One whole and perfect book filled with wacky, but realistic and endearing characters, family problems, love, forgiveness and a whole bunch of delightf...moreOne whole and perfect book filled with wacky, but realistic and endearing characters, family problems, love, forgiveness and a whole bunch of delightful coincidences - felt like it was written just for me.
I am so glad that I had finally caved in and ordered a copy. The Printz Honor title entered and left my wishlist several times starting in 2008, when the home of my virtual shelves was still at Anobii.com. But somehow my positive gut feelings overpowered the doubts brought on by the bad average rating and the lack of gushing reviews.
And here I am: Grinning and perfectly happy after rushing through the multiple-voiced story of the Samson family, which made me cry twice in one evening.(less)
I had swapped this on a sudden whim and now, now I am completely baffled by how much I loved reading it. I have to clean the appartment and bake a tar...moreI had swapped this on a sudden whim and now, now I am completely baffled by how much I loved reading it. I have to clean the appartment and bake a tart, but I am still sitting around in my pajamas because I was shortening and shortening the minimum amount of time I need to get things done - only because I did not want to put Marcelo aside. His story has - much to my surprise - turned out to be powerfully addicting. Don't you love these little wonders you come across as an unsuspecting reader? Although I crave them, they shock me again and again.(less)
Re-read from July 1 to July 2 2013. Loved it as much as a month earlier. A pretty perfect book in my eyes. Honest, real, raw, tender, funny, sad, well...moreRe-read from July 1 to July 2 2013. Loved it as much as a month earlier. A pretty perfect book in my eyes. Honest, real, raw, tender, funny, sad, well-articulated and open-ended on a hopeful note. I want to quote it to pieces and I want a physical copy to keep. Affordable, international edition, where art thou?(less)
"'What's so funny? […] That you take a little spill from a horse and everyone wants to rearrange the world so you don't suffer a moment of inconvenien...more "'What's so funny? […] That you take a little spill from a horse and everyone wants to rearrange the world so you don't suffer a moment of inconvenience?' 'No,' she said, and her voice was even. 'That I would wait a month in agony just to hear you insult me. I'm a miserable girl indeed, don't you think?'"
The lion’s share of my rating decision is always based on my own personal enjoyment of a book. And my ability to enjoy a book certainly depends on the characters and how they manage to move me, the world-building, the believability, the writing style, the pull, the absence or existence of certain things, but expectations and my reading history play a great part, too (This is, by the way, also one of the reasons why I want the option to rate each book more than once).
I loved-loved reading this dystopian young adult adaption of my favorite Jane Austen novel so much that I went on reading on my walk from the train station to my workplace, and that I did not mind the embarrassing stares from other commuters, when I soaked tissue after tissue in plain view, because feeling so sorry for Elliot North hurt almost as bad as feeling sorry for Anne Elliot does. I would not say the book is perfect or flawless. Persuasion is, in my eyes, but I did not expect perfection. But what did I expect? Obviously my expectations were somehow met, but apart from the fact that they were astonishingly high in spite of my extreme dislike for Diana Peterfreund’s unicorn experiment Rampant, I did not press them into a shape before starting to read. But maybe I can reconstruct them so the still undecided potential reader can compare them to her own.
