Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Privilege of the Sword - Ellen Kushner

Few books make me want to start reading them again as soon as I've finished them. This one did. Of course I finish a lot of books which I've enjoyed immensely but I don't feel the need to turn to page one again, once they're over. With this one, I simply wanted to go over it again, to write down everything I wanted to say about it, all the quotes I wanted to single out, all the exclamation marks I wanted to add.
But if you had asked me ten or even twenty pages in, I would have laughed. The writing style is certainly not the first thing I would praise about this book. Maybe I don't read enough popular fiction to be accustomed to this kind of unpolished writing, but at first I was shocked, and also slightly amused, at the bluntly lack of elegance in the prose. The best side of it is that it's not even remotely trying to be a well-written book. It wants to be a hugely fun and entertaining read, and it certainly succeeds at that. The writing style is the only negative comment you're going to read about it here. There rest is all going to be like "asdfasdfghgfdssasdsa OMG ALL THE FEELS YOU HAVE TO READ THIS sdfgdsasdfds omg". So now you're warned, we can keep going.

The reason why I decided to read it in the first place is Memory's glowing review. At that time I was still working in the bookshop and this book was on sale, so I bought it. This is how long it takes me to read books, yes... So anyway, I read it this summer and (here we go) asdfdsdfgsaddsaasdsasdfghjk I loved it so much. Where do I even start?
The characters. So lovable and funny and well rounded, I really didn't want to leave them. Especially Katherine. What a character development she's had. I never thought I would love her so much at first. But she slowly turns into one of my favourite literary heroes ever. She's just like who I wanted to be when I was little, when I pretended I was Wonder Woman, saving the unfortunate and defeating the villains. She's definitely earned a place in the my Olympus of female heroes. She cracked me up with her delightful mix of defiant attitude, romantic ideals and natural disposition to despise (and fight) every injustice. I can't tell you enough how much I loved her.

Then there's Marcus and his friendship with Katherine. I never really saw them as a proper couple. For me they're always going to be BFF, constantly up to mischief and adventures. I wish there was an extended version of this book with extra bits dedicated to their wondering in the city and getting into all sorts of trouble.

The Duke, I still haven't mentioned the Duke. He's not a villain per se, but he's not really the nicest guy around either. You learn to love him for all his faults and his attitude, and without him the book wouldn't be what it is. He's called the Mad Duke for a reason, and I believe there's a lot I don't know about him, in a previous book in the same series. But I think I can sum it up nicely with one single quote:
"I do not make the rules" he said creamily. "This annoys me, and so I comfort myself by breaking them."
He's the quintessential decadent nobleman, who loves to hold orgies and lavish parties, but who has a secret wounded heart which he conceals behind a facade of sarcasm and wit.

The Black Rose. Another character I would read a whole book about, happily. A mysterious, beautiful actress who plays the main part in the theatre adaptation of Katherine and her friend Artemisia's favourite book. They both unashamedly fangirl about her and her acting, and I found myself grinning when I recognised the signs:
I had to dig my nails into my palms to keep me from squeaking out loud. As it was, I began moving my lips along with the lines. I knew them all, from the opening chapter of my favourite book.
and also
The Black Rose swept back onstage, glowing with tragic dignity. Her magnificent bosom swelled as she took a deep breath and bowed low to the crowd. The girl behind me started gasping, "I'll die, I'll die... Oh just hold me! Isn't she fine? I've written her a dozen letters, but she never answers."
[Those who follow me on Tumblr would know who I think the Black Rose looks like in my head...]

The Black Rose and the effects she has on Katherine - a proper, sudden, sexual awakening - made me have high expectations for Katherine. There is a lot of teasing on that front, but, alas, it wasn't developed as much as I would have wanted. Although her jealousy for the Black Rose towards the Duke made me smile more than once. Why do you tease us so, Ms Kushner?

More things I loved about this book: The relationship between Katherine and Artemisia. How they both reenact their favourite book, choosing to be its characters in the secret letters they write to each other (Katherine being the male hero and Artemisia his lover), and how real and full of meaning all of it is for them. They're not playing, they're both very serious in their intentions, but they're still teenagers and the way they write, their embellished and overly dramatic language is endearing to the point that I wanted to screech and squish both of them.

