Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my fall TBR list

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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!

1. The Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon Flake (September): I really enjoyed Flake’s Pinned when I read it a few years ago. And there’s nothing about this book that doesn’t sound awesome!

2. Winterfrost by Michelle Houts (September): I mostly picked this one up on the strength of the cover, and the intriguing blurb.

3. Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson (September): I had mixed feelings about Johnson’s debut, The Summer Prince, but her writing was so strong that I’m definitely planning to pick this one up.

4. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (September): I read Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere fairly recently and liked it.

5. The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud (September): I loved the first book in Stroud’s Lockwood & Co. series! I have this one now and can’t wait to start it.

6. Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan (September): Out today! Last in the Lynburn Legacy trilogy! It will break your heart! I’ve already read it, thanks to Net Galley, but I couldn’t resist including it here.

7. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (October): Ancillary Justice, Leckie’s Hugo winning novel (!), was definitely one of my favorite books in the last year. It’s so, SO good. I’m looking forward to this one, in that nervous “How can it live up to my expectations?” way.

8. Perfectly Good White Boy by Carrie Mesrobian (October): Mesrobian’s Sex & Violence was one of my favorite books from my Cybils reading last year, and I’m definitely excited to see what she does next.

9. Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater (October): I have no idea what’s going to happen in this book, because Maggie Stiefvater always manages to surprise me. I’m pretty sure I’ll end up overcome by my feels at some point.

10. The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp (October): This is one I haven’t heard much about, but it sounds so fun! I’m hoping it’s good.

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Cybils 2014

As I can now say, since it’s been announced, I’m going to be a judge for the Cybils Awards again! This year I’ll be in the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category, doing Round 1 judging. I’m really excited about this, and happy to be working with my fellow Round 1 judges.

This also means that from October-mid December I’ll be reading SO MUCH. When nominations open, be sure to nominate your favorites from the past year!

Cybils-Logo-2014-Rnd1

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Noor Inayat Khan and the SOE

Caveat to the rest of this post: I am waaay not an expert in this field. I’ve done what I would call a fair amount of amateur reading about WWII generally, and a bit about the SOE and its female agents specifically.

Wartime photo of Noor Inayat Khan, from the Imperial War Museum

Wartime photo of Noor Inayat Khan, from the Imperial War Museum

Since Code Name Verity was published in 2012, I’ve become much more aware of the history of the British WWII spy organization called the SOE. One of the main characters in Verity is an SOE agent and wireless operator, the other is a pilot in the WAAF and ATA. One of the interesting aspects of the SOE is its use of female agents, especially in France. This is, of course, a big part of Verity, but it’s also based in fact.

In following Elizabeth Wein’s blog and Twitter, I discovered that one of her inspirations for Verity was a fascinating woman named Noor Inayat Khan (who, it’s worth noting, was half-Indian and Muslim). I’ve seen several posts on Tumblr about Noor recently, and through them discovered that there was a recent documentary that aired on PBS*. The documentary is called “Enemy of the Reich” and should still be available for online viewing if you’re in the US.

Since there’s a bit of a surge of interest, I thought I would pull together a few resources for those who are interested in finding out more about Noor Inayat Khan and the SOE more generally. Again, see the caveat: if you know of resources I haven’t listed here, PLEASE let me know and I’ll add them!

Websites
Wikipedia page
2006 article from The Independent
An essay from the producer of “Enemy of the Reich”
Nice overview profile
The Imperial War Museum’s SOE page
Some more photos from various points of Noor Inayat Khan’s life
(There are also some articles in the Times (London) which I’m not linking to because they’re behind a paywall. If you have access, they’re easy to find by searching.)

