Saturday, December 26, 2020
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Kenneth Oppel has done it again. He has to be one of the most versatile writers out there: every book he writes is different from the last, and they are all solidly good to fantastic. Bloom is on the fantastic side of the scale. It's the most entertaining plant-based apocalypse since Little Shop of Horrors.
There has needed to be a book about invasive aliens ever since the gardening world decided that's what they should call introduced plant species that run rampant over native species and become impossible to eradicate. Oppel has obviously had to deal with invasive aliens, because he understands how terrifyingly inimical to human life they can be. I know from personal experience that Himalayan blackberries have an intelligent malice and are actively hostile; so is Scottish broom. In Eastern North America I think it's kudzu. Alien plant species taking over the planet is an entirely plausible scenario!
I love that Oppel sets Bloom on Salt Spring Island, iconic home to the most down-to-earth, organic, genuine, eccentric collection of farmers and artists in Canada. It just makes the wrongness of the black spiky grass that appears everywhere overnight that much more offensive. (Side note: I read a review that thought the community's swift and organized response to the crisis was unrealistic, but it didn't read that way to me at all. That's kind of how we do things here.)(*Waves Canadian flag a little bit.*)
I love the way he uses allergies: I don't want to say anything spoilery, but I think he also has personal experience of how disabling they can be!
Kudos for all the present, supportive and intelligent parent figures—they're actually involved in solving the problem but there's a plausible reason why the three teen protagonists have a key role.
Bloom is not as creepy as Nest, which was quiet, slow-burn, seriously-mess-up-your-head horror. Bloom is fast and loud and full of peril that can be attacked with chainsaws. (I love that everyone on Salt Spring Island knows how to use a chainsaw!)
Great fun! Hmm. Need a fun vegetarian meal for my food analogy—is that a contradiction in terms?! Maybe veggie pizza! Yes, with those banana peppers to give it some spice. And now I'm going to listen to the Arrogant Worms Vegetable song.
Friday, October 9, 2020
Quick! There's still time to nominate for the Cybils! Also I read Return of the Thief and I am still babbling incoherently.
October arrived without me noticing, and I suddenly realized that Cybil's season has arrived! The Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards want you to nominate your favourite books from 2020. Anyone can nominate! You have until Oct 15, so don't procrastinate! (I'm mostly talking to myself here.)
I ... gosh, I've hardly read any of this year's YA and Middle Grade. It's just been—well, it's been 2020. I will be looking forward to the lists of nominees to get my reading recommendations for the next little while. Let's see: Deeplight has been nominated already; so has Call Down the Hawk; so has Return of the Thief.
I think I need to read all six books in order now and see the whole grand scope of the story play out and notice all the little details that she weaves together with such deft trickery (she's been keeping track of all this for more than 20 years, people!) and take the time to savour these characters. I love these characters so much. I'm so sad this is the last book, but so happy they are all infinitely re-readable.
I'm not sure I'll actually be able to write a review of Return of the Thief. A master's thesis, maybe.
Happy Canadian Thanksgiving, everyone! I am thankful for authors like Megan Whalen Turner and books like Return of the Thief and characters like Eugenides and Attolia and Eddis and Pheris and fellow bloggers who I can squee with about how awesome authors and books are. And organizations like the Cybils that keep the conversation going and support new and diverse authors so that we and our kids can keep having wonderful reading experiences!
Monday, August 17, 2020
Why did it need to exist?
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had an older sister, nicknamed Nannerl, who was also a child prodigy; in fact, he was inspired to begin learning music by watching his father teach her.
- Nannerl apparently composed music as well, but she wasn't supposed to, because she was a girl. None of her compositions survive, and we only know about them because Wolfgang refers to them in his letters to her.
- As children, Nannerl and Wolfgang invented a fantasy world called the Kingdom of Back and told each other stories about it.
