Code Name Hangry.

I lied to you, party people. LIED. (Surprise, surprise.) This week we will not be Tolkien about Tolkien (lol nerd) because I did not, in fact, indulge in a Ringer re-read.

sad bowie

DON’T BE SAD, BOWIE. IT WILL HAPPEN SOON. But, as Aragorn son of Arathorn, Isildur’s Heir, would say, it is not this day.

No, this day is for another book about war and the destruction it wreaks on everything it touches. I read Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

code name verity

The Deal: (Taken from the book jacket AGAIN, because I’m packing for Ireland and frankly, you guys are lucky you are even getting one of my brilliant, elegantly-written posts this week, so there):

Oct. 11th, 1943-A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

Robyn says: Finally, a great book to pull me out of my slump. I’m actually at a little bit of a loss with this one, because it was so good. What do you say when a book is damn near perfect?

Well, to begin with, I loved the setting. Anything historical is like a siren’s song, and WWII is my particular catnip. Then add all of the amazing feminism and excellent female friendships and it’s like, HOW HAVE I NOT READ THIS ALREADY? We don’t get nearly enough stories about the women who contributed to the war effort, so this novel was a fresh perspective on a part of history I now want to learn everything about.

(That is a very important gif. I suggest you add it to your gif folder.)

Loved the characters. Verity and (spoiler?) Queenie, eccentric liars and storytellers, are my heroes, but all of the other characters were excellently rounded. I loved the way we gradually began to learn more about Verity’s captors, too. Hell, I want a dozen more books about Verity’s family and what happens to everyone after the war and please tell me Maddie and Verity’s brother live happily ever after because SOMEONE HAS TO, DAMMIT.

The best thing about this book, though, was the construction; specifically, its use of the unreliable narrator. The experience of reading Code Name Verity is a literary bait-and-switch. Three quarters of the way through the story, you realize everything you’ve read is untrue or partially true, and that Verity has been playing us as much as her captors. It’s a lovely, beautifully-executed trick, and Wein pulls it all of masterfully. Initially, I’d felt the story was rather slowly paced for my tastes, and I considered adding it to my mountain of DNFs. I am so so so glad I didn’t, because the final quarter of the book is like a trip through Willy Wonka’s psychedelic tunnel of hell, and everything that came before it is absolutely essential to get to that last heart-destroying stretch.

The novel is divided into two parts, the first narrated by Verity, the second by her best friend, Maddie. Maddie’s story is where all of the action plays out, and it’s also where YOUR HEART WILL BE RIPPED FROM YOUR CHEST LIKE IT HAS DECIDED TO STAGE A CAREFULLY PLANNED ESCAPE FROM ITS RIBBY PRISON. Yeah… I wasn’t expecting the Event. The Event which I will not discuss here. It’s dark – very dark – but I’m glad it is. Like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and The Book ThiefCode Name Verity doesn’t shy away from the ugliness and brutality of war. Nor should it.

Verdict: Read it. It will take you a week to digest and another week to get over. Then tell everyone you know to read it and if they don’t never speak to them again.

Best lines: Way too many to write them all here. I loved everything Verity says about lies and liars. One of my favourites: “But I have told the truth. Isn’t that ironic? They sent me because I am so good at telling lies. But I have told the truth.”

And then there’s “KISS ME, HARDY! Kiss me, QUICK!” and goodbye now I have to go drown myself in a pool of my own tears.

Rating: Four out of five broken hearts because this book broke four of my hearts and now I only have the little, shriveled, black one to keep me going. Shit, I’ve said too much. Hm, what? Oh, nothing to see here, just your average, one-heart-having lady. *Walks away, hands in pockets, whistling ‘God Save the Queen.*

Book Cat?

book cat bookshelf

Sweet Fancy Bastet, she found me! Be gone, pitiful scholar-hobo! I dwell above thee now, as is right and good and ever meant to be!

Oh Book Cat.

Slán, party people. I leave you with an image of me, having to relive my Code Name Verity soul-agony, just for you. You’re welcome.

gob hello darkness

Here there be… well, you know…

…And so, the capricious blogger returned from the wildlands and staggered back into the blogosphere. Older, wearier, significantly crazier, her determination to share the minutiae of her reading life was renewed, now almost as strong as her unslakeable lust for the written word…

What up, peeps! How was your April? Mine was in-SANE. Alas, this is a book blog, so I can’t tell you about all of the miles I walked and the fights I fought, the kisses I evaded, the ghosts I busted, or the villages I pillaged. Official book blogging rules dictate that I can only tell you about the books I read, and even this rebel can’t break that rule.

So I’m back! And so are you, I guess – hopefully. Yay us!

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On with the blogging! So last month, one of my favourite book online book clubs, Sword and Laser, read Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight. It’s one of my Favourite Books Ever, so I thought I’d re-read it and enjoy the awesome all over again.

Boy hwdy, does this bring back some memories.

Boy howdy, does this bring back some memories.

Here’s a little back-story about my relationship with this book. And yeah, it gets intense. I consider this to be my first real, deliberate foray into SFF and into fandom itself. Of course, I sprung into the world a SFF/genre nerd – my birth was precipitated by a timely screening of Aliens, make of that what you will – and as a child I devoured everything could that was weird, fantastical, creepy, or spooky. Ghostbusters, Labyrinth, Beetlejuice, Willow, The Addams Family – god, even The Neverending Story (cringe with me). Bookwise, it was Grimm’s fairy tales and those Bailey School Kids books (do you remember those?)  But the Pern books were different for a couple of reasons.

