The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

In my personal experience, there are two kinds of Holly Black books: the ones I like and the ones I don’t. And the whys and wherefores of which book will be which are not always obvious. I bounced hard off of the Tithe series but love The Darkest Part of the Forest, for examples. The Cruel Prince is by and large the kind of Holly Black book that I do like; it’s spikey and vivid and brilliant and full of interesting tensions between characters.

One of the strengths of this book is the relationship between Jude, the narrator and main character, and her sisters. I’m very much a fan of books about sisters and female friends, so any story with that theme is generally a draw for me. Here, Black gives us a complicated and sometimes tense history between Jude, Taryn, and Vivi. All three sisters have their own goals and agendas, and they intersect and conflict with each other in a way I found believable and effective.

I also really loved the details of this fairyland; I’ve said before, I think, that I’m most interested in fairylands which are all about what is dangerous and beautiful woven together, fairies who convincingly don’t think or react in human ways. Black delivers on that here, with details of the customs that are ancient but not unchanging, political minefields that Jude can only half-see because, as she remembers and reminds us throughout the story, she doesn’t belong here. At the same time, there’s a beauty to the descriptions of the food, clothes, and the society that help sell Jude’s fascination with the fairies and her desire to be part of their world.

That fascination and ambition drive the plot of the book, as Jude attempts in to earn her place in fairy society in several different ways. I really liked how ambitious she’s allowed to be, and while the story doesn’t exactly reward that, she’s also not punished for it. Too often female main characters are only allowed to want things to a certain degree, whereas here the conflict comes in large part because other characters also have their own goals and ambitions that don’t sit easily with Jude’s. I also really liked how she cares about her sisters but doesn’t necessarily change her course of action based on that care.

There is a big old However looming here, and that is Carden. I’m simply less and less interested in this kind of male character, in the guy whose cruelties are waved away because of his own pain. This goes double when there’s any question of his being the love interest. Black treads a really fine line here and does it semi-successfully–I did not throw the book across the room, and I will most likely read the next one. But that’s in spite of Carden, not because of him. (I do want to acknowledge that I’m not a teen reader, but I also feel like modelling healthy masculinity is important in teen books? And also that we do teen girls a disservice by assuming that they’ll only be interested in jerks? I don’t know; I went back and forth on this point a lot.)

So, The Cruel Prince: fascinating world, surprising twists and turns, and mostly compelling characters, with a few points where I remain Dubious.

Other reviews of The Cruel Prince:
The Book Smugglers
Emma @ Miss Print
Rachel Pfeiffer @ The Young Folks

Other Holly Black reviews here:
The Darkest Part of the Forest
The Iron Trial
Doll Bones
White Cat
Red Glove

Previously:
The Changeover by Margaret Mahy (2011)
Ursula Le Guin Reading Notes: Voices

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Upcoming HarperCollins books I’m intrigued by

I thought it might be fun to take a look through some upcoming offerings from a particular publisher and picked HarperCollins mostly at random. (Also I have a soft spot for Greenwillow because of Megan Whalen Turner, to be quite honest.) Here are the titles that caught my eye, usually because they’re by an author I’ve liked before. In some cases the subject or the cover also sound interesting.

Middle grade
Ogre Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine; October 16. Do I kind of wish that Levine would stop returning to the same worlds over and over? Yes. Am I going to still read this one? Probably.

YA
And The Ocean Was Our Sky, Patrick Ness; September 4. New Patrick Ness! Because it’s Ness, I’m a bit concerned about how my feelings will be mangled this time.
The Deepest Roots Miranda Asebedo, September 18. Midwestern setting, relationships between girls, interesting premise, therefore I am in.
Pride, Ibi Zoboi; September 18. A retelling of Pride & Prejudice from a rising YA star, this one sounds like it’ll be a really neat take on the classic!
For a Muse of Fire, Heidi Heilig; September 25. The style has been described as lush, which I’m not always a fan of, but the premise sounds amazing, so I’m going for it!
Damsel, Elana K Arnold; October 2. I’m so-so on Arnold’s books, but Damsel sounds like it could be right up my alley.
The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, Mackenzi Lee; October 2. I have misgivings about A Gentleman’s Guide, despite also enjoying it in other ways, so let’s describe my feelings towards this one as wary curiosity.
Sawkill Girls, Claire Legrand; October 16. Claire Legrand! Writing horror! I am pretty sure I will be properly horrified and love it.
A Very Large Expanse of Sea, Tahereh Mafi; October 16. I think (please correct me if I’m wrong) that this is Mafi’s first contemporary novel; it’s a tough subject but a really necessary one.
This Splintered Silence, Kayla Olson; November 13. This mostly caught my eye because it’s YA Science Fiction, and I always want more of that.

Adult
The Black Khan: Book Two of the Khorasan Archives, Ausma Zehanat Khan; October 16. Confession: I still have not read the first book, although I hear it’s good. I’m still intending to soon, though, so I’m putting the second on this list anyway.

