Yeah, okay, so this is the Incest Book. That's all I knew about it going in, so I was rather surprised to find that it's also a heartbreakingly accura...moreYeah, okay, so this is the Incest Book. That's all I knew about it going in, so I was rather surprised to find that it's also a heartbreakingly accurate portrait of a family in crisis. Their dad is long gone, and their mother is an alcoholic who treats them with a level of neglect so profound that it's basically child abuse. So Maya and Lochan, the oldest kids, are put into the position of being parents to their three younger siblings, in addition to going to school and still basically being kids themselves. They live in perpetual fear of social services finding out about their situation, but at times I was like Jesus Christ, I'm pretty sure social services taking over your family would be better than this. Dear parents everywhere: Take some fucking responsibility for your kids, even if you never wanted them.
In contrast to that, Maya and Lochan's love story seems kind of incidental, at least at first. The way their romance is described is typical of YA "forbidden love" romance, with the melodrama and the jealousy and the FEELINGS, so I wasn't all that invested in it for most of the book. I cared way more about what was going to happen to their family than what would happen to their romance. But in the end, both stories came together in a conclusion that actually made me cry. I got the feeling that things weren't going to end happily for our couple—how could they?—but I wasn't expecting actual tears, so, good job, Suzuma.
A couple of notes:
- This is set in the UK, and everything is British, so it really threw me when the characters kept talking about "soccer." Doesn't everyone know by now that there's a difference between American football and rest-of-the-world football? If not, they should learn, not have everything Americanized for them. Grr.
- The book is told in alternating perspectives between Maya and Lochan, and Lochan's voice sounded much more authentic and unique to me. His descriptions of his social anxiety and panic attacks were vivid and detailed. Maya's sections were fine, but there was nothing to really distinguish them as coming from Maya.
- Incest in fiction has never really bothered me. It only bothers me when it seems unrealistic, and I had a bit of trouble grasping why Maya and Lochan were so drawn to each other romantically when most siblings are disgusted at the very thought. But consensual incest does happen, even among siblings who were raised together. It probably happens more often than people think, given that the taboo against incest keeps people from speaking up. Regardless of how often it happens, though, I'm pretty sure consensual incest shouldn't be illegal. There's no justification for making it against the law, except "but it's gross," which is no justification at all.
- Everything about sex in this book is very carefully written. To most readers, it's clear what's going on, but for a younger reader who doesn't know much about sex, there are no explicit terms or "bad words" to spell it out for you. It's a difficult line to walk in YA fiction, but Suzuma does it pretty well.
- I definitely see why people get to the end of this book and immediately hit the five-star rating button, but the rest of the book didn't live up to the ending for me. It just wasn't well-written enough. So, three stars for the book. Four for the ending.(less)
Philippa Gregory's historical novels have become comfort reading for me. I'll read any of them cover to cover, no matter the quality, just because I l...morePhilippa Gregory's historical novels have become comfort reading for me. I'll read any of them cover to cover, no matter the quality, just because I like reading about the Plantagenets and the Tudors. But I thought this was one of her better ones.
Katherine of Aragon is usually only talked about in the context of being Henry VIII's first wife, so it was nice to read a book about her early life, and young Catalina is a captivating character. She learns about battle strategy and strength of will at her mother's side, and carries those lessons into her life at the English court, where she will need them, over and over, for the rest of her life.
I liked Catalina's romance with Arthur. Nobody knows for sure what really went on between them, but it makes a better story to have them fall in love and make all sorts of wonderful plans for England and then it's like NOPE, DEAD. They really should have let women be rulers back in the day, if nothing else because the men never seemed to live very long.
I also liked the stuff about the Moors. When Catalina was a child, she lived in the (conquered) Moorish palace of Alhambra, and it informs her identity throughout the book. While in England, she recalls the Moors fondly: their elegant architecture, their silk clothing, their habits (such as bathing with actual soap omg), their food (lol what is salad), their medical and mathematical knowledge. Yet she also learned as a child that the Moors were heretics, a people to be conquered and subdued, and that their knowledge was a sin against the Christian God. The tension between these conflicting ideas is woven throughout Catalina's story, and to me, it's the most interesting part.
While there are clear signs of modern sensibilities sneaking into the writing (Katherine has a dream! A dream that one day we may all live together without being judged for the color of our skin or the religion we practice!), I liked the perspective Katherine's Moorish childhood brought to Tudor England. Especially as she found herself unable to provide Henry with an heir, and wondered if maybe the Christians shouldn't have banned all of that "science" and "medicine" stuff the Moors knew so much about.
