Tuesday 29 October 2013

The earth hums in B flat - Mari Strachan

This one deceived me from the start. I was led to believe that it was going to be about this little girl flying at night. I thought that would be the main theme, but I was so so wrong. Nevertheless, I kept reading. I’m not sure what it was that kept me reading so fast, but I finished it in less than three days, and I’m not a fast reader, usually. Partly, it was because I wanted to know what happened, but also, I kinda wanted to finished it quickly, so I could move on to another book, which is not the best thing that can happen when reading. I’d normally leave a book unfinished if that is the case, but with this one, I just couldn’t, so it’s saying something. I didn’t love it, for reasons I’ll explain later, but it made me want to read it till the end, so I mustn’t have hated it either. So it’s about Gwenni, a welsh girl living with her family in a small village in Wales, in the 1950s (but I only know this because it says so on the back of the book, it could have been the 60s or even the 70s, it’s never really specified). Gwenni is what her mother calls peculiar, or odd. She doesn’t do things like everyone else does. For starters, she claims she can fly, but only at night in her sleep. Then she sees things, like the Toby jugs blushing or sighing. She also loves reading, especially detective stories. When someone goes missing in the village, the husband of Mrs Evans, her teacher and the mother of two girls who Gwenni sometimes babysits, Gwenni decides to investigate his case. But when the body is found and the case is declared to be murder, things get complicated, and Gwenni is left to figure out secrets that no one else could ever know. This is not just a murder mystery. It’s not even simply a murder mystery. The murderer is easily figured out, even though Gwenni takes longer as she’s missing some bits of crucial information. She’s a little older than Flavia de Luce, but Flavia could have thought Gwenni a thing or two about solving mysteries, I’m sure. The settings are indeed very similar to the The sweetness at the bottom of the pie, but the themes couldn’t be more different. Also, Gwenni’s voice is a lot younger than Flavia’s, even a bit too young for her age. So it’s not just about the murder. It’s about secrets, things that families keep hidden for fear of being shunned or talked about behind their backs. Or about secrets that everyone knows but no one talks about because they’re too painful or embarrassing or because people would rather forget about them. But Gwenni wants to find out about all of them, to understand what is going on in her family, why is her mother always crossed with her, and why she would never talk about her grandmother… Slowly Gwenni finds out. She asks around, she listens, and sometimes she’s told, even when she doesn’t want to know. But all the time, she never gets angry or frustrated. She just keeps going. My heart ached for her when her mother blamed her for every little thing that happens in her life. To her, Gwenni can’t do anything right. She’s one of the reasons I couldn’t love this book. As you read on, you realise that her mother is slipping slowly into madness. But even before she does, you can’t help but hoping that Gwenni would say something back, rebel, get angry, ask why it’s always her fault. But she doesn’t. She seems to either accept the blame, or forgive her mother and love her no matter what. And this kind of behaviour made me love Gwenni even more but sometimes made me frustrated, as I can remember what being 12 and angry at your mother means. You don’t just swallow up and get on with it. You kick and scream and cry. At least that’s what I did. But not Gwenni. She has her Tada by her side. He seems to be the kindest, sweetest father a girl would want, and a caring, loving husband. But even though he sounds like a saint, he’s not without blame either, even though it’s only hinted at, and never fully explored. I think I would have loved this book a lot of more, if we had spent more time with Mrs Evans. There’s always a character in a book that I crush on and this time it was Mrs Evans. She’s kind and beautiful, she’s understanding and intelligent, she’s a teacher and has hundreds of books which she offers to lend to Gwenni. Her only fault is to put up with an abusive husband. What happens to her is almost inevitable but too sad to even think about it. The flying aspect is almost marginal, even though Gwenni talks about it all the time. We’re left to decide whether it’s her way to escape the reality of the situation, or if she can truly fly at night. It’s not too relevant, though. Which is one of the reasons why I was a bit disappointed.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