Books
A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII by Sarah Helm (my review)**
Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan by Shrabani Basu
The Women Who Lived For Danger: The Women Agents of SOE in the Second World War by Marcus Binney
Churchill’s Angels by Bernard O’Connor (I started this one and somehow O’Connor manages to render his subject extremely dry)
Noor-un-nisa Inayat Khan: Madeleine by Jean Overton Fuller (a personal friend of Noor Inayat Khan in England)

In the end, it’s easy to get hung up on the romantic details of Noor Inayat Khan’s short life. But what strikes me is her bravery, her resourcefulness, and her sheer toughness in the face of conditions that would overwhelm most people.

* I thought it was quite touching and well done overall, although I believe they completely messed up on the fact that Noor was born in Moscow, not St. Petersburg! I appreciated the fact that they were able to get quite a bit of information and commentary from Noor’s family, which gave a very personal sense to the documentary. I did wish they had mentioned Vera Atkins, although I know they were trying to fit everything in an hour.

** Helm is also coming out with a book about Ravensbruck

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Favorite Authors: R.J. Anderson

I first heard about RJ Anderson’s books because she’s been an active member of the Sounis LiveJournal group, which is to say that we have some personal connection. But I just love her books, for several reasons: she writes stories that feel fresh, I like her characters, and I feel like we share a set of references and interests that make her books feel like coming home. Whether she’s writing about faeries or science fiction, she’s also committed to showing diversity in a quiet but very real way.

Favorite R.J. Anderson books
1. Knife
2. Ultraviolet
3. Quicksilver
4. Arrow
5. Swift

All my R.J. Anderson reviews
Knife briefly (2009), and again (2009)
Rebel, briefly (2010)
Arrow, briefly (2014)
Swift, briefly (2014)
Ultraviolet (2011)
Quicksilver (2013)

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Recent Reading: 9-9-2014

west of the moonWest of the Moon by Margi Preus: I’m struggling with whether to call this one fantasy or not. It’s clearly in conversation with fairy tales, sometimes literally, and Astri uses “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” to make sense of the world. But when it comes down to it, nothing that’s strictly fantastical happens, which makes me feel like it’s not exactly fantasy.

I’ve put the cart before the horse a bit: West of the Moon is the story of Astri, a young Norwegian girl who at the beginning of the story is essentially sold to a goatman by her aunt and uncle. Preus has a deft hand with a phrase and I loved the way the fairy tales were woven into the story, as Astri both draws on them to give her courage and frequently points out when they’re nothing like real life. I also liked the fact that the Astri’s major relationship is with her sister Greta, and the nuanced ways the antagonists are shown. And the theme of emigration to America and they way that’s also woven into Astri’s personal journey really helped ground the story in its time period.

At the same time, I liked it without absolutely loving it. Astri is occasionally a prickly person, which is nice to see in a middle grade book, and I generally loved her voice and narration. But for me it never tipped over from enjoyment into complete book-love. There was nothing wrong that I can point to, except that at a few points it seemed shallow where it should have been deep, but that’s unsatisfyingly vague even to me. All that to say, you may well love this one. Leila did, and so did Betsy Bird.

my real childrenMy Real Children by Jo Walton: I loooved Among Others, Walton’s Hugo-winning 2011 book. My Real Children is her first book after Among Others and I was a bit nervous about it because of that. Now that I’ve read it, I’m left with the most mixed of mixed feelings.

On the one hand, the premise! It sounds a bit gimmicky, but in Walton’s hands it’s not; it’s beautiful and dreadful and heartbreaking. And whether she’s Pat or Tricia/Trish, Pat herself is real and vibrant.

On the other hand, I struggled a lot with the middle section. I actually stopped reading for awhile, until I read Ana’s review. There were a couple of reasons for this, but it boils down to the fact that I couldn’t quite shake the sense that I was reading a treatise instead of a novel. Tricia’s life=terrible, Pat’s life=great. It turns out that if I had read just a few pages further, this becomes much more complicated, and it’s that sense of complication that carried me through to, as Ana says, the Rorschach test of the ending.

