Friday, July 15, 2016

Exit, Pursued by a Bear, by E. K. Johnston

This Canadian YA author keeps astonishing me with every new book she writes. Her books are so completely original in setting, premise, plot, writing, that there's no way to compare them to anything else, except to other E.K. Johnston books. And this new one is completely different from anything else she's written. For one thing, it's contemporary realism. For another, it's a retelling (sort of) of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale.

The Winter's Tale is one of Shakespeare's lesser-performed works, probably because the plot is kind of weird and disjointed. Johnston takes the essence of it—a queen falsely accused of infidelity, the king who refuses to believe her, and her loyal friends who stand up for her in a number of different ways—and transforms it into a YA novel about a cheerleading team captain and the friends and family who stand by her when she goes through a traumatic event. (The book blurb tells you what the event is, but I refuse to be spoilery, because knowing ahead of time what happened affected the way I read the first part of the novel, and I would spare you that if it were only up to me.)

If I were an expert on The Winter's Tale, I would probably be even more amazed at the clever things Johnston does with Shakespeare's plot, but even if you've never heard of Shakespeare, Exit, Pursued by a Bear is a brilliant, compelling story that everyone should read. It made me cry—but I was crying with happiness. The strength and fierceness of Hermione and her best friend Polly were overwhelmingly beautiful. Not to mention every other character who was there for Hermione in whatever way they were able to be, from her teammates to her devastated parents to the police officer to her therapist.

And you might say, well, it's not very realistic then, is it, because most people who go through something like this face a lot of rejection and feeling alone. And that's true. But Johnston chooses to show us what it would look like if someone did get support, and I think that's incredibly important. Hermione's healing process is slow and difficult, there's a lot of grieving that has to happen, and there are certainly people who make it worse (including the character named after the king, for obvious reasons), but this is a powerful parable that healing can happen, that an event like this does not have to define a person for the rest of their life.

I fear I am utterly failing to convey what a good book this is. (I was reading it in the bath, and I was reading for so long the bathwater got icy cold and I didn't even notice.) Hermione's voice is spot on; her friends are all real, interesting, varied people; her relationships with everyone are the messy, complicated relationships people have. I cared about every single character in the book. But, oh, Polly. Polly I loved. You have to meet her. Everyone should be so lucky as to have a Polly in their lives. Have I mentioned fierce?

It's a stunningly positive book. I want to emphasize this, because you might not want to pick it up if you hear about the trauma, the grief, etc. I know I probably wouldn't have read this if I didn't already love E.K. Johnston's work, and I would have missed out on so much.

Read it if you love good writing. Read it if you love strong female friendships. Ditto kick-ass heroines. Read it if you've ever known someone who went through something difficult and you didn't know how to help them. Give it to your best friend. Make your daughters read it. And your sons.

I will read anything this woman writes.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Fave Books so far in 2016

June was a reading slump for me: lots of DNFs, or finished but wasn't raving excitedly so what's the point of a blog post (FBWRESWTPOABP)(another acronym that's sure to catch on!). So maybe listing the books that stood out for me in the first half of this year will remind me of why I started blogging in the first place. (I just noticed that this is the third year in a row I haven't posted anything in June. Hmm. Must break this curse somehow!)

Unlike you more organized folks, I don't have a convenient list of the books I've read, but I can cobble something together from my library's Borrowing History (great idea, btw, if your library's website doesn't already do it),  Goodreads and my kindle.

And now that I've done that, I am greatly encouraged. Look at all these awesome books! In no particular order:

The Raven King, by Maggie Stiefvater. Loved this series; loved that I got to reread the first three before reading this one; loved this conclusion. I will write a full review of this, I promise!

T. Kingfisher, AKA Ursula Vernon. I rave about Castle Hangnail and her short adult fiction here; I've since read Bryony and Roses which is a wonderful Beauty and the Beast adaptation (my favourite one yet, I think, though I haven't reread MacKinley's Beauty in a while), and The Seventh Bride, which is a creepy sort of Bluebeard story.

The Future Falls, by Tanya Huff. Third book of an adult urban fantasy trilogy—funny, weird, crazy magic, really enjoyable. Yes, there are dragons. And pie.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, by Chris Grabenstein. This deserves an MMGM post. Fun adventure in a library we all wish were real, in the spirit of The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Westing Game.

Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho. Lots of you have raved about this one and I agree—Regency romance with magic. What's not to love? Although I almost put it down after the first couple of chapters; then Prunella showed up and I had no chance after that!

Kat Incorrigible, by Stephanie Burgis. Like a middle-grade version of Sorcerer to the Crown, actually. Great fun; definitely try it if you like Patricia C. Wrede's work.

Ambassador and Nomad, by William Alexander. My review here. Great middle-grade sci-fi duology.

The Adventures of Superhero Girl, by Faith Erin Hicks. Very funny comic strip collected into a book.

An Inheritance of Ashes, by Leah Bobet. My review here. Stunning, original aftermath fantasy.

Mars Evacuees, by Sophie McDougall. Another Cybils nominee and I promised I would review it and I will, because it's great middle-grade sci-fi and we need more girls on Mars. There's a sequel coming out that I have to get my hands on: Space Hostages. (But Mars Evacuees can stand on its own; no cliffhanger ending.)

A Thousand Nights, by E. K. Johnston. My review here. Sheherezade retelling but far, far more. And now there's a companion novel coming out in Dec! Called Spindle—I'm guessing it's Sleeping Beauty? Very excited! (Love the covers on these.)

Karen Memery, by Elizabeth Bear. My review here. Steampunk western set in a Seattle brothel. Great fun all the way through.

Rebel of the Sands, by Alwyn Hamilton. My review here. Promising start to a western/middle-eastern epic fantasy.

The Steerswoman series, by Rosmary Kirstein.  My review here. I gobbled up these genre-bending fantasies with awesome characters in a fascinating world.

Oh, and I have to mention a fantastic non-fiction book I just finished. (I need to read more non-fiction, and I certainly would if they were all as good as this one!) It has the best title ever: The Bad-ass Librarians of Timbuktu. You know you have to read it now, don't you!