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bookish posts reviews

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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book lists bookish posts

Alternate takes on portal fantasies

rest of us just live hereI’m not 100% sure that I exactly mean portal fantasies. What I really mean is that these books look at the structure of classic fantasy and play with it. By classic fantasy, in this case, I mean things like Harry Potter and Narnia, which of course are both portal fantasies, so maybe that’s what I mean after all.

At any rate, recently there’s been a little spurt of these books and I thought it’d be interesting to highlight a few.

Lev Grossman’s The Magicians is possibly the best known. I have to admit that while I’ve appreciated his writing about fantasy, I really really really disliked this book. I don’t think I even finished it. For me it was simply too anti, too negatively set against things I might critique but also love.

Second is one that I read as it was coming out, with both great delight and great nail-biting: Sarah Rees Brennan’s Turn of the Story. I loved the characters, and SRB’s thoughtful interrogation of fantasy tropes worked really well for me. (There’s also a follow up short story in the Monstrous Affections anthology.)

Of course Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On was one of last year’s big releases. While Simon Snow might seem like a simple Harry Potter analogue, I did appreciate that Rowell both critiqued and honored her inspiration.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness, is an interesting example in that the main story is all about the kids who live just outside the usual portal fantasy. The chapter descriptions tell us the Chosen One story, but the rest of the book is concerned with, well—the rest of us.

Finally Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway is a new book that I haven’t yet read but have heard good things about (and have on my library book bookshelf).

Are there other recentish books that fit this list? It’s an interesting mini-trend to me.

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bookish posts

Witch Week: A new take on old stories

This post is part of Witch Week, an annual celebration of fantasy books and authors hosted at Emerald City Book Review. This year’s theme is New Tales from Old, focusing on fiction based in fairy tale, folklore, and myth. For more about Witch Week, see the Master Post.

Folktales and fairy tales are an enormous part of my internal landscape–it’s almost impossible to overstate how important they’ve been to me since childhood. My mom had a huge Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales and I read all of it at least twice. Later, I grew to love modern retellings, starting with Robin McKinley’s Beauty.

Most often, I tend to like the retellings that thoughtfully examine the original story rather than reversing it completely. But I’ve also found some retellings that come at the story slantwise. These don’t so much destroy the original as remake it. I’m going to talk a bit today about three novels and one short story that I think do this and that I love.

winter princegirls at the kingfisherbone gap

The Winter Prince by Elizabeth Wein: This is Wein’s debut book, and it’s a retelling of the Arthurian legend from Mordred/Medraut’s point of view. But it has more in common with Rosemary Sutcliff than with Merlin; it’s dark and twisty and shows a world that’s full of texture and vibrant personalities. For me, it both humanizes Medraut and also still gives us the kingly Arthur of the myths. I am slightly overcome by how much I love this book just thinking about it now. Also, it gives us Goewin, and I LOVE Goewin.

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine: A retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” which is one of my absolute favorite fairy tales ever of all time ever. It’s set in the 1920s and it includes no magic whatsoever, but it keeps the structure and heart of the story, while at the same time using it as a way to talk about family and fathers and abuse and love. I’ve been going on about this one since I read it and I want everyone in the world to try it.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby: This is a 2015 YA which has been getting a lot of attention and rightly so–it’s a stunning, complex look at the dark side of the Persephone/Beauty and the Beast story. I truly love both the myth and fairy tale, and many of the newer stories that have echoed them. But I also truly loved this story, which reminds us of the possible darkness inherent within those stories. Roza, the heroine of this story, is a wonderful character in her own right as well.

The Queen of Atlantis” by Sarah Rees Brennan: I’m a big fan of Sarah Rees Brennan’s work in general, but this short story is one of my all time favorite things she’s written. One of the things I love most about it is that, as a friend pointed out, Mede is a name that has echoes in Greek mythology. But is it Andromeda or Medea? We never know; we never quite find out. While SRB doesn’t directly quote any one myth, the whole story feels like it has echoes and beats that evoke them.