On the third hand, Walton’s writing is so wonderful! It’s this understated mastery of the voice of her character, and these quiet “wait, what did that say?” moments which disrupt our sense of knowing what’s going to happen. Neither Trish nor Pat live in exactly our world, and I really appreciated the little details that make that clear.

On the fourth hand, I had a personal reaction which is very much personal: I felt a bit preached at. Not enough to stop reading entirely, a la Handmaid’s Tale, but enough to feel like I was slogging a bit, even when things picked up in the second half of the book. I think some readers might find the same aspect of the book validating, a rallying call. For me, I had a hard time not reading the trajectory of both Trish and Pat’s lives as the replacing of one “right way to be a woman” with another. This is not a fair reading, exactly. Walton’s a much better writer than that, and things are more complicated. But it’s that sense that–oh, how do I put it exactly? In the sympathetic characters in this book, there’s no one who looks like me? I’m still not saying what I mean. I’m not quite sure how to say it, or exactly what I do mean. But it was a strong enough feeling that it created a bit of distance which kept me from completely engaging with the story in the way I wanted to.

But, as I said, that’s a very personal reaction. And in the end, I’m glad this book exists, and I’m glad I read it.

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Links from around the web: 9-4-14

- This is really beautiful. (via Miriam Forster)

- I’m not sure exactly where I saw this article first, but the title–“Russia Wants Bulgarians to Stop Vandalizing Soviet Monuments“–kind of says it all.

- 100 Actual Titles of Real Eighteenth Century Novels. Pretty sure I want to change my Twitter bio to one of these. But ““I Can’t Afford It.” And Other Tales.” OR “Socrates Out Of His Senses.” OR “Who Is The Bridegroom? Or, Nuptial Discoveries.” OR “The Fault Was All His Own. In A Series Of Letters. By A Lady.” WHICH SHOULD IT BE?

- For the period drama fans, a nice list of five more obscure period dramas to look up. These have just about all my favorite British actresses in them, so I’ll definitely be checking them out! (I feel like actress is kind of an old-fashioned term at this point; am I making that up?) (via Lady Business)

- Liz Burns had an interesting post the other day called “Dolls or Action Figures? Hints or Hacks? Inspiration or FanFic?” which was a thoughtful look at the terms we use to describe activities and how gender can contribute to what is considered cool and what isn’t.

- The Lev Grossman essay Liz references in her post has also been floating around and is worth a read. Here’s a nice quote: “Fantasy is sometimes dismissed as childish, or escapist, but I take what I am doing very, very seriously. For me fantasy isn’t about escaping from reality, it’s about re-encountering the challenges of the real world, but externalized and transformed. It’s an emotionally raw genre — it forces you to lay yourself open on the page. It doesn’t traffic in ironies and caveats. When you cast a spell you can’t be kidding, you have to mean it.” While I bounced really hard off The Magicians, I related to a lot of what he had to say here.

- Gene Luen Yang’s speech at the National Book Festival, which touches on writing diversely and the power of representation, made me choke up a little bit. Definitely check it out. (via Kaye on Twitter)

- I’ve found a number of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s essays really powerful, but this one, “Acting French“, was just amazing.

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August 2014 book list

Books I’ve already reviewed
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine
Stray and The Silence of Medair by Andrea K. Host
Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers–I listened to the audiobook, which was okay, but I wished that Ian Carmichael would turn off his plummy accent for the actual narration. Occasionally made it difficult to tell which was the narrator and which Lord Peter. However, he does women’s voices well, which I have learned is apparently a problem for some male voice actors.
Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart: Leila was talking about this one recently and I realized I had to re-read it!
Blackout by Connie Willis: I’m glad I have a friend who doesn’t mind me spamming her with all my feeeeelings, because re-reading this book involves a lot of feeeeelings.

Other books
Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers: My first Courtney Summers book! I KNOW! It’s so good, such an interesting complex look at a character who has been the villain in many a YA book. I’m sure there are readers out there who hate Parker, but I loved her prickly, slightly-evil-but-never-as-evil-as-she-wants-to-be self.

Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell: I really liked Merrie Haskell’s first two books, and Castle Behind Thorns was one I definitely looked forward to. I liked it a lot, especially the way she showed the relationship between Perrotte and Sand. This is a very different, but quite compelling, take on the Sleeping Beauty story.

On the Fence by Kasie West: I was a bit worried about the “girl who doesn’t know how to girl” storyline before going into this one, but overall I thought West handled it pretty well. I liked the friends growing into romance storyline, although I did think some of the plot twists were a little unnecessary.

Faking It by Jennifer Crusie: This is one of my favorite Crusie books and apparently I’ve never actually reviewed it here! But let me put it this way: if you love “How to Steal a Million” (which you should, because Audrey Hepburn! And Peter O’Toole! And hijinks and romance in a cupboard!), you’ll probably like this book. Even knowing the whole plot, it’s entirely enjoyable as a re-read. Plus it’s set in Columbus, OH, where I grew up!

Lulu and the Cat in the Bag by Hilary McKay
Lulu and the Rabbit Next Door by Hilary McKay: Although I love Hilary McKay’s books for slightly older readers, as has been well documented, this recent early chapter book series is so lovely! Lulu loves animals and collects them everywhere she goes. Usually this involves the help of her cousin and best friend Mellie, who is a very different personality but understands Lulu. Hilarious, wonderful, and a nice example of everyday diversity, there’s nothing not to like here.

The Problem with Being Slightly Heroic by Uma Krishnaswami: I loved the first book when I read it earlier this year, and The Problem With Being Slightly Heroic definitely lived up to my expectations. As with The Grand Plan to Fix Everything, the story is sweet, funny, heart-felt, and just a bit larger than life.

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins: After a long wait, Isla is ours! There were points when I felt a bit nervous about this one, but in the end I did like it a lot. The idea of the happily ever after is presented fairly straight, which is not my favorite trope ever, but I was rooting for Josh and Isla. And I definitely liked the cameos from the earlier books!

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier: Sisters is a graphic memoir, and I really liked it. Perhaps I’m also the oldest child of three (two girls and a boy in that order), and that so much of the sisterly dynamic seemed familiar to me, but I found myself totally engaged in the story Telgemeier told. I also loved the flashbacks to earlier family events, and the PETS!

Voice of the Lost by Andrea K Host: This was amazing! I loved the way Medair resolves her difficulties, I loved the romance, I loved the questions that the worldbuilding brought up. I felt in a couple places that the pacing could have been just a little tighter, but honestly I was invested enough in the characters that I didn’t really care.

The Eighth Day by Dianne K. Salerni: I really loved Salerni’s The Caged Graves when I read it for the Cybils last year. This went in an entirely different direction and, while I enjoyed it, I didn’t really find that it had much emotional resonance with me. Kids who like adventure and heroes with a bit of Arthurian mythology should like it, though.

Traveling with the Dead by Barbara Hambly: Second James Asher book. I liked getting more of an insight into Lydia’s perspective, and Don Ysidro as well, but the pacing and setting of the book seemed a bit too full of dashing about. Part of the strength of the first one was how well it conveyed the moody atmosphere of foggy vampire-laden London. I felt here that I never had time to quite settle into the story.

Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan: I’ll put up a review closer to the release date, but for now I’ll just say that SRB is the dark mistress of my heart. She does terrible things and yet I love them.
Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson

Things I wish to share
– You can still be a Cybils judge! Apply here by September 5th

- The latest installment in my series of historical fantasies: the Victorian era. Some interesting comments on this too–check them out! Also, I posted a primer for people who would like to start reading that subgenre.

- Made & Making for this month–I posted this late last night so it could technically be an August post.

- And finally, I noticed that I’m listed on the “Places We Love” sidebar on Lady Business. I am tremendously flattered!

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