Stuff and Nonsense: YA

Showing posts with label YA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label YA. Show all posts



“The last night of the year," Constanze said. "Now the days of winter begin and the Goblin King rides abroad, searching for his bride.”

Goblins, changelings, magic, riddles, ill-advised and desperate bargains -- Wintersong has them all. Set in 1800s provincial Bavaria, the novel is reads like lushly written homage to “Goblin Market” and “Der Erlkönig.” I think it’s probably a book that would appeal to Labyrinth lovers, although I found it easiest to enjoy Wintersong when I had deliberately cleared Sarah and Jareth from my mind. As far as world-building goes, Jae-Jones’s universe felt richly detailed and real – it was perfectly easy (up to a point) to become Liesl, to believe I was in rural Bavaria, to smell and taste the forbidden fruits, to feel the cold of winter and the dark fantasy of the Underworld .

So world-building, writing, and premise really appealed to me and I enjoyed those facets of the Wintersong. But … there was still too much that put me off, that kept me from properly enjoying the book, and makes me reticent to read the sequel.

Maybe I’m just a cranky old woman, but I find it increasingly difficult to enjoy novels larded with the nonsense that is on-again-off-again romance. You have relationship problems? You figure out, together, how to fix them or you go your separate, but ultimately happier, ways. And sex as a fix for whatever you think is broken within you? Just … no. I have no time for magical healing penises (or vaginas, for that matter).

Also, that ending! How did the world not end? What about the changeling? Wasn’t he supposed to wane and die if too long from the Underworld? And the whole, abrupt Beethoven/Immortal Beloved tie-in ... I just don’t understand where that was going.

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones (St. Martin's Griffin, 2017)



Princess Anya's wicked stepstepfather, the Duke, is a powerful sorcerer set on ruling the tiny kingdom of Trallonia ... and that means finding a way to be rid of obstacles like Anya and her distractible older sister, Morven. It also means turning any of the Princesses likely allies -- like Morven's suitors -- into frogs.

Anya's simple promise to turn recently frogged Denholm back into a prince -- Morven isn't in love with him anymore and isn't going to kiss a frog, regardless -- quickly evolves into an epic Quest. Anya will collect the ingredients for a Transmogrification Reversal Lip Balm, save her sister (and herself) from the Duke's machinations, right ancient wrongs, and maybe-sorta make the world a better place.

Frogkisser! is a delightful read that manages to be both irreverent and meaningful at the same time. Many classic fairytale tropes are subverted, nonwhite female characters are integral, and Anya slowly grows into a thoroughly satisfying hero. If you like Diana Wynne Jones or Terry Pratchett, I think you'll enjoy Frogkisser!

Frogkisser! by Garth Nix (Scholastic, 2017)


The Star-Touched Queen

Princess Maya's birth was the death of her mother. Raised in a court that believes her curst by the stars and accordingly treats her poorly, at best, Maya's only dream has been to survive long enough in the royal harem to become a scholarly old maid, left alone to her own devices.

Then her father, the King, gets it in his head to marry his wholly unmarriageable, thoroughly star-curst daughter off to one of the neighboring countries (any one of the neighboring countries at that) to "forge peace." While Maya gets her pick of the eligible men, she still must chose one and then kill herself. For the good of all, you know. Great plan, Dad.

But then ... there's betrayal. And salvation. And the quickest marriage ceremony the world ever saw. And running. And magic tapestries. And locked doors. And ... so much happens that I can't tell you about because SPOILERS.

The Star-Touched Queen is Eros and Psyche, Bluebeard's Wife, Goblin Market, and a dozen other tales reforged into one darkly sparkling gem of a novel. A rich, vibrant book rife with flowery prose and secrets ... yum. Go. Read. It. (Yes, it's frequently shelved in YA, but it will please any adult lover of romantic fantasy).

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi (St. Martin's Griffin, 2016)



In a far future universe, humanity is at war with itself. A temporary peace has been struck and five hundred refugees have been released from their internment camp to a waystation where they'll be sorted out and sent on to surviving family or friends. On the surface of it, Lia Johansen is just another orphaned, friendless sixteen-year-old refugee. But Lia is more than she seems. Lia is a living bomb.