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March 2018 reading

 

The Cruel Prince Holly Black 3.11

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani 3.19

American Panda Gloria Chao 3.3

Emergence CJ Cherryh 3.10

The Belles Dhonielle Clayton 3.13

The Disorderly Knights Dorothy Dunnett 3.12

As the Crow Flies Melanie Gillman 3.26

Leia, Princess of Alderaan Claudia Grey 3.1

Garvey’s Choice Nikki Grimes 3.24

The Wedding Date Jasmine Guillory 3.1

All’s Faire in Middle School Victoria Jamieson 3.14

A Wrinkle in Time Madeleine L’Engle 3.8

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald 3.19

Wonder Woman: The True Amazon Jill Thompson 3. 23

Spinning Tillie Walden 3.12

 

Total books read: 15

Total rereads: 1 (A Wrinkle in Time)

Favorites:

  • Spinning
  • Leia, Princess of Alderaan
  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • The Wedding Date
  • The Belles
  • As the Crow Flies

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H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

H is for Hawk is part memoir, part how to guide, part biography. It weaves together Helen Macdonald’s experiences training a goshawk after her father’s death, her observations about her grief and journey through it, and T.H. White’s experiences training his own goshawk almost a century earlier. It’s a very compelling and also very peculiar book. 

While I was in the middle of reading it, an internet friend of mine summed up her own experience of it as “brilliant but uneasy” and I keep thinking that this is the perfect way to encapsulate the tensions that pervade the book. Macdonald’s narrative voice carries the reader through the sometimes jagged connections between the threads. She has keen insights into grief, herself, the birds, the landscape she encounters while training Mabel–and a lovely turn of phrase. 

At the same time, I keep circling back to the sections about T.H. White. Macdonald includes his story because it fascinated her as a child, because it operates as a warning of how not to train your hawk, because White himself fascinates her and she often defines herself in opposition to him. But it’s an uneasy fascination; as far as I know, and based on the self-portrait in the book, Macdonald is straight, so is it fair for her to take on the subject of White’s tortuous feelings about his own sexuality? I don’t know. She is certainly sympathetic, but sympathy is not everything, and I still just don’t know how to take the comparisons she seems to draw between her grief and White’s self-loathing. There’s perhaps a failure to consider the external cultural forces that are present in White’s case which are not present in her own. Or am I simply oversimplifying what is meant to be a more complex relationship? I do know that I remain uneasy about this aspect of the book.

On the positive side, Macdonald has a great ability to show why she loves hawking while also interrogating its questionable history and less beautiful moments. She’s writing from a position of some privilege and that sometimes shows in ways I suspect she’s not entirely aware of. At the same time, she is willing to engage with the complexities around her, including one of the best passages on the problems with nostalgia for landscapes that I think I’ve ever read.

Despite my overall occasional ambivalence, I would say this one is worth reading for the beauty of the language, that voice which starts in the first sentence and pulled me right in. H is for Hawk is not always an easy book, not always one I agreed with, but I’m also glad that I read it.

Other reviews:

Kathryn Schulz (New Yorker)

Vicki Constantine Croke (NYT)

Katy Waldman (The Slate)

Previously:

The City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier (2011)

How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle (2014)

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (2015)

Ursula Le Guin Reading Notes: The Tombs of Atuan (2016)

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Three recently read graphic novels

I’ve been dipping back into the world of graphic novels! Here are quick reactions for a few of the ones I’ve read in March.

All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

I loved Jamieson’s Roller Girl, which felt like a perfect middle grade graphic novel–and a great readalike for the insatiable Telgemeier readers. Like Roller GirlAll’s Faire features a tween girl with a specific interest (in this case, a Ren Faire) and some complicated friendships. It’s hard to read in some places because middle school feelings are A LOT. I appreciated that Imogen is a character who doesn’t intend to be unkind but is anyway, and then has to deal with the fallout from that. It’s at times a messy story, but it should be. Middle school is a messy time. If I have a complaint, it’s that things get tidied up a little bit too much at the end considering the rest of the story. However, I think this book hits its target audience really well.

Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

A fantasy graphic novel about Priyanka, a young Indian-American girl, who struggles to connect with her single mother. Meanwhile, she becomes increasingly fascinated with India and wanting to experience life there. This only increases when she discovers a mysterious pashmina that seems to transport her there. I’m not quite sure what age to recommend this one to, but it’s a strong story and I like some of the art choices. It’s also pretty explicitly feminist, which is neat! While I’m not familiar with the particular struggles of women in India, Chanani’s inclusion of different kinds of relationships between women and a complicated family and social background gave the story a lot of depth.

Spinning by Tillie Walden

A graphic novel memoir of ice skating, falling in love, and being queer in Texas. I was attracted to this one by the cover–one of the stronger graphic novel covers I can remember, actually! I absolutely loved the style of the artwork and the way each section began with a description of a figure skating move. Each one had a kind of poetic significance with the chapter that came after it; the relationship between the two was not always obvious but was very real. The ending felt frustratingly sad, but also true. And I think the frustration was meant to be there, that Walden was very consciously leaning into the way life doesn’t hand always hand us a satisfying ending. While this deals with some heavy subjects, I also found that it contains moments of warmth and even joy. I’d especially recommend this one for fans of This One Summer.

