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Recent reads

Woah I’ve built up a backlog of recent reads, I’ll just make some quick comments about each for now. How is this year going by so fast?!

In Real Life, Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang
Gorgeous comic — I love both Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang’s work, so no surprises here. Lovely story of family and friendship that also raises the issues of unfair labour conditions in China.

The Unadulterated Cat, Terry Pratchett
I was feeling sad about the lack of Pratchett in the world, and I hadn’t read this one. A light collection of anecdotes that cat owners will recognise.

The Strange Library, Haruki Murakami
Not my cup of tea, but it’s super short so I finished it anyway.

Their Finest Hour and a Half, Lissa Evans
I didn’t enjoy it as much as Crooked Heart (which I loved), but it was still enjoyable and had some lovely characters and also fed my current WWII obsession.

The War That Saved My Life, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
See above re: WWII obsession. This came in with the new books at the library and it looked interesting. I enjoyed reading it, but I felt like some of the vocabulary wasn’t quite right for the period. BUT I loved its sensitive portrayal of a main character with PTSD. Her simultaneous rage at but also hopeful love for her mother felt incredibly real and sad. Also a great depiction of a character with depression! Stars all round.

Bombs on Aunt Dainty and A Small Person Very Far Away, Judith Kerr
I read When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit several years ago without realising that there were sequels, and I finally borrowed these from the library. Just as good as the first, but more depressing. Anna (well, Judith really) takes on more responsibility as she grows up and has to deal with a difficult, unhappy mother who hates her job and hates having to organise everything for the family, and a father who doesn’t speak English so cannot support them with his writing. This is all during the blitz and the fear that Germany would invade Britain and their long flight across Europe would be for nothing. How did anyone stay sane?! And then in the third part of the trilogy Anna is a lot happier (recently married, taking on an interesting new career) but has to deal with her mother’s attempted suicide while being in a country she feels resentful and uncomfortable in (Germany). It’s all fascinating but sad, and now I’m thinking I’ll have to go back and reread When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.

A Childhood in Scotland, Christian Miller
Saw Elizabeth Wein’s review on goodreads and ordered it from the library. Interesting, funny in places, and deeply evocative of a particular place and time. Illustrates the paradox of growing up quite wealthy but also incredibly neglected. I wish I could get hold of her other books.

Harvest, Robert Westall
I confess I knew nothing of the Mau Mau before I read this book. While it’s a thoughtful illustration of a woman coming to terms with trauma and getting ready to rebuild her life, I would have been interested in seeing more of life in Kenya.

The Murdstone Trilogy, Mal Peet
Read on Elizabeth Wein’s recommendation. It’s very funny in parts, and I liked the premise, but some of it didn’t quite sit right with me. The names of the Tibetan monks, for example. And Philip is just yet another middle-aged male writer character (yes, I get that this is partly the point). But the library scenes are pure gold.

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Snowfall, K. M. PeytonI just finished Snowfall by K. M. Peyton and I have a lot of feels!

Things I liked:

+the description of the Alps/Switzerland — it reminded me of some of Eva Ibbotson’s alpine books. I guess I’m a sucker for buttercups and mountains.

+the unlikely commune they set up, with everyone doing the work together and only acting as servants when stuffy people came to visit.

Things I didn’t like:

+the romance. I probably would have enjoyed this when I was 14, when my emotions were spilling all over the place. I found the endless longing for the unattainable frustrating and boring, and I always preferred Mar to Milo because Mar is fun and happy and I value fun and happy much more than tortured sad Milo. And also it messed up the friendship with Phyllida, who I felt got short shrift at the end of the book. I would have liked to read a book about Phyllida where she actually did things, and had an ending worthy of her. Milo is fawned over when he’s unhappy because he’s handsome and easygoing but because Phyllida isn’t classically goodlooking and has a temper, she’s an ugly harridan? She went to Oxford! #teamPhyllida

+the ending. It worked in some ways but it also seemed a bit like a lazy way out. Still not sure how I feel about it.

I think some of my issues with this book are just simply that I can’t deal with a lot of romance. I like it when people are friends and gradually have feelings for each other, or who banter their way into a relationship. I don’t like endless longing or jealousy. (Maybe I shouldn’t read YA fiction anymore…)

All that said, I did enjoy reading it and I liked the description of Victorian life and expectations. And horses. Peyton can always be relied on to have great horses.

