Book Review: Amy’s Eyes, by Richard Kennedy

August 15, 2012 at 7:07 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

This is less of a book review than it is talking about a book re-view.

When I was in fourth grade, I pretty much lived down in my school library. I finished my assignments so far ahead of my classmates that my teacher sent me off to the library so I wouldn’t get bored and cause trouble. (Not that I was a troublesome kid, but if I was bored, I would try to entertain myself- sometimes caused unintentional problems.) I read through great swathes of that room in my years at that school, and one of the books on the shelf was this great fat thing with selveged pages called Amy’s Eyes, by Richard Kennedy.

I fell in love with that book. It was an epic thing of sailors and pirates, the search for treasure, family lost and found, secrets, dolls coming to life and even little girls becoming dolls out of loneliness and sorrow. It had orphanage hi-jinks and adventure on the high seas, it had mutiny and religion and nursery rhymes, and what made me truly fall in love with the book- and this may or may not say something significant about me- was that it taught me the song Greensleeves. I checked that book out several times that year and next, and when I found that my middle school library didn’t have it, I checked it out from the public library. I read that book at least twelve times through the next three years.

But then Things Happened, and real life intruded, and with how insane my schedule was, the public library became rather hard to get to, and while I still thought fondly of the book, there wasn’t really a chance to catch up with it.

Fast forward to senior year of college, as I’m sitting down with my honors thesis advisor and talking about the influence of books in my life, and he tells me to track down a handful of books with significant influence and re-read them. Some were things I still read again and again- David Eddings’ Elenium trilogy, for example, which is largely responsible for my sense of humor- but I immediately thought of Amy’s Eyes. I remembered it as being a great adventure full of sweetness and laughter. It was out of print and a little tough to track down- none of the libraries I had access to had it, not even the trusty library back home; it had been stolen and they hadn’t replaced it. I finally found a used copy online that a former library copy, and not too dinged up (I’m a little OCD about my books), and when it came, I settled down to immerse myself in childhood nostalgia.

HOLY CRAP.

Somehow in reread after reread after reread when I was younger, I had managed to completely miss how CREEPY large portions of that book was! There were some sections, even some characters, who absolutely made my skin crawl coming back to it almost ten years later. This went far beyond merely unsettling- this was sit up awake in bed clutching the baseball bat against the moving shadows terrifying. As a child, I’d categorized the characters into three groups: Good, Bad, and Surprise. As an adult, the characters were much more difficult to dismiss into those simple corners. I understood a lot more of the nuances in their personalities, got a lot more out of the shifting loyalties and the plaintive confusion at their existence. The nature of identity, the simple fact of existence, weaves through this story in ways I never could have grasped when I was nine years old.

As a child, I thought parts of the book were sad. As an adult, I found some parts downright tragic- and not always the same parts. I learned about disguise as a part of truth and how far some people would go for love- and for greed. There were a few stray elements that I remembered as being the same, but in so many ways, it was like I was reading a completely different book.

For the next two weeks, before my next advisor meeting, I tried to wrap my brain around just how different this was from what I’d remembered, and therefore expected. The book, of course, hadn’t changed. I was two years old when it came out, and the text hasn’t altered a bit since the date of publication.

What had changed was me.

Another decade of life, another decade’s worth of experiences, had changed my perspective on things. As a child, I didn’t understand anything about betrayal or greed or black-hearted villains except for what I read in books. As an adult, I’d learned, and if I’d sometimes mourned the knowledge, I still had the deeper experience. Limitless devotion wasn’t something I took for granted anymore, so seeing just how far some of these characters would go to protect and reunite with the ones they loved wasn’t something I took for granted anymore either. Because of those life experiences, everyone reads the same book in different ways.

What I learned from re-reading Amy’s Eyes proved invaluable when I wrote the novel for my thesis, and for each novel after that. The character who was most deeply unsettling was also the one for whom we feel the deepest sympathies. Good and evil were not nearly as separate as I’d previously imagined, and just because a person is Good, it doesn’t mean they don’t have deep flaws within them. And perhaps the deepest lesson- the one that wove its way through again and again in what became Elsinore Drowning: sometimes we injure those we love the best, even when- or perhaps especially when- we’re trying to do what’s best or right.

Have you ever had a book that seemed drastically different upon a re-read?

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: Tiger Lily, by Jodi Lynn Anderson

August 8, 2012 at 6:45 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

Before Peter Pan belonged to Wendy, he belonged to the girl with the crow feathers in her hair.
But the girl with the crow feathers didn’t belong to anyone.
As Neverland teeters on the brink of massive changes, as the magic slowly fades from the world and all the unexplored corners are discovered, Tiger Lily is poised on the cusp of growing up- or not. This will be the summer that deciedes, as Englanders come to Neverland’s shores, as the Lost Boys pelt through the woods, as the pirates engage their relentless hunts, as the Sky Eaters follow the rhythms of the earth and the seasons.
All children grow up, except one.
And that isn’t Peter Pan.