Yeh. So there's that. Except, of course, she doesn't go BOOM and kill everyone. Because I'm pretty sure you can't have the heroine of a young adult novel slaughter thousands of innocent people. It's just not done, darling.
Even if all those people are possessed by invisible, incorporeal, parasitic aliens.

There’'s a lot going on in Nova. When I first began reading the book, it seemed pretty straightforward, but as the story progressed more layers of nuance and complication were added to Lia's backstory until it had become so twisty-turny that, frankly, an invasion by invisible parasitic aliens did not come as a surprise.

So did I actually enjoy reading Nova? Yes? Ish? The original premise -- human bomb suffers a glitch and doesn't explode, then struggles to understand her purpose and define herself -- fascinated me. Lia herself is an extremely admirable character – she demonstrates continued courage and inner strength in while trapped in a terrible situation. Yes, Lia cries and gets a wee bit depressed, but who wouldn't? Awful as her problems are, Lia tries to think them through to find a resolution she can live with. She just doesn't give up.

So Lia's great. But the addition of the aliens and the romance with Michael detracted from my enjoyment. The aliens felt like a cop-out -- Aliens Are Bastards -- so we readers wouldn't have to deal with the reality that Humans Are Really Bastards. The romance with Michael was just so ... predictable. As soon as Lia met Michael, I knew I there was going to be a "oh-my-god-I-love-him-but-I'm-a-bomb-but-I-love-him-but-" and there was and it was annoying. Why did they have to fall in love so quickly? Why not be good friends? It's not as if the romance brought anything extra to the plot. Although, if you're a romantic, I guess you could say the romance brought an extra poignancy to Lia's final act.

Mostly, I wanted more Shar. More Teal. More Captain Kerr.

Maybe in the next book?

Nova by Margaret Fortune (Daw Books, 2015)


Cruel Beauty

After I devoured Crimson Bound, I went in search of more books by Hodge and was shocked to realize there was only one other -- Cruel Beauty. What have you been doing with your time, Hodge, that there aren't more books by you? Now, the Young Adult librarian sold Cruel Beauty to me as fast-and-loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast -- and that's true -- but Cruel Beauty also plays with elements from East of the Sun and West of the Moon, Eros and Psyche, and even Bluebeard.

Anyway, Cruel Beauty is just YUMMY. A rich yet bittersweet tale that twists and turns like the passages of Ignifex's house, constantly hinting at more than it reveals (or maybe I'm just not so smart, afterall) until suddenly everything is made clear. The world is kinda-but-not-really Ancient Greece by way of Victorian England -- lots of classical Greek names but also cabbage rose wallpaper and puffed sleeves. It's an unexpected combination, but I found it refreshing and fun. It felt as if anything thing could happen in a world like that and it pretty much does.

I guess I should talk about our heroine, Nyx? She's frequently a rather angry person and her internalized wishy-washyness about her own feelings (embrace your anger!) can be a bit exasperating. Of course Nyx is angry. She was born to marry The Destroyer and kill him or die trying. Where was Nyx's opportunity for silly, girlish dreams? What reason had she to grow up with a gentle heart or sense of lovingkindness? So, yes, Nyx is an angry girl. She's also witty, intelligent, and bold.

And she saves the world. So hurrah for Nyx.

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge (HarperCollins, 2014)


Crimson Bound

Crimson Bound is another one of those books the Young Adult librarian thrust upon me when I last wandered through her demesne, complaining about how I had "nothing" to read. I'd never read anything by Hodge, but the cover was attractive (yes, I do that) and the Young Adult librarian promised me a dark retelling of Little Red Riding Hood with a well-written female protagonist and proper scary monsters.

Crimson Bound delivered all those things and more. If you're a fan of Little Red Riding Hood or a want a retelling that hews close to the source material, Crimson Bound probably isn't for you. Yes, there's a red cloak. And a wolf of sorts, I guess, if you accept "wolf" as a metaphor. And an elderly female relative in a woodsy cottage ... but she's no granny and no-one averts her doom.

