This book makes it clear (if you weren't already aware) that the trilogy isn't so much about the plot, with its slave rebellions and outright warfare,This book makes it clear (if you weren't already aware) that the trilogy isn't so much about the plot, with its slave rebellions and outright warfare, as it is about the love story at the heart of it. If you buy Arin and Kestrel's somewhat tumultuous relationship, you will eat this book up with a spoon, no question. For me, it never quite worked--I was always conscious of what Rutkoski was doing to up the stakes, and it felt...not manipulative, but constructed in a way that would let the two of them reconcile and then get together at exactly the right time. (view spoiler)[AMNESIA?!? Seriously? I get that Kestrel would be traumatized by her time in the labor camp, but AMNESIA?!? It was the perfect way to spin out that reconciliation, but at the cost of me taking the relationship seriously. (hide spoiler)]
On the other hand, this was the first time in the trilogy that I actually believed Kestrel was as clever as we kept being told she was, with one caveat: (view spoiler)[That last game she played with the emperor, with the poisoned tiles--there's no way she could have avoided touching them because games like that depend on both players mixing the tiles before drawing them. It sounds like a clever plan, but if you think about it, it falls apart. (hide spoiler)] I loved the moment where, when she's had her previous actions described to her, she says, "I sound really stupid." And I thought yes, you were. Arin, of course, continues to be led by his heart, and I hated every minute of that. He's got responsibilities to his people that he was frequently willing to ignore for the sake of True Love.
I loved Roshar. He's funny and smart and he was my favorite part of the book. He was sensible in ways Arin should have emulated. That's all.
Just to repeat, because I think this is important: this is a book about a relationship that has been cranked up to eleven. The background, setting, and plot, which have flaws, (view spoiler)[The ending really isn't an ending. There's turmoil in the empire because the emperor is dead and Verex has run away, Arin doesn't know a damn thing about governing, his allies may or may not continue to support him, and the war isn't actually over. (hide spoiler)] are all subsidiary to this. This whole trilogy asks the reader to participate in a vicarious emotional experience, and if you can go with that, you will love this series. If not, you'll probably be left going "but what about...?" I enjoyed the books, but it was at a remove because I couldn't engage with Arin and Kestrel's love. This third volume salvaged some of what bothered me about book two, but ultimately it didn't matter. I don't regret reading it, but I doubt I'll come back to it again.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I requested this book after recently meeting the author and wanting to read something she'd written. I like historical fiction, though WWI is not a peI requested this book after recently meeting the author and wanting to read something she'd written. I like historical fiction, though WWI is not a period I've read much about, and this was a gripping adventure story that kept me interested from beginning to end. The story centers on espionage in World War I; the Spider of the title is Julian Olivier, a German-speaking Frenchman sent to spy on the Krupp munitions factory, and the Sparrow is Evette Touny, involved in counterespionage in Paris. The story of the war plays out through their actions, as well as those of Canadian pilot Warren Flynn and the girl he's attracted to, Claire Donovan, whose father is an American maker of war materiel.
Much as I liked Warren and Claire, I think the book would have been tighter if it had stuck strictly to the POVs of Julian and Evette. Julian's development as a character is particularly good, as he goes from being a simple poilu to having sympathy for the German family he works for as his cover. But both romances are sweet and satisfying, and I would be sad to lose Warren's story. The ending is rather melodramatic--which is to say the villain suddenly turns out to have a flair for gruesome death hitherto unrevealed--but in general everyone's scars are well-earned, and I was glad to have read it.
This novel is sort of a prequel to some of the author's other books, or at least Julian's relatives show up elsewhere, and I'm interested enough to want to give those a try.
I received a free copy of this from Netgalley....more
This is a long story that sort of works as a real epilogue to The Smoke-Scented Girl. I can't remember why I wrote it, other than that I like screwbalThis is a long story that sort of works as a real epilogue to The Smoke-Scented Girl. I can't remember why I wrote it, other than that I like screwball comedy, and this is sort of its near-cousin. Download it for free on my website here....more
This collection of short pieces by Terry Pratchett is fun, if not particularly thrilling--but then, it's more or less what I expected, so I'm callingThis collection of short pieces by Terry Pratchett is fun, if not particularly thrilling--but then, it's more or less what I expected, so I'm calling it a win. There's some repetition of content because these are essays and letters written at various times for various purposes, but, again, it's the nature of the beast. I especially liked his description of searching for frankincense at Christmastime in Bristol and the story of casting a honeycomb and bees in gold. I dipped into this now and again over the course of a week, and it was well worth the time spent. (I also managed to splash it with teriyaki sauce while cooking dinner. Reading and cooking rarely go well together.)...more
As this book opens, Janet Drummond checks into a seedy motel where she's come to stay because her astronaut daughter Sarah is about to go into space.As this book opens, Janet Drummond checks into a seedy motel where she's come to stay because her astronaut daughter Sarah is about to go into space. Sarah may have it together, but her brothers aren't so lucky: Wade is only just pulling himself together after a lifetime of screwing up, and Bryan struggles with depression. Janet's ex-husband Ted and his trophy wife Nickie are there too, as is Bryan's girlfriend Shw (no vowels) who is pregnant. Due to a random twist of fate and gunshots, Wade and Janet both have AIDS. And they're all about to embark on a crazy adventure that will, unexpectedly, bring this family back together.
I love the craziness of Coupland's novels, how rooted they are in character. None of these people are anyone I would necessarily want as a friend--except that they are wonderful in their oddities and quirks. Without going into spoilers, I can say that Coupland made me love them enough that the event which should have been a deus ex machina, wasn't. I call that remarkable.
Because it really is character that drives this story. If you like the characters, if you believe the characters, the book becomes lovable. I don't know that the title is true, but it's certainly true that all families have quirks which look insane to the outside observer. This family just has more of them than most.
I picked this up intending to re-read Eleanor Rigby after I realized it's been on my shelf for several years. It made for a lovely afternoon's entertainment....more
After reading this book, I think the subtitle should have been "The OSS: At Least We Tried." The author does his best, but the subtext paints a picturAfter reading this book, I think the subtitle should have been "The OSS: At Least We Tried." The author does his best, but the subtext paints a picture of an organization balked at every turn, whose missions rarely turned out as they should. To be fair, much of this was due to the fledgling spy organization receiving very little cooperation from the information-gathering arms of other military organizations, but it's hard not to admit that the OSS played less of a part in winning the war than I think O'Donnell would like.