This book is absolutely brilliant, in so many unexpected ways, not the least of which is the narrative concept as a whole. We’re given a first-person narration with a third-person perspective, which gives us both intimacy and distance from our main characters. Our narrator is Tink (as in Tinker Bell, yes that Tinker Bell), and she looks on with the relentless fascination of an outsider. Her inability to directly communicate with the other characters keeps her from directly influencing the action. She contributes in small ways, she is a part of things, but not in the same way a speaking character would. She’s practically an insect, easy to ignore or bat away or even not notice. It’s unique- but it’s also brilliant, because Tink gives us a far better picture of Tiger Lily than Tiger Lily herself would- the same with Peter, for that matter.

Tiger Lily is a fascinating character, largely because she’s both personable and unknowable. She builds high walls around herself, she isn’t honest with herself and therefore she’s incapable of being completely honest with others, and yet she has moments where she’s intensely vulnerable, endearing, and even sweet. These moments are few and far between, but they add into an incredibly complex character bound by shifting loyalties in a time of great change, both in her setting and in her own life. Just as Tink is an outsider to the main action of the story, Tiger Lily is an outsider to every group of which she’s a part. She doesn’t belong with the other Sky Eater girls- she isn’t soft and domestically skilled like they are- but neither is she welcomed by the boys, who feel threatened by her hunting and forestry skills. Despite being thoroughly welcomed by the Lost Boys, she isn’t one of them either, and no matter how much she runs with them, she never becomes one of them. She’s always Other. Even in other, temporary, alliances, she’s always set apart. Even with her closest friends, she lacks the same qualities that mark Pine Sap and Moon Eye as similar. It isn’t that she’s unfeeling, but more that she doesn’t always know what to do with those feelings. They’re as alien to her as she is to others.

This is largely Tiger Lily’s story, but she’s not the one telling us, and I love that, love that Tink gives us an honesty of which Tiger Lily is incapable. Not that Tiger Lily would deliberately obfusticate, but rather that she can’t see things clearly enough to give us the real story.

The characters in this book are stunningly, intricately drawn, filled with equal measures savagery and grace. Peter is a wild thing, a mercurial creature of fancies and shifting moods, of vindictiveness and kindness, a childlike delight at odds with a merciless, dispassionate killer. His attitudes and whims snap through extremes, leaving everyone else scrambling to catch up, often with no rhyme or reason to the change. The Lost Boys are alternately savages following the worst of the bunch and endearing, sweet children desperate for a touch of softness and familiarity. We don’t see many of the pirates, but those we do are drawn with a surprisingly sensitive hand. Captain Hook, especially, emerges not as the ineffectual fop of Disney’s…thing, nor does he have the tightly contained barbarity hidden beneath a thin layer of ultra-civility and class with a brutal ability for emotional manipulation that we see in Dustin Hoffman and Jason Isaacs’ portrayals in Hook (1991) and Peter Pan (2003) respectively. This Hook is a broken man whose savagery and uneducated intelligence put him above the others he draws to his banner, but is ultimately burdened beneath the weight of his own failures and inadequacies. He’s a surprisingly sympathetic character. Smee, who is usally just shy of a bumbling idiot, becomes an unexpectedly (but thoroughly) creepy individual capable of giving you nightmares. Pine Sap and Moon Eye, Tiger Lily’s friends within the Sky Eaters, are soft and patient, their deep strengths hidden beneath visible frailties.

Perhaps the most surprising and most sympathetically drawn character is that of Tik Tok, the Sky Eaters shaman and Tiger Lily’s adopted father. In blunt terms, Tik Tok is either a hermaphrodite or a non-operative transexual. In more genuine terms, he was born to both genders, equal parts man and woman in a single mind, soul, and body. He wears his hair long and luxuriantly braided, loves fanciful dresses and decorations, but he’s also a wise man with a keen sensitivity to the human condition, a healer with a gentle touch and an endless patience, a father who loves his daughter beyond words or limits, someone with a boundless curiosity for the world beyond and a deep satisfaction in the world immediately around him. Tik Tok is an incredible character, standing fully on his own but also drawing a striking parallel to the infant girl he found under a tiger lily blossom and kept for his own. Tik Tok straddles genders in the same way Tiger Lily straddles loyalties. Male and Female, Sky Eater and Lost Boy, the two parts are always innate but in direct opposition. As long as those elements are in balance, Tik Tok and Tiger Lily are okay, but as soon as those elements shift, once they fracture, so too does the whole person. What happens with those slip-faults is heartbreaking.