First, and maybe most importantly, was that I came across the Pern books independently, or rather, from someone outside my family. It was actually my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Campbell, who gave me McCaffrey’s Dragonsong (and subsequently became my go-to Pern dealer). Another reason that the Pern books were different was that they represented my first toe-dip (and later canon-ball) into the ocean of fandom. My nerd-love for every other thing that has come since – cough Lord of the Rings cough – is intrinsically linked with this first love. Oh, it was love. Crazy love. Like, obsessive, Idris-Elba-stalking love. Man, I literally destroyed five copies of Dragonflight. Five. I’ll let you think about that. At one point, I just gave up buying new copies and used an elastic band to hold the pages together. Seriously. Anyway, I devoured every single Pern book, and then when I reached the end, I did what every normal fan would do. I picked up my pen and started writing my own Pern stories, and thus was a fanfiction writer born. (NERD!) Of course, I didn’t know this was fanfiction, because the internet was just a wee babby and nerds were still solitary creatures. I just thought I was being really resourceful. Ah, the folly of youth.

That is why I was both excited and a little nervous to re-read Dragonflight, my favourite of all the Pern books. I used to do re-reads all the time, but I think the last one was in high school, ages and ages ago. Would my love for it endure, or would all of my fond memories be ripped violently to shreds?

The answer: no, but also kinda, but then no again.

THE DEAL: On the planet Pern, the massive dragons and their riders with whom they share a telepathic link were once the heroes and saviours of their people, protecting them from the deadly alien spore called Thread, which devours all organic material in its path. But Thread hasn’t fallen in four hundred years, and the dragons and their riders have fallen into disfavour, scorned as parasitic relics from a bygone era. Lessa is more concerned with avenging her family, murdered ten years ago when she was a young child. F’lar, rider of a bronze dragon, realizes that Lessa may be the only who can help him restore the last Weyr, home to what dragons remain on Pern. He brings the clever and strong-willed Lessa to Benden Weyr, where she bonds with the newly-hatched queen dragon. Putting aside her plans for vengeance, Lessa focuses instead of raising her dragon. She and F’lar put aside their differences as they begin to understand that Thread will soon return. Together they must work to convince the rest of Pern of the imminent danger. Lessa will have to solve a centuries-old mystery and decide whether she is willing to risk her life, and that of her beloved dragon, to save all of Pern.

Phew.

So first, let’s talk about the good stuff. Which is obviously, DRAGONS!!! I mean, come on. Who doesn’t like dragons? No one, that’s who. And on top of that, they’re dragons who mind-meld with their rider, becoming their life-long uber-BFF. Awesome squared.

And then there’s the world-building. This is the just the first book of 24 in the Dragonriders of Pern series, and I can only slow-clap in worshipful awe of McCaffrey’s genius. Day-um. It is fantastic. Sure, it’s not perfect, and McCaffrey did tweak and ret-con and change a few details in the later books, but even so, in this first foray into Pern, there is a sense of completeness that is astounding. Almost every aspect feels believeable and authentic. I’d have to place McCaffrey alongside the titans of world-building, Tolkien, Rowling, and Pullman (no, GRRM, you do not make my list). In the words of Liz Lemon, I want to go to there.

The characters are also great. Lessa starts out as a BAMF and just gets better when she ends up HBIC. (Lol.) She’s clever, devious, even, focused, determined, and strong. Talk about a role model. F’lar is kind of an ass, but hey, that kind of does it for me. Shrug. And put the two of them together – yum! I was actually quite surprised by how many people on the GoodReads forums thought the characters were flat and underdeveloped and lacked clear motivations. I personally felt the characters were very meaty, and I thought their motivations clear by the end of the novel. I would have appreciated more character development and insight, of course, but I think any perceived lack of character depth and evolution has to do with the length and pacing of the novel – both of which I find problematic. Dragonflight is without a doubt far too rushed, and far too short – a chicken egg sort of problem.

The relationship between Lessa and F’lar was hotly debated on the forums as well, and generally thought to embody the squickiest of squick. Again, I have to disagree. Sure, they started out loathing each other, and as I mentioned above, F’lar is not the nicest guy, but I think their relationship was shown to evolve, subtly and slowly, to be sure, but unmistakeably, into something deeper and more complex. And again, yes, there should have been more time spent developing this relationship, especially from Lessa’s point of view, but even so, I thought it worked. Or maybe it’s just me. Upon reflection I realize that I have initially despised every guy I’ve ever come to swoon over, so maybe the initial hatred thing is a little quirk of mine. Or maybe I just read Wuthering Heights at way too young an age and have internalized Cathy and Heathcliff’s passionate love-hate conundrum. Yeah, that’s probably it.

Another great thing about Dragonflight is that it defies categorization. You see dragons, and automatically think, duh, fantasy, but as is revealed in the prologue, Pern was settled by humans looking to colonize habitable planets. So, despite the dragons and the rather formal language and the vaguely Medieval society, the Pern books are really more science fiction upon close scrutiny. Way to defy convention before it was even cool, McCaffrey. You are my hero.

It’s also worthwhile to note that this would make an excellent YA recommendation. Lessa is 21 when the story begins, and her development over the novel, from petty, vengeful girl to mature, responsible hero is an excellent embodiment of the coming-of-age trope.