However. This is not a book about the OSS as an organization; it's about the men and women who took part in its many, many operations throughout the European and Pacific theaters of war. And those stories were fascinating. If the OSS failed, it was rarely because its operatives were stupid, inadequate, or cowardly. The OSS recruited and trained hundreds of men and women who undertook sometimes deadly missions; in some cases, those men and women simply disappeared from history after being captured. O'Donnell conducted so many interviews it's amazing the book is as short as it is. Much of it is simply the words of the survivors, and those stories are truly gripping. This is not an exhaustive history, but as a collection of personal records, it's remarkable....more
I finished this book exactly 75 years to the day after the events recorded. That was coincidence, but it did give the read a little more significance.I finished this book exactly 75 years to the day after the events recorded. That was coincidence, but it did give the read a little more significance. This account of the most severe bombing London endured during the Blitz is told through the lives of its survivors, many of whom Mortimer interviewed. That gives it maybe too personal a touch, as he also recounts events through the eyes of people he couldn't possibly have met or known their thoughts. I also wish he'd cut down on the number of people he followed, because it was sometimes difficult to keep track of who was who. As a snapshot in time, however, it's poignant. I didn't realize just how many Londoners remained in their homes while the bombing went on, nor how much resentment there was by lower-class Londoners of those of the well-to-do whose homes (due to the pattern of German bombing) were rarely in danger. An interesting read if you want a glimpse of the war through the eyes of the people who lived it....more
I'm slowly working my way through this series, and thoroughly enjoyed this one, in which Frank Carpenter, son of Sophie and Paul, uses the Portable DoI'm slowly working my way through this series, and thoroughly enjoyed this one, in which Frank Carpenter, son of Sophie and Paul, uses the Portable Door to try to save the life of veteran monster-killer Emily. Only someone really wants her dead, so he has to keep trying. And trying. The only thing I didn't like about the book was the ending: (view spoiler)[It's stupid for Paul and Sophie to claim the Portable Door is only safe with them, because Frank was doing an excellent job using it, and since they used it plenty of times for selfish reasons, they hardly have a fair argument. Though it was funny that "eternal youth," for them, meant eternal awkward adolescence. (hide spoiler)] Fun, funny, and worth reading....more
Michael J. Totten is one of the finest journalists working today. This book is a collection of pieces ranging over more than a decade, from Israel toMichael J. Totten is one of the finest journalists working today. This book is a collection of pieces ranging over more than a decade, from Israel to Vietnam, Cuba to Lebanon. I'd read a couple of them before, but most were new to me, and all spoke to a lively understanding of the cultures they're about. I recommend this book to anyone who's interested in global politics on a personal scale--or if you just want to get really outraged, read the chapter on being trapped by Alitalia over the Christmas holidays....more
This was an enjoyable look at some forgotten comic book superheroes, most of which were deservedly forgotten, but a few who died an untimely death dueThis was an enjoyable look at some forgotten comic book superheroes, most of which were deservedly forgotten, but a few who died an untimely death due to publishing issues or just bad timing. My favorite is probably The Eye, which is nothing but a giant eye and is frankly creepier than most supervillains. But there's also Fantomah, who I didn't know is credited with being the first female superhero (she predates Wonder Woman by more than a year) and whose art is unique for its time. I'd like to see a return of Nelvana of the Northern Lights, too....more
I should have written this up when I read it, but I didn't. I love Hilary McKay's books, so this was just more of the same--great characters, funny stI should have written this up when I read it, but I didn't. I love Hilary McKay's books, so this was just more of the same--great characters, funny stories, a happy ending that isn't perfect. Even so, I think I like Binny in Secret better. (view spoiler)[The thing with the dog just irritated me, that it was SUCH a HUGE COINCIDENCE. And it irritated me even though I knew it was coming because I read Binny in Secret first. It didn't ruin the book for me, but it came close. (hide spoiler)]...more
This was fun and frothy--a lighthearted romp with plenty of excitement. I'd have enjoyed it more if it had had more depth; there are places where evenThis was fun and frothy--a lighthearted romp with plenty of excitement. I'd have enjoyed it more if it had had more depth; there are places where events are just glossed over in favor of getting to something more exciting. I also would have enjoyed more depth in explaining the magic of the world instead of, again, glossing over it. And there were other places where Nix appeared to put in details just so we'd know he'd done his research. Overall, though, very enjoyable and action-packed....more
The title for this book arose from a brainstorming exercise in which you generate as many titles as you can and then see what books you can develop frThe title for this book arose from a brainstorming exercise in which you generate as many titles as you can and then see what books you can develop from that. I gave the list to my husband to mark his top five favorites while I did the same. This title was at the top of both our lists. (It was not until much later, thanks to Amazon's search engine, that I discovered the phrase "smoke-scented girl" also comes from Andrea Höst's book Hunting. It was the weirdest coincidence I've ever encountered with one of my books.)
Developing a book from a title is a very different process from choosing a title for an already-written book. To me, smoke suggested fire, and I had the idea of a young woman attached to some kind of fire from the beginning, but the first thing I wrote for this book was the magic system. I wanted a sort of early Victorian feel for the world, so I generated dozens of "command words" based on Latin (though not the obvious Latin roots) and worked out how magicians in that world would work magic. Enter Evon Lorantis, inventor of spells, obsessive and a bit of a nerd (though still very attractive). Once I had those three elements, the rest of the story--Evon investigating a mysterious spell that turned out to be rooted in myth--came together easily.
The greatest secret about this book, in which smell and taste play such crucial roles, is that I have virtually no sense of smell. I had to make up almost everything about the scent of Kerensa's spell, and my husband would sometimes prod me to include a smell detail in places because I hadn't for a while. Sometimes, in writing, you just have to fake it.
I wish I knew where Piercy Faranter came from. He's one of two characters I've created who seem to write themselves, as if they came fully-formed from some other place. I liked him enough that I've written another book in this world with him as the main character, rogue, spy, and man about town. I hope people like it, because I love Piercy and enjoyed showing a different side of him.
My son is currently reading this book aloud to his sisters. He's a budding voice actor and is using this book for practice in narration. Some of the voices he does are...interesting. I had to stop him doing Evon as a gravelly-voiced forty-year-old, for one. But it's been fun to listen in occasionally and be amazed that they're all willing to be entertained by something their mom wrote....more
I read this and The Penderwicks on Gardam Street back to back, drinking in how delightful these stories are. I was a little taken aback to discover thI read this and The Penderwicks on Gardam Street back to back, drinking in how delightful these stories are. I was a little taken aback to discover that half the Penderwicks are absent from this book, Martin and Iantha and baby Ben off on a sort-of honeymoon, and Rosalind on vacation with her friend. But Skye, Jane, and Batty make up for this absence with their own brand of hilarity. Having their old friend Jeffrey along made everything that much better.