This is a Neverland equal parts savagery and beauty, where the exquisite lives side by side with the menacing, and often hand in hand. Mermaids may be lovely but they’re deadly. Lost Boys may be sweet, but they can kill. It’s a land that’s still untamed, a tiny corner of the world that hasn’t yet been colonized, that still holds wonders, but it’s a desperate beauty with a lot of rough edges. Within all those vibrant colors are a lot of shadows, and a lot of dark things thrive there. Wendy, when she eventually comes- not by fairy dust but by an Englander missionary vessel- is a vivid spot of white in an otherwise multi-color world. She’s clean and soft in a world that’s anything but, but she has a different kind of Otherness than Tiger Lily. Where Tiger Lily is frequently in competition- both with Peter and the boys- defeating them at many of their own games, Wendy simply cheers them on and doesn’t try to play. Tiger Lily accepts her world as it is, even when it’s painful, but Wendy simply expects her surroundings to conform to her desires, because she’s never known anything different. Peter is the one who holds Tiger Lily’s heart, but Wendy is the one who breaks it.

This is a deeply sad book, where even the moments of joy are shadowed by the lingering darkness, but ultimately redemptive in how we choose to define hope. In a land where one stops growing older when they’re caught up in a Significant Event, this is a beautiful story about growing up with all its sharp edges and ugly truths. This may be a book to read slowly, but it’s definitely not one to be missed.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman

July 25, 2012 at 6:38 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

The kingdom of Goredd is on the verge of celebrating forty years of an uneasy truce with the dragons, and Seraphina Dombegh, assistant to the court composer, has more reason for uneasiness than most. Tension between humans and dragons is rising, helped along by the mysterious death of Prince Rufus, the anti-dragon sentiments of the Sons of St. Ogdo, and the basic incompatibility of the ultra-logical dragon mind and the passionate emotional range of the humans. As the city prepares for an influx of dragon arrivals, Seraphina struggles to stay unnoticed, not something made easy by the attention of the court composer, the dragon embassy, the princess, and the princess’ bastard fiance, as well as the brilliance of her pure magical gift.
Seraphina has a foot in both worlds, and if she’s not careful, they’ll both come crashing down on her.

Clear a few afternoons for this book: slow and lingering, it’s the kind of book that wraps around you and just doesn’t let go. This is one to savor.

The single biggest part of that is language. Oh my God, the language in this book. Music is a significant part of this, not just as story but as character, and the language in this book is as precise and passionate as a musical form. The voice teeters between dryly factual and painfully emotional, an audible fault line between the pieces of who and what Seraphina is. She is, at turns, wry, funny, petulant, logical, endearing, brilliant, brutally honest, and thoroughly deceptive. She can be forgiving and hard, suspicious and trusting, exasperated and fond in the same breath. She’s an amazing character, as well as an amazing narrator. Everything about this book is a love song to language, an opera captured in letters rather than notes, each pitch perfect and never less than purposefully dischordant.

Perhaps because of the fascination with language, because of the level of detail paid to the rhythms and multiple layers of words, this isn’t a book that moves quickly. For all that it takes place within a few days, it feels like longer. For me, this wasn’t a book I could sit down and read straight through. I had to take it in sections over the course of several days, because otherwise I felt like I wasn’t giving due appreciation to the beauty and purpose of the language. The plot itself is fairly straightforward, but the personalities twist things around until you have the true drama of this story. On a very basic level, humans and dragons are incapable of understanding each other. That fundamental incompatability drives us forward, largely because it forces us to try. Even Seraphina, who understands dragons perhaps better than anyone else, has gaps where the communication simply falters. Elements like sarcasm and imagination- the emotional outpouring of true music that doesn’t seek technical perfection- are antithesis to the dragon mentality, but the sheer scope of what humans can accomplish within that range of art and feeling is fascinating to them. As Seraphina says, the dragons look at humans like particularly intriguing cockroaches. There’s nothing to keep them from squishing the irritants once their curiosity is sated.

As much as language, the characters are a work of art. Nearly all of the significant characters are exquisitely drawn with rich flaws and an eye for detail, as well as surprising depth. Ardmagar Comonot, the leading general of the dragons, is particularly (and bizarrely) appealing. Many of the dragons experience intense emotional confusion when the condense into human form, known as a saarantras, as the human instincts and senses overwhelm the much more factual dragon mind. The Ardmagar is no exception, but unlike most others, he both delights in and despises these maelstroms of experience. Even things like taste and sound, the rub of different fabric textures against the skin, even the impulses of fear and lust, they’re bizarre and uncomfortable, but also intriguing. We see other dragons struggle against this psychomachia with varying degrees of familiarity and success. For Seraphina’s tutor Orma, nearly as close to a human as is possible for a dragon to be, intense emotions are still unsettling, but at least outwardly familiar enough to be identified and categorized. Classified. In Orma, we see the true evolution of the human experience in the mind and soul of a dragon. It’s not that we ever see him as less than a dragon- in Seraphina’s rich, wry, and compassionate narration, we get to see all the reminders of what he is- but that we see him not merely study the human condition, but rather accept it as a consequence of his choices and the connections he carefully makes.

