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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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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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