Stuff I’ve Been Reading

Hello, Stone-Bow readers! It may seem from my sluggish review pace that I’ve not been reading lately. Not so! Here’s what I’ve been reading lately, or rather trying to read:

Psyche In A Dress, Francesca Lia Block: I finished this book and loved it, but for some reason my brain won’t weave a complete review. In brief, it’s a collection of poems, it takes place in LA, it’s chock-full of Greek mythological figures, and it’s shiny. I liked it a lot; Block’s style inspires me, and if I ever finish a book, her influence on it will be evident. On the frustrating side, maybe it was just me, but I found it hard to keep the narrators and their storylines clear. Even so, I wish there were more books like this one, with its beautiful language, quick reading pace, and familiar stories recast in modern times. Delicious.

The Game, Diana Wynne Jones: Neil Gaiman had a lot of great stuff to say about this book. I generally dig Neil Gaiman, and I lurved Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle. However, I couldn’t get into it, and finished maybe 50 pages before deciding that this moment in life and this book are not meant to go together. I’m not sure why. The writing is good, the main character’s family is entertaining and chaotic, and there’s the promise of magic lurking in between the lines. It just didn’t add up to something I couldn’t put down, or indeed bring myself to pick up, so I will try again later.

The Alchemyst, Michael Scott: I want so much to like this story. Explosions, surprising discoveries, secret identities revealed, the stink of magic in the air: it should be great, no? But the writing kept irritating me to the point that I couldn’t keep reading. It had Dan Brown Syndrome, in which narrative sentences end with unnecessary exclamation marks! It gets annoying! Dang! Maybe I’ll try again when my litsnob dial isn’t cranked to 11.

Currently in the reading pile: M. Alice LeGrow’s Bizenghast 6 (insert infinite squees here) and Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man (good for my temporarily heightened litsnob sensibilities). I’m also savoring Tessa Rumsey’s The Return Message because I don’t want it to be over.

Alright, I think that’s it for now. Have a safe and happy Saint Patrick’s Day, all!

Diana Wynne Jones–Howl’s Moving Castle

The What: The Witch of the Waste puts a curse on Sophie Hatter, turning her from a young woman into a grandmother overnight. Sophie, unable to tell anyone about the curse, goes in search of the wizard Howl. What she finds in his moving castle surprises her, and shows her that her world–and her capabilities–can be more than she ever imagined possible.

The Good: Oh, swoon. Flawed characters, meaningful and earned friendships, complicated family ties, strong descriptions of place, an ending that unfolded naturally from the events and personalities in the story… this book was like one long happy bath for my brain’s literary pleasure receptors. For some reason, it took me weeks to read it (a book normally lasts two or three nights for me), but what an enjoyable few weeks. I loved, loved, loved Sophie’s attitude. She neither denied the frustrations she faced, nor wallowed in them–she acknowledged them, let herself feel them, and moved on to taking action to do what she could about them. She’s a joy to read about, and a great example for teens who are trying on different worldviews.

The Meh: The whole Martha/Lettie thing left me totally confused. Who was actually where, and where were they each supposed to be? Who was Howl dating? And Michael? I’m happy to believe that the book is clear about it and I’m just not that sharp, but oh man, the headache of trying to figure that out. Maybe if I’d read it in fewer sittings, it wouldn’t have been so hard.

Hand It To: fans of the (fantastic!) movie by Hayao Miyazaki, steampunk readers, fans of the “Mortal Engines” series who wouldn’t mind fewer explosions

Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa–Daughters of the Stone

The What: Okay, this book isn’t technically YA, but I believe that it could have crossover appeal. Mea culpa *grin*. Slavers take Fela from Nigeria to Puerto Rico, separating her from her husband, Imo. Fela brings with her the stone that she and Imo used to store the spirit of their unborn child, and plans to find a man to help her bring their child into this world. She and the women who follow her are linked together by the magic in the stone, and by their powerful shared histories. The book shows five generations of women in good times and bad.

The Good: The voices–all five of them–are distinct and believable, as are the women’s personalities, dreams and choices. I felt like I knew them, and I felt their successes and losses keenly. The settings are stunning, and made me feel completely immersed in them. The mother-daughter relationships are tumultuous and varied, and literally made me cry. I loved the progression of the women’s attitudes through time, which showed the characters as both unique individuals and products of their moment. I think it says a lot about how well-written and moving this book is that although I’m an atheist who doesn’t believe that there was anything mystical about the stone or its powers, I was still deeply affected by the women and their stories.

The Meh: In Concha’s section, there comes a point (I won’t spoil the plot for you) when the structure of the writing becomes awkward. Llanos-Figueroa may have been trying to reflect the narrator’s state of mind at that time, but it might have been easier on the reader and better for the story to shift narrators after The Thing That I Will Not Spoil For You.

Hand It To: Fans of magical realism, fans of inter-generational sagas, feminist readers, Nancy Pearl’s character and setting readers.

Justine Larbalestier–Magic and Madness

The What: Reason lived with her mother, Sarafina. Reason was raised on frightening stories of Esmerelda, Sarafina’s mother, who believes that magic is real and does terrible things in its name. When Sarafina loses her grip on sanity, Reason is forced to live with Esmerelda. She finds that what she was taught and what is real don’t always line up, but which stories were true and which were lies?

The Good: Larbalestier does a fantastic job with setting–Australia and New York are like characters. She also handles the story’s multiple narrators with great skill and consistent voices/dialects. And behold, it is a story whose protagonist is biracial, but it is not about race! Dear writers, editors, and publishers: we librarians LOVE to buy books like these. Make more, please! Anyroad, carefully-picked details and clear descriptions bring the story’s scenes to life. Larbalestier doesn’t just write, she practices the craft of writing, and it’s a pleasure to read her art.

The Meh: Not a whole lot happens in the first several chapters. Given the can’t-put-it-down pace of the later chapters, it would have been nice to have more action earlier in the story. Also, the ending. I literally yelped, “Whaa?!” when I read it. I know there are two more books in the series, but not knowing the significance of the ending (or whether certain important characters were dangerous to Reason) was quite frustrating. On the other hand, it’s a clever move, because I’ll definitely read the second one.

Hand It To: Teens who liked the “Harry Potter” series, Nancy Pearl’s story or setting readers, teens looking for a free trip to New York or Australia