No, it's best to think of Crimson Bound as quite its own story. A rather mesmerizing, darkly beautiful, and lyrical one, at that. The story takes lots of twists and turns in its telling with friends revealed as enemies, enemies becoming friends, and help springing up from unexpected places. In the end, nearly all the predictions I made as I read the story were proven deliciously wrong. Hodge's world building is fascinating. Much of story feels as if it's set in a dark dream Versailles with a weird there-are-monsters-in-the-woods vibe running through it that I found utterly absorbing. Also, I really enjoyed the use of the story of Tyr and Zisa as a framing story. Germanic folklore, hurrah.

If I have one quibble with this book, it's a small but persnickety one. I don't understand why Hodge decided to merge Rachelle's forestborn and the traitorous bloodhound into one character. For me, it made the bloodhound's betrayal less horrifying. Of course he was going to do wicked things to Rachelle! He. Was. Forestborn. It also skewed the story somewhat for me because it suggested The Devourer and its ilk had been interested in Rachelle for quite some time and, suddenly, she wasn't just a random girl who'd made a rash choice and was daily atoning for the consequences. No, suddenly, she was some kind of Fated Hero.

So ... more wickedness, please, and make it complicated!

Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge (HarperCollins, 2015)


The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf is set hundreds of years in the future, on an Earth that bears little resemblance to this one. Ashala is an Illegal, a human with superhuman abilities which place her outside her society. Rather than be put in detention or try for an Exempt tattoo, she runs off to the Firstwood and founds the Tribe, a collection of young Illegals who dream of changing the world. At first, life is pretty okay in the woods and the Tribe seems to experience some success with its message of tolerance and change ... and then Chief Administrator Neville Rose builds a new detention center nearby (coincidence? methinks not) and Ashala hears rumors of a terrible Machine ...

I liked that the story wasn't sprung on me in full (x is bad, y has betrayed, z will save us all), but slowly spun out over the course of the book as Ashala regained her memories. Kwaymullina has created an interesting, functional world that's easy to accept without being particularly familiar (unless you're already with familiar with Australian Aboriginal mythology). There's also a lot to be said for the novel's environmental and inclusionary messages as well as the quiet preponderance of female characters.

While I avoid series when I can and The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf is the first book in a quadrilogy, the novel stands comfortably on its own with a satisfactory ending that wraps up most of the story lines.

3 out of 5 towering tuarts

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina (Candlewick Press, 2014)


Wee Free Men

The Wee Free Men is the first of the Tiffany Aching books which, while marketed and shelved as young adult books, are perfectly appropriate for adults. In making that declaration, I am not without bias, as the Tiffany Aching books are one of my favorite Discworld sub series and I cannot wait until the fifth book, The Shepherd's Crown, is released in 20whenever ... and I am an old woman of nearly forty.

I’ve read The Wee Free Men multiple times now and so was quite surprised by how fresh and entirely new Briggs’ reading made the audio. His Nac Mac Feegle (irrepressible tiny blue men whose swords glow blue in the presence of lawyers) are a hoot and, miracle of miracles, sound exactly like the Nac Mac Feegles in my head. And the female characters are similarly well-rendered and I frequently forgot that the actual human “being” Tiffany was male. Tiffany remains one of my favorite Discworld characters due to her for love of learning, her mad cheese-making skills, and her strong sense of self. She’s an excellent role model for everyone and I'd love there to be many more Tiffany Aching books.

5 out of 5 frying pans

Wee Free Men written by Terry Pratchett & read by Stephen Briggs (HarperChildren's Audio, 2005)


Lark Rising

Lark Rising was a real pleasure to read (and look at -- Marcela Bolivar's jacket is just lovely). The world Waugh has created is an interesting one and I quite like that she managed to fill it with rich, lyric detail while at the same time not being very explain-y. It allowed me figure out some things about Lark's world on my own as I read along and that's always excellent. Certainly, I want to spend a lot more time in Castle Tarnec with Nayla and Ilone.

To me, Lark Carewe made an admirable heroine. She not particularly brave or strong or adventurous, but she accepts it is her burden to leave her village and find help for her village. Lark doesn't always understand what's going on and is sometimes afraid, but she does her best to do good by other people. (I mean, yes, she was so surprisingly and obviously wrong in her interpretations of the visions she had about Gharain, but bad story does happen to good characters. Also, I've read a lot of books while Lark's never been in one before. She doesn't know how her story is supposed to go).

