Tag Archives: contemporary

Becca Fair and Foul by Deirdre Baker

It’s always fun to come across a book that makes you wonder if the author took a look in one of your old diaries. Becca Fair and Foul by Deirdre Baker is one of those books. I picked it up from our new book shelf at work, attracted by the cover, and was hooked by the first page. It seems that there’s a first book, Becca at Sea, which I haven’t read.

At any rate, this book takes place over one summer on an island in Canada (I believe near Vancouver? I was a bit muzzy as to geography), where Becca and her cousins have come to stay with their grandmother. Her friend Jane is there too, and she and Jane decide to put on a Shakespeare play (with the unwilling help of cousins) to raise money to buy a better sailboat than the one they currently have access to.

As a kid, this would have been absolutely catnip to me. I loved sailing and boats, and my siblings and I often spent part of the summer at our grandparents’ house by the sea, with our cousin. (Not, alas, on an island.) I read just about every nautical-themed book I could get my hands on and, though my exposure to Shakespeare was probably limited to Lamb’s Tales From, I would have sympathized deeply with the desire to put on a play.

As an adult reader, all the old nostalgic love for those things is there. But I also admire the way that Baker takes what on the surface is a rather adventurey story and makes it a vehicle for exploring Becca’s very late elementary/early middle school experience of life. This is the summer when she notices and is hurt by the death of the animals around her, even though it’s a natural part of life. The summer when her aunts are hurting and there’s nothing anyone can do to truly fix it. It’s not a morbid or a sad book, but it does go a lot deeper than the initial premise suggests, allowing the lovely descriptions of the island and funny moments with the other inhabitants to exist alongside Aunt Meg’s pain over her stillbirth and the burial of the bear.

While I do admire the depth that the story reaches, and the handling of the various sadder moments in a way that felt just right for a sensitive tween reader, I do want to mention that the story at the same time feels limited. Everyone is white, and one of Becca’s aunts is a doctor with an AIDs center in Africa. Ultimately, Jane and Becca decide to give the proceeds of their play to this aunt, for her research and to help save the grandmothers and children there. In that sense it feels like a very old-fashioned book, and not in a good way. I really wished that this storyline had at least been counterbalanced with the presence of some people of color on the island or in the main story itself, or with someone more mature than the kids providing some pushback to the white saviorism there.

So, ultimately this is one that I personally really enjoyed both on a nostalgic level and  as an adult reader–there are some really funny scenes, some really heartbreaking ones, and a keen description of both the nature world and Becca’s growing awareness of life. But I also had some reservations about it, so I’m not entirely sure who I’d recommend this book to. All the same, if you also love anything set by the sea, or quiet books about growing up, this might be a great fit.

Other reviews of Becca Fair and Foul:
Kirkus 
Kristin Butcher
A Year in Books

Previously on By Singing Light:
The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar (2017)
Roses and Rot by Kat Howard (2016)
Diana Wynne Jones reading notes: Howl’s Moving Castle (2015)
The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson (2014)

 

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May 2018 books

This was a light reading month for me, mostly because we were moving! (Therefore, also a light posting month here.) 

Ms. Marvel: Damage Per Second G. Willow Wilson 5.25

Goldie Vance vol. 3 Hope Larson 5.25

Becca Fair and Foul Deirdre Baker 5.25

The Only Harmless Great Thing B. Bolander 5.13

Sunny Jason Reynolds 5.13

Artificial Condition (Murderbot 2) Martha Wells 5.12

Mighty Jack Ben Hatke 5.6

A Traveller in Time Alison Uttley 5.5

The Boxcar Children Gertrude Chandler Warner (reread) 5.4

 

Total books read: 9
Total rereads: 1 (The Boxcar Children, which was for work)

Favorites:

  • Sunny
  • Becca Fair and Foul
  • Artificial Condition
  • The Only Harmless Great Thing
  • Goldie Vance
  • Ms. Marvel

(Okay, yes that’s basically all of them; I REGRET NOTHING.)

 

 

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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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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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Recent Reading: Markus, Lord, McPherson, Gonzalez

Photo of Return Fire by Christina Diaz Gonzalez on a wooden background

Dared & Done by Julia Markus: After having a months-long thing about Markus’s biography of Annabella Milbanke Byron (Ada Lovelace’s mother), I definitely had to read her first biography about the marriage of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. I have a lot of feelings about Elizabeth Barrett Browning–mostly due to the fact that I wrote part of a senior thesis on the Sonnets from the Portuguese. In fact, Markus’s look at the Browning’s marriage as it relates to the sonnet sequence was probably the strongest part of the book for me. It’s very solidly researched and does a nice job of teasing out the circumstances of the Browning’s marriage in particular as opposed to Victorian marriage in general, and contrasting it with some of their friends who were less conventional. However, there were times when the organization was a bit confusing–jumps in chronology that muddled rather than clarified–and I found it less emotionally affective than I expected.

The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord: I’ve been hearing good things about Lord’s books for a couple of years now and finally actually read one! Oddly enough, this is set in a suburb of Indianapolis, with a setting that felt very much like the suburb of Indianapolis where I work. Both setting and voice are an interesting contrast with The Fault in Our Stars; perhaps unsurprisingly, I vastly prefer The Start of Me and You. Paige’s story is thoughtful and nuanced, with a lot of care shown for all the characters. Plus, Paige has a strong group of girl friends, and I loved they way they interact and grow together. Add in a slow, careful romance, and a quiet and realistic depiction of healing from trauma. I will definitely be looking for more of Emery Lord’s books!