I'm not sure how I feel about this plot (which I'll have to spoiler-tag): (view spoiler)[in which the girls' summer neighbor turns out to be Jeffrey's absent father, who didn't even know Jeffrey existed. It was deeply satisfying as I read it, but when I was finished and started thinking about it, the coincidence was a little too much to take. Worse, though, was that I didn't think Jeffrey's reaction made much sense even for a twelve-year-old. It's not as if Alec abandoned him, and Jeffrey's insistence that he could have found out if his mother had had a baby is irrational; why would Alec have even suspected such a thing? It felt played for drama. But I thought of all that afterward, because Alec is so charming and I really wanted Jeffrey to have a father who was as wonderful as his mother was awful. (hide spoiler)]
Overall, there's the usual assortment of wild schemes, near-catastrophes, misunderstandings, and a first kiss that leaves much to be desired. I really love this series and am looking forward to the next book.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
The Penderwicks are back, this time facing a horrible catastrophe: their aunt, with authority from a letter written by their mother, has decided it'sThe Penderwicks are back, this time facing a horrible catastrophe: their aunt, with authority from a letter written by their mother, has decided it's time for father Martin Penderwick to start dating again! Inspired by Skye, the girls implement a plan in which they will provide their father with unsuitable dates, so he can prove the idea is a disaster. Hilarity and hijinks ensue, along with an ending suitable for a Penderwick novel.
This is another situation in which the Penderwicks live in a world slightly askew from ours. Martin's unsuitable dates are all hilariously bad, and no one ever asks him if he wants to start dating--it's enough that his dead wife thought it was a good idea. Iantha, the neighbor, is also a little too good to be true: beautiful, brainy, an astrophysicist, whose husband is out of the picture in a perfect and uncomplicated way.
That said, I thoroughly enjoyed how the girls got themselves more deeply entrenched in deception as they stretch ever harder to find dates for their father. I liked Skye in particular, since she immediately knew the Save-Daddy plan (which was her idea) was a bad one, yet couldn't find a way to stop it. I also love the hints for adult readers: (view spoiler)[When Martin said he was dating Marianne Dashwood, I cracked up laughing--not something a middle-grade reader is going to get. (hide spoiler)] And the ending (view spoiler)[in which Martin and Iantha fall in love (hide spoiler)] is so great I didn't even care that it was a slightly unrealistic contrivance. Overall, I think I loved it more than the first.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I read the fourth book first and of course had to immediately run out and get the others. I hadn't realized what a chronological gap there is betweenI read the fourth book first and of course had to immediately run out and get the others. I hadn't realized what a chronological gap there is between this book and The Penderwicks in Spring, where Batty (here only four or five, I can't remember which) is almost eleven, and it was an interesting change to see the older sisters as young as Batty is there.
The Penderwicks exist in a sort of alternate universe in which things aren't perfectly perfect--poor Jeffrey has a horrible mother and doesn't even know who his father is--but everything nevertheless works out for the best. Even the mistakes are ideal and funny. I loved Jane, the budding author, writing endless stories about her dashing heroine and then showing them to (she thinks) a real live editor, then being utterly crushed when he's dismissive of them. And Martin Penderwick, their father, is wonderfully quirky and completely unfazed by having to raise four sometimes wild daughters on his own. I fell in love with the family all over again and only wished I'd read the series in order....more
This book has an outstanding, compelling opening, but for a long time I struggled to stay attached to the sI read this for the 2016 YA/MG Book Battle.
This book has an outstanding, compelling opening, but for a long time I struggled to stay attached to the story because I disliked the main character so much. Taylor Markham’s disconnect from everyone around her arises from a deep desire not to rely on or be relied on. Too much has happened to Taylor, specifically her abandonment by her mother and the desertion of Cadet Jonah Griggs when she tried to find her mother, to allow her to trust easily. When her friend and mentor Hannah disappears as well, Taylor retreats from her new responsibilities as leader of her school. It’s all perfectly justified in the text, but her complete irresponsibility drove me crazy.
Taylor accepts the role not because she wants to be in charge, but because she hates the idea of being under anyone else’s control—and proceeds to screw up repeatedly because every time things get tough, she retreats to Hannah’s empty house. I hate it when people agree to do something and then ignore their responsibilities. It really gets on my nerves. So it was probably most of a hundred pages before I started caring about Taylor.
And then I deeply cared about her. Once she starts letting people in, she’s engaging, tough, and loyal. She does have the ability to lead, and demonstrates it repeatedly, from brokering a peace between the three factions of school, Townies, and Cadets to finally tracking down her mother. I was impressed by Taylor’s strength and determination as well as her weaknesses—ultimately, by her humanity.
Jellicoe Road has powerful secondary characters, all of whom are tied to Taylor in some way; in a sense, Taylor’s character is revealed by her allowing others to rely on her and be relied on in turn. And it’s not just her House members like Jessa and Raffaela, or anyone else in school, such as Ben or even the detestable Richard; Santangelo and Griggs, who originally seem like typical bullies, turn out to be some of the best friends she could ask for.
Griggs fascinated me, and not just because he’s the love interest. He’s got as tragic a history as Taylor and is broken in his own way, and I love that their story begins long before the book does. He’s violent and mean, but it’s clear early on that this is something he puts on for show, a way of protecting himself. He’s conscious, as I think most children in his position are, of how much of him is like his abusive father, and the contrast between his more brutal behaviors and his tenderness toward Taylor makes him compelling.
In addition to the wonderful characters, the structure of Jellicoe Road, with its intertwining stories, really won me over. I like having a challenge when I read, and Hannah’s “novel,” told out of sequence, was wonderfully challenging. Despite having trouble remembering which of the five characters was which to start, I found myself looking forward to the narrative intervals to see if I could puzzle out what happened. As a conceit, it’s a little too perfect—coincidentally the order in which Taylor reads the story reveals the truth in exactly the right order to keep her (and the reader) guessing, but the story itself is so compelling I was willing to give it a pass.