One of the areas in which we see the greatest degree of detailed variance is in Seraphina’s Garden of Grotesques. We don’t meet many of these mindscape inhabitants, but those we do are sympathetically, frighteningly drawn with rich idiosyncracies. Loud Lad’s restless tinkering, Fruit Bat’s simple contentedness, Fusspot’s prickliness, are all pulled into Seraphina’s own interactions, as memories shade her actions and she struggles to keep these inexplicable personalities contained in her mental garden. The shifting nature of the Garden, the manuevers she has to attempt to keep it intact, all tell into her daily encounters in the outer world.

One of the things I absolutely adored about this book was the dynamic, at times bizarre, between Seraphina, Prince/Captain Lucian Kiggs, and Princess Glisselda. Kiggs, as he prefers to be called, is a wonderful construction, at times intensely personal and at others coldly formal. He vacillates in his approach, but never in his complete, and sometimes brutal, honesty. He cares a great deal about what he does, about his purpose and his duty, but even in his more obstinate moods, he still has a little boy’s charm that makes him endearing as well as attractive. He’s comfortable reaching out to people on many levels, always aware that he’s just a little out of place, sometimes aware that the vague sense of displacement actually makes others more comfortable with him. Glisselda is, at first, a flightly, vindictive terror with a misplaced sense of fun and an overly developed sense of cattiness. And yet, there’s something charming about her, and as the story progresses, we see more layers unfold within her. We never lose our initial impression- indeed, that seems to be something she very carefully cultivates- but we’re left with the impression of a young woman who will one day be a truly formidable queen. Where her knowledge occasionally has gaps, her perceptiveness and cleverness are spot on. She, Kiggs, and Seraphina form a mystifying but powerful triangle, and if we spend half the book trying to figure out why two of those three pieces are so insistent on this partnership, we also thoroughly enjoy it. They work extremely well off of each other, both in a personal sense as well as a political one.

And I love the layers of political intrigue in this. It goes well beyond the “they’re bad, we’re good” inanity and into the grey areas of specific treaty language, the actual art of living with such uneasiness woven through the society, and the nebulous loyalties of those within the court. We don’t just move through the halls of the palace, we’re actually living there, with all the petty rivalries, false friendships, unexpected alliances, and exasperating duties that come with that privilege.

Do yourself a favor and really give yourself time to savor this book- much like Laini Taylor’s The Daughter of Smoke and Bone, this is a book that will make you fall in love with language.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: Rift, by Andrea Cremer + Giveaway!

July 18, 2012 at 8:24 pm (Book Reviews, Giveaway) (, , , , , )

Ember Morrow has just one chance to escape the life of docile marriage and motherhood that awaits girls in 1404 Scotland: her father owes a life debt to Conatus, a branch of Church knights who fight the lesser known evils of the world. If they accept her, her vows will protect her from her father’s plans and expectations, will free her to follow the life of action she’s always dreamed of. What she doesn’t know is that the evils faced by Conatus are worse than she could have imagined, and her trial of entrance is hardly the most difficult trial she’ll face. A terrible force is rising, and soon she’ll be cast in the middle of it.

In the interests of full disclosure, I won this ARC through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway, and tell you what, the arrival of this book was the ONLY good thing about a truly horrible day. I stayed up way too late reading this book, and I’m pretty sure that will be a very common statement after the book’s release.

I’m a character junkie, I make no bones about that, and Ember Morrow is a very likeable heroine. She’s intensely vulnerable, fierce, determined, a little awkward, and very aware of the fact that whatever choice she makes for herself, there is always someone who can override it. All the drive in the world can’t change the very basic fact of her existence: there’s always someone who can successfully tell her no. She’s unaccustomed being seen for herself, for who she is, and equally unfamiliar with being judged for her own merit. With the exceptions of Barrow and Sorcha, and a few other smaller characters, everyone seems to want something else of her. She’s not insensitive to that, but what really impressed me is that she isn’t dismissive of it either. Though her sister is in an arranged marriage, she genuinely wishes her every happiness, even acknowledges at times that a life of security like that might be pleasant, or at least not terrible. She understands the society in which she lives and doesn’t rail against it- she just doesn’t want that for herself.

