Tag Archives: 2015

Snowfall

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 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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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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Crooked Heart, Lissa Evans

Search for Crooked Heart on the library catalogueI’ve read World War II evacuee stories before. The fear of the unknown, sullen confusion, awful foster homes, inevitable loss. Children labelled like lunches, dragged from door to door in search of a temporary home. I can’t think of many novels with positive evacuee experiences.

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans doesn’t sound like a positive evacuee story, but it is. It begins with Noel, age 10, realising his godmother, Mattie, is succumbing to dementia. A tragedy for anyone to have to deal with, but especially for a boy on his own.

She was losing words. At first it was quite funny. ‘The box of things,’ Mattie would say, waving her mauve-veined hands vaguely around the kitchen. ‘The box of things for making flames. It’s a song, Noel!

The box of things for making flames
I can’t recall their bloody names.’

After a while, it stopped being funny. Some words would resurface after a few days; others would sink for ever. Noel started writing labels: ‘SHAWL’, ‘WIRELESS’, ‘GAS MASK’, ‘CUTLERY DRAWER’.

There are two unusual and meaningful relationships in this book: between Noel and his suffragette godmother Mattie, who is so erudite and funny I could quote pretty much anything—

‘Hobbies are for people who don’t read books,’ said Noel; it was one of Mattie’s sayings.

—and, later, between Noel and his foster mother Vee, whose early descriptions make me think of a hen — head constantly turning, looking for something better.

At first Vee sees Noel as an opportunity, a crippled evacuee who might get her some more money (which she is severely lacking). In a way she was right: Noel quickly catches on to her scams, and becomes the level-headed organiser of their illegal outings. It sounds awful, but I ended up rooting for the pair of them, even while they’re going around pretending to be collecting for the war fund. Despite their seeming differences — Vee is “common” and middle-aged, Noel is educated and a child — they’re both lonely and neglected by their surviving relatives. Their growing affection for each other and funny/heart-breaking mishaps already guarantee Crooked Heart a place on my Best Of 2015 list.

Some more books of love and friendship set before, during or after the World Wars:

Search for From a Distance on the library catalogueSearch for Code Name Verity on the library catalogue

What are your favourite sad but funny books?

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Recent reads

Saga vol. 4, Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Fantastic, as always. I love the art, I love the snark, and I love the characters. I just wish comics didn’t take so long to make. I need more Hazel and Friendo and Lying Cat in my life, please.

 

Illusions of Fate, Kiersten White

I picked this up because the main character is an islander girl and it looked like it would deal with colonialism but with bonus magic thrown in. And that’s what it was, kind of, but with a bit too much melodrama for me personally. I’m never a huge fan of having a love interest foisted on the reader as soon as the book starts, without any background to make them seem attractive other than their golden shining hair.

Royal Airs, Sharon Shinn

Sequel to Troubled Waters, which I read last year. I find Shinn’s books very comforting to read — I’m not constantly trying to guess a plot twist, I’m just interested in following the characters’ decisions and seeing what happens next. I also like the culture of Welce, the different elements that can be detected in someone’s personality, the everyday ritual of getting your blessings drawn from the temple. And going back to what I was saying earlier about love interests, this was a great example of a naturally growing attraction which doesn’t derail the main plots. And also of a main character who starts off as someone who’s kind of cruising through life, working from day to day being relatively content but not especially fulfilled, and then by the end of the book has found something he’s passionate about and also true to his nature. In fact, both the main characters have separate projects they work on and enjoy and support each other in. Always nice to have a realistic, positive relationship modelled in a book!

Fleabrain Loves Franny, Joanne Rocklin

Fairly solid middle-grade book. The story begins with Franny recovering from polio, trying to regain the use of her legs and dealing with sudden isolation. Her friends drop “Get Well Soon” cards in her letterbox and shout “We miss you!” when they pass her house, but they won’t get too close or touch her because of the mistaken belief that Franny is contagious. In the background is the witch hunt for communists lead by McCarthy, so there’s an obvious parallel. I enjoyed these aspects of the novel, but I wasn’t so sold on the magical flea friendship. Sorry, Fleabrain.