The ocean at the end of the lane - Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is not just one of my favourite authors. I look up to him. I agree with almost every he says about life and about reading, about art, about writing. I haven’t always enjoyed everything he’s written, but I’ve always taken a sort of comforting pleasure knowing that he exists and he’s still writing, still being a wonderful human being. And yet, I always approach his new works (as I do any other work by a beloved author) with a certain degree of caution. I suppose it’s the fear of being disappointed, of having to admit that, even though you love the man, you didn’t love the book. Or that you did like it, but weren’t blown away by it like you wanted to. In Neil Gaiman's case, anything short of that, would be a slight disappointment  I’m so glad to say that this wasn’t the case.[ warning: slight spoilers ahead]
 It started out quite slow for me. Well, slow for the first 3 or 4 pages. But remember, expectations! Then it got interesting and gripping, but still not completely AMAZING, and so it stayed until almost half way through it. I was prepared to give it 4 stars on my Librarything, which is the rating I give to books I enjoyed quite a lot, but had just a tiny bit of awesome missing. Then I kept reading and Lettie Hempstock saves our young narrator’s ass one more time, but this time it’s a lot more impressive and I’m like OK this is definitely a 4.5 stars at least! And then all of a sudden the awesome button was switched on, and I was swept away by it. I’m not sure when it happened. It could have been when our little one is plunged into the ocean pond and is filled with the knowledge of the universe and of all things. Or when the Hempstocks work the snip and cut magic on the narrator’s father. Or basically everything that happens until the epic finale. OLD MRS HEMPSTOCK, people. Oh my crackers, I didn’t expect to love her that much. But she totally had a serious case of Kicking Ass, what with all the glowing and the silver hair and the commanding voice and the baddies going all scaredy cats in front of her and going fuck this shit we’re out of here. It reminded me of my favourite moment of an anime I used to watch when I was little, about this group of travellers who went around medieval Japan and encountering all sorts of shenanigans, and at first the baddies always went ha ha you can’t stop us, you’re only a bunch of misfits losers, but then at the end the old man in the group always took out his Shogun symbol, a talisman or something, the theme music played and all the baddies went “oh shit, it’s the Shogun” and bowed in front of him. Except Old Mrs Hempstock is even better then the Shogun as the power is within her. We don’t know exactly who she is or how she came to be. Just like we don’t know how old or exactly who is Lettie or Ginnie. Old Mrs Hempstock claims to have been there when the moon was being made, and I tend to believe it’s true. But I like that we’re not told exactly who this wonderful family is. They could be called goddesses, a triad of powerful beings, that are essentially one single being represented in three forms, the maiden, the mother and the crone. But even to think of defining their identities feels like diminishing their power as characters. Their farm is as bit like Rivendell, the last homely house in the Lord of the Rings. Nothing bad can happen in it. Everything and everyone feels welcoming and safe and comforting. Food is always ready and is the most delicious food you can think of, there is always a full moon shining on your bedroom, and you don’t need to worry about anything. Outside, they still exude power, but they’re not invincible. At least, Lettie isn’t, even though the seven-year-old narrator would have trusted her to bring him safely out of hell. Which she does essentially, but at what cost…
 I loved the epilogue. I did wish we could have had another encounter with Lettie. I want to know if she’s really OK. I wanted to see her. But it’s probably more perfect this way. Melancholic like the beginning, but a little bit more hopeful. I agree with Ana that it felt like home, like knowing to be in safe, known territory. This is what I love and I can’t get enough of it. It also felt a lot like reading another author I love and whom I should read more, Charles de Lint. He’s also fond of powerful women with strange powers, or scary beings and wonderful otherworldly atmospheres.
Now that it’s over, I wish this isn’t the end for the Hempstock family. I need more of them. I want to read a whole series about them. And read their adventures on comic books and any other form. And why isn’t there more fanart out there?
 To conclude, I’d like to point you out to this post about the female representation in the book. It’s really quite good.

Monday 14 October 2013

Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell

So I read Eleanor & Park because all the cool kids are reading it. Bookwormy, nerdy, Internet  cool kids, obviously. It’s all over the interweb, you couldn’t miss it even if you tried. Also, John Green is a fan. Him and the whole Internet. But anyway, I read it and 

Damn you book, why?

