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Bujold Week: Mirror Dance

mirror danceAfter the relative lack of plot in Brothers in Arms, Mirror Dance starts out with a bang and never lets up. Also, it may contain a few of the most heartbreaking lines in the entire series, some of which are heartbreaking after some of the later books. (Contender, Cordelia about Aral: “I think Simon Illyan would still turn himself inside out for you after you were dead and buried.”) This is probably why my notes for this book are just a bunch of frowny faces and the word “ow”. Also, spoilers for this book follow.

Once again, LMB sets up a lot of the themes at the very beginning–in this case, the technical details of cryogenics and the risks of survival. Also, in the title, the image of mirrors that she plays with over and over and over again. It’s not just Mark and Miles, who are the obvious pairing (literal mirror images, at times), but the Vorkosigan brothers and the Barons Fell and Ryoval; Elli and Elena; Mark and Taura; Mark and Elena. All in different ways, all giving different shades of meaning to the story.

I was thinking yesterday that the unintentional theme of this re-read is Cordelia’s Children, and that seems to be borne out here. Mark’s journey from defiantly isolated and family-less to being part–his own unique and perhaps tenuous part–of the Vorkosigan-Naismith family is one of the major threads of this book. Cordelia herself is central to this negotiation, being the one who can accept Mark unquestioningly. (Another candidate for heartbreaking lines, Elena to Mark: “Mark. She’ll mean you.”)

The other major thread is Miles and his slow disintegration as Admiral Naismith. This isn’t finished in this book–that won’t come until Memory–but it’s first forshadowed (“I won’t really begin to worry for his sanity til he’s cut off from the little admiral.”) and then begun. There’s a sense overall through this book of times changing; Bel leaves, Elli Quinn has to step up, Aral has his heart attack. But most of these strands aren’t completely resolved, which explains the unsettled feeling I had at the end of the book.

There aren’t many light points, but I had a moment of foreshadowed hilarity when Simon shows Mark around the ImpSec headquarters. And Mark and Kareen! Yaaaay.

The rest of the time, especially after Miles dies, is a heart-stopping read, both in the “What’s happening now” sense, and in the “How do I stop this from happening?” sense. Basically everyone is in emotional or physical pain (Ivan crying in the gazebo), and it downright hurts to read, even when they’re growing, even when it turns out to be all right.

Gregor is actually one of my favorite characters (Who am I kidding? They’re ALL my favorite characters.) and this book illuminated part of his role in the series that I hadn’t really considered before. For both Mark and Miles, he’s a catalyst of identity, helping them define themselves. In a less positive way, for Miles, perhaps–he’s so much what Miles might have been, despite his loyalties. But his tendency to give people rope sometimes results in them saving themselves, and discovering who they are.

Speaking of saving themselves–the first time I read Mirror Dance, I was too horrified to really appreciate Mark and his choices/reactions. But this read, the conversation between Elena and Mark came across as very powerful. (“I will not allow you to turn my victory to defeat for the sake of your damned…feelings.”) Mark becomes himself, messed up and reactionary as he is, in this book.

So, this is a painful book to read, but it’s extremely well done, despite all my ows and frowny faces. It’s a measure of how well written the series is, that I care so much about all of these characters, flawed though they are.

Actually, I have a pretty clear winner for foreshadowing heartbreakers. This is a spoiler for the end of Cryoburn, so if you haven’t gotten there yet, don’t keep reading: “It had scared the hell out of him, retroactively, this whole cardiac episode. Not that his father must die someday, perhaps before him—that was the proper order of things, and Miles could not wish it upon the Count for it to be the other way around—but that Miles might not be here when it happened. When he was needed. Might be off indulging himself with the Dendarii Mercenaries, say, and not get the word for weeks.” I literally said, “Nooooo!” and shoved the computer away from me. And then cried.

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bookish posts reviews

Bujold week: Brothers in Arms

brothers in armsAfter my re-read of Shards of Honor and Barrayar, I decided to jump ahead to the Brothers in Arms/Mirror Dance/Memory arc. Re-reading Brothers in Arms was an interesting experience–it’s actually one of the few that doesn’t re-read as well as I expected. The rest of this review is fairly spoilery, so if you haven’t read BiA and are planning to, probably skip it.

So the problem with re-reading this one is that a lot of the plot is driven by the question of Duv Galeni’s identity and loyalty. When we first meet him, knowing who he is and where he ends up, there’s the fun of recognition, and the pain of all those echoed scars on both sides. But the worry of whether he’ll betray Miles and Barrayar isn’t there, and in the absence of that worry, the plot is thinner than usual.

