bookish posts reviews

Listen to the Moon by Rose Lerner

listen to the moonListen to the Moon is the third in Rose Lerner’s Lively St. Lemeston series. As in many historical romance series, it features a number of cameos from the protagonists of the other books, which is always a fun thing to spot! In this case, Lerner does something slightly unusual and features as her main characters two servants.

I’ve definitely read other historical romances with servants as main characters before. But they often tend to fall into a couple of patterns: distressed gentlewomen down on their luck, or illegitimate children of nobility, or people in disguise. In this instance, Lerner resists all of these patterns: John and Sukey are genuinely part of the servant class. They expect to be part of this class for the rest of their lives.

I very much appreciated the way the complexities of being a servant are shown, both within the characters and in the different experiences depicted. John, for instance, is well paid and highly trained, someone for whom work is a source of pride. Sukey works because she must in order to live, and she doesn’t have the same pride in the job nor the same prospects (which is a source of conflict in the story). But at the same time, there’s an inherent tension between the reality of being perpetually lower class and at the mercy of your employer’s circumstances, and having a sense of fulfillment from doing the job well. It’s not resolved, because it can’t be resolved; there are no simple answers here, and Lerner doesn’t attempt to pass off platitudes as wisdom. Instead, she shows us John, and Sukey, and Thea and Molly, and Mrs. Khaleel. We’re given a sense of some of the very small range of experiences, not a single story. We’re also shown that even a well meaning or kind employer doesn’t erase the structural inequalities.

In terms of the relationship at the heart of the book, I really liked the contrast between Sukey’s impetuousness and John’s exactness. It gives food for realistic and believable tension between them, though I occasionally did want them to just talk. I also liked the way John’s concern about his age and suitableness for Sukey relieved some of the worry about that inequality of age and power that might otherwise be there for me.

I also really appreciated the way Sukey was shown as a young woman who knows her own mind, who wants to be valued for who she is. Her anxieties and strengths both worked well for me, and I liked that she’s someone who doesn’t leap into romance and who’s aware of the potential costs to both love and marriage.

Perhaps the most resonant thread of the story for me was actually John’s struggle to come to terms with his family and how much of him comes from his father. This fear that he’ll be as tyrannical and feared combined with his desire for things to be done right was nicely balanced. Especially, I think, when we begin to see his genuine pride in doing things well at the same time as he wants to find his own way.

Having read this book twice, I do feel that there’s something a little awkward about the ending. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is–pacing? a shift in tone?–but I noticed it both times. However, as an overall story, I loved this one, and I found the emotional payoff of the ending to still be very rewarding. As usual, Lerner writes engaging and complex characters, and I really appreciated John and Sukey’s story.

Book source: review copy from author

Book information 2016, Samhain; adult historical romance


My review of Lerner’s True Pretenses

bookish posts monthly book list reviews

October 2015 round up

Books I’ve already talked about
A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz
Court of Fives by Kate Elliott
Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson
The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn
The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner

Other books
The Sleeping Partner by Madeleine E. Robins: The third (and last?) in the Sarah Temperance series. I really liked all three of these, although perhaps the first one a bit more than the second two. I was hoping for a slightly stronger resolution here, but the story that we got is great.

The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett: The last Tiffany Aching book, which just typing that makes me want to cry. There were many, many tears shed over this book, which was a perfect leave-taking for Tiffany and Pratchett himself. Even the dedication made me cry. Tiffany was my entrance into Pratchett’s books, so it seems extra-special to say good-bye to him with this one.

Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens: The second Wells & Wong book, which I loved just as much as the first. These books are a great combination of enjoyable and thoughtful, as Hazel reflects on her friendship with Daisy and her own place in England. I bought this one from the UK because I’m impatient and am strongly considering doing the same thing with the third book.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy: I loved this one! It’s been getting a fair amount of buzz and praise, as well it should. Willowdean is a great character, and the story is the perfect combination of thoughtful and fun.

Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry: I had been meaning to read this one since last year and when the third book in the trilogy was nominated for the Cybils, I knew I just had to do it. McCarry’s prose is marvelous, and while I often felt somewhat impatient with Maia, I also felt like she was a real person making real decisions.

Shadows of Sherwood by Kekla Magoon: A futuristic middle grade retelling of Robin Hood–I liked the way Magoon wrote a new story while also including nods to the original. Robyn is a fun heroine, and I think this is one middle grade readers will really love.

Prairie Fire by EK Johnston: Cybils book. Sequel to The Story of Owen, from last year. As with that one, this is a quiet book that builds to a really emotional climax. Which is to say: I cried. I loved the way Siobhan looks at the world, and I think her character is really nicely developed in this one.

About a Girl by Sarah McCarry: Cybils book. Third in the trilogy starting with All Our Pretty Songs. I think this might be my favorite book in the series, and I think all three are very strong. I loved Tally and her way of looking at the world, her strength and impatience. McCarry does a great job showing her metamorphosis via voice here, and the prose in the book is just gorgeous.

Dove Arising by Karen Bao: Cybils book. This is a very solid YA SF book, set in a base on the Moon. There’s some nice diversity (I personally read Phaet as non-neurotypical and both she and the people she encounters come from a variety of Earth cultures) and the story is engaging.

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey: Cybils book. I think the strength of this is the set-up, and the plot which is fast-moving. I liked it more than I think I might have in a different mood, but I enjoyed the way the conflict played out.

Medicus by Ruth Downie: I’m not actually entirely sure if I liked this book, but it was just what needed for a day when I felt awful and just wanted to lie on the couch and read.

Captain Marvel: Down by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Material Girls by Elaine Dimopolous: Cybils book
Daughter Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics: Cybils book
Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George: Cybils book
Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones

Other posts
Links 10-28
Book wishes
Favorite YA mysteries

bookish posts monthly book list reviews

September 2015 round up

Books I’ve already talked about
A Wish Upon Jasmine by Laura Florand
Hissing Cousins by Marc Peyser and Timothy Dwyer
The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour
The Devil You Know by Trish Doller

Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers
Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
A Pocket Full of Murder by R.J. Anderson
The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
The Silence of Medair by Andrea K. Höst
Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers

Other books
The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds: This book is on the quiet side, with lots of reflections on grief, family, love, and growing up. But it also has some really funny moments! There’s lots to like here, and I’ll definitely be looking out for Reynolds’s books in the future.

Ms. Marvel: Crushed: AHHH MS. MARVEL, YES! I am always so surprised by just how much I love this story–it keeps getting better. The arc on this one was really great and I just want mooooore.

Lord Peter and Little Kerstin by Ian Crumpstey: A review copy offered by the translator of Scandinavian folk songs/stories. It was interesting to note that sometimes I was able to predict where the story was going and other times it surprised me. I really enjoyed the language chosen for this translation.

A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie: Audiobook. Not my favorite Miss Marple, but it does introduce the idea of her as a nemesis.

Baba Yaga’s Apprentice by Marika McCoola and Emily Carroll: I’m fascinated by the Baba Yaga story, and I loved Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods. So I thought this one might be good and I ended up really liking it. It’s set in the modern day, but I liked the way McCoola’s story and Carroll’s art interact.

Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson: I had a mixed reaction to this one, but I’m not sure entirely why, and I’m not sure I can tease it out in the time and space I have here.

Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers: I read this one but didn’t end up writing a post about it. Partly this is because of the DLS books I just re-read, it’s the only one that’s really focused on the mystery, with Peter and Harriet’s relationship second. Also, it’s just vaguely grimy and depressing. Murder Must Advertise is sad; HHC is just unsatisfying.

Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault: I enjoyed this first book about Alexander the Great, but also I became very anxious about MWT’s Gen because of parallels. Arrghhhhh. Anyway, on its own merits this is immersive & beautiful.

