Recent Reading: C.J. Cherryh and Gail Carson Levine

I just couldn’t keep up the J Fic only thing any longer, and ended up plowing through the second Bren Cameron trilogy in three nights, staying up way too late. I’m not intentionally spoiling things here, but I’m also not avoiding spoilers, so tread carefully.

Thoughts on specific books
precursorPrecursor by C.J. Cherryh: After the first trilogy, it’s nice to see Bren with some self-confidence. He still doesn’t know everything, he’s still blindsided by his allies as often as his enemies, but he’s more settled in his own authority, his own skin. Which for me, makes him a more compelling character. We get our first real taste of the ship culture, and how different it is from both Mospheira and the mainland. Cherryh does this difference in cultures thing very well.

defenderDefender by C.J. Cherryh: Ah, this is in my opinion the weakest of the Bren Cameron books that I’ve read. The tension seems ratcheted down; I never really doubted the outcome. I do like seeing Jase stepping up, since in some ways his arc in this trilogy echoes Bren’s in the previous books.

explorerExplorer by C.J. Cherryh: This book contains an interesting broadening of Cherryh’s usual themes–the complex interaction between alien & human societies and government. At the end, I can’t help but wonder if the Pilot’s Guild become understood as the atevi, kyo, and ship humans have, by interaction with particular individuals. Or, because of their isolationism, will they be the true aliens in the middle of this far-reaching alliance?

Thoughts about the trilogy overall
I noticed Bren starting to think in atevi terms first, perhaps mirroring a similar response in readers. That is, I noticed myself registering numbers, on a very low level, but I was definitely noticing the structure of the sentences. You can feel the tension in Tabini’s actions at beginning of Precursor and his choice to speak between the second and third bells. This is some fine writing.

I do sigh a little about the portrayal of ordinary women. I like Jago and Illisidi a great deal, and especially perhaps the different ways in which they wield power. There are also several competent experts, from Gin Kroger to Sabin. These tend to be older, which makes logical sense in terms of their experience and is nice to see in a universe that’s otherwise very young. But–but, Bren’s mother and Barb are both viewed with skepticism, distance; an unkindness that no one else gets. For what? Because they inconvenience him? I don’t have an answer for this, but given what’s happened so far I’m not sure I’ll get an answer that’s satisfying to me. I’m not accusing, or pointing any fingers, but it’s enough of a pattern that I noticed it.

Of course, the point of view in these books is SO limited it might as well be first person, so we are getting them filtered solely through Bren. But we are led throughout–in basically everything else–to trust Bren. We feel his reactions, his emotions. It’s certainly understandable that he has a weak point, but why does it have to involve sneering at women who put their whole selves into raising children?

I wondered at one point if Bren’s full name is Brendan, for St. Brendan the Voyager. It would seem very fitting in these books.

Now for something completely different
princess talesThe Princess Tales by Gail Carson Levine: Levine does fun things with fairy tales, but these shorter stories are no Ella Enchanted. They use the structure of traditional stories and subvert them a bit, but never quite enough–at least for me. I especially found the resolution of the first story, a retelling of “Toads and Diamonds” to be frustrating. Seriously? I’m supposed to accept this as okay? “Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep” was probably my favorite of the three, although my adult brain was muttering darkly about How Child Development Works and The Necessity of Sleep to Proper Functioning.

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Links from Around the Web

- Major security flaw in basically everything. So that’s mildly terrifying!

- I am in love with this sweater and I must knit it. Thinking this yarn in either Dragonfly or Luster.

- I very much liked Ana’s review of The Scorpio Races over at Things Mean a Lot. She really captures the depth and complexity of the story which is part of why I love it so much.

- Megan Whalen Turner is on Tumblr!

