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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Recent reads

The Bearkeeper’s Daughter, Gillian Bradshaw

Not entirely what I expected, having had the impression from the title that the book would focus on Theodora, the Bearkeeper’s Daughter. Instead we follow John, her son, who struggles with conflicting expectations, ulterior motives, and a newly discovered parental relationship. I really enjoyed watching him walk the tightrope of accepting his mother’s gifts while gently resisting her efforts to support him in certain directions.

The Woods, James Tynian IV and Michael Dialynas

An entire school is transported to an alternate world filled with monsters and some mysterious ancient buildings. Some students escape into the woods to try to figure out what’s going on, and the rest struggle against the increasingly draconian ‘safety’ measures of the teachers within the school.

Rose Cottage, Mary Stewart

One of the few books by Mary Stewart that I hadn’t got around to reading. Not my favourite — not that it was bad, it just didn’t have the narrative impetus of, say, Wildfire at Midnight. Probably because there wasn’t a sense of danger? It does feature one of the few Mary Stewart love interests that I actually like, being a normal, nice local lad who becomes friends with the main character rather than thrusting her under his strong arm to save her from evil.

What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night, Refe and Susan Tuma

I never know whether to record non-fiction books here, mostly because I often take forever to finish them or dip in and out in a way that makes it different to know when I’ve actually read the whole thing. (More often it just gets returned to the library on the due date.) This is also the reason why I haven’t finished as many books in the last couple of weeks, as I’m in the middle of a variety of travel guides and history books. Luckily What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night is mostly just photos with captions and therefore quick to finish. If you’ve enjoyed Dinovember, or if you like fun, then get yourself to the library/bookshop and find a copy of this book. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen plastic dinosaurs making a meat smoothie.

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Monthly roundup and recent reads

Reviewed this month:

  • Princess and the Hound, Mette Ivie Harrison
  • Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
  • The New Moon with the Old, Dodie Smith
  • Brother Cadfael’s Penance, Ellis Peters
  • (In a Sense) Lost and Found, Roman Muradov
  • Seconds, Bryan Lee O’Malley
  • Royal Airs, Sharon Shinn
  • Fleabrain loves Franny, Joanne Rocklin
  • Illusions of Fate, Kiersten White
  • Saga vol. 4, Brian K. Vaughan
  • Finder: Third World, Carla Speed McNeil
  • Tina’s Mouth, Keshni Kashyap
  • Crooked Heart, Lissa Evans
  • Unmade, Sarah Rees Brennan
  • Gabi: A Girl in Pieces, Isabel Quintero
  • Blue Lily, Lily Blue, Maggie Stiefvater
  • The Moon and the Face, Patricia McKillip
  • The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters

Darkbeast, Morgan Keyes

Keara’s darkbeast is Caw, a raven who has been her constant companion since birth, taking her faults and making them his own. Everyone has a darkbeast until the age of twelve — on their birthday, they must sacrifice their darkbeast and become an adult. But how can Keara kill her best friend?

I liked the worldbuilding in Darkbeast, the small details of religion and common phrases and family. I think Caw was my favourite — funny and wise and always hungry. But I feel the relationships could have been fleshed out more, and the end seemed a bit weak. I guess it was left hanging a bit in order to get people to read the next book? I don’t know. I’m still undecided on whether I want to read the sequel.

Deep Amber, C. J. Busby

Two pairs of protagonists (a sister and brother in our world, and an apprentice witch and castle troublemaker in another) set out to solve the mystery of objects being transferred across worlds. I read this because I saw a recommendation by Frances Hardinge on the sequel (Dragon Amber), and Frances Hardinge is amazing so I thought maybe this would be amazing too. Alas, I think I suffer from being too old for this book. It’s probably something that I would really enjoy as an eight to twelve year old, but it doesn’t have that deeper layer that authors like Diana Wynne Jones or Frances Hardinge create. I would still recommend Deep Amber for child fans of the above authors as a light read with a similar flavour.