Outskirter’s Secret by Rosemary Kirstein: Second in the Steerswoman series. This one starts off a little slowly and ends with an emotional gut-punch. Ow. Also, I really appreciate that Kirstein pays attention to the physicality of her world, and gives a sense of the time it takes to do things/move through the land.

A School for Brides by Patrice Kindl: Great readalike for last year’s Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place! It had something of the same school story + irreverent vibe. I wasn’t in love with the first book, but I really enjoyed this one–maybe because it was less an Austen retelling and more vaguely Austen-esque.

Blind Justice by Bruce Alexander: This is unusual in historical mysteries that I’ve read in that the detective is a real historical figure. Sir John Fielding was a magistrate and social reformer. The book itself is told as reminiscences of a fictional servant boy. I’ll probably try reading at least the next book.

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth: Being a big fan of the TV show, I wanted to try Worth’s memoirs. It was interesting to track the places where it was exactly the same and the places where changes had been made. In general, I appreciated the book, but I didn’t love it as much as I did the show itself.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones: I absolutely loved this one, which is told via letters to and from Sophie. It’s funny, and heartfelt, and I found it truly enjoyable and charming.

Cuckoo’s Egg by C.J. Cherryh

Step Aside, Pops by Kate Beaton

Listen to the Moon by Rose Lerner: review coming closer to the release!

Other posts
Made and Making
Links 9-3-15
Links 9-16-15
Links 9-29-15
Series I need to finish
Mystery books I want to read
Fall TBR
Favorite middle grade mysteries

TV and movies
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries!!!
Doctor Who
Call the Midwife


Recent Reading: McPherson, Ross, LaCour

dandy gilver Dandy Gilver series by Catriona McPherson: I recently decided to give the Dandy Gilver series a try and promptly glommed through three of the books: 1, 2, and 5. They’re historical mysteries, set in Scotland in the 1920s, featuring high society sleuth Dandy Gilver. Obviously, having read three of them in a week, I enjoy them quite a bit. They strike a nice balance for me between a satisfying ending and a detective I like reading about, and having enough grit to keep them from becoming too rose-tinted. Dandy is certainly a product of her time and particular strain of society, but her desire to find the truth and her connection to other people keeps her grounded enough for me. These aren’t the most brilliant mysteries ever, but they pulled me out of a reading slump and I imagine they’ll be nice to return to when I need a fast, fun read.

fog diverThe Fog Diver by Joel Ross: A middle grade futuristic scifi swashbuckler (whew!). Chess is a fog diver, one of a crew of kids growing up in the slums of one of the few human cities left after the lethal Fog covered the earth. It’s a dangerous life, and he is even more vulnerable, since Lord Kodoc is looking for him. I liked this one for Chess himself, for the evocative writing, and especially for the relationships within Chess’s crew. Hazel almost beat out Chess himself as my favorite character, and I appreciated that the story foregrounded friendship and trust. I suspect there may be a sequel to this one, and I’ll definitely be looking for it if so.

everything leads to youEverything Leads to You by Nina LaCour: Fresh from a breakup with her girlfriend, Emi discovers a new quest, a new job, and a new love in short order. This is a really enjoyable book; it has substance, but it also is immensely readable and engaging. I loved Emi and her voice, and I especially liked her talent and the way LaCour shows her maturing over the course of the book, not only in her relationships but also in her job and confidence. This is also a great one if you’re looking for a story where female friendship is important, since Charlotte and Ava are both central to Emi’s life & relationships. This is a great summer read, with evocative writing and characters.

bookish posts monthly book list reviews

June 2015 round-up

Books I’ve already talked about
The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones
Hexwood by Diana Wynne Jones
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Archer’s Goon by Diana Wynne Jones
All For You by Laura Florand
Pure Magic by Rachel Neumeier
Picture Book Monday
Captain Marvel vol 1: In Pursuit of Flight
Seriously Wicked by Tina Connolly
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
Illusionarium by Heather Dixon

A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep
Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood
Jackaby by William Ritter

The Turning Season by Sharon Shinn
Stolen Magic by Gail Carson Levine
Rook by Sharon Cameron

The Water Devil by Judith Merkle Riley
A Civil Campaign

Other books
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman: audiobook review coming later!