What also worked for me is how that narrative ended up bringing the three factions together and undoing some of the misunderstandings that had arisen with time. At the beginning, it doesn’t look as if Taylor and her people can ever be friends with the Townies, headed by Chaz Santangelo, and the Cadets, led by Jonah Griggs (with whom Taylor has a history). And somehow they manage to stumble toward an accord that’s managed by the fact that both Griggs and Santangelo are essentially nice guys who have to work really hard at being jerks.
This is ultimately a story about restoration: restoring Taylor’s faith in others, restoring her relationship with her mother, restoring the original understanding between the three factions. It also has a lot to say about how most people are essentially good. One of my favorite scenes is a very tense meeting between the three faction leaders and their seconds, where they can’t maintain the tension because the seconds are all musicians and drift away into an argument about amplifiers.
As for Taylor and Griggs and their romance, it’s clear early on that he cares for her, but their relationship isn’t so much romantic (though it’s that too) as based on mutual need. The third story in this book, after the primary plot and Hannah’s story, is the truth about what happened when the two of them ran away—an episode that linked them both so it was inevitable they would ultimately come together. And yet that mutual need is as compelling a romance as I could want. The moment that brought them together, for me, wasn’t their first kiss, but the point where Griggs tells Taylor why he was on the train platform that day. Romance comes later—though Taylor has to point out to Griggs that he’s been romantic—and it’s incredibly satisfying. I can easily see the two of them lasting as a couple because of the depth of their connection.
I read this twice for the Book Battle, the second time taking notes for my bracket, but by the time I reached Taylor and Griggs’ road trip I had to put the pen down because I was simply sucked into the story. It’s beautiful, and heart-wrenching, and I love how ultimately both narratives are about a need to belong to something bigger than oneself. I fully intend to come back to this book again and again....more
It took me a while to warm up to this book and its main character, Devon Tennyson, who describes herself asI read this for the 2016 YA/MG Book Battle.
It took me a while to warm up to this book and its main character, Devon Tennyson, who describes herself as “stunningly average.” She’s an ordinary girl starting her senior year, with no real sense of who she wants to be and only a passion for Jane Austen’s books to make her unique. She’s so resistant to the idea of doing anything that would get her into college that at first I thought she was meant to be a rebellious teen, but no, she just doesn’t have any motivation. And I found that extremely off-putting.
Devon is so committed to the notion of being average that she never voluntarily takes action to become something else. She’s driven to become a staff photographer because college is something her parents want for her; she comes to know Ezra, the stolid, standoffish (she thinks) star football player because he takes an interest in her cousin Foster; she takes a trip to the only school she’s remotely interested in because her counselor arranges it.
And yet somewhere in the middle of this, she became interesting. Possibly it’s the moment when she’s at Reeding, the college whose postcard intrigued her, and discovers that going to school there is something she wants. Or maybe it’s her growing attachment to her goofy cousin, who turns out to have a gift for kicking a football. I’m not convinced by the remarks someone makes that Devon is “easy to talk to” or that people enjoy talking to her, because we never see it, but I am convinced that she turns into someone who does care about other people and, in turn, is worth caring about.
First & Then is not a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, thank heaven, because I’m not sure Emma Mills is up to that challenge. What it is is informed by Pride and Prejudice, taking just enough elements of that book to make exploring them interesting.
Devon is definitely prejudiced about almost everyone she meets, starting with the “prostitots” in her freshman gym class, whom she describes in painfully cruel detail. (I did wonder why there weren’t any girls like Devon had been as a freshman, all pimples and braces and awkwardness.) And, of course, she’s prejudiced against Ezra, partly because of his behavior to her in their first meeting in that same gym class, but also because of the attitude her friend Cas, a fellow football player, has about him: All-American Bowl team, star player, the guy who always makes the touchdowns. Cas is jealous, and Devon, loyal to him because of her unrequited crush, lets that attitude influence her.
Ezra doesn’t make a great Mr. Darcy, and again I say, Good. He’s much better as he is, someone awful at making conversation, incredibly intense, and loyal to his friends. Jordan, the super-charming offensive back and the “coolest guy in school” sees a different side of Ezra than, and it’s through him that Devon first begins to understand that maybe she’s being a little hard on Ezra. That, and his treatment of her cousin Foster.
First & Then may go overboard with how many fantastic secondary characters there are and how much story each of them has behind them, from super-popular and kind Jordan to the overachieving Rachel to perfect and sweet Lindsay to mysterious Emir and…I could go on. The fact that all of these amazing people are part of the background is, I think, a strength of the novel, because it reinforces Devon’s character as someone who only sees people on the surface. Part of the novel’s journey is Devon learning to be less prejudiced, whether it’s realizing that one of the prostitots is seriously brilliant or discovering that Lindsay really is as good and kind a person as she seems, even if she is capable of doing mean, selfish things—or maybe because of it.
But it’s Foster who really dominates the novel. He’s possibly my favorite character in this story. He’s awkward and unfashionable, but he’s not a bully magnet and he has unsuspected depth. I’m not sure his path to football stardom is realistic, mainly because I don’t know much about high school football, but it feels genuine that a team would want a kicker with his talent on varsity no matter his age. And his friendship with Ezra is truly charming, even before we find out why it started. Foster is never put off by Devon’s bad attitude toward him, is never conscious of how nerdy he is, and I love that he makes friends in all social classes, from the freshman girls to the jocks on the football team to his science club pals.
And I loved the romance, which was a long time coming. Devon begins the book in love with Cas, who doesn’t care for her as anything but a friend. It was painful watching Devon dance around trying to get Cas to notice her. (Until the literal homecoming dance, where she learns Cas knows how she feels about him and has been trying to spare her feelings, pitying her all the time she thought they were good friends. That was beautifully tragic.) As a result, she doesn’t realize she’s falling in love with Ezra until she can’t ignore it any longer.
It’s a long, slow, satisfying romance, with a satisfying ending: (view spoiler)[Ezra reading Jane Austen because he thought that would give them something to talk about. Ezra saying he wanted to show Devon he could be decent to Foster, because he really just wanted Devon to like him, and that’s how it all started. And Devon’s reaction to that: “It was said in such a guileless manner, like one of those first-grade notes, DO YOU LIKE ME, CHECK YES OR NO.” That just killed me with its sweetness. I really enjoyed reading this the second time, being able to see what was behind Ezra’s actions even if Devon couldn’t. I had trouble warming up to Devon, but Ezra was easy to love. (hide spoiler)]
The first time I read this, it felt sweet but superficial. I’m glad I read it a second time, because while I still don’t think it’s tremendously deep, it is a beautiful story I grew to love.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This was cute, but ultimately too self-conscious to appeal to me. I did love it when Louis, the swan who’sI read this for the 2016 YA/MG Book Battle.