I am one of those young adult fiction readers who rather embrace both the still raging dystopian trend and the slowly rising science fiction tendency as long as the world building is not so vague that my reading process slows dangerously down towards a full-stop, because of all the question marks in my head that beg to be dealt with, or so silly and illogical that little Miss Sneer gets comfortable on my shoulder and starts whispering atrocious ways to make fun of the whole mess into my weary ear. When I encountered the first descriptions of For Darkness Shows the StarsI hoped for “Persuasion in Space”. Some reading experiences later I shifted my hope in the direction of something like Landry Park by Bethany Hagen, also an Austen-like love story set in front of a neo-feudalism future, which shows a lavish elite in a small, autarkic America exploiting and oppressing the the descendants of those people, who supposedly caused the nation's fall, by forcing them to handle nuclear waste. That second expectation has been fulfilled to the dot: Peterfreund's post-apocalyptic structure is quite similar, although the upper class' mindset is different: The heroine's ancestors survived with their genes and brains intact, because they condemned genetic enhancements and prosthetic organs on principle, while the majority of their high-tech-loving society involuntarily “reduced” their own and their offspring's brains to something functioning on toddler-level. The conservative survivors felt that their reluctance to play God had been rewarded. Consequently they shunned the non-bio-technological progress that had been made shortly before the so-called “Reduction” as well - including solar lamps and solar-powered vehicles. They embraced their new god-given superiority and kept their mentally reduced subjects alive by feeding and clothing and controlling them in exchange for hard labor. The recent increase of mentally healthy born “Children of the Reduction”, who call themselves “Post-Reductionists”, demand being granted freedom of choice and equal rights and are not afraid to tinker with forbidden technology, shakes up the regressing system of wealthy, God-fearing slave-owners and crumbling, rusty machinery. Although not much is said concerning where on our globe this small, secluded island is and how life looks like in "Channel City" or other places outside the large estates, I was very content with the world-building. I am aware that others might find fault, but I thought that the situation on the brink of a possible revolution was the perfect back-drop for a "forbidden" romance.
Romance. Oh yes. In a novel that is meant to be reminiscent of Jane Austen's work I expected romance. Preferably some that swelters and slowly burns and involves misunderstandings, old wounds, clever bickering, heated discussions about morals, love, society and the burden of being part of a family, musings about having to do the right thing, and letters and haughtiness and involuntary touches and the angst to be too late or to have made the wrong decision. A romance between a heroine I thoroughly adore and admire - in spite of her little flaws - and a swoon-worthy guy, who has his pride or his aloofness, who struggles with his feelings, but who is ultimately the good guy. That expectation was very well met.
I think I tentatively wished for a reincarnation of Persuasion's cast. Not only because Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth are my favorite Austen couple, but also because the Musgrove family, specifically Charles, his mother and Anne's younger sister Mary are such a fabulous breeding ground for Austen's trademark wicked fun and for the emergence of squirm-worthy encounters between Anne and Captain Wentworth. In For Darkness Shows the Stars no clones are to be found. But true to her Post-Reductionist protagonists' mind-frames Peterfreund did not hesitate to mix and match, to experiment with Austen's best outcrop: You will find a lot of Anne and more than a half of Captain Wentworth; Elizabeth and Mary are conglomerated into still-unmarried Tatiana, Baron North is at first as silly and vain and self-centered as Sir Walter, but surprises us later with additional character traits. The Admiral, his wife and Captain Benwick play a much greater role, while Lady Russel, Mrs. Smith and the older Musgroves are absent. Louisa and Henrietta work beautifully as one person, Mr. Elliot has a new shell, Charles is still available and not embarrassing at all and Mrs. Clay has been completely remodeled and relocated. Due to the focus on the new dystopian setting previously unknown characters are introduced. In this aspect my expectations have not exactly been met, but apart from craving a little dose of satire I did not suffer any want. For I learned to my own surprise that I really loved to hunt for traces of the well-loved characters in the newly created ones and I discovered that the chemistry and the relationships between Elliot and Kai, Elliot and her sister/father, Elliot and her neighbors and tenants strongly resembled the ones of the original. And that the repercussions of Elliot's decisions affected me as much as Anne's decisions and Anne's feelings of right and wrong did.
I cannot say for sure, but when I look back at my recent reading habits - the occasional, self-prescribed re-reading of all-time favorites and the huge craving for something new, preferably fresh from the printing press – I am convinced that I did not really wish for a in-minute-detail-retelling of a story that I have read approximately eight times in the last 20 years and that in my opinion cannot be told in a better way than it already has been told. In my opinion that would have been the equivalent of a Shakespeare play translated into sparse, modern language and acted out on a Battlestar Galactica set. Diana Peterfreund uses the Persuasion storyline as an inspiration and rewards the reader now and then with scenes that make our inner detective snip our fingers in appreciation: "Ah! That will turn into 'The Long Walk', probably ending with some touching," or "This is probably the equivalent of the weekend in Lyme". I can only say I loved that feeling. To me rushing unexpectedly into these scenes felt like being surprised by old friends visiting. My expectations concerning the plot have been exceeded, so to say, although I have to admit I guessed the Innovation's party's big secret much too early and am not completely satisfied with the ending. (view spoiler)[How can Elliot feel suddenly so at ease leaving the lives of hundreds of workers in the hands of Dee, who is trustworthy, but inexperienced in managing an estate, and who will be defenseless, if Elliot's father chooses to attack in an imaginative way? (hide spoiler)]
And finally I can say that this is the Persuasion retelling that I loved best of the three I have faced until now. I also liked Melissa Nathan's contemporary chicklit version Persuading Annie, but I loathed the change of point-of-view in the fan-fiction-like None But You.