Lu is obviously a musician herself, because she writes about music beautifully, from the inside—she knows how it feels to practise, to master, to inhabit music, to be inhabited by it. She knows the connection between music and imagination, and she uses it so well to weave the fantasy into the real.
Nannerl is a complex, fascinating character, and Lu hits all the right notes (sorry, couldn't help it!) in creating her fraught relationship with her more famous brother. She loves him, she cares about him, worries about his ill health, loves to see him succeed, and is hopelessly, furiously envious of his success and the life he will be allowed to live that she is denied. She also simply loves music—loves hearing it, loves playing it, has an instinct for it, is a perfectionist about it—and so to be denied it because she is a woman is heartbreaking. Also stupid and unfair and just arrrggghhhh!
So, what if there were a fantasy bargain Nannerl could make that would allow her to create music and, more than that, be recognized for her talent and her creations? (There is historical speculation that some of Wolfgang's works might have actually been written by Nannerl, and Lu makes clever use of that in her plot.) Nannerl wants to be remembered, and a mysterious, attractive boy in a strange, beautiful forest full of haunting music says he can help her if she will help him reclaim his throne.
The fantasy kingdom Lu creates is gorgeous, evocative, imaginative, and just creepy enough. I don't know how much source material she had to work with (apparently there is a map of the kingdom the Mozart's manservant drew at the children's request, but I don't know what else there is), so I don't know how much was Mozarts and how much was Lu, but she comes up with a coherent, believable and compelling world. I love the way it melds with the real world: at one point a real flower grows out of Nannerl's music notebook. I also love the ambiguity: is it real or is it just a dream? Are they both just imagining it because of their stories? Are the stories they tell influencing the reality of the forest world? Are their actions in the forest actually influencing real-world events, or is that just coincidence? Lu plays with imagination and creation and choice and truth in interestingly layered ways.
Nannerl's conflict is so real, so frustrating, and the stakes are so high—at one point I stopped reading because I thought she was going to make a certain choice, and I both wanted her to make it and didn't want her to make it. I thought I knew what she was going to do, because history, but the story really wasn't predictable so I knew it could go either way. Lu doesn't take the easy route and doesn't make the obvious choices, and I loved the resolution she came up with.
I now want to find out more about Nannerl, and I've started learning some Mozart Variations! Apparently there is a movie called Mozart's Sister that I now need to find.
(PS: the new Blogger is worse in every possible way: how could they have made it so much more clumsy and awkward??)
Saturday, July 11, 2020
Howl's Moving Castle: You don't have to read the book first (though I think you should!). This one is colourful and fun, takes far too many liberties with the plot but still manages to convey much of the same magic and spirit as the original, with its own worthy twist. The castle is a triumph of animation.
Princess Mononoke: The darkest one I've seen so far, with quite a bit of violence; definitely not for younger kids. Really interesting plot, strong environmental and anti-war message. I've noticed with all the Studio Ghibli movies I'e seen that they don't follow the black and white good-guy/bad-guy paradigm of storytelling: there are antagonists, but they tend to get transformed, or at least understood, rather than defeated. (I know there's a name for this narrative paradigm, but I can't remember it.) Except for the military: they're always definitively bad.
My humble opinion so far: Hayao Miyazaki deserves his reputation as a brilliant artist and director; the world needs more of this art and these kinds of stories. I'm going to watch all the rest and will report back!
Monday, June 29, 2020
The Physicians of Vilnoc, by Lois McMaster Bujold. The latest Penric and Desdemona novella, and it is predictably good, though not my favourite. I felt pretty much the same way as Rachel Neumeier about it. But it's always a treat to get another episode of our favourite sorcerer and his chaos demon.
Saturday, May 30, 2020
Intriguing world-building. Neumeier always creates fascinating fantasy landscapes and, even more important, believable societies to inhabit them: given the constraints of this landscape and these laws of physics/magic, what society would work to deal with them? Tuyo is set in a world divided by climate: the vast, snow-bound, moon-ruled winter lands and the gentle, fertile, sun-ruled summer lands. And I believed entirely in the Ugaro of the winter country and the Lau of the summer country—and in the reasons for their conflict.
