Warm, sweet, funny and fun, with the classic feel of a Betsy-Tacey story or a Judy Blume novel. I can't wait to read the sequel, Year of the Rat! This...moreWarm, sweet, funny and fun, with the classic feel of a Betsy-Tacey story or a Judy Blume novel. I can't wait to read the sequel, Year of the Rat! This was my first Grace Lin novel, but now I want to read all the rest.(less)
I can't remember the last time a short story collection engaged, excited and frustrated me as much as this one did. I read it almost two we...more*4.5 stars*
I can't remember the last time a short story collection engaged, excited and frustrated me as much as this one did. I read it almost two weeks ago, but it's taken me until now to sort my thoughts out.
Love and Romanpunk is a set of four interlocked short stories spread across history, from the Roman empire to the near future, all stemming from the secret history of the Caesars - a history which involves vampires, werewolves, and all sorts of other mythical beasts. Tansy Rayner Roberts did her PhD in classics, and her knowledge of Roman history is evident in every aspect of how she handles this, with total confidence and affection. This is also a history of strong (often scary! and sometimes fabulous) women across time, interacting with history and with magic, with some really fascinating exploration of feminist issues along the way - and it's really, really fun, too.
The first story, set in Rome ("Julia Agrippina’s Secret Family Bestiary", which is very dark and very funny), and the third story, set in modern-day Australia ("The Patrician", a very different kind of romance and adventure), are both completely brilliant, IMO. The last story, set in the near-future ("The Last of the Romanpunks"), is also really fun.
The second story ("Lamia Victoriana") made me want to tear my hair out.
It's set in the early nineteenth century, telling an alternate version of Mary Wollstonecraft and Percy Bysshe Shelley's 1814 elopement that features vampires. So, first of all, I have to say: the idea of adding vampire-lore to that messed-up (in real life) relationship and that fascinating story is an absolutely brilliant one. I LOVED that idea! Also, the story itself is beautifully written on a stylistic and thematic level, with a really powerful effect. If I didn't know any nineteenth-century British history, I would have loved it whole-heartedly.
But I really, REALLY wished that she had applied the same level of historical knowledge and care to that nineteenth-century British story that she did to the ancient Roman one. It starts off badly, with the title of the story being "Lamia Victoriana"…multiple decades too early for the Victorian era. (In fact, it was the Regency era.) So I winced at that even as I started, although I thought hopefully, well, maybe there's some explanation for why the name of the historical era is different in this book (although, since Victoria wasn't even born until 1819, it was hard to imagine). But by the time I'd finished the collection, I'd figured out that the magical stuff in these stories all fits into the realm of hidden history, and nothing else seems to be different, so it really felt more like a historical mistake than an intentional shift…as did the fact that the characters ride trains around Italy, even though the first trainline in Italy wasn't built until the 1830s, so they should have been riding in carriages wherever they went. (And the historical era issue is brought up AGAIN in the last story, when the near-future hero, talking about the history of the Shelleys and their elopement around 1814, says "That was in the Victorian era." Um. No, it really, really wasn't.)
Also, on a purely subjective level, there was just so little link between the (fabulous) characters in the story and the real Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft that by the end, I was feeling wildly frustrated that she had grabbed these fascinating people in a situation ripe for exploration and fun - vampires in their story could be SO NATURAL and SO COOL - and then just done nothing with them as people. But that's me as a writer being frustrated, I think, more than me as a reader, and that's not really fair.
And after all of my venting, here is where I also have to say: I am an eighteenth- and nineteenth-century history geek. So I am really, really anal about the historical stuff. Your mileage may vary wildly - and even with all of my historical frustrations, I still thought the story she wrote was really powerful and moving. I just desperately wished that she had given the eloping couple different names! She could have still used all the resonance of the idea of an elopement to the Continent, a forbidden relationship, without calling them the Shelleys and tying them to a specific time period that didn't work with the cool set-pieces set on trains, etc.
When I read a story that isn't good, I either stop reading or I regret reading it. That was NOT the case with this one. It was a genuinely fantastic story that had issues that made me crazy. I couldn't go to sleep the night after I finished reading it because I was so engaged and frustrated and I just wanted to sit down with the author over coffee and argue about it! Which is actually a fantastic sign of how massively invested I had become in it and in the collection as a whole, which I found otherwise completely amazing.
So, I hugely recommend this collection of stories…and as crazy as the second story made me, I will absolutely be reading every Tansy Rayner Roberts story I can find from now on! (less)
I loved the sheer exuberance and fun of this mystery novel, from Tabitha's fabulous voice to her endless energy, love for glitter, nail polish and vin...moreI loved the sheer exuberance and fun of this mystery novel, from Tabitha's fabulous voice to her endless energy, love for glitter, nail polish and vintage frocks, her experimental desserts and the fantastic cast of characters around her. The sense of place was also so great - I actually feel like I've visited Hobart, Australia after reading this novel! It's so vividly and lovingly described, it's almost a character in its own right. This was the most sheerly FUN mystery I've read in a long time, and I can't wait for the next book in the series!(less)
I loved this book SO MUCH that I wrote a blurb for it. Here's what I said:
"My favorite kind of fantasy novel - magical, romantic, exciting and true -...moreI loved this book SO MUCH that I wrote a blurb for it. Here's what I said:
"My favorite kind of fantasy novel - magical, romantic, exciting and true - and my very favorite kind of heroine. Saville is strong, brave, smart and vulnerable, and I cheered for her all the way. I absolutely loved this book."
And to get more chatty about it (because I just finished reading it and I am bursting with love for it!), at various points it reminded me, in the best possible ways, of Robin McKinley, Gail Carson Levine, and Jenn Reese.
Now I'm just horribly torn between passing on my ARC to a friend who would definitely, definitely love it - or keeping it and pre-ordering her a published copy because I can't bear to give up my ARC! I will definitely be re-reading it again and again.(less)
Really excellent contemporary fantasy set in the Middle East. It's funny, I've always believed in the standard writing advice that protagonists have t...moreReally excellent contemporary fantasy set in the Middle East. It's funny, I've always believed in the standard writing advice that protagonists have to be either sympathetic or fascinating to keep the reader's interest, but this book contradicted that theory, for me. Alif starts the book as an absolutely believable, deeply self-centered and immature young guy whom I found seriously annoying (without being fascinating). However, the story itself was so compelling, the setting was so interesting, and the writing was so good, that I wasn't put off by Alif at all. I really enjoyed this book from the first page onward (and yes, Alif grows through the story and ends the book a more mature and interesting person than he was in the beginning, so I really did sympathize with him, too by the end), especially once the mythical elements come into play - and oh, the mythology and magic of this book are handled so, so well. I REALLY loved reading the magical bits.
When I was just a few pages into the book, I thought: ooh, after I've finished this, I should give my copy to my brother, he'd really love it. By the end of the book, I'd decided to order my brother a copy of his own - because I wanted to keep this one for multiple re-reads in the future! (less)
I spread this collection of essays out over 3 full weeks because I wanted to savor and enjoy it as long as possible. Ann Patchett's writing...more*4.5 stars*
I spread this collection of essays out over 3 full weeks because I wanted to savor and enjoy it as long as possible. Ann Patchett's writing is so beautiful, and her tone in these essays is intimate in just the right way, like a good friend sharing secrets over a glass of wine. I didn't love every single essay in this book, but I loved an awful lot of them, and every one of them is intelligent, thoughtful and interesting.(less)