What are your expectations, when you are faced with a retelling or an adaption of a story your adore and the decision whether to go for it or not?["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
“ALYCE: 'Gracie's got brown hair, like me. She's about the same height, too. People notice her. I think it's her voice. It's always louder than you ex...more“ALYCE: 'Gracie's got brown hair, like me. She's about the same height, too. People notice her. I think it's her voice. It's always louder than you expect and covered with laughter. I was surprised when she said she didn't want to work with me. I don't know Gracie very well, but I remember once in Year 3 she gave me an invitation to her party. She spelt my name right. Everyone always spells it with an 'i', even the teachers. Ever since then I thought she would be nice. I never thought she'd look at me like I was nothing.”
The blurb on the cover of my paperback edition of Cath Crowley’s YA debut says "A novel about scoring the perfect goal ... and the perfect boy" and the back cover text starts with “Goal-kicking supergirl, soccer star”. In combination with the rather bland design and the simplistic title I imagined the book to be a middle-grade story about a girl who has to keep her balance between starring in a mainly male domain and being just a girl in love. A story about gender, thinly coated with a layer of romance. A story like Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, but aimed at a younger audience and told with a lighter, fluffier voice. A story I might like.
My conclusions turned out to be very wrong. I would say The Life and Times of Gracie Faltrain is a book about relationships. It depicts how what we do and say and feel affects others and how others affect us. I never would sort it as middle-grade (Gracie is in Year 10), and although it contained more than a few laugh-out-loud-moments and a truckload of hope, 'fluffy' and 'light' are words I wouldn’t tolerate to be used around it. Gracie Faltrain is a very short book. Most of its pages are not even half-way filled with words. But the sentences are on the spot, heart-wrenching and almost poetic. I want to quote them all. I want to read them again. I do not like the book. I love it, fiercely. I treasure it even more than Graffiti Moon and I immediately went over to the Fishpond to order the sequel, Gracie Faltrain Takes Control.
Soccer team striker Jake Morieson complains about Gracie that "She plays soccer like she’s out there alone. And that’s no way to play." Gracie herself claims that "The game’s won when I get on that field." Statements like these do not paint a pretty picture of the main character – or of any other character either. The narrator flips the point of view from head to head and treats the reader mercilessly with the repercussions one person’s behavior has on the others. If you tend to judge people you meet very early you might quickly decide to dislike Gracie for perpetually hogging the ball, for mooning about a shallow boy, for being upset about her best friend’s departure to Europe - without even once asking her how she dealt with being relocated to a far away and unknown country - and for being mean to her classmate Alyce. You might cluck your tongue because Martin Knight’s mother left her kids without a goodbye and because Gracie’s father Bill returns less and less frequently home to his family on the weekends although his daughter and wife need him. But if you patiently wait for the respective opposite point of view, it almost audibly clicks inside your head you begin to feel and root for everybody, because somehow you get their emotions and you find a bit of yourself in most of them. But at no point the interwoven thoughts and fates turn the story into something soppy. The book always felt incredibly real and honest to me.
Surprisingly the voices I liked best were the ones of Gracie’s parents, Helen and Bill, who love each other, but who feel their common ground and their reasons to hold fast to each other slip quietly away:
"BILL: I'm always looking for what will make me whole. What will make me happy? Somewhere along the way I started to think it wasn't Helen anymore. She hasn't changed. Her laugh is still the one I remember. Her finger is still the one I put the ring on all those years ago. I can't understand why I don't want to curve next to her, keep her back warm anymore. Surely you don't lose love like keys?"