The Virtu by Sarah Monette: Feels! ALL THE FEELS. Mildmay feels! Felix feels! As a note, it’s interesting to me that Monette can write a book with two main male characters, largely centered on their relationship, and yet her female characters read as complex and interesting. It’s almost like she sees and writes them as real people! I’m both anticipating and dreading the next book because I’m sure it will be emotionally harrowing.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness: I…didn’t like this one. I think I have friends who did–and I’d love to hear from you if so! But I just couldn’t get past the fact that I didn’t have any investment in Matthew and Diana’s relationship, and that at times his desire for control led it into territory I was uncomfortable with.

Elephants Can Remember by Agatha Christie: Audiobook. I found the narrator for this one somewhat grating, as he made all the characters sound basically the same and Poirot very Frenchified. There are also some oddly anti-women undercurrents. Not my favorite.

A Faraway Island by Annika Thor: I’m familiar with evacuee fiction, but it tends to mostly be focused on kids in the UK. In A Faraway Island Thor tells the story of two sisters, Jewish girls from Vienna who are sent to Sweden in the advance of the Nazis. It’s sweet and hard and heartbreaking, especially the progression of the letters from the girls’ parents as they begin to realize the trap that’s closing in around them.

The Arctic Code by Matthew Kirby: Middle grade futuristic sci fi, set in a slightly distant future when the world is in a new ice age. I don’t know how accurate the science is; I found the story fast-paced but ultimately a bit unsatisfying and improbable.

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han: I have so many thoughts about this book and To All the Boys and the value of the way they show the life of a feminine, middle class girl and her concerns and loves and worries. It’s all too rare, and yet we give this kind of page time to male stories. Mostly, though, I just love Lara Jean and her story.

Fall For Anything by Courtney Summers: This is one of Summers’s more intimate books, dealing with the aftermath of Eddie’s father’s suicide. I liked it quite a bit and found Eddie an easy character to sympathise with, in both her strengths and her mistakes. Oddly enough, I think I missed some of the sharp anger that’s a core of some of her other books.

Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy: I had to request the library purchase this one and for awhile it looked like they were only going to buy the ebooks of individual issues. Happily, they eventually bought the first volume. I think it really helped my enjoyment–not that I didn’t like it when I read it as ebooks, because I did. Anyway, these are funny, feminist, amazing comics. They’ve already entered my personal mythology in a way that I found slightly surprising.

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters: My first Sarah Waters book! I had a slightly mixed reaction and I’m having trouble pinning down why. On the one hand, the writing is marvelous; I loved Nan’s voice and the prose and so much about it. On the other hand, I had some trouble connecting to Nan as a character, and I’m not sure exactly why; I think perhaps she seems so disconnected from other people for much of the book, and while this is probably deliberate, I think it does add a distance from her. I did love the resolution of the ending, though, and will definitely read more Waters.

Other posts
Links: 6-1-15
Links: 6-17-15
TTT: Anticipated releases for the rest of 2015
TTT: Summer tbr list
Bullet journaling revisited
A letter to Tor & Macmillan
Recent short fiction reads

TV & movies
Poldark: I’ve only seen the first episode, but it’s quite enjoyable. Lots of shots of beautiful Cornish scenery and beautiful Aidan Turner. I mean, I wouldn’t watch it just for that. We’ll see if I can take the melodrama over the long term, but so far so good.

Parks & Rec: I watched the final season and while I don’t think it was as strong as the others–it felt a little self-indulgent at times–it was still lovely. And I did really like the final episode and the way it pulled together the threads of the past few seasons.

Poirot: I went back to watching Poirot and got up to the later seasons that I haven’t seen. The adaptations of Five Little Pigs and Sad Cypress were especially good, I thought.