Lark Rising is the first book is a four-part series, Guardians of Tarnec. The forthcoming second book, Silver Eve, is about Lark's sister Evie and set in a different (not-Tarnec) part of the world. Unfortunately, I didn't find Evie all that interesting in Lark Rising and I'm not sure I want to tackle new characters and geography so much as fangirl all over Tarnec Castle with characters I've already met.

Lark Rising by Sandra Waugh (Random House, 2014)


A Mad, Wicked Folly

After engaging in some simply scandalous behavior in France, artsy Victoria Darling is sent home in disgrace. Appalled by her hoydenish behavior, her parents try to explain to Vicky why her behavior and desires are so terribly wrong. They're not written as ogres and, while they break her heart, they clearly believe they're doing it for her own good. Basically, this statement by her father sums it all up:

I know you have ideas for your future, but I must say that further schooling is quite out of the question. A girl’s duty in life is to be a pretty and entertaining wife to her husband. She should not outshine him in knowledge lest she show him up among his peers. Advanced study is harmful to women as it makes them discontent and unfit for lives as wives and mothers. You are quite a pretty girl, so your prospects are much more promising than Louisa Dowd’s anyhow, poor thing. She is but a plain girl, and education is the only option for her.

Of course, Vicky longs to be more than a pretty, entertaining wife. She wants to be a proper artist and study at the Royal Academy. But her father would never grant permission (or pay tuition) and, as an unmarried miss, she has no voice or funds of her own. But maybe the man her parents so clearly desire her to marry (her family has new money, his family has title and ton) will allow her ...

What a romp! Ohh, yes, A Mad, Wicked Folly frequently made me angry because the limited sphere historically allowed women is ANGRIFYING and the novel does not downplay that at all -- the arrests, the forced-feedings, the appalling lack of public sentiment is all there. A Mad, Wicked Folly is essentially a select history of British suffragette movement wrapped up in pretty ribbons of artistic yearning and class-crossing love. All in all, a highly enjoyable read and I look forward to its sequel -- set during WWI, yay! -- whenever it comes out.

A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller (Viking, 2014)


Grave Mercy

I stare at him coldly. "I do not care for needlework." I pause. "Unless it involves the base of the skull."

Girl assassin in 15th-century France! Woo. I was thoroughly captivated by Grave Mercy and ended up devouring the book in one sitting. Ismae is a delightful heroine and I enjoyed watching her grow from an abused and unloved motherless child to a strong, self-assured, and loved woman. I also liked that while she killed people for her god and country, there was nothing squeamish or apologetic in her actions. Yet she didn't seem to delight in the killing, either. It was just the Right Thing To Do and she did it. Rather refreshing in a female heroine, really.

As much as I enjoyed Grave Mercy, I really disliked the cover art. The crossbow Ismae so casually holds is ridiculously massive in proportion to her body and Ismae herself just looks like a 21st century girl in a 15th-century gown, anyway. Put your hand over her body, masking the dress and castle, and she's just Any Girl on the cover of a contemporary or dystopia YA. She certainly doesn't look like the wolf in sheep's clothing.


Grave Mercy is the first book in the His Fair Assassin series. The books seem only loosely linked so I feel no strong desire to go on, as Ismae's story is as complete as it's likely to get and I don't have strong feelings about Sybella and Annith.

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (Houghton Mifflin, 2012)


The Selection

I was wandering around the library during my lunch break, searching for something "good" to read and ended up, as I often do, in the young adult area. The young adult librarian, seeing me blankly staring at the wall of new fiction, merrily chirped that a staff pick was always a good choice and that I might like something fluffy and fun like The Selection.

So that's what I read at lunch for four days running and it was completely and unabashedly ohmysomuchfunandsosillyandnonsensicalandwhyisthesecondbooknotontheshelfohnoooooo. And yet my thinking brain (the part that isn't busy fangirling all over the place) is completely aware that The Selection is completely flawed. I can't accept how its world works or how its characters behave. How have the teenagers not discovered oral sex? How is there not a thriving black market for abortifacients and contraceptives? How has the rigid cast system which demands a large population of disenfranchised and uneducated working poor managed to thrive? How has no-one figured out what the rebels are looking for? Why is the castle so ridiculously vulnerable to attack?