- This essay about the quiet women of history is amazing. I could quote the whole thing, but especially this: “Others, (in)curiously, are too meek, too goody-goody to be worth noting (they don’t fit the check-list of modern ideas of agency)…good wives and sisters and daughters, women who suffered and served. They make us uncomfortable, by fitting the social roles laid out for us too well. As male-dominated history judges us – not significant, not valuable, not important – so we judge other women from our collective pasts and consign them to continued silence. Women of the past must make us proud, and to do so, they must live up to our present-day needs. To justify ourselves, we need a history full of successes: we must answer the questions well – see our female Shakespeares…our female politicians…our musicians…and artists…and astronomers…We don’t have space for the silent or those who failed for whatever reason to shine. We can’t afford them, though histories worldwide are full of undistinguished men. For women, even now, only the best will do.”

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Top Ten Tuesday: Unique books

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This is a post for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. You can find out more and follow along there!

I don’t know that any book is truly unique, but I’ll take this in the spirit it was probably meant and highlight some books that do interesting, different things. Granted this also kind of reads like a list of my favorite books, but that’s okay.

1. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. I mean, anything by Megan Whalen Turner, but especially the first book. I think partly it’s that many readers have guessed that something’s up, but no one I know of has actually figured it out.

2. The Oxford books by Connie Willis. I can’t think of another series where every book has different protagonists and is inspired by a different genre but which works.

3. Patricia McKillip, simply because her voice and books are so distinctive; it’s not so much that she does something revolutionary as that she’s just unmistakable.

4. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. If we’re going for twists and unreliable narrators and “wait, I have to read this book again to understand how she did it!”, this is the book.

5. Passion Blue by Victoria Strauss. I can’t think of another book that takes place in a Renaissance convent. No nun assassins here, just actual nuns, and a quiet, thoughtful look at a life most of us don’t understand.

6. A bit like Patricia McKillip, Frances Hardinge‘s books are so distinctive and wonderful. She weaves in politics, history, wild adventures, and coming-of-age stories, usually in one book.

7. Charm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn is the definition of twisty. But even more than that, it’s a tragic, hard, beautiful story.

8. Chime by Franny Billingsley. A divisive book, but one I love. The uniqueness comes from Briony’s narration.

9. I’m putting Archer’s Goon, by Diana Wynne Jones, on this list partly because it was one of the first fantasy books I ever read, back in middle school, and it was such a revelation to me.

10. It’s easy to overlook just how amazing Agatha Christie, because now she’s seen as a classic, and so many people have copied her plots and character types. But when you start to think about her detectives, the twists she uses, her brilliance becomes apparent.

11. Ultraviolet & Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson. YA Science fiction is perhaps a slightly underdeveloped genre to begin with, but what Anderson does with these two books is truly different than anything else I can think of, adult or YA.

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April releases I’m excited about

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The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison: This has already been getting buzz from readers I trust. I hope it lives up to expectations!

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman: The title told me everything I needed to know.

Stolen Songbird by Danielle Jensen: I haven’t heard much about this one, but it sounds intriguing.

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel: Confession–I’ve never finished an Oppel book. This one sounds like it could either be enchanting, or a bit too cutesy.

Sekret by Lindsey Smith: Soviet-era psychic? Blurbed by Elizabeth Wein? I’m both interested and slightly worried.

House of Ivy & Sorrow by Natalie Whipple: I don’t know much about this one, aside from the cover (love!) and the title, but it sounds promising.

The Eighth Day by Dianne K Salerni: I loved Salerni’s previous book, The Caged Graves, so I’m definitely reading this one!

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Library Displays: Springish edition

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Very simple, partially inspired by a yalsa listserv post (so I guess my original feeling of, “Are you KIDDING? You’re asking other people for books with green covers instead of looking at your collection?” is probably not kind of me). I printed out “Go Green!,” cut them out, stuck them on popsicle sticks and proceeded to scour the collection for books with green covers.