On the other hand, there’s a lot of fun stuff. The introduction of Duv AND Mark, in one book. Miles’s frantic juggling of identities, cover stories, and plans. IVAN! (I love Ivan.) All the relationship stuff with Elli Quinn (and a bit with Elena Bothari-Jesek). Plus, it all takes place in London, though I feel this was not explored quite as well as it could have been–granted, Miles doesn’t always get the nuances of Earth geography and history, there could have still be something. But I do like Bujold’s triple image of fathers and sons, which drives the whole series anyway, but is especially prominent here. Ser Galen and Duv Galeni, Aral and Miles Vorkosigan, Mark and who? Ser Galen? Aral? Miles? They all give a different shade to the picture.

There’s something really weird, and a bit heartbreaking in Miles essentially describing Mark before he knows of Mark’s existence. It’s also a huge coincidence, one of several which I noted but which Bujold somehow manages to carry off, in my opinion. (My favorite was Miles’s line: “Ivan, how many four-foot-nine-inch black-haired gray-eyed huncbacks can there be on this damned planet? D’you think you trip over twitchy dwarfs on every street corner.” FAMOUS LAST WORDS.) And there’s a lot, which will be explored in the next few books, with Miles coming to terms with the fact that Mark is not the little brother he always wanted, at the same time that he is.

It’s interesting to note how at this point Mark really doesn’t have a self. He’s not Mark yet, he’s not anyone yet; he’s defined almost solely in relationship to Miles, mirroring him so well that even Ivan and Elli only have minor misgivings. Which, of course, ties into the whole theme of family and defining oneself in relationship to them. It’s just that the Vorkosigan clan is a bit, well, unique. Also worth noting that in a weird, roundabout, and slightly wrenching way, Cordelia gets her herds of little Vorkosigans at last. Ow.

I did also like Duv’s slow, unwilling admiration of Miles, which I remembered from the first time I read this one. Generally, his characterisation works well for me, though he doesn’t have quite the roundedness that he gets later. Also, I loved the notes between Simon Illyan and Aral, especially when Simon lets himself be forthright.

This isn’t one of my favorite books in the series, especially after the first read. But it sets up some of the books that are, so I’m glad I’ve re-read it.

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bookish posts reading notes reviews

Bujold week: Cordelia’s Honor part 2

barrayarI’m bringing back an old feature I did a few times–reading notes! I tend to use these when I’m re-reading a book and having Thoughts that aren’t quite a review. In this case, I’m taking a look at the first two books in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, handily collected into an omnibus and titled Cordelia’s Honor. Spoilers for the first two books should be expected.

On to Barrayar!

Again with Simon described as puppyish. No, my brain just refuses to give me that image.

Ah, of course–Aral is dismantling the Ministry of Political Education, ergo it doesn’t appear in the later books. It is interesting, though, how completely it disappears even as a bogey-man. (Imp Sec serves that function.)

Little Gregor! With a robot stegosaurus. Awwww. And charming his mother out of cream cakes–I love that little glimpse, but given what’s about to happen, what he’s about to lose, it makes me so sad at the same time.

The few years between the writing of Shards and Barrayar actually show up pretty clearly. Re-reading with the grace of hindsight, you can see how LMB wove in the thread of Barrayar’s reaction to physical and mental difference, from Koudelka and his sword-stick to Aral and Cordelia’s conversation about him and Bothari and Barrayaran customs. That is, her ability to set up the plot has improved. This shows up later too, when a key point of the plot hinges on that moment–forgotten except by Bothari–when Aral gives Cordelia the authority of his voice.

I didn’t expect the emotional blow of seeing what Miles’ name should have been, because of course at this point he’s just Miles and has never been anything else. But ‘Piotr Miles’–ow, ow, ow. And then continued blows in a one-two of Padma Xav Vorpatril (gives Tej’s Ivan Xav a different shade of meaning) and Cordelia’s imagining of herds of little Vorkosigans. This book is turning out to be much more traumatic than I expected.

The awful part is, I like Kareen. She comes through a marriage to someone awful in a remarkably sane way (even with Ezar’s help) and is then thrown into this probably sometimes uncomfortable relationship with Aral and Cordelia and deals with it with a lot of grace.

When I read this the first time, my sympathies after the soltoxin attack were entirely with Cordelia. And they still are, but I also see the conflict for Aral–wife, or father. Actually, it’s not a conflict exactly; he always chooses wife, but it’s hard to do so. It’s breaking his heart in two. (Or perhaps three, when you consider how quickly he’s forced to use his position as Regent in a personal matter.)

“The chill of the Dendarii night.” Oh. Well, there’s echoes for you. (Gives a new shade of meaning to Miles’ choice of names–rebellion, homage, ?)