Yet. All that aside, I really enjoyed The Selection. America Singer is an entirely sympathetic heroine and I greatly enjoy watching her grow and transform into a woman who could be queen. Or, you know, co-leader of a country founded on a fair and balanced system of government. Also, who doesn't love descriptions of dresses? And garden parties?

The Selection by Kiera Cass (HarperTeen, 2012)


Black Helicopters

I never thought a novel about a suicide bomber would make me cry ... for the bomber.

For such a slim book, Black Helicopters packs quite a punch. It's short and the ending, while unavoidable, is both shocking and utterly heartbreaking. It's impossible not to like and empathize with Valley/Valkyrie, to not be swept up in her story, while still being completely horrified by what she intends to do.

The thing, really, for me is that Valkyrie's a child. An abused child, deliberately miseducated about the world by wicked people with axes to grind. Her fictionalized America will never know that about her -- she'll go down in history as a domestic terrorist -- and that's what made the ending all the more terrible for me. I wanted at least one of Those People to really know her. To understand her actions not as a terrorist, but as a broken child.

I'm a little confused by some of the publicity I've seen for Black Helicopters, that suggests it's set in day-after-tomorrow Montana which makes it sound like it's set in the future, because there's nothing about Black Helicopters to suggest it isn't happening or couldn't right now.

Also, the cover art? With the bomb explosion as the pupil of an eye on the front and the closed eye on the back? Brilliant. So much more subtle and creepy than an illustration of an actual black helicopter. But, maybe, that's the point? The danger from without is within?

Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston (Candlewick Press, 2013)


Loud Awake & Lost

Fragile. Freezing. Lonely. I felt crudely refashioned, like a Frankenstien monster. Barely on this earth, like a ghost.

Ember has recently returned home from a rehab facility after a long hospitalization following a terrible car accident. She has no memories of the accident or the weeks leading up to it. She doesn't even remember the boy who died, although she is plagued by guilt over his death and desperately wants to remember.

I admit I wasn't expecting to like Loud Awake & Lost as much as I did. I really appreciated its slow pacing with the plot moving along in fits and starts as Ember collects moments from her missing past. There aren't any really big flashes of memory as you'd expect in, maybe, a Hollywood film. Just Ember slowly chipping away at the missing six weeks.

When Kai came into Loud Awake & Lost, I worried it would turn into a big angsty love story, but it didn't. Indeed, if Loud Awake & Lost is anything, it's a detective story. How did Ember turn into the girl in the car accident? Why was she on the road that night? What was the dead boy to her?

I admit I didn't guess the big plot-twist until I was right on top of it and I was quite surprised. It seemed obvious in hindsight, but that's usually true of, imho, the best twists. After I stop going "What? What? How did that happen?" I should be able to trace it back through the book.

Loud Awake & Lost by Adele Griffin (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013)


All Our Yesterdays

I stare at the drain in the center of the concrete floor. It was the first thing I saw when they locked me in this cell, and I’ve barely looked away since.

At first I was just obstinate, dragging my feet in the thin prison slippers they gave me so they were forced to pull me along the hallway by both arms. But when I saw the drain, I started to scream.
I'm usually not one for time travel stories -- my mind gets tangled up in the how of it and refuses to suspend disbelief -- but I could have eaten All Our Yesterdays up with a spoon. The storytelling was topnotch and, by the time a character tried to explain how time travel worked, I was too hooked on the story to get hung up on the how. Tesseract? Tardis? Particle collider? Apparently, it can be anything if you just keep telling me a good story.

And the ending ... ahh! So bittersweet. So right. And, gah, I can't really talk about it or much of the preceding novel, really, because SPOILERS. There's Em and Finn, imprisoned by a madman who invented a device that turned the world upside down and inside out. And there's Marina, living in a world that's still right side up, whose biggest problem is trying to tell her neighbor, James, that she loves him. And then it's all SPOILERS.

Go, read this book, so I have someone to talk about it with.

