The title of this book caught my eye, and I immediately knew that I had to read it. As a Harry Potter fan and longtime writer of fanfiction myself, ceThe title of this book caught my eye, and I immediately knew that I had to read it. As a Harry Potter fan and longtime writer of fanfiction myself, certain aspects of the story spoke to me. I squee'd on the first page, which I don't think has ever happened to me before. How well do I know the joy of devotion to a fictional world and a pairing so profound that it trumps real-world considerations.
The Simon Snow series is an obvious send-up of Harry Potter (although the HP books also exist in this world), and Cath's fervent Simon/Baz shipping is a clear reference to the popularity of Harry/Draco fanfiction. I had the terrible idea while I was reading that I might want to try my hand at writing some Simon/Baz fic myself.
However, this is not just the story of a fangirl obsessing over her OTP. Cath is also starting her first year at college. She's feeling left behind by her more out-going twin sister. She's worried her roommate hates her and thinks she's weird. She doesn't know how to interact with boys. And most of all, she's coping with anxiety issues stemming from abandonment by her mother, and her father's ongoing struggle with mental illness.
While this book was generally delightful, it did have some issues. Levi struck me as a bit of a Manic Pixie Dream Boy at first, and while he settled down after a while, he did succumb to Nice-Guy-ism a time or two. Cath calls him out on this, but only half-heartedly. There were a few instances where feminist ideas were dropped before they could be properly addressed. The book is awash with ableist slurs, which struck an especially sour note, considering how much of the plot directly deals with mental illness. The characters also roll their eyes so often that it's a wonder they're not all suffering from eye-strain.
The story is unpolished, but charming. The characters and situations are realistic. My actual rating is probably closer to 3.5 stars, but I am rounding up. I really enjoy college stories. If you liked this book, you might want to check out "Tam Lin" by Pamela Dean next....more
I was in the 4th grade when I discovered this book in my elementary school library. It became an instant favourite. I checked it out countless times oI was in the 4th grade when I discovered this book in my elementary school library. It became an instant favourite. I checked it out countless times over the following two years, and after graduating to middle school, I bought my own copy, which I still have more than 20 years later.
This is a book designed to spark the reader's imagination, with each page containing a title, a picture, and one line of a story. The reader is left to imagine or create the rest.
The illustrations are as haunting as they are beautiful. I have always loved Van Allsburg's unique artistic style, and own several of his other books, but this one remains my favourite....more
This is a book about standing up, being visible, and forcing the world to accept who you are on your own terms. One minute, I would want to stand up aThis is a book about standing up, being visible, and forcing the world to accept who you are on your own terms. One minute, I would want to stand up and cheer. The next, I would want to sit down and cry. Sometimes I wanted to do both at the same time. I lost track of the number of times I teared up.
David Levithan is in rare form here. The heart-rending choice of narrative device, and the poetical language weave together the stories of the couples and individuals who are all at different places on the road of acceptance and love, showing them almost as a series of snapshots, seen from the outside, by a lost generation.
You may find yourself, as I did, caught up in the action of Harry and Craig's marathon kiss, trying to read this book in one sitting, without stopping for food or bathroom breaks, wanting to stick by them out of solidarity, and not stopping until they do. I was left wanting to know more about the characters, and what would happen to them next, but I think that would be true if the book had been 500 or 1000 pages.
This is an amazing story, and so relevant to our times....more
Imagine, if you will, a town entirely populated by the Dursleys and their ilk. The kinds of people they like to rub elbows with, the kinds of people tImagine, if you will, a town entirely populated by the Dursleys and their ilk. The kinds of people they like to rub elbows with, the kinds of people they love to hate, the kinds of people they suck up to but secretly despise. Throw in a little Peter Pettigrew and adolescent Severus Snape, and you've got Pagford. When a popular local councilman, Barry Fairbrother, unexpectedly drops dead, the idyllic English village is thrown into turmoil over filling his council seat, and that's before Fairbrother's "ghost" starts airing the town's dirty secrets on the parish website.
This book has none of the charming, magical nature the world fell in love with in the Harry Potter series. Instead, Rowling hands us harsh realism and tells us to deal with it. Love and friendship triumphing over evil? Forget that; this is the real world, where it's all about small-minded small-town politics and getting one-up on your neighbour. Words like "raw" and "gritty" spring to mind. Strong language, sex, drug use, rape, abuse, neglect. Nothing is off limits, and everyone is deeply flawed. A character who seems decent and sympathetic in one scene might do something cruel, self-serving, or racist in the next. After a while, one gets the impression that the dead man was the only really good apple of the whole bunch.