Learning about a culture through fish-out-of-water characters. The two main characters are both competent and respected in their own country and confused and inept in the other, and this makes for a humorous and organic way to explore the world.
Military stories. I do not know why I enjoy these: I who have never held a weapon, never taken a martial arts class, believe strongly in peace and diplomacy and think war is a dumb way to solve problems. But it makes for great plots! I loved the two military societies: the tribal Ugaro with their harsh but fair laws governing conflict; the Roman-esque Lau with their orderly hierarchy and comradely soldier culture. I particularly loved watching characters from each society come to appreciate and value those from the other. And I was glad the fighting was not the main focus of the plot, even though there were some great action scenes. I love it when a conversation is more intense than a swordfight.
Heroes with integrity. I love plots that explore what honour is and the conflict of characters determined to do the right thing but not sure what that is. Ryo and Aras are on opposite sides of a war; they are loyal to different countries and believe in different goals; but they are both honourable men who keep their word. I loved watching Ryo negotiate between his duty, his loyalty and his word. I loved how oaths are used in Tuyo: so powerful.
Loyalty and trust. These are themes that stir me deeply, and Neumeier deals with them especially well. One of the main reasons I love the Black Dog books so much is the relationship between Ezekiel and Grayson Lanning—so many punch-in-the-guts moments between them—and the main relationship in this book is possibly even better.
Bromance. See above, re: loyalty and trust. All the feels here. I will not spoil who the bromance is between, but it's the best.
Interesting explorations of women in society. Love it when fantasies try out different ways of imagining women's roles, because, hey, it's fantasy—why wouldn't you?! I enjoyed what Neumeier did with women in the Ugaro society, and the contrast with the Lau and how the characters dealt with it. Female characters didn't play a huge role in this novel, but they were awesome!
Loved the world, loved the characters, am happy to know she intends to write more about them!
Saturday, May 9, 2020
I may have mentioned one or two times how much I love Murderbot. The novel is everything I wanted it to be and more. We get Dr. Mensah's brother-in-law, who doesn't trust Murderbot and definitely doesn't like it, and Dr. Mensah's teen-aged daughter, who is miffed at Murderbot but also trusts it implicitly, and ART, who—gah—can't say anything about ART! And new scary villains and weird scenarios that only Martha Wells could think up that require Murderbot to care about things. A lot. Also, some of the really terrible bad things that have happened to Murderbot may have caused some lingering trauma that might possibly be affecting its performance reliability.
I liked this quotation and Rachel Neumeier's comments about it: kind of sums it up, really! But amidst all the violence and mayhem there are the awesome character moments that punch you in the gut, and always Murderbot's sarcastic, defensive, sulky, exasperated, painfully human, wise voice.
You know that thing humans do where they think they're being completely logical and they absolutely are not being logical at all, and on some level they know that, but can't stop? Apparently it can happen to SecUnits, too.I've told you this before: go read the Murderbot Diaries. Start with the novellas so that you'll be able to fully appreciate the novel. Trust me, you need this in your life right now!
(According to Goodreads there is a short story told from Dr. Mensah's point of view, but I can't find it anywhere! Anyone know where I can get my hands on it??)
Then on Friday, the book I had ordered for my birthday back in March finally arrived. It's the new Folio Society illustrated Howl's Moving Castle. Look how beautiful it is!
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
There isn't any way to describe the book without spoiling a lot of the fun surprises, but I'll try to tell you what I loved while still being mysterious.
I loved Sal. I loved his voice, his self-depreciating wit (that's the best kind, in my opinion), his bold approach to life and problem-solving, his hilarious sense of humour. I loved that he's a magician (the sleight-of-hand kind). I loved that his dad is a calamity physicist. (A quick google search indicates that there's actually no such thing as calamity physics (google would know about it if there were, right??), but it's such a cool idea: it ought to exist!)