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Recent reads

The Darkest Part of the Forest, Holly Black

Holly Black seems to be getting better and better! I think this is my favourite of hers so far, although part of that might be that it’s my kind of story — more so than The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, through no fault of its own. I’m a sucker for magic and banter, what can I say. And a book which actually addresses neglectful parenting! Amazing. Sure, it might make it easy for the plot, but it sucks for the characters, and Black shows that.

The Summer Prince, Alaya Dawn Johnson

This should be getting a whole blog post to itself. Maybe when I recover from the plague? Fantastic, well-grounded setting in a future Brazil. This book made me think about race and sex and art. I didn’t always like the main characters, but I found the concept fascinating enough that it didn’t bother me. Also now that I’ve finished it I notice how fantastic the cover art is — everything connects to themes within the book, from the green algae to the lights/tree to the pyramids… it’s great! Nice to see such thoughtful design. I should add that the Book Smugglers covered some problematic elements of the Brazil setting which is worth reading.

Waiting for Unicorns, Beth Hautala

So-so. I was hoping there’d be more about Sura and Inuit ways of living, but it was mostly about grief and narwhals, which is fine but didn’t particularly stand out for me. Doesn’t help that I’m sick at the moment so my concentration isn’t fantastic. Anyway, it’s a perfectly adequate middle-grade read, not sure why it’s shelved as YA.

My Heart and Other Black Holes, Jasmine Warga

Couldn’t remember why I’d put this on hold but I really enjoyed it! If enjoyed is the right word? I totally snotted it up at the end.

Hilda and the Black Hound, Luke Pearson

I’m always a fan of Hilda and this is no exception. Also hello cameo appearance from Soppy! I see you sitting on your couch, you cuties.

Moonpenny Island, Tricia Springstubb

This was a lovely and thoughtful book about friendship, fractured parents, and growing up in an isolated place. I was going to write a whole blog post about this, but I’ve come down with some kind of horrible virus since I finished reading it and my brain is dribbling out my nose.

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Recent reads

Wake, Anna Hope

Thoughtful, melancholy exploration of post-World War I Britain. This is very much a book about being broken — being mended, being ignored, and being forced into becoming something new. The title is very apt, evoking grief but also describing the characters’ process of awakening. Wake is a quiet book but the characters very much aren’t, from spiky Evelyn to grief-stricken Ada to tired, dreaming Evelyn. I connected with these women even as I winced at their choices.

The Hundred Million Francs (or the Horse Without a Head), Paul Berna

Wow, I can tell when this was written! “Darky”? Really?!

Racism aside, it’s a pretty good Emil and the Detectives type story. I would probably get more out of it if I’d read it as a child, but it was interesting reading a children’s story that mentioned after-effects of the war in passing rather than being the main event of the book.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things, Patrick Rothfuss

This book irritated me for a lot of reasons, but if you like affected language and beautiful broken girls obsessed with pleasing a man then you might enjoy it.

Sorry, that was a terrible review. I guess Rothfuss’ portrayal of women tends to rub me the wrong way. I’m fine with reading a novella with one character where nothing really happens, but I do have to find that character compelling.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer

I’ve been meaning to read this one for aaages, and as I seem to be in the mood for wartime stories at the moment (during and/or after) and this one has the bonus of not being too heartwrenchingly sad, I finally picked it up. I’d like to be friends with all of the characters, including Zenobia the parrot.

Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, Paul Roberts

This is a fascinating book! I totally recommend this to anyone with an interest in history. Roberts divides the book into sections on dining, bathrooms, kitchens etc, with photos and examples of real places in Pompeii and Herculaneum. I found some of the smaller objects really interesting, especially the only surviving example of a Roman cot, carbonised in the eruption. And the toilet graffiti is always funny. Well worth it just for the pictures!

The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp, Eva Rice

I was a few chapters in before I realised that this is a semi-sequel to The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets. Set in the 60’s, it follows the adolescence of Tara Jupp and her large family, with walk-in roles played by some of the characters in the previous book. It’s interesting looking at a strong friendship from the outside — whereas Lost Art features the great friendship between Penelope and Charlotte, Misinterpretation focusses on Tara, the outsider in the relationship between Tara’s sister and best friend (and later between the sister and her husband).

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Recent reads

The Mirador, Sarah Monette

It’s been a while since I finished Mélusine and The Virtu, but my flatmate has been reading them and I thought I should continue to be one step ahead so that when she wails about Felix being awful I can nod wisely and say, ‘Ah, but he gets much worse in book three.’ (He does.)