Fairy Tales
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I am extremely opposed to glitter, but in the interests of patron happiness, I sacrificed both morals and my personal taste and glittered up a pair of fairy wings. I tried to stick to fairy stories from the chapter books and fairy tales that have fairies in them (a surprising number don’t), since I’ve done folk and fairytale displays several times already. This has been a fairly popular display, but I can’t quite figure out which items have been circing.

Spring

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Last year I did a rainy theme, but this year after the winter we all had, I wanted something cheerful. So big tulips it is! These were pretty simple–I sketched them out and put them together in a day.

Poetry tree

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I took this as my inspiration, although mine didn’t turn out looking quite so fancy. Then I cut out leaves of different colors and wrote out bits of poems from several favorite poets on the leaves. Glued them on and attached.

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March 2014 reading list

Books I’ve already talked about
The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle
Hunt for the Hydra by Jason Fry
Dragonborn by Toby Forward
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary Schmidt
Hide and Seek by Ida Vos
Kingdom Under the Sea by Joan Aiken
Sun Horse, Moon Horse by Rosemary Sutcliff
Binny For Short by Hilary McKay
Enemy Brothers by Constance Savery
Runemarks by Joanne Harris

Other books
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson: Rachel Neumeier suggested this one when I posted about books that give me feels. It’s a heartwrenching contemporary YA. I liked Lennie, the main character, a lot. I especially liked that the story gives her room to make mistakes without judgement. And I was happy with the way the romance was resolved.

Hob and the Goblins by William Mayne: This is an older book. It’s an odd little story, which I enjoyed but in a dreamy sort of way which doesn’t really lend itself to enthusiasm. It might work well for fans of Elizabeth Goudge’s children’s books.

Rose by Holly Webb: This is a very lovely middle grade fantasy, which focuses on a different class than most books of its type. Rose is an orphan and then a servant, rather than a lady. I liked the historical setting and especially Rose, who is a lovely main character.

Constable & Toop by Gareth Jones: Another middle grade historical fantasy. For some reason, I didn’t like this one as much as I thought I was going to, and I’m not quite sure why. There were lots of nice elements, and yet somehow it never quite became amazing. Bah.

Charlotte, Sometimes by Penelope Farmer: Which I found, appropriately enough, on Charlotte’s Library. It’s a time-travel story, with an English boarding school feel. There’s a bit of heartache, but it’s not traumatic.

A Song for Bijou by Josh Farrar: This is a sweet middle grade romance with multi-cultural elements. It was nicely written, but at the same time I had niggling doubts about it. Perhaps something about how easy it was for Alex to enter into Bijou’s world? I don’t know.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh: Tears of laughter.

The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder: The Egypt Game was one of my favorite books when I was younger, so I decided to try The Headless Cupid. It turned out to be super creepy! I appreciate ZKS’s writing chops, but no. Just no.

Five, Six, Seven, Nate by Tim Federle: I think I’m the only one who didn’t love this one as much as the first book. Maybe it’s just middle book syndrome, but so much seemed unresolved. I did like Nate’s romance, which was sweet and nicely done.

The Twistrose Key by Tone Almhjell: This is a nice classic-feeling middle grade fantasy. Like several other recent mg fantasies, it has a Scandinavian feeling to it (which makes perfect sense in Almhjell’s case). It doesn’t do new and exciting things, but it has the kind of comforting and old-fashioned feel of a good cup of hot chocolate.

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods: A biracial girl connects with the black side of her family, who she hasn’t met because her father died before she was born and they’re not on speaking terms with her mother. It’s not very subtle, but it’s a sweet story and well written, and does come organically from Violet’s experiences. And there’s a lot of nice bits about identity and family and forgiveness.

Real American Girls Tell Their Own Stories by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler
Bird Lake Moon by Kevin Henkes
The Dream Stealer by Sid Fleischman
A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer

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Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor

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Today, however, younger generations have no experience of that time when signs over rest-room doors, sings over water fountains, in restaurant windows and hotels said: WHITE ONLY, COLORED NOT ALLOWED. Today’s generation of children, as well as many of their parents and teachers, have not had to endure such indignities or even worse aspects of racism that once pervaded America, and I am grateful for that. But, unfortunately, as we all know, racism still exists.