This was cute, but ultimately too self-conscious to appeal to me. I did love it when Louis, the swan who’s been accumulating possessions that hang around his neck, starts listing them off and then says “I’m beginning to look like a hippie.” But there’s no real tension in this book, Louis’s path is unhindered by serious challenges, and he even gets the girl swan of his dreams through an unrealistic weather contrivance. It’s all a little too easy. What worked for me in Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web just didn't happen here....more
This book was simply charming. I fell in love with the Penderwick family, both immediate and extended. Birdsall haRead for the 2016 YA/MG Book Battle.
This book was simply charming. I fell in love with the Penderwick family, both immediate and extended. Birdsall has a real gift for characterization that shows throughout the story, even in the most marginal of side characters (like the kindergarten twins who fall in love with Ben). I had some trouble keeping the three older sisters separate at first, but I’m sure that’s because I haven’t read any of the other books in the series—a deficiency I plan to remedy immediately. (Why did I read these out of order? Because I’m reading it for the Book Battle 2016 and I wanted to come at it unspoiled. The things I do for friends.)
Batty, who’s arguably the hero (though her brother Ben takes the narrative frequently), is shy, and one of the things I loved about the book was how life kept challenging her to rise above her shyness. The description of how she essentially made a deal with herself to be able to pass out flyers for her business was perfect—as was the way that business became something she never dreamed of. Her mental hangups, particularly her guilt over the death of her beloved dog, are exactly those of an eleven-year-old, and we see so clearly through her eyes that they feel serious even as I knew with my adult perspective that they’re unfounded.
I could go on with a series of “I loved”s—I loved Batty and Ben’s relationships with their older friends, especially Jeffrey and Nick; I loved Batty’s discovery of her voice and how it felt so precious to her; I loved pretentious Oliver and how Rosalind was the only one who didn’t know everyone else disliked him; I loved the dogs and how full of personality they were. But what really struck me was the big twist in the middle: (view spoiler)[Batty overhears a conversation in which one of her sisters “reveals” that the reason their mother died of cancer was because she couldn’t be treated for it while she was pregnant—that she gave up her life and all they got in return was Batty. (hide spoiler)] It’s a devastating secret to learn, but what makes it work is that Batty is eleven and at the perfect age to take it uncritically, where an older child or adult might question whether Skye’s perspective is really valid. It hurt to see her suffer through all the days she carries the secret with her, but what I thought was truly effective was how she doesn’t regain her center immediately upon learning the truth. That has to wait for a second epiphany, and that one comes through music—just as it should.
I couldn’t help comparing this to A Ring of Endless Light, which it faced off against in this year’s Book Battle. Both are stories about family and friendship, but where I felt A Ring of Endless Light depicted an unrealistically “cool” family, with their affectations and seven-year-olds enjoying Shakespeare, this book has a family that seems incredibly familiar to me, for all it’s nothing like the one I grew up in. The character voices are so authentic I found myself wishing to be part of their circle. I’m looking forward to reading more about the Penderwicks, wherever their story takes them.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I'm not sure what to say to do justice to this book. Kay is a master of creating worlds just inches from our own, drawing on real history and then twiI'm not sure what to say to do justice to this book. Kay is a master of creating worlds just inches from our own, drawing on real history and then twisting it to his own ends. With several protagonists, and a prose style that leaps from one to another, sometimes within a single scene, this could have been overdone. But it isn't. I loved the different voices and characters and was never bored or impatient to get back to one or the other. Kay plays with time and space in a way that bound all of them together, choosing his narrators carefully--even the ones who are only there to narrate their deaths.
If I had a complaint, it's one I think I had with River of Stars, and that's the seemingly random choice to have one of the characters' scenes be in third person present tense. It didn't make that character more interesting (Marin is already plenty interesting on his own) and I don't think it added any immediacy to those sections. If I were going to make a critical analysis here, I'd say it indicates Marin's always living in the now--but I wouldn't take myself seriously.
More interesting to me is the way the narrative gets tossed between characters, at some points even overlapping, and in one key scene revealing the difference between perception and reality. I found the whole thing fascinating and tension-building. I'm not as certain how I feel about the third person omniscient passages, though they're usually used to reveal the future and are satisfying in that way. They did tend to drag me out of the story, and I think I accepted them mainly because I did want to know what happened to the characters in the long run.
For much of the book I was so, so grateful to live in a more civilized time and place, one where women's power isn't so dependent on their ability to please men. This is a brutal time, where honor killings are acceptable if you've got enough gold to pay the victim's family off, where men and women are vulnerable to the vicissitudes of climate and weather, where a father can condemn a wayward daughter to a lifetime shut up in a religious retreat because she fell in love with the wrong man. And yet there's great beauty here as well, people showing love and kindness even when it doesn't benefit them. Beauty, and courage in all its guises. The contrast gives the book great power.
I couldn't help remembering The Sarantine Mosaic when I was reading this. The book begins only twenty-five years after the fall of Sarantium, which means the characters from the earlier duology could still be alive. (I was actually thinking of how the mosaic was contemporary with the first book, not that they were still alive. My bad.) It's a mark of how powerfully those books affected me that I sort of wanted someone to head west and just happen upon a little settlement...anyway. I love that Kay is a romantic and that everyone who deserves it gets a happily ever after. I love that in this story, the miracles that exist feel natural, part of the world. (view spoiler)[I love that Danica's voice speaks to her granddaughter after her death, just as Danica's grandfather spoke to her. It's just the tiniest stroke of magic that makes the whole thing feel otherworldly. (hide spoiler)] It's a marvelous book, and one I'm sure I'll revisit.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This book about a girl with cerebral palsy learning to function outside her special school was fun to read, but slRead for the 2016 YA/MG Book Battle.
This book about a girl with cerebral palsy learning to function outside her special school was fun to read, but slight compared to others of this year’s Book Battle that are also about family and friendship (Binny in Secret and The Penderwicks in Spring particularly). Sarah Jane (Sal) has been living at a school for children with “motor handicaps” for many years, but her parents have decided she’s finally capable of integrating into a public school. Once at home, Sal faces many challenges, not all of which derive from her condition, which was one of the things I liked about the book. Sal’s cerebral palsy is treated with great sensitivity, but never used as the Big Issue in how others treat her except by one character, who is himself damaged and whose reactions to Sal come off more as his reactions to his own situation.