I suspect the thread that ties this story together is Cordelia’s moving from a passive ‘just a wife and mother’ model (which of course, no one ever is) to, well, herself. The Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan that we know and love, where being a wife and mother is part of who she is, but not the sum of it. It starts becoming apparent when she and Gregor are hiding out in the mountains.

Oh, Kareen.

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bookish posts reading notes reviews

Bujold Week: Cordelia’s Honor reading notes, part1

shards of honorI’m bringing back an old feature I did a few times–reading notes! I tend to use these when I’m re-reading a book and having Thoughts that aren’t quite a review. In this case, I’m taking a look at the first two books in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, handily collected into an omnibus and titled Cordelia’s Honor. Spoilers for the first two books should be expected.

Today: Shards of Honor

It is quite strange to re-read these earliest of books; the Barrayar that is shown in the beginning of Shards of Honor is so manifestly not the Barrayar that we see later on. Of course, we are very much in Cordelia’s point-of-view, and yet there are also things like the Ministry of Political Education which I don’t remember seeing in any other book. On the other hand, there are tantalizing glimpses of things like the importance of spoken oaths in Barrayaran culture (which later translates into Miles’ authority as the Imperial Auditor).

I think what I continue to admire and value in both Aral and Cordelia (and their subsequent offspring) is the sense of duty and trying one’s best. It’s not as simple as patriotism, and especially not the unthinking and uncritical variety. But it’s the duty of care to those around the characters which drives them forward, and which is often rewarded.

Ugh, Vorrutyer is so awful. How is By related to him? (By is awful in his own way, but it is decidedly NOT this Vorrutyer’s.)

I think partly, dovetailing off of this and also Prince Serg, I’m so used to the fearsome and sometimes questionable but also sympathetic grouping of The Gregor, Miles, Aral, and Simon that I forget what a dark period Barrayar had just passed through. Serg and Vorrutyer are the last hurrah of the old bad times, in a way.

ILLYAN!! It’s so fun meeting the people who become important later on, this time knowing who they are, or rather who they will be. Also, Simon with a bland puppy face is almost unimaginable. But for that matter, Simon spying on, instead of for, Aral is almost unimaginable.

Part of what’s interesting to me is Cordelia’s journey from seeing Barrayar as completely evil, to understanding it a bit better, to going home and seeing the flaws in her own society. Although she’s quite a bit older than a teen, it has a kind of YA coming-of-age feel to it.

“We’re going to have a family. I’ll not risk them in those gladiator politics.” Oh, ow.

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bookish posts reviews

December 2013 reading list

Books I’ve already talked about
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold
Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols
Night Watch by Terry Pratchett
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks

All the other books
This is How I Find Her by Sara Polsky: I found this one to be a touching, tender look at families and identity, and what it means when a parent struggles with mental health. Sophie was a sympathetic protagonist, and I found a lot to like here.

United We Spy by Ally Carter: Perhaps it’s because I came to Carter’s writing via the Heist books, but the Gallagher Girls don’t have the same deep appeal for me that they do for many others. That said, I do think this was one of the weaker books in the series; despite a relatively strong resolution, it just bounced all over the place.

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan: For me, this one was a classic case of English majors run amok. It has a lot of separate elements which are really interesting, but taken as a whole, the symbolism came across as very heavy-handed, and both characters and plot failed to convince me that they were worth taking seriously.

Wise Young Fool by Sean Beaudoin: My reading experience for this title was probably marred by the fact that it included both a forward and afterword purporting to be from the editor and claiming that this manuscript ‘mysteriously appeared in their offices’ and since I hate that kind of intrusion with a BURNING PASSION, it really messed up the rest of the book for me. But also, I had trouble with Ritchie and buying his transformation. I wanted to, but it just didn’t work for me.

Forget You by Jennifer Echols: An enjoyable read, but my favorites are still Such a Rush and Going Too Far.

The Spirit Thief by Rachel Aaron: I was hoping to really like this one; I enjoyed it, but it was a bit more stereotypically high fantasy than I was expecting and it never really wowed me. I do plan to read the next book or two, to see if the series as a whole delivers on the promise of what it could be.

Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers: I tried re-reading this one to see if I liked it any better. I didn’t, though possibly for different reasons than when I was younger.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie: I’d been hearing rave reviews of this title even before I managed to get my hands on a copy and WOW. Yes, they were all right. This is a stunner of a book, with a wonderful world and narrator. I loved how much Leckie trusted her readers–there was never a moment when I felt hammered over the head with anything. This would absolutely have been a favorite book of 2013 if I had finished in time.