”HELEN: [...] That’s when I see him again for the first time. Really see him. He is forty and tired and travelling everywhere with the books he loves so much piled in the back of his car. 'I forgot about your bookshop,’ I say. ‘Baby, you and Gracie are more important to me than books or a shop,’ he answers, and I think two things: when I get back I will find a way to give him his dream, but more importantly for the moment, he called me baby."
Cath Crowley managed to express their thoughts about each other and about their crumbling bond so achingly beautifully that I wished she would attempt to write an adult contemporary in the future. I am convinced she would ace it as well. She is simply that good at words and at understanding how a human being ticks – no matter how old or young.
”ANNABELLE: Did you see those undies? NICK: You have to admit, she has a great body.” (less)
I breezed through 'Outpost', the sequel to 'Enclave', in a matter of hours and I wish I could go with Deuce and her friends on her next frighteningly...more I breezed through 'Outpost', the sequel to 'Enclave', in a matter of hours and I wish I could go with Deuce and her friends on her next frighteningly dangerous journey through freak-infested territory by devouring 'Horde' right now. It doesn't happen so often that I am that contented with a second/middle volume.
I suppose, I definitely could do without the love-triangle - although it's not a very sharp-angled or annoying one since the heroine's preferences are pretty clear and remain that way. Another tiny blotch is the occasional use of words which Deuce with her cut-off-from-topside-life-and-civilization-background should not know yet.
The rest has been almost perfect: The post-apocalytic setting, the action, the mystery of the fast evolving zombie freaks, the extraordinarily wonderful heroine, her clashes with an equally strict, but completely different society - world, even - from what she is used to that do not cause her to cower or back down, but also do not tempt her into gloryfying her former life as a Huntress in the College enclave; plus I liked the the accute picture of how circumstances and good or bad experiences form or damage people and how important and necessary second chances can be.(less)
”Everything would be better tomorrow, I thought: a new day, a new dawn. It would have to be better than this. I was wrong. There was no new dawn the...more”Everything would be better tomorrow, I thought: a new day, a new dawn. It would have to be better than this. I was wrong. There was no new dawn the next day.”
Cedar Falls, Iowa. Almost 16-years-old Alex has just experienced a major break-through on his way to adulthood: His parents stopped arguing with him and have taken off to uncle Paul's goat farm in Illinois with only his sister Rebecca in tow. Alex luxuriates in his freedom of choice between doing his homework and collecting gold-nuggets in "World of Warcraft", when something huge drops on his house and starts to burn. After freeing himself of collapsed furniture he learns that even outside his bouse nobody has electricity or a phone connection. The fire brigade arrives in spite of that, the next door couple takes him in and things are supposed to settle down, when hell literally breaks loose: Earth- and ear-shattering thunder that lasts for hours and results in a roof-breaking, sun-darkening, perpetual rain of grainy ash. Alex' initial fear and his helpless indecisiveness change into a fierce determination to get away and find his family when the first armed looters crash Joe and Darren's house and turn the supposed nightmare into something horribly real. A backpack filled with bottles of toilet-tank water, cans of food, matches, a tarp and a raincape taken from the remains of his home plus his father's pair of skis and his teacher’s taekwondo staff represent the gear of Alex' lonely roadless road trip towards Illinois. Through the eyes of Alex we face thirst, hunger, exhaustion, cold, fear, pain, greed, murder and rape, but we also experience compassion, charity, faith, cleverness, lust, love, loyalty, braveness, strength, the will to survive and hope.
You could easily tell how much I revelled in reading “Ashfall” by debut author Mike Mullin just by taking note of two facts:
1. The urgent frenzy with which I tore through the 466 pages. I reluctantly shut down my Kindle only to change trains and to walk from the station to my apartment building. Apart from these very unwelcome interruptions I practically read the book in one go. 2. The pure engrossment which made me literally forget that I was reading “Ashfall” for review and which resulted in my having to find the right words in hindsight and to install something resembling a structure into the gushy mush threatening to pour out onto the page instead of relying on previously saved bookmarks and margin notes. I am sorry that I am in no position now to say something profound about the author’s use of language or the quality of his writing style. I simply had no attention to spare.