I must admit to experiencing a certain juvenile thrill at seeing J. K. Rowling slinging around crass vulgarity like this. It was rather like how I felt reading Daniel Handler's adult works after "A Series of Unfortunate Events". We tend to regard authors of children's literature as having a sort of aura of holy innocence, and forget that they are people with filthy minds, just like the rest of us.
This book may not have captured my heart and imagination the way the Harry Potter books did, but there was definitely enough here to keep me turning pages. If you want to see the goddess of contemporary YA fantasy write the kinds of things her characters usually only get up to in fanfiction, this might just be the book for you. And hey, Rowling can still turn a phrase like nobody's business....more
Almost two centuries have passed since the days of Jack Builder and Lady Aliena, chronicled in "The Pillars of the Earth", and the city of KingsbridgeAlmost two centuries have passed since the days of Jack Builder and Lady Aliena, chronicled in "The Pillars of the Earth", and the city of Kingsbridge, with its magnificent cathedral and annual fleece fair, is flourishing as Follett returns us to that mediaeval locale on the eve of one of the greatest upheavals of human history: the Black Death. This sequel is similar to the original novel in style and scope, following five interconnected point of view characters through multiple decades of mid-14th century English history, political intrigue, and architecture.
Caris is the business-savvy, independent-minded daughter of a wealthy wool merchant. She is in love with Merthin, an apprentice builder, the son of an impoverished knight. Merthin's brother, Ralph, a nasty piece of work, is squire to the Earl of Shiring. Gwenda is a poor but quick-witted and determined peasant girl who befriends Caris in childhood. Godwyn is Caris's cousin, a monk at Kingsbridge Priory.
Follett does an exquisite job of crafting his characters, and I am especially pleased with his ability to write strong, believable, sympathetic female point of view and secondary characters. In spite of the constraints of the society they inhabit which tends to dismiss them as "only women" and good for little more than pleasure and/or reproduction, his female characters display no lack of intelligence or agency, and frequently manage to outwit or earn the respect of their better educated, more privileged male peers. Many male authors have a hard time doing this (I am looking at you, Umberto Eco). In fact, if I did not know the identity of the author, I would probably not guess that this book was written by a man.
On the flip side of this, we have Ralph. Bleh. He blunders through what can only be described as a charmed life, awash with unexamined male and class privilege. He believes that everyone else exists solely for his personal convenience. He's bitter about any privilege he does not already possess, can never let go of the pettiest grudge, and enjoys the suffering of others. Ironically, he admires his brother Merthin's ability to deal with people, which Merthin does by *treating them like people*, which Ralph is seemingly incapable of doing. I would have been happier had there been fewer scenes from Ralph's point of view. The inside of his head is a disgusting place. I don't think I have ever demanded a character "just diiiiiiie already!" so many times.
Godwyn was the character who took me the longest to decide how I felt about him. At first, when he has no real power, his political machinations are delightful and amusing, in spite of the contempt in which he seems to hold all women apart from his mother. He is brutally ambitious and nowhere near as intelligent as he thinks he is. He is resentful when challenged and sulky when he doesn't get his way. I ended up despising him almost as much as I did Ralph.
Caris and Merthin's long romance was a joy to read, as well as being a source of frustration. In some ways, the characters suffer from being "Generation Xerox", with these two resembling Aliena and Jack from the previous book (as Ralph seems to be William Hamleigh). But the challenges they face are different. Caris longs to lead a fulfilling and rewarding life, which she does not believe she can do as a wife and mother of children, and Merthin sometimes seems unreasonable in his inability to understand that she must choose between work and family, while he need not make that choice.
Ken Follett succeeds in painting a picture of the middle ages that is both worse and better than most people probably think it was. Many authors fall into the trap of writing the mediaeval period as some kind of glorious and romantic adventure -- a thrilling time to be alive. If you suffer from such delusions, this book will cure you of them. The 14th century was a terrible time to be anyone except perhaps a high-ranking nobleman, and even then, there was a good chance of dying by violence or plague. While this book makes me supremely grateful that I do not live in the 14th century, it also serves as a reminder that mediaeval attitudes are still with us today, even if they are not as prevalent. We may be doing better here at the start of the 21st century, but we have not reached some glorious culmination of history; it's just a waypoint on the road, and there is still a long way to go.
There is a lot of sex and violence (and some sexual violence) in this book, so if that troubles you, you might want to avoid it on that account. Such scenes are no more gratuitous, in my opinion, than in most fiction, and I was pleased with the sexual agency displayed by several of the female characters. There was a general lack of male gaze present in the text (compared, for example, to GRRM's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series), apart from in Ralph's chapters, but his treatment of women is consistently cast in a negative light.
