22 August 2014

Too Much Cute: Mewingham Manor

Do you like butterflies? Do you like kittens? Do Victorian country ladies' dairies give you a thrill? Then Mewingham Manor: Observations on a Curious New Species is just the thing for you!

A twenty-seven-year-old unmarried lady inherits her uncle's rambling country estate, Mewingham Manor, and hastens to set up housekeeping. She keeps a diary of her days, as good gentlewomen do, and in it she begins to note strange flying creatures in the garden:
It was tiny, with fluffy, black and white fur, and, although by all other evidence a mammal, it wore a pair of dazzling jewel-toned wings!

Yes, Mewingham Manor is infested with Flittens -- tiny butterfly-winged cats collected from all over the globe by her roving uncle (just as other Victorian gentlemen might collect rare species of orchid, etc)! What follows is page after page of illustrations of Flittens and Minis (tiny winged mice). It's an adorable natural history of nonsense:
Hatchlings congregate for safety and comfort. When they mature, they become very independent and only associate with their own species (although on especially chilly days, I have observed adult Flittens of every type napping in a mound by the hearth).
Many thanks to my coworker for pressing this book on me! Four out of five Flittenus arboreus.

Mewingham Manor: Observations on a Curious New Species by Edwina Von Stetina (Greenwich Workshop Press, 2002).

19 August 2014

Top 10 Tuesday: Everyone Keeps Telling Me to Read ...

For this week's Top Ten Tuesday we're talking about all the books people have been telling us we simply must read. While some of these books are titles I want to read (but never at the moment they're being recommended because So Many Books To Read Already), others are works I definitely have no interest in at all. And yet people keep recommending them.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
Huge fan of the Green Bros' vlogbrothers and CrashCourse Youtube channels --- so much so that I really do want to read TFIOS. Someday. I tend to avoid reading breathtakingly popular books at the time of their popularity, because I find it difficult to just relax and enjoy the book as I find it impossible with everyone else's opinions crowding my brain.

The Dinner by Herman Koch
It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.
A coworker thinks I'll love this, but it sounds a bit dark.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon—when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an "outlander"—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord . . . 1743.
I'm sure it's excellent -- friends certainly think so -- but time-travel romance? Meh.

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey
When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh.
Melanie is a very special girl.
Recommended to me because I enjoyed The Different Girl and All Our Yesterdays. I do want to read it, but the little bit I've heard about it makes it sound more like straight-up horror.

The Bees by Laline Paull
Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive where work and sacrifice are the highest virtues and worship of the beloved Queen the only religion. But Flora is not like other bees. With circumstances threatening the hive's survival, her curiosity is regarded as a dangerous flaw but her courage and strength are an asset. She is allowed to feed the newborns in the royal nursery and then to become a forager, flying alone and free to collect pollen. She also finds her way into the Queen's inner sanctum, where she discovers mysteries about the hive that are both profound and ominous.
My friend really wants me to read this book and then tell her if it's worth her reading! Unfortunately, as much as I find real bees fascinating, anthropomorphic bees don't sound that compelling. A Handmaid's Tale with bees? Eh. I'll just reread Atwood.

Shadows by Robin McKinley
Maggie knows something's off about Val, her mom's new husband. Val is from Oldworld, where they still use magic, and he won't have any tech in his office-shed behind the house. But—more importantly—what are the huge, horrible, jagged, jumpy shadows following him around? Magic is illegal in Newworld, which is all about science. The magic-carrying gene was disabled two generations ago, back when Maggie's great-grandmother was a notable magician. But that was a long time ago.
The Husband reallyreally wants me to read this so we can discuss it, but I’m in no hurry since, while reading it, he complained (quite strenuously) about the protagonist's "voice." Also, I'm getting a little tired of our-world-but-with-magic stories.

17 August 2014

The Velvet Room

Belonging to a place isn't nearly as necessary as belonging to people you love and who love you and need you.
The Velvet Room follows the story of Robin, a bookish young girl whose family is one of the many migrant families found in California during the Great Depression. They are constantly on the move, trying to make ends meet, and there is little room in such a life for the beauty or solitude Robin craves. But then a stroke of luck -- her father finds work at the McCurdy ranch and Robin makes an important friend in a little old woman named Bridget.

Despite the mystery behind the old Palmeras House and Robin's insistence on befriending the bruja, there's nothing particularly frightening or ominous about the story. I say this because the title of the book itself sounds mysterious and the current edition looks (imho) pretty darn ominous!

Instead of being about scary things, The Velvet Room much more about the (gently told) hard truths of a childhood lived during the Depression and also about finding a place to be yourself without losing the ones you love. Truth be told, The Velvet Room reminded me quite a lot of of Doris Gates' Blue Willow, in that they share similar settings and both deal with longing and belonging. I'm pretty sure if you enjoyed the one, you will enjoy the other. I certainly enjoyed this book and wish it had a sequel. 4 out of 5 secret diaries.

The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder w/ illus. by Alton Raible (Atheneum, 1965)