So what about the not-so-good aspects? After I reread this book, I was all, hell yeah, that was awesome, McCaffrey, you are a legend… but then I had to grudgingly admit that there were some things that bothered me, things that left a sour taste in my mouth. Like many readers, I felt there were some serious problems with gender, sexuality, and classism. Funnily enough, I can’t remember being bothered by these as a sixth-grader or a teen. That’s what four years of literary criticism will do to you, I suppose. I hated the emphasis on F’lar’s manly manliness. I would have preferred his ‘manly’ qualities to be articulated and described objectively, without reference to gender. If he’s tough and laconic and a strong leader, fine – what’s not okay is identifying these traits as exclusively masculine. Similarly, Lessa is sometimes described as doing something “feminine” – ugh. And the class thing was so exhausting. Lessa’s ties to “the Blood” are referenced so many times I lost count. However, as much as these two things bothered me, when I really sat down to think about it, they both make sense, in a strange way. Not because the book was written in 1968, but because it’s set in a typical, Medieval sort of society. Pern may have been colonized in the distant future, but Pernese society, as we are introduced to it in Dragonflight, had regressed, not advanced. If we use history as a guide, sexism, adherence to traditional gender role, and an emphasis on class and ancestors is actually to be expected.

Then there’s the whole spoiler-y thing about the sex. I’m not even gonna touch that. I will say it didn’t bother me – in that I didn’t interpret it in the negative way that many other readers seem to have done. Make of that what you will, I suppose.

I also thought the (spoiler) time travel stuff made less and less sense the more you thought about it, but that’s more of a general time travel complaint, really. Does it ever really make sense?

My biggest pet peeve, though, has got to be the wretched names. Oh, those freaking contractions. Try explaining your love of this book to someone – say, for example, your own mother – only to get to the names F’lar and F’nor and R’gul, and have dear old mom – I mean, whoever you’re telling – laugh in your face. (I’m not holding a grudge or anything. Jeez.) McCaffrey explained the whole male dragonrider apostrophe thing in later books, but I still HATE IT. So so much.

Verdict: READ IT. I’m a whole-hearted McCaffrey acolyte, what else am I going to say? But even if I wasn’t a diehard fan, I’d still recommend it. Dragonflight is considered both a science fiction and a fantasy classic, and it deserves all of its accolades. McCaffrey was also the first woman to win the Hugo and Nebula awards for the short stories that would eventually form this book. So yeah. Read it, be amazed, and then read the next 23 novels in the series. (And the watch-wher in the first couple of chapters will BREAK YOUR HEART worse than Ragnar Lodbrok.)

Best lines: Less quotable than some of the books I’ve read, but a few gems. My favourite: “Perversity, endurance, and guile were her other weapons, loaded with the inexhaustible patience of vengeful dedication.” (p. 3). You know me; I looovve me some vengeance.

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Rating: Four out of five giant gold dragons.

Titus?

Really, Robyn? I mean, there's sad, and then there's... this.

Really, Robyn? I mean, there’s sad, and then there’s… this. It looks like the dragon is eating me. And is this even a dragon? It looks more like a dinosaur. I am too pretty for these hijinks and shenanigans.

Oh, Book Cat. You know nothing, Titus Andronicus.

I don’t get mad, I get stabby. Dowton Stabby.

I know, I know. I suck. Bad blogger, bad blogger. Mea culpa and all that. Been busy, darlings. And by busy I mean so unemployed that a productive day for me now comprises solely of putting on a bra and actual, non-pajama clothes to write my Lord of the Rings fanfiction. Ha ha ha (sob).

Still, onwards and upwards, eh? And I suppose it’s not all bad. I’ve got a plan, see? I’m just going to obey my evil hairdresser and do the Secret. According to him, if I simply want a job bad enough, I will just GET ONE! Just like that! Poof, job! Can you believe it, guys? I merely haven’t wanted it enough for the past ten and half months! Who knew!

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Any-hoo.

So I guess I should blog about a book, right? That’s why you’re here. Been reading a lot, but since this started as a YA book blog, and since I’ve been pimping it out as the Best YA Book Blog Ever on my resume (oh, hi, potential employers! Hire me!), I’m going to blog a YA book today: It’s Wentworth Hall by Abby Grahame.

wentworth hall grahame

Groan. Well, in the words of King Harry, once more unto the breach, dear friends.

Wentworth Hall is home to the Darlingtons, one of Britain’s most respected aristocratic families. In the summer of 1912, though, not all is at it seems. Eighteen-year-old Maggie Darlington has just returned from an extended trip to France with her mother, and to her younger sister, sixteen-ear-old Lila, she has become an entirely different person. Cold and reserved, Maggie has little time for her sister, and seems to forgotten her other old friends as well, including Michael, the handsome groom who looks just like Michael Fassbender. But Maggie isn’t the only one with secrets. The new French nanny, Therese, the Darlington’s arrogant houseguests, Teddy and Jessica, and even Lord and Lady Darlington – all are hiding something, while Wentworth Hall begins to crumble with the ebbing of the Darlington fortune. Will anyone manage to keep their secret for long?

I’m so sorry. But I’m pretty sure that synopsis hurt me more than it hurt you. I had to write it, after all. Shudder.

And did you notice the tag on the cover: “And you thought there were secrets at the Abbey…”

lemon-eyeroll

Yeah, I should have probably guessed what I was getting into.