Above by Leah Bobet: This is a very difficult book to describe, so I won’t try. But I was seriously impressed by the world, by the writing, by the characters. Bobet shows people making hard choices, but does it with a lot of understanding and grace. I never quite tipped over into absolute love, but I really respected what the story did.

Bad Houses by Sara Ryan and Carla Speed McNeil
All The Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry
Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg
Death, Dickinson and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez
If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch
Nowhere But Home by Liza Palmer

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bookish posts reviews

Recent Reading 9-27-13

far far awayFar Far Away by Tom McNeal: There were many things I liked about this book, from the readability to the characters. However, the combination of the fairy tales and real life events didn’t work so well for me, especially the quiz show subplot which seemed plopped down in the middle without enough connection either thematically or character-wise. I also largely agree with the points that Mark Flowers makes here. However, I know there are several fans for this one, so I’ll be really interested in the discussions for this title.

starglass Starglass by Phoebe North: I loved the idea of the culture behind this book, but it felt quite bloated, and yet not detailed enough. I wanted more everyday scenes, instead of the “And then Mara taught me about botany” gloss that we got. Terra’s conflict was nicely done, but the foundation of the different factions on the ships was too obscured at the beginning, I thought. It took her too long to realize what was happening. So, definite mixed feelings on this one, but for fresh take on sci-fi cultures and long-term ship life, check it out.

different girlThe Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist: This is a pretty impressive book in a lot of ways. I loved the presence of voice and setting–I felt like I was living in Veronika’s head. And I loved the little details that contributed to the overall sense of something being different. I did think that the ending passed over the practical in favor of the cathartic, which made it harder for me to believe in the resolution. There’s a discussion about this one at the Printz Blog with some interesting comments.

black-helicoptersBlack Helicopters by Blythe Woolston: To be honest, my reading of this book probably suffers from the fact that I read it immediately after The Different Girl. Which begs the question, if I had read in a different order, if I had read other books in between, would I feel differently? Although the voice is strong, it doesn’t quite come together for me in terms of character and motivation–I never felt that Valley was a real person, rather than a Point.

shadowcry
Shadowcry by Jenna Burtenshaw: The beginning of this read was frustrating for me because I kept trying to fit the setting into some version of our world, and it doesn’t quite go. So I won’t be adding this to the historical fantasy page because, although the world looks slightly Victorian, the history doesn’t work. Generally speaking, felt like Burtenshaw had an interesting concept, but it never got to that next level which would have wowed me. And generally speaking, I had a hard time believing in the world; I didn’t buy that people would react in the way they supposedly did. It was strong enough that I’ll probably read the second book, to see where the story goes.

relishRelish by Lucy Knisley: This is a lovely graphic novel memoir about a young woman’s growing up with food. Knisley’s artwork is lovely and vibrant and I myself wondered if her illustrated recipes were a bit of an homage to the original Moosewood Cookbook. It also has a great sense of adolescence and early adulthood, which I think will make it a natural recommendation for teen and New Adult readers. I did feel that the themes were sometimes a bit less than subtle, but overall this is one to treasure and even relish. (Ba dum dum.)

night watch
Night Watch by Terry Pratchett: Pratchett doesn’t always work for me, notably in most of the Discworld books. (I know I am deprived. I wish I could be different.) But Rachel Neumeier suggested trying this one in a comment, and I’m glad I listened. I loved Sam Vimes and the rest of the cast, and the impossible situation he’s thrust into, and the fact that the plot loops around on itself in a marvelous and sob-inducing manner. I finished and immediately went back to read the beginning again and started crying. It’s brilliant the way Pratchett turns us from the onlookers who weren’t there into the veterans who were. I’ve been informed that I should read the rest of the Vimes sequence, and I have Guards! Guards! checked out right now.

maggot moonMaggot Moon by Sally Gardner: I’ll be quite honest–I mostly read this one because it’s on the Printz Blog’s longlist. While I normally like after-the-war stories, something about this one turned me off. I think it’s partly that the contrast between the setting and the Technicolor land is too great–1950s-60s America was not all Coca-Cola and Lucille Ball, and I felt like setting up that false dichotomy really messed up the rest of the book for me. Also, I didn’t understand why Croca-Cola? A misreading on Standish’s part? An attempt to set the world apart from ours? I think overall, it was just a bunch of little cracks in the windshield that added up to me feeling disconnected from the story and like I couldn’t trust it.

