3.5ish. Stormdancer was one of my most eagerly anticipated reads of this year, between the excellent premise and the endless rave reviews I kept seeing...more3.5ish. Stormdancer was one of my most eagerly anticipated reads of this year, between the excellent premise and the endless rave reviews I kept seeing of it - but it almost didn't make it out of the gate. (less)
I generally don't read a lot of contemporary, for whatever reason. I think I'm always afraid that it's going to be very soapy and melodramatic and whi...moreI generally don't read a lot of contemporary, for whatever reason. I think I'm always afraid that it's going to be very soapy and melodramatic and whiny -- something, I don't know, just a little too much and not really my thing. But like every genre, there's the good and the bad, and I need to realize that I can't be afraid of sampling it from time to time in order to find the good. Because when it's good, it's good. This is good. In A Little Wanting Song, Cath Crowley was able to really capture not just being a teen, but being a human. Charlie was one of the most real characters I have had the pleasure of reading in some time. She's shy and sort of timid, a bit of a wallflower type, but because this is told in alternating first-person accounts, the reader gets to enjoy the really rich internal voice that Charlie has. She's smart and funny and artistic, and she's also nervous and lonely and a million other things that work together to make her a fully-realized character. She almost ceases to be a "character" at all, and becomes someone you can really connect to. And Rose isn't far behind on the Full Character Scale.
Just as much as the characters, I enjoyed Crowley's writing. Her prose was simply beautiful: it was smooth and flowed well in that way that makes it hard to put a book down -- you know you should because it's 2:00am and you have to work in the morning, and as soon as you find a good stopping point, you will put it down, but first, how about one more chapter to see how Charlie reacts to what Rose just did; oh, that's how? Well, we better see how Rose reacts now...Hmm...maybe one more... It's that kind of writing. It just seems effortless, which means there was probably a good deal of effort behind it. There's a lot of relatable humor in both Charlie's and Rose's narration. And even if the voices overlap sometimes, they still remain their own distinct characters; it's almost in the way that good friends sound a little alike, but you can tell them apart -- it's probably part of the reason they are good friends.
This is a coming of age story, and a friendship story at its finest. Even when it's completely predictable -- and it can be -- it still works. It's thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing, and it's got me rethinking my stance on contemporary fiction. Or at least considering widening my stance on CF. The only real downsides for me -- and really, I was able to set them aside -- were: the bit of predictableness I mentioned ^^. There is a formula to coming of age stories, and this one does use it a bit; also, there is a spot in the middle of the book that, though I don't dislike it, I wonder if all of what happened needed to happen. It seemed not quite forced, but almost. Like action and craziness was needed as a catalyst. As I said, I liked it, but it was a tiny bit jarring to have a ton of stuff suddenly happening in a rush. But these were minor and the rest of the book more than made up for it.
One last thing I want to mention: Charlie writes songs, and some of them are included in the book as a sort of poetry, and at first I was very dubious. I don't always trust great prose writers to write great poetry -- because often, they don't. So I have to give Cath Crowley a bit of a pat on the back, because some of her poetic interludes were really very nice. They stayed in Charlie's tone, they were expressive and lyrical without being too much, and some of them were really affecting.
I would recommend you pick this up, it would make a great beach read. Or a great winter, cuddled up with cocoa read. :)
[disclosure: This book was sent to me by Knopf books for review at my request, yo!]
Here's my Teaser Tuesday from A Little Wanting Song; it's from the beginning of the book, and it sets the tone and draws the reader in beautifully. Very funny.
"Who's this?" Dad asks when a catchy tune comes on my CD. We pass the skeleton tree that never has leaves, no matter what time of year. Bare gray branches wave us on. "No one you know, Dad," I say. It's me.
~ ~ ~
The [Christmas:] tree flicks me the finger on my way throught the living room. I flick one back. Solidarity. Christmas isn't always what you'd hoped for.