That understanding is part of what makes her so appealing. Just as it can be hard to sympathize with someone who doesn’t fight for anything, it can be hard to feel much for someone who fights everything. Ember is a beautiful balance of living in her world as it is and wanting to have something better for herself. She comes to her training honestly and with a great joy that reaffirms her decisions even when she has cause to doubt or question them. Though the physical ease of some of her training sometimes strains credulity, it’s never completely over the top. She’s just this utterly fantastic character who was wonderful to read with.

I could definitely stand to know more about Barrow Hess, and I hope we’ll get that in the second. We come to know him as Ember does, so the mystery is understandable, but the enigma could stand to be penetrated a bit. He’s sexy and skilled, and we know his qualities, but nothing of his history, nothing truly personal. We get the sense that there’s a great deal of depth to his character, but we don’t get to learn any of it yet. He’s still alluring- and let’s face it, pretty hot-but he’s such an intriguing character that I was a little disappointed not to see more of him.

And can I just say how much I love Sorcha? She is absofrickinlutely awesome. And um…wait, no, can’t say that. Spoiler. But, oh my God, Sorcha. Seriously.

Most of the other characters are touched on more lightly. We get a sense of them, enough to leave a sketch of impression on the memory, but we don’t really know them. Even Eira, who shares the shoulder of the narration, never really comes off as less than cold. Cian, her sister, is more rounded, a blend of caution, duty, and excitement, but Eira’s dissatisfaction colors her so thoroughly that it’s difficult to have any true suspense about her decisions. Subsequent (or rather prior) knowledge aside, you always know she’s going to do something reckless and terrible. She fights against everything (which, in some respects, makes a nice parallel to Ember’s sense of balance) but she’s tempered by intolerance. She’s in a position of power but while she certainly has the skills to merit the position, she lacks the more difficult aspects of leadership. It’s hard to feel sympathy for her setbacks because she very clearly brings them upon herself.

Well, that and her setbacks are usually good news for everyone not on the reckless side of things.

I loved the care and detail given to the weapons and gear, in both the variety and quality of the pieces. It helps keep things interesting- because everyone having the same weapons gets a little boring- and also helps tie specific details into the personalities. When we see a type of weapon, we know who it belongs to, so we know at a glance who’s in the scene even before a name is given. It also gives a solid nod to the fact that the order, or at least its purpose, is universal. Unlike their non-Conatus counterparts, the Guards have a good reason to have weapons that would otherwise be exotic and frankly out of place in the fifteenth century highlands. And, of course, I love that we get to see the weapons in use. There was one part so unexpectedly gross and gory and wonderful, I wanted to hug Andrea Cremer and say thank you. That scene was exquisite, both in its appalling sense of setting and the way it uses that setting and the subsequent events to tug on the heartstrings. Just a wonderfully crafted scene.

I wished we could have seen a little more of the rest of Conatus. It makes sense that most of what we see is the Guard, but the trial is so rich with promise in the other aspects of the keep that I thought that would carry over into the rest of the book. Each arm of Conatus contributes something valuable, all are equally necessary, and I wanted to see them just a little in their natural habitats. Even if it was just at meals or something of that nature. Conatus as a group, as an institution of sorts, is an amazing, richly wrought creation, but we only get to play in the shadows of its greatness.

This is definitely a study of character rather than plot. That’s partly a product of the leisure of us knowing from the original trilogy that a Very Bad Thing happens and people try to stop it- we already know that. Why we’re here is to find out how and why it happened, and when the end event is known, it’s a less stressful journey to the reveal. Despite a few sharp incidents- oh, Dorusduain- most of the book feels like it’s just getting to a point where it can set up the next one. It’s not that the pacing’s off, because it isn’t- it moves along very well, carefully interspersing heavier scenes with ligher ones, action scenes with conversation scenes. It’s not something you can really put your finger on, but when it comes to the end, you’re exactly where you expected to be, and it feels like it didn’t take any time at all to get there. That’s not a complaint- this is a book you devour in as close to one sitting as possible, so the ultimate timeline can feel a bit deceptive.

Given the original trilogy, this isn’t surprising, but I absolutely loved the attention given to gender roles, expectations, and limitations. Specifically, how even when women seem to break from their pre-defined roles, they’re still constrained by having to act within them for the sensibilities of external society, and for their own protection. It’s a careful compromise between building strong characters and being honest to the setting and time period, and it was fantastic. It can be something as simple as a dress and a hairstyle that offers safety for women stepping deeper into a man’s world. I love the exquisite dance be see between politics and faith, the two extremes of the Church represented in directly opposing- though not directly confrontational- figures. The history geek in me was nearly swooning.

This book isn’t out until 7 August, but guess what? I’m giving away my ARC! Open to US residents only (sorry), and all you have to do is answer a question.