Sal’s friendships form the heart of the book. I liked the way she wasn’t the only outsider, and how the Dutch girl Elsje reacted to Sal—again, not as a disabled person, but as a threat to her own friendships. Elsje’s brother Piet was one of my favorite characters, not because he’s likeable (he isn’t) but because his situation, being an outsider, being physically damaged, made him compelling. The only character I didn’t like was Sal’s father, who kept sounding like the Professor on Gilligan’s Island. He was just too wise to be real.
I have to say I think in terms of how it handles disability, this book aged well, given how differently we think about disability fifty years later. It functions on one level as a guide to cerebral palsy without turning too much into a lecture, though it made me wonder how cerebral palsy is treated these days, whether Sal’s experience still has meaning. But even though Sal struggles realistically with her disability, many of the other relationships felt too obvious: the antagonism of the other “new girl,” Sal’s older sister who is unrelentingly negative about Sal’s capabilities, Sal’s parents who are completely well-adjusted to their daughter’s problems. Piet’s drama was the one that felt real to me, and his fear felt real as well. Given that this is Sal’s story, I think this is a problem. Even the denouement belongs to Piet, not to Sal, and while we’re meant to see Sal as the one who gives Piet courage, I don’t really buy it. Because of this, the ending feels tacked on, with Sal realizing she has friends and a place away from the school she spent so many years at. It wraps up a little too neatly for real life.
Overall, the book had many admirable qualities, but it’s probably not one I’ll come back to....more
This was a thoroughly enjoyable fantasy adventure, filled with interesting characters, magical creatures, and a hiRead for the 2016 YA/MG Book Battle.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable fantasy adventure, filled with interesting characters, magical creatures, and a high-stakes plot. At age 12, Makenna witnesses her mother’s murder by the townspeople she thought were their friends. Her mother, a hedgewitch, had very little magical power by comparison to the priests, but the ruler, called the Hierarch, decreed that anyone using magic who wasn’t a priest must be in league with evil. Makenna flees with her mother’s magic books and makes her way northward, but accidentally has a run-in with goblins—magical creatures now also under the Hierarch’s interdict. After finally befriending them, and swearing vengeance against all humans—because why would she want kinship with anyone who could kill innocents?—Makenna sets about making her intentions real.
Fast-forward five years, and we meet Tobin, a knight whose care for his younger brother gets him into serious trouble. Offered the chance to reclaim his status and good name, Tobin is sent to find and capture the sorceress plaguing the northern forests. The sorceress, of course, is Makenna, but neither of them is what the other expected, and the story picks up the pace further from there.
I had the same problem with this book I had with the last Hilari Bell book I read, Shield of Stars, which is that it’s neither young adult nor middle grade. The content is solidly YA, but the way it’s told is very much MG. (It’s also shelved in the JF section of my library.) Which is not to say it’s badly written; the descriptions are excellent and the characterization, with a few exceptions where Bell goes for the obvious bad-guy tropes, is lovely. But I really think this book would have been much, much better if it had been written for a YA audience. One spoilery example: (view spoiler)[Makenna makes a habit of driving out human settlers from the northern forests, and in one case burns down the homestead of a pregnant woman and her husband. The woman later miscarries, an event directly attributed to Makenna’s actions. That’s pretty dark for a MG book, especially when Makenna takes responsibility for it. (hide spoiler)] Add to this that the main characters are teenagers given adult responsibilities, and you have a strong YA novel. Except it isn’t. My biggest frustration with the book was my desire to see a deeper exploration of the characters and issues, particularly the Hierarch and the priests who ruled the country. Their actions are based on the fact that their country is being overrun, which is fairly nuanced, but all of that is barely mentioned where it could have been a strong part of the story. It was disappointing.
But enough of the criticism. I really did enjoy this book. The conflict between Makenna and Tobin was excellent. Both of them have opposing goals, both of them have misperceptions of the other, and both grow toward a mutual understanding that doesn’t include romance. (Though the ending implicates that it’s where they’re headed—have to be headed, in fact.) I found Tobin’s character arc slightly more compelling than Makenna’s, which was kind of squishy and ill-defined. And the event that set him off on this path was simply infuriating, in a good, I’m-engaged-in-this-novel way. Both of them behaved exactly as they should, given their circumstances, and the tension was excellent.
The plot revolves around false assumptions—humans’ assumptions about goblins, goblins about humans, the government’s assumptions about Tobin, the villagers’ assumptions about Makenna’s mother, the Hierarch’s assumptions about why his country’s being overrun. The surprise is that none of this becomes annoying. All the assumptions made arise naturally from either observation or the word of someone “trustworthy,” and nobody hangs on to their misapprehensions in the face of counter evidence. It was especially interesting to see Tobin rearrange his thinking as the “facts” the priest gives him turn out to be false. Makenna’s change of heart is, again, more squishy, but just as solid.
I think my favorite part is when Makenna finally faces Master Lazur: (view spoiler)[I love that he’s opportunist enough to offer her a job when he realizes her talent as a general! His character is so complex—and yet this, again, is why this should have been a YA novel; the political realities deserved more attention than they got. (hide spoiler)] Lazur rearranges his thinking far more rapidly than Makenna or Tobin, and is not at all the smug, arrogant priest he might have been, for all he still has flaws. He was a fascinating character.
I’m not totally happy with the ending, which struck me as unsatisfying: (view spoiler)[Makenna leads the goblins into the Otherworld, using the magic bound up in the barrier wall, as the only way to permanently protect them. A few goblins get left behind, and they intend to carry on the harassing of the humans—so really, nothing’s changed except that the story’s just over. Bell supports this ending by pointing out that the Hierarch can’t go back on saying goblins are evil, or he’ll be unable to move all the humans north, away from the invaders. But this seems overly simplistic and in keeping with the MG structure. With as much complexity as the backstory had, I wanted to see the Hierarch forced to change his tune and come up with a better solution, with Makenna and Tobin’s help. This just felt like an ending for ending’s sake. (hide spoiler)] I’m glad that Makenna and Tobin have the chance to develop a stronger relationship, and I can’t say it isn’t supported by the text, but it was unsatisfying.
I didn't know as I was reading it that it was the first of a trilogy, and honestly, it doesn't feel like one. Makenna and Tobin's choice at the end seems pretty final, and the truth is I'm not sure I'm committed to the story enough to want to read more. My dissatisfaction with the whole MG/YA problem is almost certainly at the heart of this; I don't like reading books when I wish the author had written them differently.