Continuum: Apparently I had only gotten through half of the first season on this one. I’m appreciating some of the details in terms of both the future and the present, and that it seems to have a good sense of where the story’s going. I feel like Canadian scifi shows seem to be fresher in a way than their American counterparts, and I like it.

bookish posts

A good reading week

I somehow don’t seem to have any time for blogging at the moment, but I’ve been zipping through some great books so far this week and I wanted to at least mention them.

gone crazy in alabamasimon born confused ms. marvel

1. Ms. Marvel Vol. 2: Generation Why. KAMALA KHAN! She’s the bestest. And I continue to love the balance of normal teenagerdom with superhero fights with Kamala’s family & culture–all in a way that feels realistic and organic. Plus some really smart stuff about people in their teens & early twenties and the messages they internalize. I can’t wait for the third volume.

2. Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier I loved Dimple and Hidier is an amazing writer. The imagery and language is so beautiful. The characters are really strong too–I loved the way Dimple & Gwyn’s friendship changes throughout the book, and the fact that Dimple’s relationship with her family & Gwyn is almost as important if not just as important as the romance. Really smart stuff about gender and cultural identity and art and growing up.

3. Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia Look, I just loved this trilogy. I’m sad it’s over, even while I know it’s a great place to leave Delphine and Vonetta and Fern. I loved how this delved into the Gaither family history, and how it echoes and ripples down into Delphine & her sisters’ lives. I’m looking forward to reading whatever Williams-Garcia writes next.

4. Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli Super sweet book, about a not-really-out gay boy who gets blackmailed (that doesn’t make it sound cute, but it is!). I loved how even though it’s told in first person and we’re definitely in Simon’s head, we also get a little glimpse into the other characters, so that it never feels like Simon’s view is The Only Right Way. Smart, thoughtful, funny romantic comedy.

bookish posts reviews

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

under a painted skyIn 1849 Missouri, Sammy is an outsider, a Chinese girl with a gift for the violin. She dreams of moving back to New York City with her father, but as the book begins, her father has died suddenly and her dreams are shattered. Instead, she runs away with Annamae, a slave who hopes that Sammy is her ticket to freedom. Together, the girls head for California disguised as boys.

Under a Painted Sky is Lee’s debut, and it is an impressive one. Sammy and Andy are both at the end of their resources, desperate for a life that will save them from the one they left behind. Their relationship drives most of the book, and I loved the way that aspect was shown. They share a goal, but not the same experiences or outlook on life; their friendships is slow to bloom and sometimes prickly, but all the more real for that. I loved that they both learn from each other, and that they have to learn to trust each other to survive. The story looks at the realities of being a woman and a minority in 1849, while recognizing Sammy’s situation–as difficult as it is–does not begin to match Annamae’s. In many ways, Sammy is also a daughter of privilege, growing up in a well-educated, cultured family. I really appreciated the nuance here, as it would be easy to write a too-simple equation of one experience to the other. At the same time, Sammy and Andy find themselves in each other, in both little ways and larger ones.

Their friendship is really the heart of the book. As far as the rest goes, I felt that it gives a kind of alternate history in much the same way that YS Lee’s Agency series goes; YS Lee notes that she is giving Mary Quinn an “antidote to the fate that would otherwise swallow a girl like [her]”, and I felt that to a certain extent here. It’s not meant as a criticism; I wanted fiercely for them to have a happy ending, while at the same time I kept remembering that so many people did not.

I also very much enjoyed the funny parts, which definitely exist (I think I’ve accidentally given the impression that this is a very Serious Book; it is, it takes on big things, but it’s also an adventure story). Part of the strength of this story, I think, is that it shows the very real diversity of the West during the 1800s, while also being the kind of journey-story which is exciting and appealing to certain readers. This is definitely one that should be marketed to boys as well as girls. The boys that Sammy and Andy travel with for most of their journey are important secondary characters, and provide several of the lighter moments.

And there are hard things that happen too, which both Sammy and Andy have to deal with and find a way to live with. It’s here that I circle back to my first point, the importance of their friendship. They give each other support and strength when the other needs it, in a way that echoes so much of the way I find female friends help and support each other. Far too often, we see women in books in isolation: I love when their relationships become the center of a story. I think that the readers who love Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire for the combination of historical setting and focus on female friendship should definitely take a look at this one.

