bookish posts monthly book list reviews

May 2013 reading list

Books I’ve already talked about
Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells
The Wizard Hunters by Martha Wells
Wise Child by Monica Furlong
Quicksilver by RJ Anderson
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Promised Land by Connie Willis and Cynthia Felice
Doll Bones by Holly Black

Other books
Star Crossed by Jennifer Echols: I love Jennifer Echols’ YA books, so I thought I would try her first adult novel. I was not terribly impressed, partly because the world that it takes place in has almost no interest for me, and also because it seemed to lack some of the charm of her YA books.

Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley: Latest Flavia! So glad that we finally got some plot happening, as I was beginning to feel a bit strung along.

Wooden Bones by Scott William Carter: Unfortunately, I wasn’t wild about this sequel to Pinocchio. It seemed disjointed and didactic.

A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty: I wasn’t sure how I would like this one, but I ended up liking it a lot! I did have a very personal reaction to the end which caused me to disengage from the book a bit, but this is so completely personal that it shouldn’t affect anyone else’s decision to read it. (For those who have read it and are curious, the answer to the Holly subplot was a little too real for me. Despite the fact that I suspected it almost instantly, when it was confirmed it was still a little shocking. Nothing to fault in Moriarty’s writing or depiction, just that it was a bit much for me.)

17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma: This is a great mystery with a bit of a paranormal twist. I think Lauren’s narrating style might grate on some nerves. I noticed it, but I wasn’t particularly bothered by it. Lauren is definitely an unreliable narrator, which is (almost) always one of my favorite things, and there’s lots to chew on in the questions about young girls and how we view them.

Gate of Ivory, Two-Bit Heroes, and Guilt-Edged Ivory by Doris Egan: This is the kind of sci-fi I love! Actually it’s probably more of a science fantasy, since there’s magic, except that there are spoilery reasons for the magic that tips it back into SF, sort of? Regardless, I really really enjoyed all three of these.

Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson: Sequel to Hattie Big Sky, but one which I think could be read as a standalone. I loved the way Larson addressed Hattie’s desire to be a journalist and her relationship with Charlie. All in all, it was a very satisfying sequel and, I think, even better than the first book.

Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer: A wild book about a girl who passes herself off as a boy and joins the British Navy. I didn’t believe it at all, but it was fun. And I do think that it portrays the grittier side of historical fiction, which is a nice counterbalance.

Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearsley: A mystery recommended by RJ Anderson. I liked it quite a bit–it has some of the Gothic flavor, plus the French setting, of a Mary Stewart novel. I’ve tried one of Kearsley’s books before and didn’t finish it, so this was a nice antidote. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for her in the future.

Ships of the Air by Martha Wells: Second of the Ile-Rien books. Eeee, I love this series! Martha Wells is such a great writer, and I’m completely invested in the characters. There were definitely some plot twists I did not see coming too! Third book is on the shelf, waiting for me to get to it.

Dark Triumph by R.A. LaFevers: I had mixed feelings about the first book, Grave Mercy, and Dark Triumph confirmed that this is not the series for me. Siggghhh. I just didn’t enjoy reading it, and I felt like Sybella’s coming to terms with her past happened very easily.

Ghoulish Song by William Alexander: Sequel to Goblin Secret, which I really liked. This one was a bit disappointing–I went in with high hopes, but the resonance and dreaminess of the language which was present in Goblin Secrets didn’t seem to be there in this one. This may partly be second book syndrome, but I didn’t get that sense of the wild strangeness of the city that I did in the first book.

The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur Ransome by Roland Chambers: I love (LOVE!) Swallows and Amazons, which is absolutely one of the books that shaped me and my life and my way of thinking. I also liked Old Peter’s Russian Tales and The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship a lot. Unfortunately, this biography made me really dislike Arthur Ransome, as it gave the strong impression that he spent his whole life in a kind of wilful & childish ignorance. I kept hoping he would snap out of it, but he did not. I still love S&A, but I wish Ransome’s own story had a happier ending.

The Education of Bet by Lauren Baratz-Logstead: Another book where a girl dresses up as a boy! This time, she goes to boarding school. I liked the fact that it was fairly realistic about her struggles passing as a boy, and clear about why she chose to do it (she wants an education). I called several of the plot twists, but it was a fun read and quite well written.

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan: 19th century England WITH DRAGONS, but quite different than the Temeraire series. I liked it, but felt that it dragged a bit in the middle. However, the world and characters were engaging enough that I definitely plan to read the sequel.

Stolen Magic by Stephanie Burgis: Last of the Kat Stephenson books, SOB. I love the resolution, and the way it stays definitely middle grade, and the fact that there’s no clumsy epilogue. YAY for all these things! And yay for Kat!

The Brendan Voyage by Tim Severin
The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett

bookish posts reviews

Doll Bones by Holly Black

When I first heard about Doll Bones, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read it or not. Horror is not really my DollBonesthing, and I definitely was it talked about as a middle grade horror book. And the cover did not really help–it’s a wonderful, eye catching cover, but you have to admit, the doll is fairly creepy. However, I love Holly Black and there was something about the description that made me decide to go ahead and read it. And I’m so glad I did.

You see, although the cover and the book talk I initially heard made it sound like Doll Bones is a middle grade horror, it’s not. Oh sure, the Queen Doll is a bit frightening, and Black does a good job of teasing out the tension of whether she is real or not for a long time. But saying that Doll Bones is about the Queen is like saying Code Name Verity is about spies: technically right, but oh so very wrong. Doll Bones is actually about friendships and growing up and integrity. It’s about three friends who are struggling to find their place in the new world of middle school. And Holly Black does a marvelous job on so many levels.

First, there are the characters. Zach, who loves playing the game with his friends, but who is pressured by the expectations of what boys should and shouldn’t do. This pressure is personified in his father, who throws away Zach’s action figures and kickstarts the plot. A lot of the book is centered on Zach’s struggle to make sense of who he is: both the athlete and the boy who makes up stories. There’s Poppy, who remained a bit of an enigma to me in some ways. And there’s Alice, who is being raised by her very strict grandmother.

And there’s the friendship between the three of them, which is almost a character in itself. They’ve always had each other and it’s been this wonderful uncomplicated thing. But growing up means becoming more complicated and that’s what lies at the heart of the story. How can you hold onto the important things when you’re changing and the world is changing around you? The answer that the story gives is a wonderful one, I think.

Moreover, I thought the writing itself was really nice. I admire Holly Black’s ability to write seemingly effortless prose, which actually has a lot of craft lying behind it. That’s definitely on show here, with a few moments that are a little more poetic/deep. I also liked the way the book explores issues of gender and race. They felt thought-out, not surface level or easy answers, but also integral to the story itself. It’s rare, as far as I can tell, for such a nuanced depiction to appear in a middle-grade book and I really appreciated it.

So, I really loved Doll Bones, despite a few minor quibbles about some of the plot points. Things seemed to happen very coincidentally in a few places, although you might be able to make a case for the Queen influencing events a bit (maybe?). Nevertheless, I think younger readers might not even see that, and I even just shrugged and accepted it. I liked some of the secondary characters as well, especially the librarian the children meet.

I’m not sure I’ve said anything new in this review–lots of other people have already read and appreciated this one, which isn’t surprising. But I was so impressed with the book, with the level of writing and characterization in it, that I had to add my praise.

Book source: public library
Book information: Margaret McElderry Books, 2013; middle-grade

Other reviews:
Charlotte’s Library
Random Musings of a Bibliophile
The Book Smugglers