Overall, though, it was a captivating read, and I think I’ll have to search out some of Bell’s actual YA books.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Mai’s summer is ruined when her parents ship her off to Vietnam to be company for her grandmother, who’s receivedRead for the 2016 YA/MG Book Battle.
Mai’s summer is ruined when her parents ship her off to Vietnam to be company for her grandmother, who’s received word that her husband, lost to The War decades ago, might still be alive. Bà is returning to the village where she and Ông lived, which means Mai will have the chance to “discover her roots” as her mother puts it. Mai can only see a summer away from Southern California, which is the only roots she knows—her friends and her life and the boy she has a crush on. Learning otherwise is going to change her.
Unfortunately, Mai’s bratty attitude makes her really unsympathetic to this adult reader. Her parents aren’t asking all that much of her—not even an entire summer—and I never felt that they were being terribly unfair. And what Mai leaves behind doesn’t seem like much to sacrifice, particularly her “best friend” Montana, who comes across as more of a frenemy than anything else. Mai’s worried that Montana will steal the boy she has a crush on (whom she invariably refers to as HE and HIM, not quite able to say his name even in the privacy of her own head, which became seriously annoying) because that’s the sort of thing Montana does. And yet Mai’s supposed to be a smart girl, all honors classes and SAT vocabulary. Possibly I’m expecting too much of a twelve-year-old, and intelligence doesn’t translate to emotional maturity. But it was very difficult to feel sympathetic.
On the other hand, the writing is extremely evocative, bringing to life the summer weather of Vietnam (or Việt Nam; Mai realizes how differently she sees the country when she thinks of it with those different names). I felt every moment of sweaty, wet heat and every mosquito bite. I enjoyed Mai’s developing relationship with her cousin (however distantly related) Út, whose friendship makes Montana’s false, shallow relationship more obvious. Út and her love of frogs made a fun recurring theme, particularly the scene where she and Mai go illegally at night to capture a special kind of glowing frog to take back to the village. Overall, the development of the secondary characters could be stronger, but Út and Bà definitely are powerful presences, as is Ông, for all he’s absent.
I have mixed feelings about the plot, which is interesting—there’s some mystery about Ông’s past that’s reinforced by how everyone involved is dancing around issues of politeness and honor—but whose tension is artificially maintained by Mai’s father’s disappearance just at the right time to keep everything from resolving neatly. His reappearance is a little too pat—again, it happens just at the right time for him to participate in learning what Ông’s last message to Bà was. And Mai’s choice at the end—stay longer, or return home early as she’s wanted to the whole time—comes across more as narrative necessity than supported by the rest of her actions. But I was moved by the story of Ông and Bà, and I was also very impressed that the book didn’t come off as some kind of polemic in which Mai Learns The True Meaning of Family. I’m not convinced Mai’s really matured, by the end, but I believe she has actually learned something about family and relationships, enough that her decision feels right. If I’d respected Mai better, I would have enjoyed the book more....more
I was captivated from the first chapter of this book about a girl who does the unthinkable:
A murder trial. Well, actually it was a hearing. She had ne
I was captivated from the first chapter of this book about a girl who does the unthinkable:
A murder trial. Well, actually it was a hearing. She had never been so terrified in her life—no wonder her stomach felt this way. Tim had given his best performance: all blond and muscular and clean-cut, too wholesome to have possibly committed murder. Except he had. Twice. And from the way he kept smiling over at her, the malicious smile that scared her even in the safety of a crowded courtroom, she knew that he wanted everyone to think that she was lying and had helped him every step of the way. And by knowing he had done it, and being too afraid to tell anyone, maybe she had.
This is a story about guilt and culpability, about strength and weakness and making choices. Beverly falls in with Tim because she feels she has nowhere else to go; her mother, suffering from serious depression, isn’t able to offer Beverly support, then (probably) takes her own life, making Beverly’s situation worse. But there’s never a moment when I felt Beverly’s isolation was deserved; she made stupid choices, but her fear of Tim, who abuses her emotionally and physically, made her decision not to speak out seem natural. It’s painful to watch her isolating herself, but everything she does makes sense even as it made my heart ache for her.
Her growing attachment to Derek also feels natural, though he’s socially of the wrong class for her—and maybe that’s partly why it works. Beverly feels drawn to him because he has no idea who she is or what she’s done, and it’s clear she’s achingly lonely. They fumble a bit, coming together, in an endearing way, and as with White’s other mismatched couple, Rebecca and Michael from The Road Home, I find myself cheering them on and hoping they’ll find a way to stay together.
Key to this story is the need for forgiveness, not least the need to forgive yourself. Beverly has trouble accepting the fact that she’s as much a victim as the girl Tim killed, that her life was in danger too, and this story is about her journey of realization. But she also has to learn to forgive her mother, whose suicide touches every event in this story because of what it means to Beverly. Just being able to talk about it is a huge step for her, and by the end Beverly is able to accept that her mother’s death was not about her. I loved the role Derek plays in Beverly’s learning how to forgive herself—that whole scene where Beverly finally tells him her story is just perfect. It's hard to believe no one ever thought to tell her what he does--that none of this is ultimately her fault--and yet Beverly's relationship with her father, which is filled with silences, makes it real.
Aside from the lengthy infodump at the beginning of the book (and I’m not sure it was a mistake, but infodumping is always awkward even when it’s needed) White’s craft is solid and her prose simple and clean. It’s an excellent book, and one I’m sure I’ll come back to again. ...more
Skylar wants nothing more than to leave the tiny “blink town” (blink and you’ll miss it) she lives in. She’s got a scholarship to college and she onlySkylar wants nothing more than to leave the tiny “blink town” (blink and you’ll miss it) she lives in. She’s got a scholarship to college and she only has three months before she can leave. Josh wanted out, too, and he joined the Marines and went to war in Afghanistan—but came home missing a leg. They don’t have anything in common, or so they think, and the journey they take toward falling in love is revelatory for both of them.
This is a romance, and it’s a good one. Skylar and Josh seem a complete mismatch; he’s a “local god,” as Skylar puts it more than once, loves to party, and has slept with most of the girls in town. Skylar is still a virgin thanks both to her pact with her friend Chris (they both fear that sex will tie them to the town and keep them from escaping) and to her natural reticence, and after her father’s death in a drunk driving accident, she never drinks or gets stoned. I liked watching them discover the ways in which they’re compatible, particularly how Josh has changed since the war. He’s still a douchebag at times, but he’s learning, and Skylar, for her part, changes as well, though her changes are more related to her problems with her mother.