 

 

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Recent reads

Blue Lily, Lily Blue, Maggie Stiefvater

I fell in love with Stiefvater’s books the way you fall asleep: slowly, then stealing a John Green quote. This was the book that tipped the scales for me — I liked the Scorpio Races, I liked Raven Boys and Dream Thieves, but I loved Blue Lily, Lily Blue. I don’t know why this one caught me when the others didn’t, but I’m now on the Steve-otter train with everyone else. This is both exciting (I have the rest of her books to read!) and frustrating (the last Raven Boys book isn’t out yet!).

Unmade, Sarah Rees Brennan

I think I need to read the entire trilogy over again. The banter is fantastic as always, and I’m more on board with Jared as love interest now that he’s stopped being so much of an angry douchecanoe. Still not happy about mentally unhealthy psychic connections though. And as for a certain traumatic event, there are not enough sadfaces in the world to convey my distress. Curse you, Brennan!

Finder: Third World, Carla Speed McNeil

I never quite know what to make of the Finder books. I love the cities and the world-building, the mix of future technology and desperate poverty, and I love that there are distinct cultures and identities that aren’t all based on white Americans. Jaeger, the main character of Third World, is a great example. I would try to describe him but he’s a mystery even to himself, I think. The main plotline for Third World follows Jaeger getting a job at a courier company, leading to various interesting scenarios, and then somehow ending up in the middle of a desert to deal with problems in and around the titular town of Third World.

Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary, Keshni Kashyap

Pretty accurate depiction of high school life with added Sartre! Tina’s best friend suddenly drops her at the beginning of the book, because high school relationships are inexplicable. The rest of the book charts what she does in the absence of a best-friend safety net and also her thoughts on existentialism and what everything really means, who are we exactly, etc. Also deals with some unintended racism on the part of school colleagues. This makes it sound very dry but actually it’s very easy to read and Tina’s kindness and snarkiness balance out perfectly.

Crooked Heart, Lissa Evans

Full-length post forthcoming because I loved this book and my love needs more space than just one paragraph.

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Gabi, a Girl in Pieces — Isabel Quintero

Gabi is Mexican-American, a poetry nerd, and has a meth addicted father. She has two best friends: Cindy, who suspects she’s pregnant, and Sebastian, who is about to come out to his homophobic parents.

The way Gabi writes reminds me of a more eloquent and thoughtful version of my teenage self — although my life didn’t have nearly as much drama. (I just thought it did.) Gabi is both insecure (her mom hassles her about her weight) and confident (she performs spoken word poetry in front of several audiences and stands up for what she believes in).

I’m always a bit wary of fat main characters because so often by the end of the book they’ve come to “accept themselves for who they are” by losing lots of weight. Gabi loses some weight, and gains some weight. Like a normal person! And this isn’t a book about how fat girls can be attractive (all about that bass, ’bout that bass), it’s about unfair expectations and beauty standards and patriarchy and rape culture and growing up into an adult body when no one really explains how adult bodies work. Especially if you’re a lady. There are some parts in the book where Gabi is writing down questions she wishes she could ask her mom, and they made me laugh because they’re exactly the kinds of things I wished I could ask when I hit puberty. Things like:

How long does sex last for? A few minutes? An hour?

If you think I am so smart, why do you think I will make stupid choices?

And Gabi’s relationships with boys! Super adorable.

I wore the Edgar Allen Poe T-shirt today in the hopes that [spoiler] would say something like, “You got my gift! I’m glad you liked it. Do you want to be my girlfriend? Maybe we could get some tortas?” And I would say, “I loved the gift! Yes, I’ll be your girlfriend! And I know of a really good torta place!” I didn’t run that scenario by anyone.

But when I wore it, all he said was, “Nice T-shirt” and whether I was still up for going to the coffee shop. I said yes and he said, “Cool, you wanna go Friday with Lindsay and me?”

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Why would he send me this stupid T-shirt if he and Lindsay are making all sorts of poetry sex plans?

I haven’t even mentioned how caring and complicated her relationships with both her friends and family are. It’s on my list of books for hypothetical future offspring to read.

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