There is even a third aspect, but it may sound quite unbelievable to those who know my reading habits: I did not read a single chapter for two whole days after finishing "Ashfall" although I had more than one opportunity to grab a chunk of time. Part of my post-Ashfall book abstinence could be explained by my resolve not to shove reviews that should/want/deserve to be written aside anymore. But I am also certain that part of my hesitance was caused by my reluctance to let go of the story, its characters, its grip on my mind and the still sharp-edged imprints on my inner eye.
Who – apart from the handful of readers who meticulously study all bookflap texts - would have guessed that a young adult novel bearing such a – admittedly fitting, but – boring, colorless, and - I say it: ugly - cover (it does remind me strongly of German young adult fiction published in the 80s of the previous century), would encase such a wonderfully moving, deep and breathtakingly vivid addition to the realistic dystopian genre? I harbored some relatively high hopes, but only because some of the earlier reviews sounded pretty convincing. Now I really wish I owned a paper copy – and I would even take one with a pink bulldozer embossed on the dust-jacket.
The two most important aspects that determine whether I will fall in love with a certain book or not are interesting, multi-layered characters who – if they are not likable - can at least be understood from a certain angle, and the believability of the setting and the actions – regardless of how strange or different the fictional world seems to be. Therefore it is essential for me to point out how unartificial Alex voice felt in my opinion and how the author somehow made me swallow everything he handed over in sweet docility without letting me even think of talking back. Whether he describes a desperate family sifting through the rubble of a collapsed gas station and getting aggressive when Alex turns up with a seemingly well-filled backpack, whether he has Alex fighting or building a shelter or kissing a girl, or whether he shows Alex’ embarrassment when Darla discovers his fear of heights, it fit the whole and it felt real and right.
I cannot pinpoint the scene, but at some point I knew that I had fallen head over heels in love with both Alex and his love interest – maybe especially his love interest: Darla is a very resourceful, strong and outspoken girl. After her father died she took over the corn and cattle farm single-handedly and failed school miserably because of that. Her cheerful, religious and rather naive mother certainly did her share - physically - but she completely relied on her teenaged daughter to calculate costs and labor, let unused land, sell their produce and repair the big and small argricultural machines from the start. Without Darla's inventions and Darla's watchful eye the two of them would never have had the chance to survive the vulcanic catastrophe longer than the contents of their pantry lasted. Darla is also fiercely loyal, funny, sexy and astonishingly vulnerable. She teases Alex because of his farm-related ignorance, but she does not scoff or gawk at his real shortcomings. I never expected her to crash so hard (view spoiler)[after the convicts raped and murdered her mother (hide spoiler)]. When Alex first meets Darla (view spoiler)[He is embarrassed to discover that she must have undressed and stitched him. Such a cute scene! (hide spoiler)], immediately several of Hayao Miyazaki's wonderful female heroines popped into my mind: Cheerful airplane mechanic Fio Piccolo in Porco Rosso, brave and compassionate princess Nausicaä, Iron Town’s tough leader Lady Eboshi in Monoke Hime and even Arietty, the Borrower. Although Darla is the one with the physical strength and the inventive brains, Alex makes her feel safe. That sense of safety is not induced by Alex brown belt in Taekwondo or by his manliness, but by her deep conviction that she can count on him and his concept of responsibility. I love the mixture of character traits that make up Alex. He is a bit nerdy and quiet, but he is also a calculating fighter. He does not waver when he has made up his mind. He never loses his compassion, although he occasionally has to quarrel with his conscience, because securing his immediate survival rivals being responsible for the possible demise of others by not sharing with them. But even when sympathy takes over and makes him risk his life, he is not uncautious, stupid or sickly samaritarian. I like the normality of his relationship with his parents, his resolve to act grown-up enough to be taken seriously, his ability to adapt, and his slowly blossoming, tender love for Darla.