Terrible. So so so terrible. Stereotypical, flat characters that were an insipid as they were ridiculous. Plodding plot that lacked any inspiration or urgency. Lazy writing (that was also too obviously historically inaccurate, even for a teen book). God, it was so terrible that I didn’t even care about the setting (and as you all know, I am a historical novel addict). The worst offense of all, of course, was that Wentworth Hall is a shameless rip-off of Downton Abbey, the world’s favourite TV series. Actually, that’s not the worst offense. The worst offense is that it’s a really terrible shameless rip-off of Downton Abbey. I mean, come on. I am a lady who admitted to writing Lord of the Rings fanfiction a few paragraphs ago. I have no problem with rip-offs.

As long as they are high-quality rip-offs.

To be honest, I wouldn’t even have finished this book if I hadn’t been reading it in the bathtub during one of my two-hour Unemployed Person baths. Usually I take a back-up book so as not to be held hostage by a book, but I thought Wentworth Hall would be a harmless little guilty-pleasure romp along the lines of the The Luxe, which I actually liked. How wrong I was, eh? So I had no choice but to keep hate-reading. And even though I finished it yesterday, I already forget most of what happened. Huzzah for wilful disrememberment (which is the new name of my autobiography, coming to a bookstore near you sometime in the next decade or two)!

Verdict: Do not read this thinking it will sate your ravenous Downton Abbey cravings now that season 3 is over. It will so not. In fact, you might have to re-watch season 1, which was the best one, to cleanse your brain. Then haul ass to the library and check out every BBC costume drama you get your dainty little gloved hands on. I highly recommend The Forsyte Saga.

And remember:

never wrong

Best line(s): “The end.” (Okay, so I don’t think that line actually appeared in the book, but you know what I mean.)

Rating: 1 out of 5 crumbling manor houses symbolizing centuries of the systemized oppression of the working class by a moneyed elite. Such pretty dresses though!

Book Cat, you’re back! Care to share your thoughts, oh furry one?

I'm too tired from playing Vikings to contribute to your trivial and inconsequential blogging endeavour right now, Librarian. Now. Where is my sword? There are mice village to be plundered!

I’m too tired from playing Vikings to contribute to your trivial and inconsequential blogging endeavour right now, Librarian. Now. Where is my sword? There are mice villages to be plundered!

Yes. It has come to this. Today, I made a little Viking helmet for my cat and then snuck up on him while he was reading the Saga of the Volsungs so I could take a series of increasingly disturbing photos to add to my collection of disturbing cat cosplay photos. And that, dear readers, is the definition of a New Low.

Until next time!

A toothsome book (oh yeah, I went there)

Howdy darlins! No new developments out here in suburbia. Still toiling away at my “novel” (ugh, why does that word always make me cringe? I feel like I’m breaking both the first and second rules of Fight Club when I mention it). Researching til my eyes bleed. Okay, so much of that researching consists of watching super-cuts on YouTube. I am only human, people.

Enough preamble. I bore myself. This week, it’s Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

DaughterOfSmokeAndBone

Karou’s living the dream, if your dream is to study art in Prague and have window-cleaner blue hair that actually grows out of your head that way (and if that’s not your dream, what is WRONG with you?). But there is more to Karou than meets the eye. She lives a double life, working for Brimstone, a creature who collects teeth, both human and and otherwise. When black handprints start appearing on doorways around the world, handprints that appear to have been seared into wood and metal, Karou’s odd but happy existence is thrown into chaos. Karou finds herself in the middle of a war between worlds, desperate to save her adopted family of monsters and discover who – and what – she truly is.

(FYI, my feeble synopsis does not do the plot justice. As usual.)

Ah, Daughter of Smoke and Bone. What a long, strange trip it has been. I am ashamed to admit it now, but I held out. I held out a LONG time. I did not want to read this book. Why? Literally judging a book by its cover. (Lol.) The title annoyed me beyond all description, too catchy, too trendy, too, I dunno, too ‘gothic twee’ (is that a thing?). And that cover. Crikee. I cannot tell you how much I hate that stupid cover. Ultra white girl in blue feather mask. Um, yeah. No.

Turns out the title is actually incredibly fitting, even if it does sound like the title of an Evanescence come-back album. The cover I still hate. I much prefer this one:

Laini-Taylor-Daughter-of-Smoke-and-Bone

MUCH better.

So… This book. THIS BOOK. Gah. I loved it. Most of it. Even the parts I didn’t like don’t make me love it any less.

First, the mythology, the – dare I say it – world-building. Laini Taylor, I can only stand by and slow clap because damn, lady, ya did good. I tip my hat to you. She’s taken some familiar creatures (or not so familiar, like chimaera) and completely reinvented them and made them her own. Cough, angels, cough. I want to Pagemaster the shizz out of this book. For you poor souls who have no idea what that reference means, it means I want to crack open this book, crawl inside, and never ever ever come back. Ever. It was so meticulously crafted, so vast, so freaking perfect. The world of Elsewhere has its own history, with bitter wars, rather horrific race relations, and corrupt political systems.

Best of all, I think, was the magic. It’s so difficult to find a system of magic that feels fresh, but Taylor nails it. I will never look at teeth the same way again. And I already have a weird fascination with teeth, so that’s saying something. I mean, I almost became a dentist, until I realized I would have to do more than just pull teeth. I used to rub my hands in gleeful anticipation when one of Idiot Brother’s teeth became loose, lurking in the shadows until I got the chance to pounce, and then I’d pin him to the ground and rip out the tooth before he even knew what was going on. Not for the Tooth Fairy money, either. Just for the sheer joy of yanking a milk tooth out of its soft, fleshy socket. I volunteered to pull all of my friends’ teeth, too (which may explain the curious dearth of birthday party invitations during primary school). Actually, I pulled out eight of my own teeth in two weeks when I was in second grade. It was eminently satisfying, even if I did have the gummy smile of an eighty-year old mountain man for the next month. Woah, I am pretty disturbed, aren’t I? Whatever, this book reminds of teeth. DEAL WITH IT.