About the ending: I'm not one to get too hung up on questions of historical accuracy when reading historical fiction. My question is rather, does the book in question hold up as a novel if you read it with no knowledge of the historical events? And I think this one does. The final ending, with Katherine about to testify against Henry in the "Great Matter," seems to me to be only put there because we know that's what happens to her later. I think it could have been cut. My opinion is either go all the way, and fully describe the events of the Great Matter and the English Reformation from Katherine's perspective, or don't describe it at all.
I like the book ending after the Battle of Flodden Field, with Katherine triumphant as regent and Queen Militant. She sounds like a fantastic queen who was able to get shit done. Too bad Henry VIII had to be such a dick.(less)
While Beauty Slept is a bleak rendition of the Sleeping Beauty tale. I liked it well enough, yet I couldn't help but compare it to Spindle's End, a bo...moreWhile Beauty Slept is a bleak rendition of the Sleeping Beauty tale. I liked it well enough, yet I couldn't help but compare it to Spindle's End, a book with a similar plot but much more magic, both in the story and in the telling.
I'm a fan of retold fairy tales, and this one imagines how actual events might have been embellished into the Sleeping Beauty legend, over time. That means there's almost no magic, although there are a few "magic?" moments that make you wonder how much power the "witches" in the story really had. You could put their powers down to persuasion, charisma, and herbal knowledge, or you could see them as something more. I liked the idea that this was something that could have actually happened in medieval times, with the "enchanted sleep" a euphemism for a real disease, but the story still carries a hint of fantasy, as the place names are pretty much made up.
(I might have liked the book better if it had swung harder in one direction than another--either straight-up historical fiction or straight-up medieval fantasy. As it was, it didn't have enough world-building to satisfy my fantasy tastes, and not enough reality for a true work of historical fiction.)
Like Spindle's End, the story is told mostly from the perspective of an older-sister figure of the princess, and (vague ending spoilers) (view spoiler)[the twist at the end is virtually identical (hide spoiler)], albeit with more death and less magic. So I couldn't help but compare the two. I realize there are only so many ways to retell a fairy tale, but the similarities were enough to made me feel like I'd read this version before.
I did like the narrator, Elise, and her romance with Marcus. However, Elise spent far too much of the book going "If only I had known then what would happen later! Would I have made the same choice? I'll never know!" which can be effective when used sparingly, but it gets old fast.
A diverting enough way to spend an afternoon, but for me it doesn't come close to Spindle's End, which will always be one of my favorites.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
So I know the title is a literary reference and everything, but this book is not about a dog (although there is a dog). It is about cats.
I mean, it's...moreSo I know the title is a literary reference and everything, but this book is not about a dog (although there is a dog). It is about cats.
I mean, it's also about time travel and chaos theory and history and World War II and Victorian England and love and old mystery novels and expensive fish and jumble sales and a really hideous vase, but mostly it's about cats.
Princess Arjumand is the most adorable cat I've never seen. Seriously, if this book doesn't make you pick up your cat and snuggle it, then that's probably because you don't have a cat.
This book is a mystery story. It throws an impressive number of balls into the air at the start, and manages to juggle them effortlessly throughout the story, until the end when it catches them all one by one in a cascade of time-traveling logic. I love closed time-loops, and while this isn't exactly that, it's close enough for me. And the musings on how seemingly insignificant things (like cats) can affect the course of history, changing small things that lead to changing big things, are delightful.
I have trouble getting started with books, and the beginning of this one was no exception. The beginning is all dramatic irony, since Ned is so out of it for the first few chapters that everything goes over his head, and I was afraid the entire book would be like that. Once Ned gets to Victorian England and finds Verity, though, things really get going, and for the last third or so I couldn't put it down. It was way more suspenseful than I expected from the setup. When you're a time-traveler, though, the stakes are always high.
The story manages to make a Victorian comedy of errors seem like a fast-paced thriller. And though the reader is given all the same clues Ned has, and we might have a vague idea of what's going on (I guessed who the mysterious Mr. C was fairly early on), it's still impossible to predict everything that happens in this wonderfully complicated book. Definitely deserves a re-read or two.
Remember, the next time you can't find your cat, that it might have been taken by well-intentioned time travelers. They'll bring it back as soon as they can.(less)
I read this when I was way too young to understand what the fuck was going on, so I was mostly just really confused. I remember triangles of pubic hai...moreI read this when I was way too young to understand what the fuck was going on, so I was mostly just really confused. I remember triangles of pubic hair, and that's about it?(less)