I think taking a break from the series has calmed me down, which is both good and bad. I’m not quite as invested in the plot, but I also don’t get quite as upset with Felix for being a douchecanoe to Mildmay. (For those who don’t know about the series, it concerns two brothers — Mildmay and Felix — and Felix is often cruel and cavalier about Mildmay’s feelings. You would think that would make him the villain, and he could certainly turn into one, but he’s complex enough and haunted by his unpleasant past enough that he’s more grey than totally awful. But still upsetting to read about.) I do not recommend this series to people of a sensitive disposition! But I do absolutely recommend Goblin Emperor, which is by Monette but under the name Katherine Addison. Anyway, I enjoyed the new perspective of Mehitabel in this book.

The Turning Season, Sharon Shinn

The third in a series I haven’t read. Sharon Shinn is a good comfort author because the plots don’t tend to be super tense and are more about character development. This isn’t my favourite of hers but only because I like straight rather than urban fantasy generally. I liked all the animals. (The main character is a vet who happens to be a shapeshifter.) And I loved the quiet, sensible love interest. My favourite kind of unobtrusive romance! I’m looking forward to reading the two preceding books.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, Eva Rice

I saw a positive review of this book by Elizabeth Wein, and because she is amazing I went out and got it from the library. And she’s right, it is a light version of I Capture the Castle. It’s the 50s, and the main character lives in a crumbling old castle that her family can’t afford (father died in the war, neither sibling is earning much money and the mother constantly overspends). It begins with Penelope’s burgeoning friendship with the bubbly and self-possessed Charlotte. I love Charlotte — she makes her own clothes, she has a clear idea of what she wants to do (open a shop and sell her designs), and she’s warm and loyal to those she cares about. I like Penelope too, but Penelope is still in the process of working her way loose of the secrets mentioned in the title.


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Platonic relationships in YA

w14bouquetPosted this on the library blog last week but figured the books are still relevant even if the day itself has passed:

Living with a florist has its definite perks. A few months ago saw my long-suffering flatmate spending hours in our living room, surrounded by buckets of roses under an arctic flow of air-conditioning, patiently preparing buttonholes and flower arrangements for my wedding. Flatmate of the year award!

On the other hand, the closer it gets to certain holidays, the more stressed she gets. At the moment no one is allowed to mention the words Valentine’s Day for fear it’ll bring on a panic attack. Consumerism has a lot to answer for.

If you, too, feel a stab of panic every time you see a pink cut-out heart or a bunch of roses, maybe you should take my approach and ignore the day altogether. Let’s give Edward Cullen a disdainful eyeroll and have a night in or out with our friends, because, really, it’s time friendship stopped being considered a poor cousin of (or mutually exclusive with) romance.

Do you agree? If so, or even if you don’t, you might enjoy some of these fantastic books featuring strong friendships and family relationships with plots that don’t centre around whether the hottest vampire in school secretly wants to eat you.

Complicit, Stephanie Kuehn

Jamie’s mother was murdered when he was six; about seven years later his sister Cate was incarcerated for burning down a neighbour’s barn; and now Jamie, fifteen, learns that Cate has been released and is coming back for him, blaming him for all the bad things that led to her arrest.

The Raven Boys cycle, Maggie StiefvaterCover of The Raven Boys

This series has everything. Set in the small town of Henrietta, the books feature the strong but complicated friendship between Blue (daughter of a local pyschic) and a group of boys from the local private school (plus one ghost).
Their quest to find the tomb of ancient Welsh king Glendower in the foothills of Virginia is exciting but increasingly dangerous, as they aren’t the only ones on the trail. (Guns might be involved.) Plus a death was predicted at the start of the series and one of the main characters has a deadly allergy to insect stings. Such fun!

Sorrow’s Knot, Erin Bow

An interesting take on zombies and friendship. Otter is a girl of the Shadowed People, a tribe of women, and she is born to be a binder, a woman whose power it is to tie the knots that bind the dead but she is also destined to remake her world.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, E. LockhartCover of Code Name Verity

When Alabaster Prep sophomore Frankie Landau-Banks starts dating senior Matthew Livingston, Matthew refuses to talk about the Loyal Order of the Bassett Hounds, his all-male secret society, so Frankie infiltrates the society to enliven the mediocre pranks for which the club is known.

Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, Elizabeth Wein

Spies and lady pilots in World War II, what’s not to love? If you like books that make you chew off your own fingers while reading, these are for you.

Wildlife, Fiona Wood, which is just super lovely for a million different reasons and you should go out and read it right now.

What are your thoughts on romance in fiction? Love, hate, indifferent?

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