The members of Conatus are split into three branches: Knowledge, Craft, and War. Each branch has its own secrets, its own purpose, but each branch is necessary to the survival and well-being of the other two. With Knowledge comes the legacy of accumulated wisdom and histories, with Craft the ability to create and enhance, while War can be used both to defend and vanquish.

Want to win this advance copy?

Comment below and tell me which branch you would choose- and why. Entries will be accepted through 25 July.

And mark you calendars, because the second book, Rise will be out in stores 8 January 2013!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: Shadows on the Moon, by Zoe Marriott

July 11, 2012 at 6:06 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , , )

Life as Suzume knew it ended when her father and cousin died in an attack on their estate, when her beloved father was declared a traitor, and only the actions of a mysterious cinder-man saved her from following him into death. And yet, it can still get worse, when her mother remarries, when Suzume finds out the terrible truth about her new step-father. Twisted by her hate, pain, and need for revenge, Suzume dives into her lessons on the enigmatic art of shadow-weaving and sets herself on a course to bring about the destruction of all those who’ve caused her pain. Forget being rescued by the prince- Suzume would rather have blood.

My first exposure to this book was its description as a Cinderella retelling. A Cinderella in classical Japan? Yes please! And it is what it said it was- but SO MUCH MORE. Those coming into the book expecting Cinderella and step-sisters and a handsome prince at the ball with find plenty to recognize, but this is a retelling that steps outside the bounds of its original form and becomes something amazing and unexpected. Cinderella forms the foundation, true enough, but this is a story that stands on its own two feet. Honestly, if it weren’t for knowing it up front, I doubt I would have extrapolated Cinderella from the story.

This is a setting that comes alive, rich and elegant and full of the tastes, smells, even the textures of another land. Titles are an instrinsic part of the names, not to be dismissed or regarded lightly, and every layer, cut, and style of clothing is full of meaning. We’re welcomed into a culture rich with formality, one with precise rituals where every step has a reason and a purpose. It’s an education in culture without ever being slavish or pedantic, the information always used to specifically build the layers of a scene or character.

One of the things I really loved about this book was the precision of language. Poetry and songs play a part in things, and just as the rhythm and the choice of the individual words and phrases are so essential in these forms, so they are through the course of the book. Every word, right down to the symbolism of the names, is deliberately and carefully chosen, so the entire book reads like a form of poetry. When it seems like there are layers beneath the words, it’s because there are.

What sets this book apart from other retellings or other more or less fantastical settings is Suzume’s deep need for revenge. It drives her, forces her to choose again and again to turn from happier roads because of her determination to see this thing done. Despite the advice of those who love her and want to see her happy, despite the chances she has to take those tentative first steps into a better life, she can’t turn aside from her plans. She fully expects to be destroyed herself in the process, and that brings a grim fatalism. She can’t let herself love others, can’t let herself be happy, so she’s perfectly willing to take horrendous risks and do horrible things in the name of revenge.

But that drive, that need, deeply hurts, which is where the most impressive aspect of this book comes into play. Suzume is ultimately self-destructive, targeting that pain and rage and guilt into her own body, which has betrayed her by continuing to live where her father and cousin didn’t. Even as she assigns the blame to her enemy, she assigns equal guilt to herself, and as she intends to punish her enemies, she punishes herself.

You see, Suzume cuts herself.

And what really blew me away is how well it’s handled in this book. We’re inside Suzume’s head, so it would have been really easy to try to excuse or justify the behavior. For herself, Suzume tries just that. As the readers, though, we get to see how hard she has to work to convince herself that it’s okay, we get to see the consequences of her actions, the pain her injuries cause those who love her. Perhaps most importantly, we also see that cutting is an addiction as crippling and compelling as any other. It’s not a hobby- it’s a problem. It’s an outward expression of a severe inward pain with no other outlet, and it seems like such an easy solution. It eases the pain for a little while, but then it comes back even worse and it becomes so alluring to do it again. You think about it when you’re not doing it, and whenever there’s a problem, the wish to cut is there. Suzume lives through this, as do the people who love her whether she’ll allow them to or not, and it’s not something that finds an easy- or a complete- resolution. Within a cherry-blossom world of shadow-weaving and illusion, it’s so starkly real that it transforms an otherwise even-tempered (if dark) story into something amazing.

Normally I don’t like to talk about endings, but in this case, I think I have to a little, because I love it. It’s not necessarily a happy ending. It’s real and it’s bittersweet and more than a little painful, but it has the potential to become something beautiful. It’s REAL.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: For Darkness Shows the Stars, by Diana Peterfreund

June 20, 2012 at 7:40 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

Four years ago, Elliot North’s world turned upside down when her best friend Kai left to find his fortunes elsewhere. Left behind to care for her family’s crumbling estates, Elliot’s life is a daily battle against her cruel, feckless father and self-indulgent older sister as she struggles to grow enough food to keep them solvent and feed all their tenants. The Luddite lords, scornful of the genetic experiments and technology that led to much of the human race being broken to the mental level of six-year-olds, care for the Reduced, but a new generation is breaking free of those restraints into a society that doesn’t know how to define them. When Kai suddenly returns as the rich, successful Captain Malakai Wentforth, the Cloud Fleet is a way for Elliot to save her tenants and her lands- if he doesn’t finish shattering her heart first.