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bookish posts reviews

October 2014 round-up

Books I’ve already talked about
Greenglass House by Kate Milford
The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud
Deceiver by C.J. Cherryh
Dark Metropolis by Jaclyn Dolamore
Lulu and the Hedgehog in the Rain by Hilary McKay
Perfect Scoundrels by Ally Carter
Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve
Grave Images by Jenny Goebel
Winterfrost by Michelle Houts
Zero Degree Zombie Zone by Patrik Henry Bass
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
Almost Super by Marion Jensen
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold: This is turning into a comfort read for me–the characters I love, with a less angsty storyline than, say, Mirror Dance. Plus, it contains one of my favorite moments in the whole series in the sinking of ImpSec HQ.

Other books
Tempting Danger by Eileen Wilks: I’m not a big urban fantasy reader, but I’d heard this one recommended a few ties so I tried it. I liked it, but it never fully engaged me and I found the semi-forced romance a bit off-putting (though handled MUCH better than it could have been). Readers of this series, does it get better? At the moment I feel like I’ll probably try the second book at some point, but am not in a hurry to do so.

Betrayer by C.J. Cherryh: Honestly, at this point I can’t remember which Foreigner books are which. Googled plot summaries tell me that it’s the one with the kidnapping. Right. I’ve liked this trilogy quite a bit–especially the addition of Cajeiri’s narration. It also has a slightly more intimate focus than many of the other books, focusing as it does on Bren’s role as Lord of Najida.

Caszandra by Andrea K Host: An extremely satisfying conclusion to the trilogy! I was a bit worried that Host wouldn’t manage to draw all of her threads together, but I think she pulled it off. While I would love to know more about what happens in the future, it’s also a nice place to leave the characters. Except that we don’t quite, because there’s the…

Gratuitous Epilogue by Andrea K Host: Really for people who like to know Exactly What Happened to all the characters (those of us who once found the ending of Jo’s Boys satisfying) but nicely written for all that. I didn’t realize that it’s almost a complete book on its own–more novella than short story–but I’m not complaining about this.

Champion of the Rose by Andrea K Host: Several people said they didn’t like this one as much as Host’s other books, but I quite enjoyed it! I like creepy fairies, and also morally or perhaps politically ambiguous characters. (Yes, Aristide is my favorite.) Host’s theme of “young woman thrust into difficult circumstances” is just as present as ever.

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie: I was worried about this one, but I think it’s just as good, though quite different in scope, as the first book. I have quite a bit more to say about it, actually, which I’ll hopefully get up soon.

Bones of the Fair by Andrea K Host: Definitely better than Champion of the Rose, imo. But this is mostly due to the fact that Aristide was the most interesting character to me in the first book, and I really liked Gentian, and the conflict between them. The ending did feel a tad anticlimactic, but that is my only complaint.

Monstrous Affections ed. by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant: I was mostly excited about this one because of Sarah Rees Brennan’s “Wings in the Morning” (I wondered if it would work for people who have not been avidly following Turn of the Story, but I saw at least one review that said it did). And it was so satisfying and I grinned. This was overall a strong short story collection–not all of the stories worked equally well, but there were some really great ones (I liked Nalo Hopkinson’s and M.T. Anderson’s especially).

Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon: Part of my project to familiarize myself with J FIC. This is one where I can see the appeal but don’t necessarily feel the need to read any more of the books.

A Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly: First Benjamin January mystery. It’s moody, atmospheric, somewhat depressing in a certain way. Certainly well written, and I liked it enough to go on to the next. However, the solution to that one was quite upsetting to me, and I’m not sure whether to continue. People who’ve read more of them: is there anything as awful in the later books?

Other posts
Libraries and Life Preservers
Made and Making
Character-driven SF

TV & movies
Parks & Rec season 6: I saw this had gone up on Netflix, and I was sick, so I glommed through a fair bit of it. I’ll really miss this show when it’s gone; I find the characters so delightful at this point. Not all the episodes are perfect, but it’s a good example of comedic storytelling that doesn’t feel like I’m getting punched in the face.