This is not high brow literature, but it's engaging story telling with careful attention paid to historical detail. Most adult readers should find it accessible and enjoyable, in spite of its length and subject matter....more
There's no cohesive plot here, so I would hesitate to recommend this to someone who has not already read and enjoyed "Every Day". It's just some littlThere's no cohesive plot here, so I would hesitate to recommend this to someone who has not already read and enjoyed "Every Day". It's just some little vignettes from earlier points in A's unusual life, which provide a bit more insight into the formation of the character.
The only part that was a little jarring for me was that the wording of the thoughts of a much younger A were as vocabulariffic as teenage-A's. I would have expected things to be expressed more simply in a first-person present-tense narrative....more
Meet A. A has no race, no class, no gender, no name apart from the letter ze has assigned hirself. Also no family, friends, possessions, or plans forMeet A. A has no race, no class, no gender, no name apart from the letter ze has assigned hirself. Also no family, friends, possessions, or plans for the future. Ze can't. Because every day A wakes up in a different body, in a different life. There are rules regarding how this works -- A is always someone of the same age as hirself, is constrained to a limited geographical area, and can access the memories of the body ze is possessing, but not the person's feelings or consciousness -- and there are the rules A has made for hirself: don't harm anyone, and don't disrupt the borrowed life more than ze can help.
All of this changes on the day that A inhabits a boy named Justin, and meets Justin's girlfriend Rhiannon. Then it all begins to fall apart, because A is falling in love. Ze starts bending hir rules -- just a little at first -- and things begin to spin out of control.
The genius of this novel lies more in the concept than in the execution. A giant "WHAT IF?" is asked of the reader which a novel of this length can barely begin to scratch the surface of answering. It raises questions about identity, and about how much agency one has a right to when one can only ever be a guest in the body of another, and has no independent existence to call one's own. In some ways, A's life is very free. Ze almost never has to face consequences for hir actions, and ze gets to see first-hand a very broad range of human experiences. One day, A might be on the high school football team, the next day, an underage, undocumented housekeeper, or a drug addict desperate for the next fix.
There were some elements of the romance between A and Rhiannon that I found problematic. A is somewhat pushy, coming close to demanding that Rhiannon make room for hir in her life, and all the uncertainty that comes along with that. It's a lot to ask of anyone. While I don't necessarily agree with the way A handles things all the time, I feel nothing but sympathy for the desperation A experiences. With no possibility of sustained relationships or anything else to call one's own, who wouldn't be hungry to forge a connection with another person?
The twist that came at the end was surprising. I thought I knew what was going to happen, but my expectations were turned upside down. The ending itself was rather abrupt. I was left wanting more. I hope Levithan intends to write a sequel. There is still so much to explore here and so many more questions to ask....more
As a long-time fan of Umberto Eco's novels, I was excited to learn a while ago that he was releasing a new one, after reports that he had no intentionAs a long-time fan of Umberto Eco's novels, I was excited to learn a while ago that he was releasing a new one, after reports that he had no intention of writing more fiction. The title especially intrigued me, since I once visited the eponymous cemetery. Eco's fans will recognise many of the novel's themes from his earlier works: conspiracy, theology, identity, historical perspectives on science and philosophy, and lies so detailed and so often repeated that they come to be believed even by their inventors.
The main character, Simonini, an Italian forger living in late 19th century Paris, suffers from an apparent split personality disorder following some traumatic event which he cannot recall. The bulk of the novel takes the form of a correspondence or series of diary entries between two of his personas. The dominant persona, Simonini himself, is a consummate bigot. He believes utterly in every cultural, ethnic, and misogynistic stereotype under the sun. "I hate therefore I am," as he puts it. There seems to be no group of people he does not dislike, but he reserves a special level of hatred for Jews. He also comes across as something of a sociopath, more than willing to befriend a man one week and sell him to his enemies or even orchestrate his demise the next. The only thing in the world he loves is food. His every meal is described in loving detail, sometimes including a recipe for some complex dish.
The second persona believes himself to be a priest called Dalla Piccola. He acts in part as Simonini's conscience, reminding him of events the dominant persona seems to have willfully forgotten, and chastising him for some of his worst actions. Dalla Piccola is not quite so fervently bigoted as Simonini, but shares his horror at the thought of intimate contact with women.