Ahem. Back to the review.

The plot is great: fresh, suspenseful, surprising. And the great thing is that it only gets better as you keep reading. So all of those sleepless nights trying to figure out what the devil is going on in Karou’s world actually pay off! It’s well-paced, too. I do hate an adventure that feels rushed. There was just enough… wallowing. You get to appreciate the details, you know? It’s dark and unusual and sometimes unsettling, and always utterly absorbing. It was also quite sexy at times – nothing graphic, of course, but a bit more honest than the YA books that try to pretend there’s no, er, blanket hornpipe happening.

The characters are great, Karou especially. She’s clever, funny and quite the BAMF. Have to say, I didn’t much like (spoiler, kind of) the love interest, Akiva. He was a bit whingy, which I can’t stand, but I suppose he’s allowed to mope and moan after what he’s been through, so I can’t totally hate him. At least it wasn’t a damn love triangle. Love love LOVED the supporting characters: Zuze, Karou’s best friend, her ex Kaz, even Thiago, the bad guy (or one of them, anyway). Actually, I had kind of a book crush on Thiago, which should tell you where I’m at romantically.

And then there’s Brimstone. (BRIMSTONE I LOVE YOU!!!!!) I love Brimstone. That is all I can say right now. You’ll know what I mean when you read it. Sob!

Verdict: Loved it at the beginning, love loved it in the middle, and love love loved it at the end. And then when I closed the book I hesitated for a brief moment and fell to my knees to thank the gods who sometimes spare me a glance, thank them for not only making me bored enough on a Tuesday afternoon that I decided to pick up this book I was so unjustly prejudiced against, but also for a) the existence of e-readers, one of which I happen to possess, and b) the unused Chapters gift-card scammed from my demonic step-father as part of my ongoing campaign of pecuniary revenge. Because I finished this book at 1:32 in the morning, and there was no way I was waiting until the next morning to buy the sequel, Days of Blood and Starlight. Yes, I am an impatient, spoiled, impulsive reader. What can I say, I have no life. Alas, we are not evolved enough (yet) to recognize the need for a 24-hour bookstore. Fortunately, Kobo is always willing to take your money. Even at 1:33 in the morning.

So yeah, you should read it.

Best line(s): “Karou wished she could be the kind of girl who was complete unto herself, comfortable in solitude, serene.  But she wasn’t. She was lonely, and she feared the missingness within her as if it might expand and…cancel her. She craved a presence beside her, solid. Fingertips light at the nape of her neck and a voice meeting hers in the dark. Someone who would wait with an umbrella to walk her home in the rain, and smile like sunshine when he saw her coming. Who would dance with her on her balcony, keep his promises and know her secrets, and make a tiny world wherever he was, with just her and his arms and his whisper and her trust.”

AND

“Better to be the cat gazing coolly down from a high wall, its expression inscrutable.  The cat that shunned petting, that needed no one.  Why couldn’t she be that cat?

Rating: 4.5 out 5 shiny white wisdom teeth, with the roots still attached and bloody. Ew, gross. But also awesome.

Book cat, what are you reading?

Librarian, read your YA. I am too busy being enthralled by Alan Moore's  masterpiece, Watchmen. Because I am an ADULT. Who read ADULT BOOKS.

Librarian, read your YA. I am too busy being enthralled by Alan Moore’s masterpiece, Watchmen. Because I am an ADULT. Who reads ADULT BOOKS. Uncouth boor. Call yourself a book blogger. Shyeah. Right.

Oh, Titus. You mean thing, you.

I don’t get mad. I get stabby.

Oh, I know, I know. Too long since I last posted. I’m terrible.

Yeah, that just happened. Anyway.

There are too many things to talk about, you guys. Number one, obviously, is the freaking HOBBIT, out in six hours (if you’re lucky enough to have tickets, like this guy! Oh, I’m such a nerd…). Omigod omigod omigod! I’m actually surprised I’m able to form coherent sentences right now –  it’s a freaking Festivus miracle. Numero dos, is Christmas. Gods above, I love Christmas. It’s so wrong, considering I’m both a pagan and a heathen (wait, is that even possible?) but Santa Claus cares not for the petty divisions of race or religion, my friends. Number three: Yule goats. That is all. If you don’t know what that is, then we can’t be friends anymore. Fourth: I forget now.

On with the review!

This week, poppets, it’s Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star.

The-Name-of-the-Star1

(I loathe that cover, though, ferreelz).

Louisiana teen Aurora “Rory” Deveraux arrives in London on the very day that a series of brutal and gruesome murders begin to plague the city. What makes these murders particularly chilling is that they appear to be reenacting the infamous Jack the Ripper killings of Victorian Whitechapel. As the city is gripped by both fear and fascination, Rory attempts to adjust to life at her new boarding school, located in the very heart of the Whitechapel district of the city. But suddenly Rory finds herself in the middle of the Rippermania storm when she becomes the only person to glimpse the suspected murderer. A suspect who doesn’t even appear on the CCTV footage showing the murders… Rory must race discover why she alone can see the copycat Ripper, before she becomes a victim herself.

Okay, so this book was a rarity for me, in that I didn’t love it, and I didn’t hate it, either. I’m usually not one for half-measures – especially when it comes to books – but this one for me was just kind of meh. The plot was unoriginal and the climax predictable, but it was well-paced and well-written, and a few aspects of the book were so charming that I was willing to overlook the more atrocious bits.