I loved Gabi even more, if that's possible. She's a force of nature, a warrior, the leader everyone didn't know they needed. I loved her quick, incisive mind, her witty come-backs, her insistence on respect. She and Sal make a brilliant, hugely entertaining pair and I wish they had been my best friends in middle-school. (But I would never have dared!)
I loved their school! I know there are arts-focused schools out there that are probably pretty amazing, but wow, what a wondrously ideal education to imagine! I loved all the teachers and the principal, loved the projects we found out about, loved detention!
I loved, loved, loved Sal and Gabi's families. I cannot say enough about how this book models diverse, loving family relationships—what it looks like when families are there to support one another—gah, I just, I have no words. Brandy pointed out in her review how refreshing it is to have a middle-grade book with present, functioning, loving parents, and I agree. Loved that.
Loved the Cuban food, the language, the culture that came through so strongly. This is a deep, rich book and the specifics of Sal and Gabi's Cuban community were a big part of the depth and texture.
I loved the writing. I had a little scrap of paper with quotations written on it, but I can't find it, alas. You'll just have to read it yourself, I guess! Assured, solid, textured, hilarious.
The themes! I don't even know where to begin. Family, friendship, grief, identity, self-esteem, how to be a decent human being. Dense and meaty stuff, all woven through with humour and insight. Hernandez reminds me very much of William Alexander, another favourite middle-grade writer who doesn't underestimate his audience's capacity for wisdom.
I laughed, I cried, I bought the sequel! I don't know what else to tell you: just read this book!
The book describes a Cuban roast pork dish (the name of which I wrote on that scrap of paper I can't find) that seems like the perfect analogy: flavourful, savoury, hearty, spicy.
And because you are an audience that might appreciate my accomplishment, here are a couple of solitaire Bananagrams I'm particularly proud of! (I find this a soothing, meditative kind of thing to do.)
Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Crash Landing On You: come for the cute, sweet and hilarious; stay for the swoon. I guarantee you will fall in love with actor Hyun Bin, but you will also love every other character: they are all adorable ducklings. This is as feel good as it gets.
Because This Is My first Life: superb acting and writing in this funny, insightful look at modern relationships. Has one of the top 10 K-drama kisses. (You will notice that kisses are few and far between in K drama and you learn to appreciate the ones you get.)
Stranger: (Also known as Forest of Secrets.) Fantastic acting and writing. This is a suspenseful character-based drama about a prosecutor and a cop investigating corruption. Love the relationship between the leads.
Signal: if murder mystery/police procedural with a dash of fantasy is your cup of tea this is a must-see. (Actually, it’s a must-see no matter what your favourite tea is.) Interesting twisty premise and lots of suspense. Tunnel and Voice are also supposed to be very good in this genre, but I haven't seen them.
Inheritors: (Also known as Heirs.) This is a high school Cinderella drama with all the tropes. Saved from utter cheesiness by decent acting and writing, plus actor Lee Min Ho is worth the price of admission.
That should keep you going for a while! There's more, so if the self-isolation continues I'll do a follow-up post. Doing what I can to keep us all sane!
Saturday, March 28, 2020
But then I thought, maybe this is exactly the book we need to be reading right now. Because it's about people standing up and speaking out and banding together to find hope when things seem hopeless, and most particularly it's about how to change the story people are telling about a situation, how to change us vs them into us.
Internment is tense and gripping, doesn't pull its punches (literally—trigger warning for violence), but is also full of hope and really positive messages about friendship, family, agency, girl power, the power of democracy. Rich, fully-developed, engaging characters, a great narrative voice with some fun snark and sass but also quite lyrical. I couldn't put it down.