Together, the two personas attempt to untangle their identity and figure out what caused the split by examining their own history, each of them possessing knowledge of events that the other does not recall. Simonini is a thoroughly unsympathetic protagonist, and Dalla Piccola is not really given enough of a personality to make him an interesting character. In some places, an impartial narrative voice steps in to summarise, explain, or speculate when the personas' recollections become confused.
The story concerns the roots of modern anti-semitism, and the creation of the document which came to be called "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion", which was later used by the Nazis to justify their treatment of the Jews. The most shocking thing about the novel, and the genius of it, is how much of it is fact, not fiction. Every named character, apart from Simonini, is a real historical figure who said and did all the things attributed to them by the novel. Most readers will recognise such names as Alexandre Dumas and Sigmund Freud, but those with greater knowledge of the period will find many other familiar names and references. For those like me who know less about 19th century European politics and history, it can be difficult in some places to disentangle fact from speculation from outright invention. The novel is also illustrated with relevant images from contemporary publications.
Some modern readers may find the blatant bigotry espoused by some of the characters shocking, and may even find it difficult to understand how anyone could ever have believed some of the ideas that in the past were matters of commonly-accepted fact. Eco does a good job of shining a light on the hate, and exposing the inherent ridiculousness of these ideas, to the point where it often seems ironic that the characters cannot see the cognitive dissonance and circular reasoning for themselves. When he is presented with evidence against any of his prejudices, Simonini never questions whether his preconceived notions might be wrong, but instead performs some rather extraordinary mental contortions to explain away the "anomaly". He accepts at face value everything he learns, reads, or is told, and is enraged on the occasions when he discovers he has been deceived, in spite of the fact that he himself is a consummate liar, master forger, and occasional spy.
As in Eco's past works, there are few female characters, and those who we do meet are not very well fleshed out. The only female character of any consequence is Diana Vaughn, and the reader spends far more of the narrative hearing about her than hearing from her. I've long held the theory that Eco knows he writes women badly, so avoids writing them as far as is possible.
Caveat for readers: there is a brief instance of pedophilia described at one point in the narrative, and a character who confesses to being sexually attracted to children.
Overall, I found the book to be an interesting literary exercise and well worth reading, though not as compelling as some of Eco's other novels....more
I'm still trying to decide how I feel about this book. I read it slowly, and the plot had a slow build as all the pieces of the story and the characteI'm still trying to decide how I feel about this book. I read it slowly, and the plot had a slow build as all the pieces of the story and the characters were moved into place, and I admit I was a little bored through the first half of the book. It didn't help that two of the first important characters introduced have no redeeming qualities, and it took a while for me to feel more than lukewarm about a few of the other central characters. The story is told out of sequence in some places, and I wish I had paid more attention to the dates earlier on, so I could have a better sense of when everything was happening. If you are looking for a fast-paced, action-packed plot, this is probably not the book for you. About halfway through, it all starts to come together, with a fairly satisfying conclusion. I especially liked the description of how the Circus's fandom, the reveurs, came into being. A visually evocative book. I wouldn't be surprised if someone tried to make it into a movie sooner or later....more
After re-reading The Amber Spyglass, I was not quite ready to put Pullman's world back on the shelf. I've had this small book for some time, but had nAfter re-reading The Amber Spyglass, I was not quite ready to put Pullman's world back on the shelf. I've had this small book for some time, but had never gotten around to reading it before now. It was nice to see Lyra's story continuing, and to find out how she was doing two years after the events of the series. In some ways, she has reverted back to her old self, from before her adventures began, but she is more grown up, and has learned many things which inform her actions here. There is much discussion in this story of symbolism, and of how some things have broader meanings which are not readily apparent. And that's more or less how this story feels -- like one piece of a puzzle -- a keyhole into Lyra's life. I wonder if Pullman will ever get around to answering some of the questions raised here?...more
On all four of my previous readings of this series, this has been my favourite book. I'm not sure that's so any longer. It's still very good, with somOn all four of my previous readings of this series, this has been my favourite book. I'm not sure that's so any longer. It's still very good, with some great characters, fascinating storylines and breathtaking scenes, and Will is still possibly my favourite character in the series, but on this reading, I noticed for the first time how much of a middle book it is. While some new plot arcs begin here and some are concluded, it doesn't have the same sort of tight, self-contained plotting found in The Northern Lights/The Golden Compass. I am very much enjoying re-reading this series alongside the Mark Reads His Dark Materials blog. Mark's love and amazement for this series is infectious. I find I'm appreciating the themes and the Pullman's writing style a lot more as a result of the chapter-a-day format, taking the time to think about and discuss the ideas raised in each chapter. A great series, which teaches the importance of friendship, self-sufficiency, and critical thinking....more