One of the atrocious bits has to be the clumsy characterisation of the protagonist, Rory. I just couldn’t believe or like her. At least the supporting characters were better developed. The writing was satisfactory – nothing special, yes, but definitely better than, say, Twilight. And, um, that’s about it. I guess I don’t have much to say about The Name of the Star. See, ambivalence is boring. Give me a masterpiece or a disaster. Mediocrity is soul-crushing. I think me and Bill Murray would both agree that medium-talent is the worst insult you can throw at someone. Oh, Bill Murray, you so cool, I love love love you.

Of course, I think I liked this book a little more than it might have merited because of  its setting, London, which is where my heart lives forever and ever and hopefully one day my body will, too, and also because of the whole Jack the Ripper thing. What can I say that hasn’t already been said about that, right? There’s really nothing like it in history, and it’s always cool to revisit in fiction. It also makes for some interesting wikipedia wormholes, in case you’ve got time to kill.

Verdict: Meh. If you’re interested in Jack the Ripper and you love anything about London and you don’t mind another YA novel about spooky paranormal things happening to young girls in possession of mysterious supernatural talents, sure, go for it. If none of these things interest you, or make you want to, as Al would say, throw your skirts over your head and run for the hills, I’d pick another book.

Best line(s): “In fact – and I am ashamed of this – one of my big fears about coming to England was having to find new hair products. That’s shameful, I know, but it took my years to come up with the system I’ve got. If I use my system, my hair looks like hair. Without my system, it goes horizontal, rising by inch as the humidity increases. It’s not even curly – it’s like it’s possessed.” (I picked this because this one of the truest things I have ever read, right up there with Tolstoy’s “Every happy family” line. Don’t front, you know it’s true.)

Rating: Two out of five CCTV cameras. They are all over London, you know. You can’t escape them. They are like – wait for it – a great eye that is ever watchful. A great eye, lidless, wreathed in flame. SIX HOURS, PEOPLE!!!

Book Cat?

Just re-read The Diviners again. Sigh. Fool of a Took.

Just re-read The Diviners again. Sigh. Fool of a Took.

Laters!

More ravens, less pretension, please.

Holla! It has been a hell of a couple of weeks, hasn’t it? Halloween shenanigans, frighteningly apocalyptic hurricane, an American presidential election, and then, just yesterday, I finally started my NaNoWriMo novel. Better late than never, they say – a dictum I unwittingly seem to live by… oh, and happy American Thanksgiving.

I also have the nagging feeling that there have been some bookish events, topics, and/or developments that I wanted to write about, but I cannot seem to recall what any of those might be. Alas. This is what happens when you wake up at 3:17 in the morning with a brilliant idea for an essay and then decide you cannot bear to slip your arm out of the warm cocoon of blankets to find a pen and write said brilliant idea down, believing – mistakenly, of course – that you’ll remember every witty turn of phrase, every clever metaphor and elegant choice of word, when you wake up in the morning. Although, in my defense, my room is really cold. Like, demonic possession cold.

Anyway. I just saw the first teaser trailer for the film adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s City ofo Bones, and let me just say, OMIGOD OMIGOD OMIGOD. Or this:

And this:

(Yes, dear readers, I am slowly but inexorably becoming familiar with, and therefore addicted to, the wondrous, magical awesomeness that is gifs. Prepare yourself.)

Because I was not convinced. When I heard about the casting of Clary and especially Jace, I was… perplexed. Which is a polite way of saying I went full Robyn-Hulk and metaphorically smashed everything everywhere. It was not a pretty sight. But you know what? I’m not displeased. Maybe I just love those books so freaking much that even a terrible adaptation – no, nope, that’s not it. Never mind. Gods, please let it not suck. Please please please let it remotely resemble the novels!

Anyway. On with the review!

Today, it’s Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys.

Synopsis shuffle. (Ugh, I hate the synopsis portion of the review.) Here we go…

Blue Sargent (yes, that is her name) is the only person in her family who has no psychic abilities. Well, that’s not completely true. Blue’s talent is enhancing everyone else’s talents. As one character puts it, she’s the table in Starbucks right beside the outlet. So that’s why she ends up outside of an old church late on St. Mark’s Eve – she’s there to enhance her creepy aunt’s ability to see who, in their small town of Henrietta, Virginia, will die this year. Blue doesn’t expect to the spectres of the soon-to-be deceased… except she does. Or at least, she sees one: a boy wearing the distinctive uniform of the town’s elite private boys’ school, Aglionby. Raven boys, Blue calls them, and keeps her distance – not only because of her distaste for entitled rich kids, but also because Blue has been told all her life that if she kisses her true love, he’ll die. Best to avoid boys altogether, Blue thinks. But now that she has seen the spectre of the Raven boy named Gansey, she knows that her life is about to change. Is this Gansey her true love, or will Blue kill him before the year is out, the “only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” according to her family of psychics. Before she realizes what’s happening, Blue is drawn into Gansey’s obsessive quest to locate the ley line in Henrietta, a mission shared by his friends Adam, Ronan, and Noah. As they get closer and closer to locating the ley line, magic and myth begin to seep out of the confines of old stories and fairy-tales, leaving Blue, Gansey, and the others to wonder if somethings aren’t better left undisturbed…

Phew. So that was a difficult book to summarize, let me tell you. First thoughts? By the time I finished, I quite liked this book, but unfortunately, I kind of hated it for three-quarters of the story. It was a weird situation, like loathing a thick-witted, inconsiderate jock for three years of high school and then finding out the month before school ends that he reads Proust in his spare time and volunteers at an animal shelter on weekends and the whole dumb jock thing is a self-preservation tactic. Or wait, maybe I’ve just been watching too many ’90s teen movies.