If I have a slight criticism, it’s that there were a few places where the pacing or prose felt a little awkward, but this is a debut book and I will definitely be looking forward to much more from Stacey Lee. Sammy and Andy’s story is one I found compelling, and hard, and beautiful.

Book source: public library
Book information: 2015, G.P. Putnam’s Sons; YA historical fiction

bookish posts monthly book list reviews

March 2015 round-up

Books I’ve already talked about
Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein
Jinx’s Fire by Sage Blackwood
A Fistful of Sky by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Bad Luck Girl by Sarah Zettel
Persona by Genevieve Valentine
The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall
The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin
Death Marked by Leah Cypess
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Lord of the Changing Winds by Rachel Neumeier
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett (such a bittersweet read)
Hunting by Andrea K. Höst

Other books
Displacement by Lucy Knisley: I found myself disquieted by this one, but couldn’t quite put my finger on why.

Land of the Burning Sands by Rachel Neumeier: Second in the Griffin Mage trilogy. At first I was a bit taken aback by the change in point of view, but I really liked the characters and the story, and the way we saw a different side to the countries than in the first book.

Ms. Marvel, vol. 1 by G. Willow Wilson: I absolutely adored this one. Smart, fun, filled with a YA sensibility. I also loved the way Kamala’s family and faith and culture are woven into the story, how they’re both frustrations and sources of strength. I can’t wait for the second collection!

Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg: The titular essay is one of my favorite things EVER. As a whole the book is enjoyable, but also tends to repeat itself a bit. Still, it’s short and tight enough that this didn’t bother me too much.

How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson: Nelson’s poetic memoir of growing up black in the 1950s. She uses the sonnet’s snapshort form to great effect. This perhaps doesn’t have the same overview as Brown Girl Dreaming, but it’s likewise an important and powerful story. Its aims are, I think, somewhat different and achieved beautifully. I hope people looking for readalikes for Woodson’s book find it.

Dangerous Deceptions by Sarah Zettel: Second Peggy Fitzroy book. I enjoy these Georgian spy mysteries quite a bit, although this one seemed a bit long (middle book syndrome, maybe?). I do really like the way Peggy’s relationship with Matthew is depicted, and her valiant attempts to keep juggling all her plates.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab: Fun, angsty fantasy (not a contradiction!). I liked the concept and worldbuilding a LOT, and the way the magic has a price. I was less connected to the characters than I perhaps wanted to be. There were a few niggling historical details that bothered me, because I am the person who can’t let go of the fact that there were no abundant skirts in 1819. However, it’s a really enjoyable book and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen: Darker middle grade retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Gorgeous language and a pleasingly spare book. I found the characters and the way the story plays with the original to be fresh and engaging, despite a few niggling questions about the resolution.

All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry: I’ve been hearing good things about McCarry’s writing ever since All Our Pretty Songs came out, and I finally picked it up. SO GOOD. Complex characters, a wonderful narrator, outstanding prose, layers of myths that add a lot of depth. Definitely recommended if you loved Bone Gap–I would love to see someone look at the way the two books engage with the story they have in common.

Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs
Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews
The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow

Other posts
Favorite books from the last three years
Favorite authors: Terry Pratchett
Spring TBR list
Library displays
Books I want to revisit
Links 3-11
Links 3-26
Recent additions to my TBR
Links to two tumblr posts

TV & movies
Poirot. I’ve been watching a lot of Poirot. I find the fact that the stories are transported to the 1930s sometimes a little jarring, and I recently watched “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” which is just a study in how NOT to adapt that book. (What is the whole point? Christie playing with narrative. What do they ruin? The game she’s playing.) Still, I love the main actors and it’s lots of fun to spot people who would later become famous (or famous for British actors, anyway).