It begins quite bleakly, with Muslims being rounded up and bussed to barbed-wire-surrounded camps. But Layla's voice pulls us into the exciting middle, when she assembles her allies and begins to fight back in creative, believable ways.
Ahmed can occasionally be heavy-handed in her message, but her real moral is delivered by Layla and her friends being clever, courageous and compassionate, and in the community they build, uniting people inside and out by telling their story.
I just read a fascinating article on Boccaccio's Decameron, a collection of stories written in 1353, during the Black Plague. In Italy. Eerily relevant. The article posits the importance of storytelling as "a means of community building," "intentionally creating and cementing social bonds," and gives examples of the stories we are telling ourselves now:
our pets as our new coworkers; jokes about how introverts have prepared for this day; pacts not to DM your exes in the loneliness of quarantine; ... the total absence of toilet paper from grocery store shelves.I love the author's conclusion:
Let us gather round the bonfires of social media and share stories. The ones that help us to understand, or to escape, or to take some comfort in the continuing anxiety and ambiguity of modern existence. It has been, and always will be, the way our species survives.Thinking about that, and about Internment, and about the stories happening in my community and being told among my friends and family, it seems to me we have a choice: are we telling ourselves that "we're all in this together," or that "it's every man for himself"? Because whichever of those stories we tell will become the truth.
I take much comfort from the resoundingly positive voices and actions happening all over the world. We are going to have stronger social bonds, more flexible infrastructure, a better safety net, more cohesive communities: I see all these stories being told and I believe that telling them is how we make them true.
Saturday, March 21, 2020
I asked my niece how she was occupying herself now that school is cancelled, and she said she just read a really good book, so I asked if she would review it for my blog. Here is 11-year-old Lorelei's take on Song for a Whale.
Song for a Whale is a nice heartwarming story, that involves a smart and brave girl. This girl is named Iris and she is a deaf girl at a normal school, so she doesn't have very many friends. Her deafness is from her grandparents who are also deaf, and so her grandpa’s passing was very hard for Iris and her grandma. Her happy place is with old radios. She is really good with old radios; she can fix an old radio even though she can’t hear if it’s perfect but she can still feel the vibrations.And one day she learns about a whale: Blue 55 who sings a song like no other. No other whale can understand Blue 55, so he is very lonely. Iris can relate to that completely, and wants to help. I love how Iris is so brave and courageous that she wants to go and see the whale in real life when a sanctuary tries to tag him. It also takes courage to go with your grandma and sneak away on a cruise ship and set sail to go find what you most desire. Although there were some obstacles in Iris’s way, she uses her intelligence to help her succeed. At the end you will feel almost exactly what she was feeling, and how her success was the greatest gift of all.
Thursday, February 27, 2020
I'm pretty sure Rogerson sifted through my brain for all of my reading pleasure centres and concocted a novel using every last one of them. Magical library full of magical books: check. Orphan brought up in the library with a special relationship to the books: check. Sorcerer who seems arrogant because he's so competent (also he is actually pretty arrogant and needs a heroine who can take him down a peg or two): check. Sparks flying and witty banter as the two leads are forced to work together: check. Guy falls in love with girl's bravery and competence: check. Plot based on consistent magical rules with consistent consequences: check. Turns out the truth is more nuanced than the two opposing groups say it is: check.
I loved that the grimoires weren't inherently evil, no matter what knowledge they contained, but could be turned evil or used for evil. I loved that the librarians and the sorcerers had really good reasons to be suspicious of each other. I loved Rogerson's particular take on the sorceror-demon relationship. Loved Silas.
Sorcery of Thorns reminded me of so many of my favourite books: Howl's Moving Castle, Sabriel, Sorcerer to the Crown, The Invisible Library. Rogerson takes familiar, beloved elements from the fantasy canon and crafts her own version while paying loving homage. It helps that the writing is beautiful. Also very, very funny. (I love Nathaniel!) And she's one of those authors who can write wise things that are so supported by the story they don't sound trite.