Yeah, The Raven Boys started out so sloooooooow, and while I guess in the end it paid off, I almost ditched it in favour of a retelling of the Tarzan story from Jane’s point of view. So, yeah. (Okay, confession: I did abandon The Raven Boys for the Tarzan book and it was AWESOME. Yay, Tarzan! But then I got back to this one because I had nothing else to read.) The pacing picked up about halfway through. The plot itself is similarly confounding. On the one hand, it felt a bit too expected: girl meets boy, girl dislikes boy, girl finds out a little bit more about boy and then it’s all sugar plums and lollipops. The execution of the quest was nothing original, either. Conversely, the story had several intensely interesting aspects. The inclusion of Welsh myth and ley lines (which are really cool and worth learning more about) were great – of course, I love me anything paranormal – and I also really appreciated the exploration of several of the characters’ unpleasant family situations (gee, wonder why, ha ha). So I guess the positives make up for the not-so-great aspects of the plot.

As for characters… hm. Well, I didn’t like Blue, but I think that’s more because I felt she was a bit of a blank slate, which is a problem I had with the protagonist of Stiefvater’s other YA novels, the Shiver series. Gansey annoyed me, but I absolutely adored his gang of buddies, obstreperous Ronan, withdrawn Noah, and Adam. Adam! Perfect, sweet, complex, heart-breaking Adam! I want to date and/or adopt you (ew, lol). Obviously, Adam in particular really touched me. The experience of an abused child was deftly and sensitively conveyed without being too cliché or heavy-handed. I also liked the supporting characters that made up Blue’s family, and kind of want a spin-off series detailing the goings-on of a house full of female psychics. That’s gold, Jerry. Gold!

The writing presented another dilemma. At times, it was a thing of beauty, almost poetic. Or, to fall into review-speak, LUSH (ugh). Stiefvater is undeniably an excellent word-smith, and she excels at jarring but insanely apt similes and metaphors and descriptions. Alas, this sometimes can come off as a tad too deliberate and studied. At worst, the diction sometimes felt forced and pretentious. The last thing you want is a sentence that jerks you right out of the story because it’s so ridiculous. Case in point: he looked “fragile and dirty, somehow, like a teacup unearthed from the soil” (a description of Adam). In the words of the great Liz Lemon, what the what? Why on earth would a teacup be buried in the soil? Is the omniscient narrator of this tale an amateur archaeologist excavating an area particularly rife with subterranean china? Am I supposed to know what a teacup rescued from the ground looks like? And is this the sort of thing I should be thinking when I see a dirty, fragile boy? Because, lady, that is not the first thing that comes to mind. See? It just interferes with the story, and in my book, writing should enhance, not stand in the way.

So I don’t know. I’m torn. Do I recommend this book to you, my few but faithful readers, when I am still so ambivalent? I’m going to say yes.

Verdict: Read it. The ending was splendid, and makes me excited to read the next books and discover what will befall these characters next. The fact that this book was the series opener might account for some of the problems, right? Stiefvater is laying the groundwork for what may possibly be an epic tale, so I’d say give it a try, and stick with it when the urge to fling the book across the room strikes. Remember Gimli’s little gem of wisdom: “Faithless is he who says farewell when the road darkens!”  (Yes, I know that’s not really relevant. Shut up.)

Best line(s): “He was full of so many wants, too many to prioritize, and so they all felt desperate. To not have to work so many hours, to get into a good college, to look right in a tie, to not still be hungry after eating the thin sandwich he’d brought to work, to drive the shiny Audi that Gansey had stopped to look at with him once after school, to go home, to have hit his father himself, to own an apartment with granite countertops and a television bigger than Gansey’s desk, to belong somewhere, to go home, to go home, to go home.” (p. 370)

Rating: Three out of five ravens perched upon the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door. Oh, come on. I had to.

Book Cat? What say you?

There were no raven costumes available, then? So you thought a chicken would do. I call that a shoddy go at feline sartorial blogging, madam. Have you no standards, no scruples at all? One day, one day when I finally manage to manipulate my extra claws into opposable thumbs and incite the cats of the world to rise up against the clever apes that subjugate them, I’ll have my vengeance. Mark my words, Robyn. Then we shall see who will wear the chicken suit. We shall see…

Oh, Titus. You silly.

P.S. Did you see hear about the new Crash Course miniseries? It’s all about literature! Yay! John Green, can you stop being so awesome? You’re making the rest of us look bad… Go HERE to watch.

Flappers make everything the cat’s pajamas

Happy Halloween! Also, sweet Samhain, if that’s more your thing. Dear readers, my personal life may be going up in flames as I write this, and there is a really good chance that I’ll start November literally living under a bridge like a really well-read troll (serves me right, I guess, after all those hobo jokes… c’mon, it’s a funny word!), but if nothing else is left to me, at least I have today. At least we all have today. The economy is shite, violent conflicts are waging across far too much of this planet, and the weather is alarmingly reminiscent of a History Channel documentary about the coming Mayan apocolypse, but today, my friends, today, life is good.

Yes, Boromir. Yes, it is.