Also watched “Belle”, a beautiful period movie based on the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle. I loved the movie as a story, and the acting was wonderful. It does bother me to a certain extent that the John Davinier of the movie is so obviously not the John Davinier of history, which undercuts the story a bit. But as a story based on Dido Belle’s life, it’s wonderful, and it’s a powerful and important piece of representation.

Finally, I watched Sense & Sensibility (1995) with the Two Bossy Dames crowd. Despite some technical glitches on my end (Netflix, why must you fail me?!), it was an extremely enjoyable evening; there’s definitely something to be said for watching a movie in good company. It’s been awhile since I had seen this one and it ages quite well. I will admit that the climactic scene when Elinor begs Marianne not to leave her had me crying and then texting my sister.

bookish posts reviews

Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

black dove white ravenAs I’ve been thinking about this book, I’ve been very aware of the fact that I am white and American, and that Elizabeth Wein is white and American-born, and that this book is set in Ethiopia during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie and the lead-up to the Italian-Ethiopian war of 1935-6. I am far more aware of these facts than I was five years ago when I read and reviewed Wein’s earlier books set in the earlier Ethiopian kingdom of Aksum. I don’t know how modern Ethiopians would read and react to this book, nor can I claim to say how well the history has been shown here.

And yet, I know that Wein does her research and has a deep love and respect for Ethiopia and its history and culture. So I suppose all of this examination is really a declaration of biases. I am bringing my own history of being a long-term Elizabeth Wein fan, my own slight knowledge of Ethiopian and Eritrean culture, my own fears about appropriation and representation. And as with the Aksumite books, I loved this story.

Black Dove, White Raven is the story of Emilia and Teo, siblings of the heart if not blood. Teo’s mother Delia and Emilia’s mother Rhoda were the original Black Dove and White Raven, daredevil pilots who flew together all over the US. But the US is not always friendly to two women, one white and one black, raising children on their own. And so Delia dreamed of moving to Ethiopia, where Teo’s father was from. Then she is killed in a freak accident and Rhoda, Emilia, and Teo are left to find their own way to fulfill Delia’s dream.

The story itself is told in various bits Teo and Emilia have written, framed by the letter Emilia encloses when she sends all of it to the Emperor. We don’t know at the beginning of the book exactly what has happened to Teo or Rhoda, only that the Emperor is Teo’s only hope. It’s this anxiety that drives a lot of the book, as the story gradually unfolds. We see Emilia and Teo’s school assignments which reveal their pasts as well as their lives in Ethiopia, in the community at Tazma Meda. We see their imagined quests as the superheroes Black Dove and White Raven, always saving each other.

It’s Emilia-and-Teo that are really at the heart of this book. Another sensational team, although family this time. I loved them together, their shared stories and their hands making wings to greet each other.* And yet, we also see their differences. Emilia is practical, determined; she doesn’t love flying and is ashamed of that, since Rhoda and Teo love it so much. Teo is thoughtful, quick, sensitive. And he’s totally my favorite. I loved him; I loved his love for flying; I loved how he loves the Ethiopian church and how part of him comes home.

But Delia and Rhoda are also, if not at the heart, then in the bones. I found myself fascinated by the depiction of their relationship. They have led an unconventional life. Rhoda is still married to Signor Menotti, but they haven’t lived together in years. For Rhoda, Delia is her soulmate, the other half of her life. I’m not entirely sure if I read this as friendship or romantic love, but regardless, the depth of feeling is astounding. When Delia dies, Rhoda is lost too, and she has to find her way back.

One of the things I loved about this book was the feeling of the physical landscape. The mountains where the family moves are evoked with such haunting loveliness. As Emilia and Teo learn to fly, they see the country laid out beneath them. It reminded me, of course, of the descriptions of England in Code Name Verity. But the landscape also echoes through the book in a more personal way. The high plateau where Teo and Emilia land, the church near Tazma Meda shape the story. For Teo, Ethiopia is a complex place, both home and not. He is half-Ethiopian, and yet he is also American and the questions of identity that this brings up really define his journey.