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Recent reading: 9-9-13

The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie: One of the mysteries that features neither of her best-known detectives. I couldn’t quite remember the plot, and was hoping there would be a few sympathetic characters. There are, fortunately. For a non-Poirot or Miss Marple book, I think it works quite well, although it’s not even close to the best of either.

thomas the rhymerThomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner: As you all know, I love Tam Lin retellings, and Thomas the Rhymer is a close cousin. Kushner does a marvelous job with the story and characters. And her fairyland is wonderful–what I so often want fairylands to be (she goes with Elf, rather than fairy, but I’m lumping them together). In a way, what I wanted was more Elspeth, but I loved it. And the end made me cry, so that’s always a plus.

echoEcho by Alicia Wright Brewster: A science fantasy (as in, takes place on another world, but has magic). I love the cover a LOT, and I liked the main character and most of the plot. But I never felt any strong emotional connection, and the love interest was entirely bland.

handbook-for-dragon-slayersHandbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell: I really liked Haskell’s debut, The Princess Curse, so I read this one right away. It was good, and I liked the several ways she subverts the standard cliches. Haskell also does a nice job of making her setting specific and real, rather than a vague pseudo-Middle Ages (she did the same in Princess Curse, so this is not surprising). I did like The Princess Curse a bit more, I think because of the fairy tale aspect, but she’s definitely a middle grade writer to watch. And her upcoming book, Castle of Thorns, sounds like it will be fantastic!

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bookish posts reviews

Mini-reviews: late June

Escape from the Pipe Men by Mary G Thompson: A juvenile sci-fi book. I received my copy from the author to review. The premise was interesting, and I suspect a certain age and type of reader might enjoy it. For myself, I found the world rather unconvincing, and wished that motivations had been fleshed out a little more. Still, it was a quick, plot driven read.

Angel with the Sword by CJ Cherryh: I read this one for the Book Smugglers’ Old School Wednesday feature. I already knew I loved Cherryh, based on the first three books in the Foreigner universe (which I will get back to someday). Angel was a lovely read, which felt very science fantasy to me. I especially appreciated the fact that the heroine was from a different class than fantasy protagonists often are, and that she was depicted as having a more realistic and grounded view of life than the higher class characters. Basically, I thought she was awesome. I know Ana and Thea thought that the main male character was a bit thin; honestly, during reading this didn’t bother me, though I can see their point. I’ve heard there are shared world short stories set in the same place, and I would definitely be interested in reading them at some point.

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen: Earlier this year, I read The Girl Who Chased the Moon, and really liked it. I’d been meaning to read some of Sarah Addison Allen’s other books, and then I went on a little mini-binge. Garden Spells was lovely, from the characters to the description of the edible plants, down to the sheer sentence-level writing.

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen: This was the second in my mini-binge. Maybe it was reading it on public transit in Chicago, but it didn’t have quite the same magic that either Girl or Garden Spells had. In particular, I figured out a plot point really early and couldn’t see why the main character didn’t. After finishing, I think she was meant to be wilfully blind, but I also wish that thread had been handled a little differently. It’s still a lovely book, but not my favorite.

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Recent Reading 6-12-2013

summer princeThe Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson: I liked a lot about this one–the writing was lovely and it’s the kind of post apocalyptic world I can get behind. I believed in the way the society developed and I thought the setting was really nicely done. I also liked June and thought her relationship with art was more believable than it sometimes is in YA books. However, I agree with Charlotte that I expected Gil and Enki to have some relationship to, you know, Gilgamesh and Enki. This does not seem unreasonable to me! Moreover, this is one of those books where I was totally enamored of the book while I was reading and then when I stopped, I had questions. I did like it a lot though, so if you like the idea of dystopias more than you like most YA dystopias, I would recommend this one.

green lionThe Pursuit of the Green Lion by Judith Merkle Riley: Second in the Margaret of Ashbury series. I like these books a lot, but they’re almost impossible to describe. Sort of like Margery Kempe, except with a sense of humor and also fiction? Anyway, I enjoy them a lot–Merkle Riley has a great sense of the period and language, without ever seeming stilted.

human divisionThe Human Division by John Scalzi: For some reason I wasn’t quite sure I would like this one, even though I’ve definitely been a fan of the other books in the Old Man’s War series. That was silly! The Human Division works well as an overarching story, continuing the questions and difficulties raised in the other OMW books. I am curious to know if Scalzi intends to keep writing in this universe, because I don’t see some of the problems getting resolved easily.

chocolate roseThe Chocolate Rose by Laura Florand: I’ve been enjoying Laura Florand’s books as a light contemporary romance. The Chocolate Rose is the newest, and I think, my favorite. I was a little dubious at first, because I’m not such a fan of the alpha hero, but I think that’s actually Jolie’s misperception, rather than the reality. Regardless, I really liked this one!

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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