Let me also tell you how relieved I have been to read a young adult novel that was completetely devoid of instant-love and paranormally-induced dependencies, but surprised me with a lovely, lovely, love-story that depicts the slow birth of a realistic, strong relationship. A relationship that includes sex as one of the normal components:
"So I thought I’d feel different afterward, after the visible neon sign proclaiming 'virgin' had blinked out on my forehead. I’d spent years obessessing about it, so it seemed like somthing should have changed. Maybe it would have if I’d still been at Ceder Falls High School surrounded by the gossip and the braggadocio of teenage boys. But on my uncle's farm, nobody noticed, or at least nobody said anything. The next day, like every day, we dug corn, chopped wood, and carried water. And it didn’t really change much between Darla and me, either. Yes, making love was fun, but it wasn’t really any more fun than anything we’d already been doing together. Just different."
There is frustration, there are mistanderstandings, there is teasing, there is companionship, there is trust, there is risking a lot – even your life, and there is gentleness and care. For instance, I loved the scene in which Alex helps Darla pee in the refugee camp trench by "being her tree" to lean on and gets splashed in the process.
Speaking of pee: It is mentioned often. At least 14 scenes, to be exact - thanks to my Kindle’s text seach function - revolve around the act of urinating. I didn’t mind. On the contrary, there are people dying of dehydration in "Ashfall". Alex stinks. He uses his spare shirt to cover his mouth with wet cloth-stripes. Not glossing over body functions, but making them part of the whole catastrophic mess adds another layer of believability.
When I was reading "Ashfall" I automatically compared it to two other dystopian road-trip stories I have read recently: Released by Megan Duncan and Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick. Both dystopias deal with catastrophic circumstances, too, wave in a kind of love story, the coming-of-age-process of the main character and an episode at a kind of community or camp where people try to survive together. But both stories feature zombies and monsters.
In "Ashfall" there are no zombie-turned humans or other supernatural phenomena to fight against or to survive. There is no bomb or no alien invasion to blame. There is just a plain old natural desaster – the unpredicted erruption of an existing supervolcano sleeping under the Yellowstone National Park – that takes away the sun’s warmth and daylight, the usual means of communication and transport and the access to clean water and fresh food. The author makes us realise the painful way that we do not need a rampant zombie-virus or galactically enhanced physical abilities to turn us into ugly beasts:
"My sorrow dissolved in a wave of pure fury. What kind of place was this, where tens of thousands of people were herded together without adequate shelter, without decent latrines? A cattle pen, not fit for humans. And the guards, Captain Jameson, there were people just like me. For the first time ever, I felt ashamed of my species. The volcano had taken our homes, our food, our automobiles, and our airplanes, but it hadn’t taken our humanity. No, we’d given that up on our own."
The concentration-camp-like refugee camp, which had been advertised via radio as one of America’s safe havens where people would receive shelter, help and food, was what enraged and saddened me the most in "Ashfall" – much more than the also prison-like communities in Released and Ashes did. In the latter two novels the leaders at least act true to their strange religious believes. (view spoiler)[The FEMA camp in Galena exists for reasons of personal enrichment and greed only. People are collected on the road by soldiers cruising though the ash and have no chance at resisting being detained. They are stripped of most belongings, there are not properly registered, they are lucky if tent space is available for them, they get a cup of rice each day and nothing else – while the camp managers receive provisions per refugee, drink coffee and sell all the grain they discover in warehouses to the highest bidder on the collapsing international market. (hide spoiler)] Somehow this realistic situation in "Ashfall" showing “normal” people acting selfish under the cover of welfare turned me into a hot and cold and shivering lump.
But to wrap it up: Basically "Ashfall" turned me into a fan. Mr. Mullin, that does not happen too often. Especially not after just one book.
A short statement concerning the ending: Maybe I was already biased when I reached it, but I refuse to call the open, but hopeful, maybe even hesitatingly cheerful finale a cliffhanger. Now that I have found out that there will be a sequel (Ashen Winter) I need to read it, no question, but when I sucked up the last words of the last chapter of "Ashfall", I was quite ignorant of the fact and strangely content with the few lose strands I saw hanging in the breeze.