And all of this is set against the backdrop of the rich history and culture of Ethiopia, proud Ethiopia who was never been colonized, a country that is modernizing rapidly and at the same time hold its ancient customs close. Ezra and Sinidu, the doctor and his wife who live at Tazma Meda, the priest of the church there, the prince who changes Teo’s future–they all are real, complicated, human people. I felt the complexities of this struggle, the contradictions that build into a moment where everything twists and nothing is ever the same.

Because war is coming. Italy under Mussolini wants to hold Ethiopia, and is prepared to do anything to conquer it. Wein brings this little-known part of history to life, in the way she does so well. When I finished this book, I was absolutely FURIOUS with Italy. The story that is told is so heartbreaking, all the more so because it actually happened. I wanted to tell the world, and I think that’s partly what this story does.

Most of all, though, it’s the story of a brother and sister, who love each other so much that they rescue each other over and over again, who find courage in each other and strength to deal with whatever life brings them.

“Are you scared?” “I am not scared.”

Book source: eARC from NetGalley, also bought
Book information: 2015, Disney Hyperion; YA historical fiction

My favorite author page for Elizabeth Wein

* YOU GUYS. I’ve been saying for awhile now that hands are possibly the most important image throughout Elizabeth Wein’s books, and I’m so right.

bookish posts reviews

Recent Reading: Black, Bradshaw, Echols, Samatar

darkest part of the forestThe Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black: This really should be its own post, if post length were an indication of how much I love a book. After not quite loving The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (I know. I’m sorry.), I am happy to say that The Darkest Part of the Forest hit all the right notes for me. Siblings trying to save each other? Scary fairies? Fairy tale tropes being played with lovingly? Awesome characters? Yes to all of these things! I also appreciated that there’s diversity on several different fronts. But mostly I just loved Hazel and Jack and Ben and the horned prince. Lovely, lovely book.

sand reckonerThe Sand-Reckoner by Gillian Bradshaw: A couple of people have said how much they liked this Bradshaw book, and having read it I can totally see why. It’s a little sadder than most of her others, a little less clear-cut in terms of good vs. bad. While I’m not enamored of the male genius figures in fiction right now, I will make an exception for Bradshaw’s Archimedes, because he’s so sensitively drawn. And we do see him from other perspectives which I think helps balance that trope out. This has some of Bradshaw’s more lovely writing too. While I doubt any book will ever be quite as beloved for me as The Beacon at Alexandria, this is definitely one I can see myself re-reading.

perfect couplePerfect Couple by Jennifer Echols: I really like Jennifer Echols. When I’m in a certain mood, she’s one of the authors I always reach for. Her books are light without being thoughtless and she often draws in some social commentary. Plus, I really enjoy her characters, who always read to me as actual teens, without losing any of the romance. Perfect Couple is the second book in her latest YA series, The Superlatives. Harper is a photographer; Brody is the school quarterback. They aren’t really alike at all. But when the school votes them “Perfect Couple That Never Was,” Harper starts to wonder if they’re more similar than she thought. One of the things I appreciate about Echols’s books is the variety of experience in her characters and Perfect Couple is no exception. While the conceit of the book may stretch the bounds of believability a tad, I really didn’t care. It’s a smart, well written teen romance, and just what I needed.

stranger in olondriaA Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar: I’ve been meaning to read Samatar’s debut since it came out two years ago. It’s a really engrossing book, which probably deserves more space than I can give it here. It’s about family and myth and home, about history and colonialism. But most of all it’s about books, and a relationship with books. Samatar’s language is dense and beautiful, with occasional moments of iridescent beauty. I thought for awhile about why it’s adult rather than YA, since I can easily read Jevick as in his late teens (I can’t remember how clearly his age is given). But in that nebulous “you’ll know it when you see it way,” it does seem quite clearly adult. I think there’s a lack of immediacy to the story–it’s so clearly Jevick looking back over his past–and that’s the closest I can come to saying what I mean. Regardless, it was a fascinating book, and I’m still mulling over it several days later.