For these were not ordinary books the libraries kept. They were knowledge, given life. Wisdom, given voice. They sang when starlight streamed through the library's windows. They felt pain and suffered heartbreak. Sometimes they were sinister, grotesque- but so was the world outside. And that made the world no less worth fighting for, because wherever there was darkness, there was also so much light.
“Why are you looking at me like that?" he inquired.
"You used a demonic incantation to pack my stockings!"
He raised an eyebrow. "You're right, that doesn't sound like something a proper evil sorcerer would do. Next time, I won't fold them.”Lots of fun, characters I can get behind, intelligent romance, cool, believable magic ... I think I want to read it again!
Banana bundt cake: dark and dense and sweet and nourishing.
Saturday, February 22, 2020
I'm so happy this book won, because it hasn't gotten a lot of notice, and it's really, really good.
I don't know about the books they're comparing it to: doesn't seem remotely like Game of Thrones to me (thank goodness!). Seraphina I can maybe see a little. I think the best description of it is Plato's Republic meets the French Revolution, but with dragons. It's very political, but what I loved is that all the political issues are brought to life with characters and their personal dilemmas, and there's no simplistic good-guy/bad-guy dichotomy.
The revolution succeeded—we defeated the unjust, power-hungry aristocracy—but at what cost? And is the new meritocracy we created better enough to justify what we did to achieve it? Questioning the reality behind the rhetoric is a desperately important skill these days, and I love the way this book deals with truth, lies, propaganda—fake news. Then there's blind devotion to a cause, versus finding out your heroes aren't what you thought they were. Really meaty stuff!
I'm all about characters, always, and I loved Lee/Leo and Annie. He's the son of an aristocrat who watched his family get brutally executed. She's a peasant whose family was burned to death by an aristocrat's dragonfire. The story of their friendship is compelling. Their unacknowledged feelings for each other combined with the truths of their past make the tension of their competition to become lead dragonrider riveting!
Loyalty is one of my favourite themes, and I loved watching all the characters navigate through the conflicting pulls of family, friends, mentors, duty, morality. YA books live for impossible choices: what I loved about Fireborne is that none of the agonizing dilemmas felt contrived in any way. I completely believed in, and ached for, all the choices Lee and Annie and their friends had to make.
If I had to say anything negative about this book, it would be that I wished there was more about the dragons and their connections to their riders. But really, there was hardly time, with all the plot twists and action!
The writing was assured and quite lovely. I particularly enjoyed her use of epic poetry (adapted from The Aeneid, apparently) to give heft to emotional beats.
The second book in what looks like a trilogy won't be out until 2021, alas. There was a nice conclusion to this novel but the story continues, and I will be there for it!
Roasted winter vegetables with herbs and lemon (I can't get enough of roasted vegetables lately: the sweetness, the heartiness) and a rotisserie chicken. So satisfying!
Wednesday, January 15, 2020
Network Effect comes out May 5. You don't need me to tell you to read the Murderbot novellas, do you? Seriously. Go read the Murderbot novellas.
A couple more sequels to squee about:
The Iron Will of Genie Lo, sequel to The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, which was supremely funny and a great adventure and will introduce you to the Monkey King if you didn't already know about him. (You should know about the Monkey King. He and Eugenides would ... well, actually they would probably hate each other. Anyway, you'll love him.)
Deathless Divide, sequel to Dread Nation. More zombies! Also friendship and girl power and frontier America and general awesomeness.
Another Invisible Library book: The Secret Chapter. Wait, this one's already out! Yay! More Irene and Kai capering through every possible genre while saving the multiverse from fae and dragons.
New Zen Cho! Not a sequel, but a fantastic-sounding new story: The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water. Gorgeous cover!
Also new Sarah Beth Durst: Race the Sands. Looks very cool. People reborn as monsters, people who ride the monsters in a race with souls on the line.