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day: I was sick and I wanted to watch I Capture The Castle (Romola Garai!) but it’s not on Netflix anymore, apparently. So I watched this instead, which worked for being sick and was moderately entertaining (Lee Pace’s accent is unintentionally hilarious) but I have never liked Ciaran Hinds and I find him as a romantic hero very improbable. One to enjoy but not linger on, or the charm goes away.

I could swear I watched other stuff, but I honestly don’t remember what so there we are.

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bookish posts reviews

Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan

unmadeA note on spoilers: I have tried to avoid spoilers for the third book here, but I’m not entirely sure I’ve been successful–there aren’t specifics, but there is a mention of how things made me feel. If you want to be absolutely completely unspoiled, read the book first.

So. Here it is. The last book of the Lynburn Legacy trilogy. What will happen? How will our hearts be broken? Will it be a satisfying conclusion?

Answers: LOTS OF STUFF. SO MANY WAYS. YES.

Endings of series always scare me because there are so many ways they can go wrong. Sarah Rees Brennan has a pretty good track record with me, since Demon’s Surrender is not only my favorite book in that trilogy but caused me to abruptly switch ships. And indeed, Unmade resolves the story but leaves it open enough for fans to imagine future adventures.

Even if I almost threw my computer across the room because of my feels.

SRB herself has posited a theory of trilogies which goes as follows: first book, set up; second book, make out; third book, save the world. It’s worth noting that the scope here is a bit smaller. Kami and her friends aren’t trying to save the world so much as their town, their family, their friends. While grand saving-the-world adventures are fun, it’s nice to see a story that’s doing something a little different, a little more intimate. (It reminds me just a tad of Mary Stewart’s Thornyhold in that way.)

Similarly, Rob Lynburn, while a completely creepy sociopath, is not a James Bond nuke-the-world super villain. He wants Aurimere to be his. He wants Sorry-in-the-Vale to be his. He can’t see beyond his own wants to what is right for anyone else. That’s what makes him the bad guy, and also what makes him so effectively scary as the bad guy, because this point of view is all too familiar and realistic.

As with the first two books, Kami is the star of the show, although here we get more glimpses into other peoples’ points-of-view. This is nice, I think, giving us a more rounded sense of Sorry-in-the-Vale and its inhabitants. And part of Kami’s own arc is that she’s learning to see others in a more complex way, to understand that she can’t know everything about them.

Also, I am a terrible person and all but I love Lillian Lynburn more than anyone should love Lillian Lynburn. And…I still ship Jon and Lillian. JILLIAN FOREVER! (I think it’s the banter. I have no banter immunity.)

I will also admit that before I started reading, I thought to myself, “I wonder how Sarah Rees Brennan will ruin my life this time.” I also thought: “I know I’m not prepared.” But, dear readers, I had no idea how not prepared I was. I was ugly crying at one point and trying to avoid dribbling tears on my keyboard. Even the epitaphs are like tiny stabs to the heart. (Thank you for using my favorite poets, Sarah!)

In short, terrible things happen. Things that can’t be undone or (pun alert) unmade. Things that induce ugly crying. But one of the things I appreciated about the first two books is the fact that I understood why the hard things happened. Kami’s choice at the end of Unspoken had the ring of narrative inevitability–not in a fatalistic sense, but in the sense that Kami as she had been written was always going to make this choice, that to make any other would have made her false.

So on an intellectual and storytelling level, I really admire the way these big plot points are set up. They’re not out-of-the-blue. It’s a bit like Code Name Verity, when really you know what’s going to happen, even though you’re hoping it won’t. The tension comes from the knowing and the hoping and the space between them. And this works really well for me.

On an emotional level: SARAH WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT SERIOUSLY WHY.