The Motherless Oven, Rob Davis

I don’t even know what to say about this book. A world where it rains knives and children construct their parents out of spare parts and old machinery. Intriguing, but a frustratingly vague ending. Maybe I’m not smart enough? Sometimes comics seem to end just because the author has been working on it for a while and it seems like they should end it, rather than because the story makes sense/is satisfying to end that way. The art was interesting though.

Kingdom by the Sea, Robert Westall

I can’t remember who mentioned this. Elizabeth Wein, maybe? Whoever it was, I’m glad I took note of it because this is fantastic. I thought I’d read Westall before but looking at the books he’s written maybe I haven’t, which is ridiculous because he’s exactly the kind of writer I love. It was interesting reading this so soon after Crooked Heart, which also features an orphaned boy looking for a home but is shelved in adult fiction, whereas Kingdom by the Sea has some adult references (not stated outright, but it’s implied that one character is a paedophile) but is shelved in the children’s section. Not saying they shouldn’t be shelved where they are, but it goes to show that anyone who thinks kid’s books are simple or don’t deal with serious issues are reading the wrong books.

The Just City, Jo Walton

Very philosophical, which isn’t surprising given that it’s set in Plato’s Republic — or rather, the best approximation that its citizens can create. This isn’t something that would normally appeal to me. The narrative voice of the novel is incredibly passive to the point where I didn’t really feel any emotions even when awful things happened, and the characters didn’t seem to really feel emotions either. On the other hand I kept reading to the end, and I have a vague interest in learning what happens to the city.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Childhood Favourites

toptentuesday I saw By Singing Light used this theme this week (originally from the Broke and the Bookish) and it made me start thinking about what my favourite books were in childhood (well, between the ages of 8 and 12). Took me a while to think of some of them as I haven’t reread most of them in a long time, and my favourite kids books now aren’t necessarily those I loved then. I’ve tried to go for specific books that stood out for me rather than an entire series (e.g. the Redwall books, which I loved and still own), but there are still a few authors that I can’t narrow down to just one example of their ouevre. For example:

The Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones: I still like the Chrestomanci books but I probably like DWJ’s older works more now. They’re still fun to read, though — some seriously awful (but realistically evil) characters and some incredibly funny moments (such as one of the witches making an escape on an old mop in Witch Week). I have some questions now — for example, why is the Chrestomanci always white, male and British? — but I would still recommend them to anyone who likes fun fantasy books with some dark bits in.

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome: I loved these books so much I made my family traipse around the Lake District looking at the knickerbockerbreaker and Lake Windermere. These are getting a bit dated now (still uncomfortable reading Missee Lee, and it’s the only one I don’t own), but the everyday adventures of camping alone and sailing on the lakes (or at sea, or in Norfolk) still appeal to me. Alas, my enthusiasm for sailing is restricted to the literary variety, as I seem to get horribly seasick on smaller vessels.

The Moomintroll series by Tove Jansson: Maybe an acquired taste? I adore the Moomins but my sister has never been able to understand the love. They’ve been reprinted recently though so hopefully there will be a new generation of Moomin fans. I think Snufkin is my favourite.

The Boggart by Susan Cooper: I haven’t read this recently but I remember it being more light-hearted than the Dark is Rising series. Set in Scotland, with ghosties and friends and castles.

The Owl Service by Alan Garner: I read this the same year I was living in England. I don’t know if it was being in another country, or the first onset of puberty, or if it was just being in a familiar literary landscape — either way, I read a lot of books that year that have strong memories for me. Memories that aren’t necessarily in the books. The Owl Service isn’t quite how I remember reading it then, but it still has that sense of the other, the slow creep of mist over the hills. I wish I had flower/owl pottery.

The Summer Birds by Penelope Farmer: Another emotional read. Everyone dreams of flying, right? The characters in this book get to realise that dream, and it’s great and lots of fun (e.g. landing like a duck on the lake), but then there’s the suckerpunch of an ending which made me cry every time. I only recently realised that it was part of a loose trilogy — I enjoyed Charlotte Sometimes (Emma in Winter not so much), but I haven’t yet read her other books.