A million thanks to Netgalley and to Tanglewood Press for being so awfully generous with electronic review copies. I immensely enjoyed reading Ashfall and as you can see I gladly will spread the word. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Bookers, I have to admit I pulled an Alexa on this group read. Sorry, girls and Teccc. Do not punish me with a reading ban or something like that. I h...moreBookers, I have to admit I pulled an Alexa on this group read. Sorry, girls and Teccc. Do not punish me with a reading ban or something like that. I have three days off this week and when I woke up this morning I really believed it was the 14th already. But now I see it is Santa Lucia Day. This mix-up wouldn't definitely have happened to me if people in Germany ran around the house with candle crowns on their honey-blond heads like they do in Sweden on December 13th. The lack of tradition has done me in!
I look really forward to discussing this over at the Corner!!!(less)
***Read for the first time from August 04 to 07, 2011*** How happy I am that I spontaneously gave in and ordered this odd, little jewel .... It was dark...more***Read for the first time from August 04 to 07, 2011*** How happy I am that I spontaneously gave in and ordered this odd, little jewel .... It was dark, strangely compelling and utterly beautifully written ... and completely different from what I had expected.
It’s the turn of the century in rural England. The Industrial Revolution with its affluence of metal and electricity has forced most of the Old Ones, elemental spirits, bogs, brownies, fairies and the like, to disappear. But in Swampsea and other mucky places magical creatures still roam free. Dark Muses feed on the creativity of unsuspecting males until they drop dead or go mad, monsters shoot out of slimy holes to bite off your hand, the Boggy Mun strikes people with the deadly swamp cough and flying witches screech frightening things at people who lost their way in the dark while flashing “their girl parts” at them. Consequently witch trials are still in fashion around Swampsea. Female citizens who are fond of dancing or giggling and look quite the part are swiftly hanged when not able to produce a watertight alibi. Briony Larkin has always known that she is different, because she always felt at ease in the swamp, Brownies, Wykes and Strangers actively sought her out and “Mucky Face”, a water elemental, calls her Mistress. But it had been her late Stepmother who convinced her that she was a witch, capable of wicked things and incapable of human feelings. For great parts of the book it remains unclear why and how Briony caused the parsonage library to burn, why “Mucky Face” crashed in a huge wave down on her stepmpother and caused her spine to break and what is the deal with arsenic poisoning. But witch or no witch - inspite of her many mock-irritated complaints to the reader (“How has Rose lived for seventeen years and no one has killed her, not once?”), Briony’s love for her autistic / obsessive-compulsive twin sister Rose was apparent. Briony believed her own wicked personality to be the cause for her difficult twin’s disability and her own urge to care for her to be enforced propriety, but in everything she nonchalantly said or did, a fierce tenderness shone through.
Thus I became very interested in getting to the bottom of the riddle, in Briony clearing the fog that clouded her memories since the strange illness which ailed her for a year before her stepmother’s supposed self-poisoning. And thus I cheered for Briony when self-proclaimed “bad-boy” Elderic, the swamp drainer’s lively son, moved in, treated Rose just right, promised the lesson-hungry Briony to share his private tutor with her and made her almost forget to hate herself.
Now the prominent question (after considering the average rating) is: Would you become interested and willing to cheer, too? Well, honestly, I don’t really know, but let’s take a closer look:
- I liked the unconventional writing style – clever, reflecting, a little odd, cheeky-naughty and layered with a fine coating of hidden hurt – right from the start. To be precise, by page 3 or 4 I was head over heels in love with it and almost believed the story had been composed for my benefit alone. I did not mind a bit Briony’s habit of dropping vague hints here and there and leaving blanks in the description of her family’s misfortunes and current situation. Because I somehow understood her state of mind. I strongly suggest reading a sample chapter before investing money, because the writing is pretty consistents throughout the book and you will find out pretty soon if you adore or despise Briony’s voice. - The pacing was of the slower sort, but I did not mind a bit. On the contrary: I longed to savor each page, to let the sentences melt into my consciousness. If you crave action, film-worthy monster-fights and scenes that flash by in quick succession, better look for a different book. - I liked the Victorian setting with its well-founded, but badly acted-upon superstitions and hidden otherworldly dangers. And I did not mind a bit that the hero did not possess superhuman qualities and the heroine did not perform magic and summonings and other acts, which are usually mandatory for the paranomal teen romance protagonist, day in and day out. - I admit, I expect some romance from a five-star-worthy novel. It’s a personal requirement. And I enjoyed Briony’s growing infatuation and her jealousy of Elderic’s affections for Leanne. But but I did not mind a bit that the love-story did not blossom into novel-consuming proportions and that endless repetitions of the “I-Can’t-Live-Without-You-Mantra” were somehow missing altogether. If you need to melt into a kneeless puddle at least once in each chapter, go search for another book. - In some parts “Chime” turned out to be quite “horrible”, meaning ripped out hands or swallowed people. But but I did not mind a bit. I enjoyed the gothic vibes. If you prefer your main characters unmaimed, I can help you choose another book. - The title and the cover turned out to be exactly fitting. Seldomly a heroine’s face looks close to her description: In this case it does. Briony is porcelain-skinned with velvet-black eyes and blond hair.