~ ~ ~
I thank [Dave:] for my hat and close the door. Sure, I want to open it straight back up and yell his name but I don't. I draw a line between me and uncool and I don't cross it. Instead I put on a Fiona Apple CD and turn her up loud. [...:] I dance loud to my music. Oh yeah, I'm sassy. I'm hard to get, that's what I am. Hard. To. Get. Cool. I slide to the fridge and grab a Coke. I slide back. "What are you up to?" Grandpa asks, walking into the kitchen. "I'm being sassy. Playing hard to get. Cool. Not desperate." "Dave Robbie's riding his bike around our front yard. Any idea why?" In case of fire, it's good to know we can all get out of the house in less than five seconds. I take a breath and open the door. "Hi. Did you forget something?" He shakes his head. "I just didn't want to go home." Fuck cool. Cool is overrated.
"Do whatever you like, Luke." "I will," he said. "Dickhead, I shot back." Things are bad with your boyfriend when every conversation ends with "Do whatever you like. I will. Dickhead."
~ ~ ~
Sure, friendship is all about believing in someone so hard they believe it, too. Sure, it's about trust. But if anyone hurts her tonight, it's about ripping them apart with my bare hands and really enjoying it.
Note: A Little Wanting Song, originally published in Australia, where it was shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year, was originally titled Chasing Charlie Duskin. I don't know if anything of import was changed along with the title. (less)
Briefly: Read it. Soulless is exactly what I wanted and didn’t get from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It’s a pithy, funny, tongue-firmly-in-cheek m...moreBriefly: Read it. Soulless is exactly what I wanted and didn’t get from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It’s a pithy, funny, tongue-firmly-in-cheek mesh of Victorian manners and morés, and absurd occult occurrences. Alexia Tarabotti is an intriguing and amusing MC, completely un-Victorian and yet somehow not out of place. Carriger’s take on Victorian London high society shows a real knowledge of it, while not taking it too seriously. And, man, talk about cover appeal! Love it! Highly recommended if you like historical, paranormal, satirical, and/or sexy-silly fiction.
Not-so-briefly: let's get down to business -- Characters: The characters of Soulless, including many of the secondary ones, are vibrant and fleshed out. The main characters are engaging and charmingly flawed. The two main characters, Alexia and Lord Maccon, are irresistible. Seriously. Just try to resist them; I'll wait. Alexia is sassy and smart, with a strain of Victorian sensibilities that is unfettered by any sort of wallflower-ness. She is not shy or coy or retiring. She is a feisty heroine with modern inclinations, who just happens to expect to be treated like a Victorian lady, smart spinster, some-time sex object, and fan of treacle tart; she doesn't ask much. She's a perfect little bundle of contradictions. Lord Maccon is every bit the Alpha werewolf, posing as a highly desirable bachelor Lord. He is constantly on the verge of bursting out and doing something deliciously indecorous. The fireworks between Lord Maccon and Alexia are blinding (and plenty exciting -- and loud, as fireworks tend to be). It's a classic love/hate relationship with the added fun of Victorian etiquette and supernatural elements tossed in.
Setting and Plot: The steampunky goodness of Carriger's Victorian England is almost as much a character as Alexia and Lord Maccon. Carriger did her research, and a London slightly different than we may have expected comes to life on the page. The Victorian obsession with the fledgling field of genetics plays a prominent and brilliant role, and the exploding obsession with science in both the working and moneyed classes makes for a suitable, smart and intriguing background to the story. Carriger's idea that these great advancements (logically) are the result of supernaturals is fun and playful, while making perfect sense. There's good conflict, great tension (plot tension and sexual tension *waggles eyebrows*). All said, she has set up a great stage-set to play on for the remainder of the series. Long may it live.(less)
Flavia de Luce is not your average eleven year old. She lives in a decaying mansion. She has a passion for chemistry, especially poisons. And when she...moreFlavia de Luce is not your average eleven year old. She lives in a decaying mansion. She has a passion for chemistry, especially poisons. And when she finds a man dying in her cucumber patch, it doesn't occur to her to be worried or scared. Instead, Flavia senses something delicious may come of it: adventure. Thus Flavia sets out to find out just who the man is, and how he came to be dying in her cucumber patch. But what starts off as a fun, mysterious way to spend the summer of 1950 turns into something much more when Flavia's father is arrested for the crime -- and she must prove his innocence before it's too late.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is slightly out of the norm for me in that I tend to avoid mysteries. I figure them out too soon, so they bore me and come off as cheesy. But I'd heard good things about this one, I was completely caught by the title and, yes, the cover (you know me), and precocious Flavia sounded interesting. So not only did I decide to give it a try, but I even went ahead and bought it. I do not regret this impetuous decision.