The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye: Used to be one of my favourite comfort reads. I loved the cover image, and the storyline is very peaceful and everything works out wonderfully at the end. Plus at the time it seemed incredibly subversive to have an ordinary princess.

Ronia the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren: I have a memory of my mother reading this to me in German, but she doesn’t remember. I remember loving Trina Schart Hyman’s cover illustration (still love it!), and how self-sufficient Ronia is, and the awfulness of the divide between Ronia’s family and Birk’s family. It’s a very wry book, funny in parts, but dark in many ways.

The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White: Funny and interesting and full of animals and the characters are all wonderful. I remember wishing so hard to be able to turn into a fish, or a bird, or any animal really. And King Pellinore and the Questing Beast are my favourites. The rest of the series (it’s all published together in The Once and Future King) gets darker and darker with the inevitable depressing end. I have the same problem with the fabulous Squire’s Tales series by Gerald Morris: fantastically funny, and then horribly depressing. Stupid King Arthur, ruining everything by dying.

Winter of Fire by Sherryl Jordan: I’m not sure when I read this. Probably earlier than I should have? Led to lots of thinking about sexism and slavery and also to the belief that I could just think myself warm. (Spoiler: I can’t.) It’s interesting because Elsha is such a strong character, and a lot of the book is raising questions about how women are treated (albeit in a future society), but she is battling sexism while being surrounded by men. There are very few ladies in this book. On a completely different note, I think I picked this up because I thought the lady on the cover looked like me. This is why diversity in and on books is important, people!

Oh and it’s definitely over ten now but I just realised I haven’t mentioned the Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce! I was probably too young when I first read them but the sex was unobtrusive and mostly went right over my head. Plus no one’s too young for a sensible attitude to contraception and loving more than one person, right? Definitely one of my favourite childhood series, despite some hmmm moments when reading them now.


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Recent reads

Seconds, Bryan Lee O’Malley

Read this after seeing Ana’s review — love the slightly snarky narrator! And I can sympathise with the desire to go back and fix mistakes before they happen. It’s a fun, quick read.

(In a Sense) Lost and Found, Roman Muradov

Not sure how I feel about this? Super quirky. Main character loses her innocence and sets out to find it again. Very short.

The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters

I actually read this a couple of weeks ago, but I don’t appear to have blogged about it. Very well-written, and very evocative of the period. The only thing I wasn’t sure about was what attracted the two main characters together — they didn’t really seem to have a lot in common.

Brother Cadfael’s Penance, Ellis Peters

Last book in the Cadfael series, sadly. It’s not my favourite, but I enjoyed it more than Summer of the Danes. It tied up a few loose ends, which was nice.

The New Moon with the Old, Dodie Smith

Odd but enjoyable. Jane accepts a position as housekeeper/secretary of a house full of teenage and adult children, and almost immediately finds out that their father has fled and there is no money. Rest of the book follows both Jane and the children as they go out and work for the first time in order to keep the house running.

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

This is one of those books I really enjoyed but don’t think I’ll want to read again. It alternates between following characters before a major pandemic and after it has wiped out 99.9 percent of the world’s population. The characters are all linked together in some way. I think my favourite character was Miranda, who spent all her free time pre-pandemic creating comics featuring Dr. Eleven on a perpetually dimmed space station. I would totally read it if it existed. And I also loved the Shakespeare connections, the similarities of a world hit by plague. A very thoughtful book, and if I had to suspend my disbelief sometimes with aspects of the post-pandemic world, it was interesting enough that it didn’t bother me much.

The Princess and the Hound, Mette Ivie Harrison

I loved the first half of it, but it lost me in the second. The romance seemed a bit forced, and the finale was odd to say the least. I might try one of her other books. I think from the title I was expecting something more like the latter half of Deerskin by Robin McKinley, with lots of dogs and animals.

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