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill (Hyperion, 2013)


If You Could Be Mine

Nasrin pulled my hair when I told her I didn't want to play with her dolls. I wanted to play football with the neighborhood boys. Even though sometimes they wouldn't let me because I was a girl, they couldn't deny my speed or the fact that I scored a goal on the biggest kid in the yard. Nasrin pulled my hair and said, "Sahar, you will play with me because you belong to me. Only me." That was when I fell in love with her.

Motherless Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since forever. But now they're almost adults and their lives will be taking different paths -- Nasrin is getting married and Sahar will (probably) be going on to university. While Sahar does not want to lose Nasrin to some man (especially not a nice guy like Reza who will give Nasrin everything Sahar can never), she does not appreciate Nasrin's suggestion that they keep carrying on under her husband-to-be's nose. Sahar wants to love Nasrin openly and such a thing cannot happen for two lesbians in Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death.

But. There might be a solution. A loophole. Sahar will become a man and then she can marry Nasrin and live the life she was meant to live. But such decisions are not easy. And some sacrifices come at too great a cost.

What is it with YA novels making me cry? For such a slim little book, If You Could Be Mine packs quite an emotional wallop with a surprising depth of story and character. All of the characters -- even the secondary characters seldom on the page -- seem thoroughly human and I cared about them all, wanting them all to find better futures for themselves.

Nasrin is, perhaps, not as fully fleshed as Sahar, but then we do not see the story through her eyes so it is hard to know what she feels as she makes certain choices or decisions. I spend much of the novel wanting to tell Nasrin off, but Sahar's pigheadedness was also deeply frustrating. It was very much like watching two friends you deeply care about do something incredibly dumb.

Anyway, If You Could Be Mine was well worth the time and I look forward to reading more books by Farizan.

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan (Algonquin, 2013)


Earth Girl

I was Jarra, a Military kid, trained in unarmed combat. A history lecturer and twenty-nine other history students couldn't scare me. I stepped into the portal and a new identity.

Centuries ago, thanks to the development of portal technology, humanity jumped to the stars. Earth became a graveyard, a museum, a-nice-place-to-visit-but-I-wouldn't-want-to-live-there. Unfortunately, some humans, born with a genetic deficiency which made off-planet portalling impossible for them, had to remain on Earth. They might be lucky and have children who, lacking the deficiency, might leave Earth. And unlucky portal-using parents might find their children, bearing the deficiency, would have to be sent to Earth at birth ...

Ape. Throwback. Nean. Jarra knows all the words for what she is, but she knows she's more than that. She's as good as any off-planet eighteen-year-old and she burns to prove it. Given a chance to study Pre-History (that's our today) during her Foundation Year, Jarra opts to study on Earth (as she must because DEATH) with an off-world university. She'll lie to everyone (except the university) about who/what she is, dazzle her classmates with her superior archaeological skills, and then destroy all their presumptions about "apes" by revealing who she is and laughing in their faces.

Or something like that. Trouble is, Jarra grows to like and respect her classmates. And the work they're doing is really compelling. But how can she tell them what she is without destroying the tentative trust and friendship they've built?

In addition to all the quality friendship and relationship building drama Edwards has packed into Earth Girl, her hard SF elements are fab. Earth Girl is as much about Jarra getting her nerd on as it is about her coming to grip with what she is. What with ruined New York, domes, impact suits, sleds, stasis boxes, hover belts, tag guns ... Edwards has built a future Earth I'd want to live in.

While I really liked Earth Girl's cover art -- rather metaphorical, mythological, and pre-Raphealite kind of vibe -- I do think it does the novel a disservice as it makes Jarra looked like a sad, brooding waif. There's also nothing about it to suggest the novel is full of hard SF elements. That said, I felt the same way about Beth Revis's Across the Universe trilogy and it won't stay on the library shelves so clearly publishers know who they are marketing to. It's just not me.

As a teen, I read a lot (perhaps too much?) of Elizabeth Moon and CJ Cherryh and there's a duology by Anne Mason I will cherish in my heart forever. So I've grown to expect "good" science fiction covers will have women in space suits (or Military-esque uniforms) and space ships and science-y stuff and shizzle. Not mopey barefoot girls in cotton summer dresses.

Anyway, the sequel should be coming out in April and I can't wait.

