Tag Archives: sarah waters

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

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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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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