The Reek of Red Herring by Catriona McPherson: This is book 9 in the Dandy Gilver series, and it’s a strong entry. I have to admit that I find Alec a good deal more annoying than Dandy seems to. He certainly doesn’t add much to the story for me. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of interesting stuff about local folk traditions, and a nice creepy factor to the solution to the mystery. As usual, this is right at the line of cozy vs not, which is one of the things I appreciate about the series.

Return Fire by Christina Diaz Gonzalez: After Moving Target, Cassie Arroyo and her friends pick up right where they left off. This is a fun middle grade adventure/fantasy. It’s quite fast-paced, with a lot of excitement and even an explosion or two. But there are also some deeper questions about family, and destiny, that add some weight to the story. I’m not sure whether this is the last installment, but it ends on a satisfying note.

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July 2016 round up

Books I’ve already talked about
The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos
The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly
Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson
Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan
False Hearts by Laura Lam

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

Other books

Little White Lies by Brianna Baker and F. Bowman Hastie: I’ve been going back and forth about this one, and at a certain level I think I’m just not quite able to say from my own background whether it successfully does what it’s setting out to do. I’m glad to see exciting, timely YA contemporary fiction about a Black teen, but here it seems undercut a bit by the other point-of-character, who’s a middle-aged white man. It just–seems like a weird contrast and I’m not sure how it sits with me. If you’ve read this one, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Far From Fair by Elana K Arnold: Middle-grade contemporary. It’s a quiet look at family dynamics and end-of-life issues. While I can’t say my personal views align with the characters’ at all, I do think it could be a valuable book for the right reader. Overall, I thought Odette was really well drawn; as an adult reader I got a little impatient with her at points, but I suspect the target audience won’t.

Packing For Mars by Mary Roach: This is a look, not so much at the history of the space program, as at the history of the stuff needed to go into space. By and large, Roach has an easy breezy, readable style that is quite engaging. However, occasionally it’s a little at odds with her subject. And in one place I noticed a transition that came across as really, really racist (PRO TIP: don’t talk about how black women are ideally suited to being astronauts and then switch to black bears. Just don’t. This is why we need more diversity in publishing across the board.)

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks: Sometimes you just really need to reread a favorite, delightful book. This basically always means rereading Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, because it’s pretty much the definition of delightful.

Change Places With Me by Lois Metzger: YA scifi, a quietish book with some strong worldbuilding and characters. I can’t say much about the plot, because uncovering what happens is part of the fun, but I really liked it. I suspect that for the right readers it could be really great, and I hope it finds them.

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Plamer: reviewed here
Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey: reviewed here
Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey: (review coming soon)
Lady Byron and Her Daughters by Julia Markus: (review coming soon)
The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey: (review coming soon)
To Love and Be Wise by Josephine Tey: (review coming soon)
A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey: (review coming soon)
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey: (review coming soon)
The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman: (review coming soon)
Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana: (review coming soon)

TV and movies
Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters, go see Ghostbusters. It’s so fun and lovely and yes.

I also have been watching The Great British Bake Off because it is on our TV screens once again! You should be able to watch it on PBS.org right now.

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Recent reading: 7-13-2016

The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos: YA mystery about a girl whose father disappears. It’s a quiet-ish book that’s less about the mystery as such and more about Imogene’s journey as she tries to find out the truth about her parents. Podos grapples with the complexities of family and identity, as well as the stories we tell ourselves. There’s also an understated romance and an important friendship, which really help to round the book out. This is a debut, and I look forward to seeing what Podos writes next.

The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly: This is Erin Entrada Kelly’s second middle grade book, about two sisters trapped with an actual evil stepmother. There’s a colorful cast of characters, but the heart of the book is really centered on Sol and Ming. From an adult perspective, I felt frustrated with the ending, and yet I can also see the realism there. Not every story ends perfectly, but this one does end well.

Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson: For me, I think this is the standout of the recent crop of YA titles about fandom. I really saw the involvement with fandom, the relationships and how life-changing they can be. The last, oh, third? of the book took a turn away from this with some twists and revelations. I didn’t mind these, but I also wasn’t that invested in them. I’m also curious because I feel like several reviews and comments downplayed any romantic tension between Gena and Finn, and I saw quite a bit. Am I alone here?

Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan: A YA fantasy retelling of A Tale of Two Cities, set in an alternate world where New York City is divided into the Light city (with Light magicians) and the Dark city (with Dark magicians). Lucie Manette becomes the main character, and we see the story unfolding from her point of view. SRB did a great job overall of engaging with the source text in interesting and resonant ways. However, this fell pretty flat for me at the end, when the plot seemed rushed and constrained by the original; I wanted to understand what this meant, for Lucie and for the other characters. I wanted to really feel something, and I almost did–but not quite. All in all, this is a really fascinating book, although maybe not for the reasons that I expected.

False Hearts by Laura Lam: Lam has written a couple of YA books, I believe, and this is her first adult. It’s set in a futuristic San Francisco, as Taema must rush to save her twin, Tila. They were once conjoined twins who were born into a cult and after their escape they were surgically separated. If that sounds like a lot to fit into a story, I had the same concern. But Lam pulls it off, by keep the focus pretty squarely on Taema, and weaving in the different strands around her. I also liked that Lam shows the shadowy side of San Francisco’s society, with its insistence on being perfect and blemish free, as well as conveying the very complicated relationship the twins still have to the cult. This rang pretty true with accounts I’ve read from cult survivors; that you never ever want to go back, and yet you still miss the good things about it. All in all, this was a fast, immersive read that pulled me in right away.

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