Earth Girl by Janet Edwards (Pyr, 2013)


Two Boys Kissing

Two boys kissing. You know what this means.
For us, it was a secret gesture. Secret because we were afraid. Secret because we were ashamed. Secret because it was a story that nobody was telling.
But what power it had.

Narrated in first person plural by the men who died during the AIDS crisis, this is ostensibly a novel about two boys kissing in an attempt to set the world's record. But it is also about other boys -- some in relationships, some alone, some looking for themselves, some looking for belonging. And, of course, it is about the dead, because we cannot talk about how we got to be here without talking about where we came from.

It is good to look at the world and know that, no matter how resistant individuals may be, humanity goes forward and the world gets better, bit by bit. But it is also sometimes hard to look at the changes that have happened (just in my lifetime!) and not think how much better it might yet be if so many people had not died.

It took me a month to finish David Levithan's Two Boys Kissing. Not because it is a lengthy novel, but because every time I read a bit of it I burst into tears. The day I decided to just power through and finish the damned beautiful thing, I cried so much that I gave myself a tension headache and chapped my nose.

It's good. Beautiful, poetic, bittersweet. It begs to be read aloud. Indeed, the rhythm and cadence of narration so put me in mind of Kushner's Angels in America that I checked a copy of the HBO special out from the library ... but haven't been able to watch it yet. Because CRYING. Dammit.

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013)


The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.

A man returns to Sussex for a funeral and, while driving through his old village, ends up at the house of a friend he has not seen since childhood. She's not there -- "gone away to Australia" years ago -- but her mother is and greets him warmly enough and allows him to look around. He goes out back to the pond ... and falls down the rabbit hole of memory.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane grabbed me at the start, held me firmly until the end, and then faltered a little -- mostly, I think, because the ending moved the story squarely out of the magical possibility of childhood and back into a wholly unmagical adulthood. I really had no real reason to care for the adult narrator. Particularly as he would not remember any of it again!

However, I did like that there wasn't a lot of explanation about why the world worked as it did -- things happened and while some where quite terrible they fit the story and made sense. More explanations would have just muddied things.

Over all, I was surprised by how much I liked The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Gaiman's works are pretty hit-or-miss for me and this book arrived on my desk so highly recommended that merely looking at it made me feel positively skittish.

As much as I liked it, though, I admit it wasn't surprising. If you've read Gaiman's other works then you're pretty familiar with the idea mythical beings dwell among us, lurking in hidden corners down forgotten footpaths. And there's a lot of that in The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It's well done with some exquisite descriptions, but it wasn't anything new.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow, 2013)


Keeping the Castle

I sighed. When would I learn to speak with a tactful tongue? There went another one. I kept forgetting how ridiculously sensitive and illogical men were. He assumed that his fortune would buy a beauty; I assumed that my beauty would procure me a rich husband. It seemed much the same to me, but evidently what was permissible in a man was not in a woman.

Ah well. There was yet time; I was but seventeen.

Althea needs to marry well to keep up the crumbling folly of a castle built by her great-grandfather, and to support her widowed mother, young brother, and two wealthy but parsimonious step-sisters. Luckily, Lord Boring and his (annoying/rude/infuriating ... we all know where this is going, right?) cousin/business manager, Mr. Fredericks, come to live nearby and suddenly life in Lesser Hoo is full of new possibilities. If only Althea’s two fabulously rich (and fabulously horrible) stepsisters don’t muck things up. And the castle doesn’t fall down before she can get married. And Mr. Fredericks, that jumped-up nobody, would stop being so annoying.

Delightful novel! Hilarious novel! Adorable novel! Stuffed with enough funny/sweet/romantic incidents to make any lover of light Regencies swoon, but not larded with unnecessary verbiage or plot points. Unlike some other Austen/Heyer homages I’ve read lately , I never felt as if I was reading my way through a checklist of Regency romance must haves -- the novel certainly owes a great deal to Austen and Heyer, but it feels more like a love letter to the two than something written to Make All the Monies.

And, oh! The character names! Such excellent and utterly ridiculous names -- Lord Boring, The Marquis of Bumbershook, Mr. Godalming (which I always read as Mr. Goddamning), Miss Sneech, and Greengages the butler.

Keeping the Castle: A Tale of Romances, Riches, and Real Estate by Patrice Kindl (Viking, 2012)