I'll end this perusal with a quote: "Once we got to eating, the idea of happiness returned to me. Not the feeling, the idea. Would a regular girl be happy simply eating a hot meal with a great deal of chew to it? Maybe happiness is a simple thing. Maybe it's as simple as the salty taste of pork, and the vast deal of chewing in it, and how, when the chew is gone, you can still scrape at the bone with your bottom teeth and suck at the marrow."
Have you decided? If not, take you time ... until the next 'Chime'.
****** My first thoughts, written right after reading (2011/08/07): I am still wavering between four and five stars and have to let my impressions/emotions simmer for a night, because I know I liked the second half slightly less than the first, but because I am also sure that I really I loved this book, the heroine's voice and - among other things - her relationship to her sister Rose. My copy is full of little plastic Post-it-strips that need to be typed and my head is full of thoughts to be formed, my heart is full of cravings for more works by the author and my jealous soul longs to be able to command written language to bow to my every whim like she is.
***** 2013/03/02: After my first re-read I feel so mushy and so abundantly happy inside and I can only barely refrain from quoting half the book. Briony and Rose have become even dearer to me. Knowing where the story went meant I was at leisure to savor all the tiny bits and wondrous pieces. It is probably safe to say that I've found an all-time-favorite. Or is that pretentious after only two years of infatuation? People - and readers - change, even when books do not change with them.(less)
Well, I saved my money, I ordered the book, I read it fired up with anticipation and I was disappointed and a little angry although the ephemeral, liquid prose did resonate within me. The blurb had promised the entrance to a glittering treasure chest full of strange people and coincidences, but the book did not really cover much mysterious plot or pushed me off my rocker by astonishing turns. But since I spent so much pocket money on it and had to go without sweets for a while to afford it, I did not pass it on to my friends but kept it.
About a year later I picked it up again (having re-read everything else too often, I suppose), unconsciously geared up my page-turning pace, shook my head in wonder that I had been in fact devouring it and declared myself utterly enchanted. I was extremly puzzled about my own reaction and thought about it quite a lot, re-reading it a second time. I concluded that since the book stayed exactly the same I must have changed. Maybe at 13/14 I was still a bit embarrassed/shocked by Angela's brazen, self-confident attitude towards her body, that breathless, sexy encounter in the dark and the morning-after giddyness the lovers let shine through. Scenes of the book I came to love fiercely and look forward to as an older teen. And although I remember feeling sympathy for Tycho on the first go, I did not get his attractivenes, his beauty, at all. But when I was re-reading it for the first time, I already was 100% with Angela, when she says "I'm sick of this." [...]"I don't know everything I feel, but I do know this. You mustn't ever want anyone but me, Big Science. If you look at any other girl I'll kill her."
Now I've consumed the book for maybe the sixth time and I still love it. And I love the cover of the 2002-Collins-edition. It's perfect and it fits the mood I am in after closing the book. It won't be the last time I savored the story of the girl who went to look for her parents' love and found her own and the guy who had to let his science book drop and step upon the Catalogue of the Universe to see himself in a new perspective because "The Ionians Rule!".
TBR Pile Reduction Challenge 2011, Book #14 (challenger: Nomes)(less)