Everything about this book is precious (OK, except the ending, or everything that leads up to the ending, because WTF happens AFTER the end? Is it like one of those ending where you get to decide? Can I decide? Well, I’d scrap the last few pages and rewrite the whole thing. But if can’t do that, I’ll just write a proper epilogue where it ends like I want it to end, OK?)
So, yes, everything is precious. Eleanor and Park are the absolute adorbz. With all their nerdy love and their music and their comics and their shyness and insecurities and the whole I-can’t-breathe-when-you’re-away-so-it-feels-like-I’m-always-holding-my-breath-all-the-time thing and the I-don’t-like-you-I-need-you thing and their Star Wars references and basically EVERYTHING.
Some parts were painful to read, but mostly  it was a constant source of feels. Good feels. Lots and lots of good feels.Until the thing happens. Yeah, there’s always A THING that happens. It’s not as gut-wrenching as The Thing in Code Name Verity but it’s still pretty awful, and unexpected because eww and nope. I didn’t realise this person could get even more horrible than he was already. I was actually almost hoping he would turn up not to be this horrible, but no such luck. My only problem with the book is Eleanor’s mother. How can she even look at her daughter without slapping herself. I am aware that awful persons exist, and that’s Richie’s role. I get that. But people who on paper aren’t awful but put up with awful people and get their children hurt in the process? How is that a thing?
And then, on the opposite side of the spectrum, you have Park’s parents. They aren’t perfect, but they’re pretty awesome. Especially Park’s dad towards the end. I did love him a lot. First he throws a fit about Park’s eyeliner and soon after, when they’re getting ready to go to some boat show, he hurries his son up saying “Come on, Park, get dressed and put your makeup on”. How can you not love him.
So yeah, Eleanor and Park are the cute, but also smart and sarcastic and both beautiful in their own unique, special way, and they’re so perfect on their own but even more so when they’re together. The writing is up there with John Green’s standards, but it also has its own personal flavour which I loved. The secondary characters were brilliant too, even though I didn’t get some of them. And then the ending was asdfghjjksdffggh SHIT NO WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS TO THEM, keeping with the tradition of great books that will break your heart, stomp on it, and then eat it for breakfast.
But the cover. Can we talk about the cover for just a minute? I know there are different covers out there, but I had to deal with this one. I do like it as its own piece of art. It’s really pretty and definitely my style, I’m not discussing its artistic merits. My problem is its depiction of the two characters. Anyone, ANYONE, who has read the book would know that it’s not them. For starters, when has Park ever gone on a skateboard? If he has, the author has kept it from us. And then for the biggest culprit, the girl who is supposed to be Eleanor. Straight hair and super skinny? 

But at least it’s pretty, right?

So, anyway, if you don’t know what else to read after The Fault in Our Stars and want to be punched in the feels with more cute romance than you can possibly handle, go for it. You can shake the fist at me later.

Monday 7 October 2013

Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein

What can I say about this book that hasn’t been said already? Only my experience of it, my reaction, which is much the same as everyone else who has read it. First utter horror at the barbaric methods of interrogation by the Gestapo, then the growing feelings of affection toward the characters, for both Maddie, woman pilot extraordinaire and her friend, the first narrator, who is confessing everything to her capturers to avoid being tortured again. She was supposed to be a Special Ops agent, undercover in occupied France, sent to do some special operation that Special Ops agents do. But being British (not English! Scottish) she crossed the road and looked the wrong way, almost getting killed by a van in the process. So she’s captured and detained in the Gestapo HQ for information. But she doesn’t just confess. She writes everything down like a memoir, that buys her time and also kind of makes her feel better, by remembering the good times with her best friend Maddie. So this is the first part. Then comes the second part, told by Maddie and you’re like hold on a second… really? Whoah, this is brilliant, lemme go back and check on that thing again. It keeps being brilliant like this until THAT AWFUL THING happens and then you’re like no that can’t be this is a trick it’s not real these things don’t happen at the end of YA books they just don’t. But then you keep reading and bloody hell, it did happen. Damn you Elizabeth Wein *shakes fist at author* how could you do this to me after everything we’ve been through. It’s just not fair.  It was quite romantic though, in a tragic, movie-like kinda way, but I would have been happier without it, thank you very much. So, yeah, you should read it if you haven’t yet, because it’s clever and original and brilliant and the main characters are two kick-ass BAMF with a beautiful sisromance kinda bond but keep in mind that they’re gonna get your heart broken so hold on to it, until THAT THING happens.