I adore Jane Austen in a way that I never expected to when I was younger. In middle school and most of high school, I thought she was synonymous with everything that could possibly be wrong with required reading, something that had to be deathly dull and uninteresting and of absolutely no relevance to anything. Senior year, we had to read Pride and Prejudice over winter break, and I fell in love. (Colin Firth in tight pants didn’t hurt) That started my Jane Austen kick, and when I got to Persuasion, I fell hard for this slow, poignant unfolding of a love gone horribly wrong and the painful, stuttering chance for redemption.

When I found out about a YA retelling, I was both giddy and terrified.

After reading, I can say the verdict came down fully on the side of giddy.

It’s rich and atmospheric, with a beautifully claustrophobic setting that brings the pain and desperation of this shattered relationship into sharp relief. Within any story the setting would be amazing. The history of the Reduction and the gradual evolution away from that wholesale devestation creates a three-part society filled with conflict and responsibility. The delicate compromises made by the Luddites in order to keep their farms and lands functioning serve as stark contrast to the Posts’ willingness to adapt or invent technologies, but also show how finite their resources are, which makes extravagance painful to see. The nature of a society in such a severe rate of change is gorgeous.

Elliot is an amazing character, strong and resourceful, someone who genuinely cares about so much more than herself. I’m not sure if she’s more indicative or symptomatic of the changing times and sensibilities, but she’s caught between the Luddite Protocols by which she’s been raised- the same Protocols that instruct her to care for those who whose bloodlines have been devestated by the Reduction- and the drive to try new things in order to better care for those same people. She’s hard-working, willing (and able) to put the needs of others ahead of her own desires, and having made the decision to do just that four years ago, she faces the painful consequences every single day. Part of what makes her so fascinating- and so eminently likable- is how strong those conflicts are within her. She tries to take the high road- doesn’t always succeed- and tries desperately to reconcile the constant pain of Kai’s departure and his return as the very different Malakai with the knowledge of just how much she’s needed on the North estates. She made the right decision but that doesn’t make it easier to live with the consequences. She’s placed in the not-so-unique position faced by every teen when the tough choices come due. Elliot is a hero for a generation.

Kai is a little more problematic. His bitterness upon his return is completely understandable. His rage, his hurt, they make sense, but the way he constantly insults Elliot, the way he consistently and purposefully stomps on her when she’s down, it makes it hard to even like him, much less swoon for him. Except- oh, except- the chapters are interspersed with years of letters between Kai and Elliot as children, full of beautiful innocence and friendship that gradually evolves not only into a true friendship, but also shows how quickly and completely children can lose than innocence in a society so patently unequal. Kai becomes likable- even lovable- through the letters, and in the quieter moments when he’s startled or his guard is down, the moments where he genuinely sees Elliot, rather than the monster he’s created through four years of bitterness and hurt feelings. In those moments, he’s amazing. (and changing his name from Wentworth to Wentforth makes me geekily happy more than it probably should)

Most of the side characters are beautifully realized, given life and breath outside of the originals. In a retelling, there’s a difference between faithful and slavish, and this definitely comes out to the better of that line. Elliot’s older sister Tatiana is a wonderful amalgam of the oldest and youngest Elliot sisters from the original, with the additional virtue of having a few moments of genuine sympathy. She’s not a likable character- nor is she ever truly meant to be- but that we feel for her at any point is a superb bit of writing. The Posts are as richly varied as the Luddites, and with varying degrees of innovation (no pun intended) and daring. Most of them aren’t the first generation of Posts, but that gives many of them a sense of recklessness that goes hand in hand with the daring experiments carried out by their ancestors. Andromeda is cautious and prickly and protective- in some ways a more extreme version of Elliot’s own protectiveness- while her brother is gloomy and sorrow-burdened at times, at other times almost manic. The Innovations are a wonderful blend of Austen’s Crofts and, in the case of Mrs. Innovation, something new and terrifying and reassuring. Ro, a Reduced girl born the same day as Kai and Elliot, is sweet and sincere, with remarkable leaps of understanding that mark her as special without making her less than (or more than) Reduced. It gives her grace without taking away the reality of what she is. Dee, a Post woman who serves as the North’s foreman, is practical and compassionate, a wonderful mother figure for the motherless Elliot without ever feeling like she’s trying to replace anyone. She’s willing to give Elliot the hard truths, to puncture comforting illusions or beliefs in the name of helping Elliot become a stronger and better person. The neighbors are lively and intelligent, a good example of moderation in both Post and Luddite thinking. The wholly original character of the Boatwright, Elliot’s maternal grandfather, was gorgeous and moving.