And then there's the important theme of violence against women. I haven't mentioned it's set in a romanticised past, similar maybe to 18th century Europe, with swordsmen, aristocracy and a serious lack of women's rights. It's in this context that the violence and the subsequent victim-blaming takes place. Unfortunately it's all very relevant today, but I loved how it was dealt. How Katherine is unequivocally the champion of wronged women and won't accept any other truth. How, even in her naivety of how her world works, she knows instinctively which sides she's on.

Is this enough to make you want to read it? I haven't said much about what the story is about, partly because I'm lazy and just wanted to gush about how much I loved this book, and partly because I didn't want to spoil it too much. Also, if you really want to know, there's Amazon and its clones to do that job.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Paper Towns by John Green

As much as I enjoyed reading Paper Towns, the first impression I got was that it    was too similar to Looking for Alaska.
Boy falls for extraordinary girl - Girl disappears - Boy looks for girl.
High school setting (but that's obvious as it's about teenagers).
Amazing secondary characters (no complains there).
Puzzle to solve.
Significant literary reference (The General in his labyrinth for Looking for Alaska; Leaves of Grass for Paper Towns).
But after a while, it develops into its own story and there's nothing else to do but sit back and enjoy the ride. Especially the one towards to the end, when the whole group embarks into a hilarious highway race against time. Probably my favourite part in the book.
It's not simply the story and the writing that make John Green's books unique and addictive. It's also the amount of details and creativity that goes into the creation of his characters. You can tell he's had a lot of fun writing them. How can you not have fun when you're making up stuff like a completely drunk teenage who makes a beer sword out of empty cans and then superglues it on his hand so that nobody can take it from him.
It's the little details that makes his books stand out from the rest. It makes you wish these people were in your life when you were a teenager. Even Margo, the girl Q is looking for. The real one, not the idealised Margo. Like Alaska, she's a hurricane, but she's also a human being, and eventually that's what Q needs to realise.

As for me, I still want to read everything that John Green has written.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Look who's back


I can't believe the last time I posted here was in April. OK, no, I can. For a while I almost thought I was done with this blog, even though I never fully admitted it to myself. I'm still reading, not as much as I used to, but more than the last two years. I'm working as a school librarian now and if I could choose to keep this job forever, I would. It's The Job, a  "I-don't-want-to-do-anything-else-ever" kind of deal. But it's not my decision, so I'll be lucky to keep it for as long as possible.
I've been online a lot, too. Not reading many book blogs, I'm afraid. More style blogs, about pretty clothes and stuff. Ever since I started the new job a side effect has been that I've had the need to renovate my wardrobe to look a bit more professional, a lot less childish to distinguish myself from the students (even though me not wearing a uniform is a giveaway, most of the times). So while in the process of looking for suitable clothes, I've developed a borderline addiction to both looking at and buying new clothes. Mostly looking at. So much so that now I want to learn how to make them myself. It's come to a point that when I go to bed, after a long session of clothes-surfing, all I see behind my eyes are outfits that my mind makes up. Beautiful outfits that don't exist, except in my head, for a few seconds. Now, wouldn't it be brilliant to use this side effect, sketch them down and (at least try to) make them for real? My mind is popping with ideas. All I need to do is learn how, because as of now, I can't even use a sewing machine. I figure the first step is to buy one. Next step is to watch lots of videos on youtube, moan because I don't understand them and then look for an evening course on dress-making.

A part from life stuff, I also want to tell you about the stuff I've been reading. There's so much to tell. I swear, I meant to write reviews for a lot of them. I even took notes and wrote down quotes and everything. I just never got around to actually write them. Now I feel it's time to catch up.
So coming up are some (probably not too detailed) thoughts on:
  • The privilege of the sword by Ellen Kushner (I had so much to say about this one, I started re-reading it just to take notes. Then life got in the way and I forgot)
  • The disreputable history of Frankie Landau Banks by E. Lockhart (cause it's fresh on my mind and it was brilliant)
  • Extremely loud and incredibly close by Jonathan Saffran Foer (cause it was so good and heartbreaking, I have to tell you how much)
  • Maybe Paper Towns by John Green (Maybe, because it was awesome as usual with John Green, but I don't know if I have more to say a part from it being awesome. But I will try)
  • probably I shall wear midnight by Terry Pratchett (because I've almost finished it and it's lovely)
So off I go writing the aforementioned reviews. Be back soon. x