I have a few reservations about the “love of a good woman” saving Josh, but there’s a scene between Skylar and Marge, Skylar’s boss, in which Marge points out that Skylar needs to be careful of her own needs, and the story manages not to deify Skylar despite immense pressure to do otherwise. This applies to pretty much everything Skylar does, given her tendency to sacrifice to take care of her mother.
I also thought the storytelling method was effective. Josh’s experiences in Afghanistan and his relationship with his friend Nick are doled out in interludes from his point of view, just frequently enough, and at important enough points, to make him a more well-rounded character than if we just saw him through Skylar’s eyes. All the characters are well-developed, though their roles in the story verge on cliché—Skylar’s best friend Dylan is a sexually outgoing (though really monogamous) single mother, her other best friend Chris is a protective intellectual type, the other kids are mostly party animals, not terribly bright and satisfied to live in their tiny town forever. But Dylan and Chris are also perfect friends for Skylar, and other characters like Marge made the story come alive.
Skylar’s problems with her depressive mother gave a much-needed tension to the story beyond that provided by the romance. Demetrios portrays Skylar’s mother with a sensitive understanding that nevertheless doesn’t forgive her her massive failings with regard to her daughter’s needs. Much as I was with Skylar’s friends in wanting her to just stop coddling the woman already, I could still see why Skylar couldn’t let go. The resolution felt a little too easy; (view spoiler)[the mom packing up and moving to Florida, where she is entirely out of the way, thus removing any possibility of Skylar being able to ruin her life by giving up her own dreams, is too perfect a solution. Skylar didn’t have to choose between options because her choice was made for her. (hide spoiler)] But I was relieved enough for Skylar’s sake that I choose not to be annoyed by it.
I disliked the unrelentingly negative portrayal of Sky's mother's boyfriend Billy. He's been sniffing around her mom for years before they finally get together, and Skylar sees him as a total loser--but there's really no evidence that she's right. Skylar's inability to see whether he might well have changed is rather hypocritical, given that Josh was a total jerk (still has elements of jerk in his character) and yet we're expected to believe that he's changed. Billy ends up being a plot point rather than a character, and in such a well-characterized book, I find that disturbing.
In general, though, I thought the book was a fine romance, and one I enjoyed reading.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I enjoyed this book, but it felt a little predictable. New girl comes to town, meets the outcast boy but is then drawn into the in crowd, new girl choI enjoyed this book, but it felt a little predictable. New girl comes to town, meets the outcast boy but is then drawn into the in crowd, new girl chooses to be outcast boy’s friend. While the characterization is strong, the roles the characters play in the story are standard. Sadie, the main character, lets events sweep her along rather than standing up for what she wants, whether that’s doing what her new friend Lila finds interesting or going along with her parents’ occasionally unreasonable dicta. Lila is a “mean girl,” queen bee of the popular kids, cruel to her once-best-friend Erica because the girl has become boring. Travis is a popular football player without much else going for him. Ryan is weird, wears weird t-shirts, is an outcast, but is also the most interesting person Sadie meets. The twist here is that Sadie keeps seeing her dead twin brother Ollie, but he’s never the catalyst for anything except Sadie occasionally talking to herself and looking weird.
The characters have moments in which they break out of the norm, but those moments are rare. I never felt comfortable about Lila, and the discovery that her home life is a wreck and that she’s deeply insecure didn’t go far enough to make me like her. Her treatment of Erica in particular was nasty—and who’s to say she wouldn’t turn that on Sadie eventually? Sadie herself is sort of a non-entity except when Ryan challenges her, and those moments made for much of what interested me in the story.
MacCullough is a skilled stylist, and this is an interesting book, but in the end it doesn’t rise above the ordinary. ...more
I love Hilary McKay’s books, and Binny in Secret is no exception. This beautifully characterized book tells a story about friendship and love in all iI love Hilary McKay’s books, and Binny in Secret is no exception. This beautifully characterized book tells a story about friendship and love in all its forms. Binny, newly moved to a town where she knows no one except her family, gets off to a rough start when she makes an enemy of a local girl. In her struggles to find a place for herself, she discovers a mystery and a century-old story, and I’d love to say she discovers the true meaning of friendship as well, but for a writer like McKay, things are never that simple. More accurate to say Binny learns a great deal about herself, not all of it pretty.
There’s something magical about Binny’s family in the sheer ordinariness of it, but also in how much they all depend on each other. Binny’s in the middle, with an older sister and a younger brother, and all of them have the kind of complex relationships with each other that siblings have in real life. I was impressed at how McKay develops the family relationship without making it sound like those of her other books. This is not the artistic insanity of the Casson family and it’s not the laid-back craziness of the Exiles; Binny’s family is comfortable with itself, and it made me feel comfortable, too.
This book has everything to say about how friendship works. There’s the friendship that develops between Binny’s mother and Mrs. Tremayne, who at first seems so off-putting and irritable; the two single mothers find a kinship that you can see they both desperately need. There’s the relationship of antagonism that exists between Binny and Clare, both of whom keep finding ways to hurt each other. Clare’s bullying is nasty, but Binny behaves badly too, and the whole time I was conscious not only of Binny’s pain, but of Clare as a person and not just some horrible, vicious antagonistic force the way most bullies end up being. And then there’s Clarry and Peter and Rupe, whose three-sided friendship supports the secondary plot so beautifully. Clarry looks at first as if she’s going to be picked on, but it becomes clear quickly that she’s the center of that relationship, even when Peter is so awful to her.
That secondary plot works really well in the book. McKay expertly weaves two stories together, one hundred years apart. I was as captivated by Clarry’s story as I was by Binny’s, and every time Binny drew a false conclusion about Clarry I wanted to grab her and say “That’s not how it went!” I kept wanting to get back to Clarry, to see how Rupe and Peter grew, and I was so pleased by how it ended: (view spoiler)[When Rupe goes off to war and starts off being so carefree and ends up missing in action, I didn’t want either the happy ending of them finding him or the sad one of them finding him dead. I don’t know why it was that the unstated ending, where Clare and Binny just don’t find his name on the memorial, was so satisfying to me, but it was. (hide spoiler)] And the butterflies. What a sweet solution to Peter’s problem.
Once again, I’ve read a book for the Book Battle without reading the first one. I’ll have to run out and get Binny for Short immediately. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more