Because today is Halloween. And it is physically impossible to be unhappy today. Here in the hellish suburb in which I currently reside, the skies are dark grey, the rain-slicked pavement is as pretty as the jet stone in a Victorian widow’s brooch, and everywhere rotting leaves, oddly beautiful in their fiery hues, serve the dual purpose of being festive reminders of the season and also making any attempt at walking in heels an utter nightmare. It’s Halloween, the time of year when we are not only allowed to embrace the dark and grim and horrifying things in life, to dress up and pretend to be someone else, to wander the world beneath that lovely old moon and demand candy from strangers who will ACTUALLY THEN GIVE US CANDY – hell, we are expected to do these things. And that is just awesome. I don’t care if you’re five, fifteen, fifty, or a hundred years old, today, just be happy. I’m going to try, anyway.

Enough yammering on, let’s get to the book, shall we? I know that’s what you’re waiting for. Today, it’s Libba Bray’s The Diviners.

The Story: It’s 1926 – what more do I need to say? It’s the heart of the Jazz Age, Prohibition’s in full swing, and the bright young things rule the world. Every Sheik and Sheba is living life to the fullest with a drink in her hand, Fitzgerald’s scribbling away, and the Harlem Renaissance is challenging established cultural hegemony with its dazzling explosion of African-American literature, music, art and philosophy. There’s also women’s suffrage, the fight for workers’ rights, and the Ziegfield follies.  In the thick of it all is Evie, sent from small-town Ohio to the bright lights of New York City to escape an awkward situation, and loving every minute of her supposed banishment. While she might not get along perfectly with her aloof Uncle Will, curator of the Museum of American Folkore, Superstition and the Occult, she adores living in the same building as her bestie buddy Mabel, and soon finds a new pair of pals in Theta, a true-blue flapper, and Hen, a brilliant pianist, both as glamorous as they are mysterious. Even the irritating pickpocket Sam and Will’s solemn assistant Jericho can’t bring Evie down – until a girl is found brutally murdered, beginning a series of gruesome killings that rock New York. When Will is called in to advise police on the odd occult symbols found at the murder scenes, Evie realizes that she might have to acknowledge the secret talent that got her sent away from home in the first place. Evie can read objects; she can hold a button and know what its owner had for breakfast, and a whole lot more. And Evie’s not the only one with a trick or two up her sleeve. Harlem numbers runner Memphis is struggling with his own gifts, trying to keep his younger brother safe and figure out why there’s a crow dogging his footsteps and why his dead mother keeps appearing in his dreams with words of warning…

Whoah. So, first of all, apologies for that monster of a plot summary. This book is freaking massive, and there are dozens of seemingly disparate storylines (that eventually converge in a brilliant finale, I might add), so a pithy summation is difficult, but I did try. Also, I’m… kind of speechless. I absolutely, positively, straight up LOVE it. This will probably come as a surprise to no one but me – as far as I can tell, everyone in the world loves Libba Bray, including ALA and YALSA. I don’t know how I missed that memo, especially because I am kind of a librarian. AWKWARD. But anyway.

Confession: I am mildly obsessed with the Roaring Twenties. This is my decade, the one I would time-travel back to if I wandered into Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (God, Hemingway was hot in that movie). As far as I’m concerned, I was born in the wrong era of history. I want to be a flapper, with rebellious shorn locks and scandalously short dresses and a talent for dancing, drinking, and dazzling the gents.

Oh, I’m meant to be reviewing this book, aren’t I? Okay, here goes: THIS BOOK IS AMAZING. READ IT. NOW.

There. Done.

No, but seriously. The story is impeccable. Flawless. I can’t think of a single thing I might have improved. The use of the supernatural felt truly fresh, when for a while it seemed that YA was to be inundated with the same old vampires and werewolves forever and ever, amen. Add to this the time and setting, which I felt was truly innovative – please more supernatural historical-fiction! – and a perfectly paced, truly suspenseful plot full of genuine surprises, thrills, and quite a few chills (I sometimes couldn’t read this book before bed, because I am that much of a baby), and you have what I like to call a perfect storm of awesomeness.

The characters are, in the words of Coffee Talk’s Linda Richman, LIKE BUTTAH. Flawed, fascinating, utterly charming, each of them felt real, complex, and vulnerable (except for the villain, who was scary bananas). Bray is a master of shifting point of views. The transitions were effortless, and each character’s perspective was distinct from the others’.

And don’t even get me started on the writing itself. Sweet baby Thor, this is what you call WRITING. The incorporation of ’20s slang was ingenious, elegantly done, and hilarious. Oh, and Libba Bray is a FREAKING POET, a queen among wordsmiths. This is prose at its best, the kind of writing that makes you stop and re-read passages and shake your head in awe and envy, the kind of writing you insist on reading aloud to everyone in the vicinity, even if they have no idea what you’re going on about because it’s the end of the world and no one has time for YA. The kind of writing that makes you want to rage at a world where books are relegated to arbitrary categories based on age when really everyone should just read everything.

Damn. And sigh.

Please please please read this book. It will make you happy. And then I will be happy.

Best line(s): The wind part of the prologue. You’ll see. Okay, here’s a bit: “The wind swoops over the tenements on Orchard Street, where some of those starry-eyed dreams have died and yet other dreams are being born into squalor and poverty, an uphill climb.” (p. 6). Man, this is GOLD.

Rating: Five out of five bob-and-shingle haircuts. Which I got. Because of this book. That’s how much I love this book. It does not look good on me, what with my Angelica Huston-esque handsome bones, but hey, I’m so happy anticipating the next book in this series that I don’t even care.