-Mildred Taylor, Foreword to the 25th Anniversary edition of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Until quite recently, I had not read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, despite several people suggesting it to me. And then I was tired of middle grade fantasy that takes the same old tired tropes and recycles them without using them to do something new, and so I sat down and started to read Cassie Logan’s story.

I wish I had read it years ago; I am so glad I have read it now.

Days later, I still can’t stop thinking about how relevant–how tragically relevant–this book is today. The systems that held the Logan family and even the well-meaning whites helpless still exist, in our under-funded urban schools, our prison systems, our justice system that does not convict those who murder black men. I cannot stop thinking about T.J., about Trayvon Martin, about Jordan Davis, all the young black boys who are killed for the crime of not being perfect, who are killed for the crime of existing.

In one sense, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is the story of young black siblings growing up and becoming aware of the world they live in, that you can’t walk on the sidewalk, go to this town, talk to those people. Because you’re black. It is the story of their struggle to understand this system and what it means. Stacey cannot be friends with Jeremy, though they both might want to, and part of his maturing is realizing that this is true and accepting it.

If you want to see the pain of racism, its effects on everyone it touches, you should read this book.

Roll of thunder,
Hear my cry
Over the water
Bye and bye
Ole man comin’
Down the line
Whip in hand
To beat me down
But I ain’t
Gonna let him
Turn me ’round

But of course, this is only part of the story. And I was equally struck by another aspect, by the strength of the Logan family and the way they are portrayed. They, especially David, the children’s father, show the spirit that echoes through the titular song. There is understanding of the way the world is, and yet a refusal to accept it and give up. David Logan picks his battles, but he does fight. And again and again, despite their relative helplessness (30 years before “I Have a Dream”, deep in Mississippi, with no support) the Logan family chooses to do what’s right. Even Mary, perhaps more cautious than the others, pastes over the school books that show how little the white authorities care for black children. She does not win; they cannot win; they do it anyway.

And at the same time, despite the moral courage of all these characters, there is also understanding of the fact that they are relatively privileged. They are not sharecroppers, they have the land. This is explicitly spelled out by David to Stacey: “You were born blessed, boy, with land of your own. If you hadn’t been, you’d cry out for it while you try to survive…like Mr. Lanier and Mr. Avery. Maybe even do what they doing now. It’s hard on a man to give up, but sometimes it seems there just ain’t nothing else he can do.”

I was also struck by the sense of history, of family history, that’s present throughout. The stories of Paul-Edward, the children’s grandfather, and of his parents are told routinely. Cassie and the other Logan siblings have this history rooted in them, the history of slavery, freedom, hope, and the land. This is powerful, partly because it helps the reader really understand the motivations of David and Uncle Hammer, but also because it makes clear that the Logans remember the past, keep it alive, that their family history is important and real and vivid. Their lives are important and real and vivid. They matter.

And at the same time as all of this, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is the story of a young girl as she grows up. Cassie bickers with her siblings, she is afraid, she is lonely. She delights in the physical world around her; she sorrows over the world she lives in. She is flawed and human and wonderful. Her voice shines out through the pages of the book as clearly as though she were speaking, and her narration at the end is beautiful and terrible and absolutely pitch-perfect. More than any of the other Logans, even Stacey, she walked straight into my heart.

My father and the other storytellers told my family’s history truly, and it is this history that I have related in my books. When there was humor, my family passed it on. When there was tragedy, they passed it on. When the words hurt, they passed them on. My stories will not be ‘politically correct,’ so there will be those who will be offended by them, but as we all know, racism is offensive.
It is not polite, and it is full of pain.

-Mildred Taylor, Foreword to the 25th Anniversary edition of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

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