Flavia is delightful in her little-genius antics, and though her precociousness is occasionally somewhat irritating (as with all precociousness), she remains consistently entertaining. She's bold and bright and adventurous, and like many a genius, slightly off. She occasionally reminded me of Merricat Blackwood from We Have Always Lived in the Castle, whom, if you remember, I found captivating, even if she was a loon. Flavia isn't a loon, but her obsession with poisons does make her narration slightly suspect on occasion, which adds an interesting element.
The tone throughout the book is fun and intriguing. It's like some weird love-child of We Have Always Lived in the Castle + nostalgic/atmospheric/eccentric/British coming of age lit (think I Capture the Castle) + a cozy mystery. That's some parentage, and it makes for interesting offspring. The characters are fun and quirky, and this extends beyond Flavia, though she certainly takes the cake in this regard.
And even for me, who always figures things out and then gets disgusted -- even for me the mystery was fun. It's the sort that, even if you figure it out, there's still enough suspense, still enough tension, still enough interest to keep me going. You want to know how it's going to work out; more specifically, you want to know how Flavia's going to wriggle out of this one and come out on top, because she's that type of character; you just know she will.
I think, whether you like mysteries or you typically avoid them like me, you'll like Sweetness, and you'll intend to continue on with the series, The Buckshaw Chronicles -- you just have to know what Flavia's going to get herself into next!
This volume continues to present side stories of the peripheral characters of Emma, among them Erich and his squirrel, the Merediths and their maids,...moreThis volume continues to present side stories of the peripheral characters of Emma, among them Erich and his squirrel, the Merediths and their maids, and a trio of opera singers, as well as the story of how William met Hakim. I almost rated this a 4, simply because it's harder to absolutely love a series of side stories instead of the orig. chronicles of Emma. But the fact is, I love this world. Kaoru Mori is so attuned to her characters and the details. She can tell a story with no words for many panels (sometimes pages) and still keep it clear and entertaining. Her attention to detail amazes me, and her ability to inject subtle humor and outright cuteness. She could manga-up the phonebook and make it intricate and fun for me. And of course, her silly afterword manga is perfect as always. Sometimes I think, as much as I love the books, I love her afterword manga more. I was very disappointed to find out that there is only one more volume and then she's done with Emma. Don't know what I'll do with myself. Think I'm going to have to move on to Shirley Volume 1.(less)
Republished under the name Belle, Belle and the Beau tells the story of Belle Palmer, an escaped slave who is taken in by a family of free blacks -- t...moreRepublished under the name Belle, Belle and the Beau tells the story of Belle Palmer, an escaped slave who is taken in by a family of free blacks -- the Bests -- in Michigan. Belle must learn to adjust to free life and the idea that she can make her own choices and pursue her own goals. Belle and the Beau is part of a series of books (Avon True Romance) written by multiple authors, and reads as the hack job it most likely is.
Basically, there is only one circumstance that would make this book worth while to read, and that is as an American history companion in a 5th or 6th grade class. It is (heavily) peppered with facts from the era (Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Frederick Douglass' Paper, various Af. Am. firsts, etc), but the way they are worked into the story is fairly lazy. It really seems as if Jenkins took a history lesson from a text book and put names to it. Everything is done fairly shallowly, and though it may help some students connect to the time a bit, there are much more worthwhile reads out there that work in the facts unobtrusively and realistically instead of resting them on the surface.
The writing too seems very lazy. It felt at times like I was reading a literature Mad Lib. So many of the sentences were set up the same way, with minor details changed: a fill-in-the-blank book. EVERYTIME a character made a joke or said anything remotely funny/sarcastic/etc., Jenkins would write "s/he cracked." Apparently the only way to tell a joke is to crack. Also, the only way to show mock anger is to plant one balled fist on one out-thrust hip. Everything seemed so half-hearted and churned out and formulaic. Even though Belle is an escaped slave living very near fugitive slave catchers, there is never any real sense of danger or tension. Every character is one-dimensional and cheesy. I feel like a traitor; this was written by someone from my region (which is why I read it), but Jenkins could have done a much better job and put a bit more heart and thought into this book. I don't know what age she was aiming for, but there is no excuse: there is a difference between simple and bad.(less)