If I have a complaint, it’s a very minor one, which is that the pacing in the Holla arc seemed a little bit off. But events there are dependent on other events, so I can also understand the necessity. And like I said, very minor when compared to the awesomeness of the rest of the book.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go pet my copy and cry some more.

Book source: review copy from NetGalley, also purchased
Book infromation: 2014, Random House; YA
_______________
My reviews for the other books:
Unspoken
Untold
Sarah Rees Brennan is one of my favorite authors!

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bookish posts

Favorite Authors: Sarah Rees Brennan

I first read a Sarah Rees Brennan book with a good deal of trepidation, because it’s titled The Demon’s Lexicon and I Don’t Do Books about demons. But I had heard really good things about this one, and I thought I should at least try. And then it turned out to be completely and totally awesome and I became an SRB fangirl for life.* Her stories are all different, but they have threads in common–strong characters, friendship, family. Love is important, but it can’t always save you. Magic is beautiful, but it’s also deadly. Power is a weapon that will turn on you if you don’t wield it carefully. I have rarely found another author who manages to write such perfect, terrible, heartbreaking things. My heart is always wary when I read something new because I know that somehow it is going to be crushed–and I’ll love it.

(Also she came to Indianapolis and I met her and she was awesome!)

* Yes, this is a terrible reference. Sorry not sorry.

Favorite works by Sarah Rees Brennan
1. The Demon’s Surrender
2. “The Queen of Atlantis”
3. The Demon’s Covenant
4. Untold
5. Unspoken
6. The Turn of the Story

All of my Sarah Rees Brennan reviews:
The Demon’s Lexicon, briefly (2010)
The Demon’s Covenant (2010) and again, briefly (2010)
The Demon’s Surrender (2011)
All three DL books at once, briefly (2012)
Unspoken (2012)
Untold, briefly (2013)
Unmade (2014)

(Plus some short story reviews, collected in this tag.)

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bookish posts monthly book list reviews

September 2013 book list

Books I’ve already talked about
The Lost Kingdom by Matthew Kirby
the entire Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper
Picture Book Monday
Island of Ghosts and Hawk of May by Gillian Bradshaw
The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie
Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner
Echo by Alicia Wright Brewster
Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal
Starglass by Phoebe North
The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist
Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston
Shadowcry by Jenna Burtenshaw
Relish by Lucy Knisley
Night Watch by Terry Pratchett
Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

Others
Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow: Review here.

26 Women Aviators by Karen Bush Gibson: This was a nice introduction to a number of pioneering women aviators. I’d recommend it for upper elementary school/middle school kids. I did have a sense that some things were a bit glossed over, which is natural, I suppose.

Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay: Tori recommended this one, and I’m really glad I picked it up! Great historical fantasy, set in a world based on the Byzantine Empire, with a fascinating cast of characters. I can’t wait to see what happens in the sequel!

Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan: I’m not going to do this one justice in this small space, but basically I thought I was prepared for the worst that could happen. I really wasn’t. Like The Dream Thieves, I finished the book and immediately wanted to throw it across the room, not because I disliked it, but because I couldn’t handle my feeelllllinnnnngssss. What’s with this year-between-books business, anyway?

Secret of the Mansion by Julie Campbell: The first Trixie Belden book. This book is wild. Within about 200 pgs, we have concussion, multiple snake bits, people falling off of horses, fires, broken ankles, and lost treasure. It was something to marvel at, if not exactly admire.

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett: I didn’t like this one nearly as well as Night Watch–I missed competant and resourceful Captain Vimes. But I definitely like it more than most of the other Discworld books (always barring Tiffany Aching, which I adore!).

Course of Honor by Lindsey Davis: Amanda McCrina recommended this one to me–historical fiction based in ancient Rome, which could be described as historical romance except that the romantic plot is so utterly unlike anything else I can think of. It takes place over a long period of time–nearly forty years, if I’m remembering correctly–and the characters spend quite a bit of time apart. And yet, it’s totally real and wonderful. Lovely writing as well; I definitely recommend this to anyone who’s looking for politics and understated romance.