Other reviews:

Marjorie Ingall on All’s Faire (NYT)

Ibi Zoboi on Pashmina (NYT)

Rachel Cooke on Spinning (The Guardian)

___________

Previously:

Chime by Franny Billingsley (2011)

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (2014)

Three of a Kind: Young women coming into power (2015)

Ursula Le Guin Reading Notes: A Wizard of Earthsea (2016)

In the Great Green Room: The Bold and Brilliantl Life of Margaret Wise Brown by Amy Gary (2017)

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Recover Reading: non-mysteries

I didn’t only read mysteries while I was recovering, even though it might seem that way. Here’s a quick round-up of some of the other books I went through!

I had read In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan in its original incarnation, as a serial published on her blog. So when the book was announced, I was excited to revisit it, but also curious about how the story might change in a different form. As it turns out, the heart of Elliot, Luke, and Serene’s journey remains unchanged, but the book is significantly revised and expanded from the original. It remains one of my favorite recent takes on portal fantasies and just as hilarious and heart-rending/warming as I remembered.

Then I picked up The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis, which I didn’t enjoy as much as I had expected. I was looking for a Hornblower/Aubrey-esque airship escapade, and I do think that’s what it wanted to be. But for me it seemed a bit too grim and the characters never quite solidified. However, several people I generally trust thought it was great, so I do recommend checking it out if a female captain of an airship sounds like a hook you’d be into.

I’ve been reading through Helen Oyeyemi’s backlist and–going strictly off of what was available on Overdrive at that moment–picked up What is Not Yours is Not Yours. While I think I prefer the spooled-out surrealness of Oyeyemi’s novels, this was overall a pretty strong short story collection. I especially liked the way characters from one story would appear in another, lending a sense of cohesion and purpose to the book.

Since Frances Hardinge is one of my favorite authors, a new book by her is always an exciting time! Her latest, A Skinful of Shadows, is strange and sad and lovely–not surprising, from Hardinge. Though I found the historical aspect of the setting less potent than Cuckoo Song or The Lie Tree, I loved Makepeace and her bear, as well as the shape the story took. Surprising and hopeful and lovely.

I had tried reading Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway at least once before and hadn’t managed to finish it. This time I kept going and was mostly rewarded. I liked it quite a lot, except that the story seemed somewhat awkwardly caught between wanting to be a light teen romance and wanting to explore some deeper and harder relationships between parents and children. Ultimately I’m not entirely sure how I felt about it as a whole, but I don’t regret reading it.

Finally, I picked up Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake. I had mixed feelings about a couple of aspects of Hadley’s characterization, but overall I really liked the way Blake took a somewhat implausible plot and used it as a base to explore different kinds of relationships and growth. It wasn’t always an easy or comfortable read but I did appreciate it–a good one for teens looking for a story that’s a little challenging in terms of theme.

 

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Some favorite quotes

 

This was meant to be a Top Ten Tuesday post, but alas, time got away from me. I still had some picked out and thought I’d go ahead and share them. I’ve also shared some other favorite quotations in the past, so I tried to stay away from sharing the same ones again in favor of quotes from some of my favorite reads from the past few years (though I couldn’t resist a few perennial favorites).

“To subdue one’s self to one’s own ends might be dangerous, but to subdue one’s self to other people’s ends was dust and ashes.” Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers

“She knew exactly where she was, and who she was, and what she was.” The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett

“There was a space inside me, cupped and still. It was small as cupped hands; it was large as the sky. It was untouched and it was touch itself. It was empty and it was full. I held love there, like a treasure. I held my own name.” The Scorpion Rules, Erin Bow

“It’s a dark place, not knowing.
It’s difficult to surrender to.
But I guess it’s where we live most of the time. I guess it’s where we all live, so maybe it doesn’t have to be so lonely. Maybe I can settle into it, cozy up to it, make a home inside uncertainty.”  We Are Okay, Nina LaCour

“I want to see the world and write stories about everything I see.” The Pearl Thief, Elizabeth Wein

“It was exactly like Sam had said, about how we had to see people because sometimes the world made us invisible. So we had to make each other visible. Words were like that too. Sometimes we didn’t see words.” The Inexplicable Logic of My Life, Benjamin Alire Sáenz

“[h]ope, like a desert aloe. Hope, stubborn and bitter to the taste. That hides water. That bears the drought. An ugly plant with the power to heal.” The Winged Histories, Sofia Samatar

“This is what happens, when things are not quite a fairy tale. You go into the woods to find your story. If you are brave, if you are fortunate, you walk out of them to find your life.” Roses and Rot, Kat Howard

“I am only myself, muscle and bone, stubborn and jealous and sometimes too mean, selfish and in love.” All Our Pretty Songs, Sarah McCarry

“Word magic. If you say a word, it leaps out and becomes the truth. I love you. I believe it. How can something as fragile as a word build itself a whole world?” Chime, Franny Billingsley

“In the end it’s only ever been one step, and then the next.” Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie

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