The only side character I truly found problematic was Elliot’s father, Baron North. He’s cruel and menacing, but given that we never actually see him carry through any of his horrible threats- nor are even told of times previous to that, other than the burning, that he did so- the menace becomes almost comical in nature, like a punch clown who just snaps back up into place without a true reaction.

Within this shifting society, the setting poses more questions than it answers, but that’s actually okay- most of those questions are things we haven’t figured out for ourselves yet, so it seems like cheating to create a falsely simple solution and feed it through the characters. They’re not simple questions, and they’re ones that have been plaguing us for a long time. I really like that those questions- some practical, some ethical, some a little more esoteric- are explored without being sacrificed in the name of tidiness.

On its own or as a retelling, this is an amazing book with all the wonder, pain, and fragile hope of the original while taking a brave new world and a distinctly YA cast that makes this, in a word, unforgettable.

For Darkness Shows the Stars, by Diana Peterfreund, absolutely not to be missed.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Half-Year Recap- Favorites So Far!

June 13, 2012 at 8:07 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , , , , )

So we’re about halfway done with 2012 and there have been SO MANY AMAZING BOOKS come out already this year, with so many more good ones to come. I was looking over my Goodreads list (oh hai! I’m on Goodreads- you can friend me, if you like!) and some of them just stick out so much in my mind, and I thought I’d share with you my list of Favorites So Far.

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity, Code Name Verity, Code Name Verity

If you have not read this book yet, it is a problem. Remedy it. It’s funny and shattering and gorgeous and one of the most spectacular examples of distinctive voice, flawlessly researched, and utterly absorbing. This is a book that, once you open it, you CANNOT put down. This is one of those books that everyone needs to read. Elizabeth Wein is one of my new idols.

And speaking of shattering, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I haven’t reviewed this book for the simple reason that even now, five full months after reading it, I still can’t speak about it coherently. It’s rich and funny and tragic and glorious, heart-breaking and healing and one of the most beautifully, bizarrely hopeful books I’ve ever read. I laughed and cried in the same gulping breaths and it is SO HARD to tell people what this book is about. This is a book that doesn’t only change your life, it redefines it. If you read only one book this year (gah, what a terrifying thought!) make it this one.

Jennifer E. Smith’s The Statistical Probablity of Love at First Sight was a book that blew me away. It was completely out of my comfort zone in so many ways. It’s a contemp romance- not really my thing- and a very significant foundation of this story is parental divorce and remarriage- also not really my thing- and the combination of tense and perspective weirded me out the entire time. And I LOVED it. The characters were raw and real and wonderful, and it’s amazing how much can happen in twenty-four hours. It’s sweet and sad and silly and thought-provoking and doesn’t try to give everything easy answers. This was the book I was curious about but never expected to like, and to an extent that’s true. I didn’t like it- I loved it.

Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone was simply magical (and send congratulations her way- she just debuted at #8 on the NYT Bestsellers List!). It was rich and dark and atmospheric and a fantastic example of how strong you can make a setting without drowning in it. The world of the Grishas stepped outside of playing Russian and became something extraordinary, where the language was just alien enough that it melded with the familiar social heirarchies and human dramas that it became something both comfortable and exciting. It built just enough off of what we could recognize that it didn’t have to rely solely on those pieces anymore. It creates so many wonderful mysteries and opens up this huge world within a small space. This was not one to put down. In fact, I might have handed it to one of my co-workers and told her to buy it without actually telling her anything about it.

Want to laugh yourself into abdominal cramps? Then check out Christopher Healy’s The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, a look at what happens after the Happily Ever After for four princes who can’t quite manage to make the bards care about them. After all, the princesses are so much more interesting, and who wants to try to remember a prince’s name? Just call him Charming and be done with it. This book is a roaring adventure- and at least half of that roaring is laughter- full of dragons and giants and clever little sisters and boorish brothers and so much adventure. Do NOT read this while drinking or eating, or if you have liquids near your computer. Read it aloud, ogle the illustrations, and just enjoy this wonderful, fun-loving frolick.

Anyone who knows me knows I love faeries and faerie tales and faerie telling retellings. LOVE them. And Alethea Kontis’ Enchanted was everything I could have asked for. The sly references (and the sheer number of them!) to various stories was totally made of win, and the characters were unique and vibrant and richly flawed. It’s a world that, for all its magic and mystery, never quite steps apart from our own. It’s like walking down the street of your own town and suddenly discovering a wisp of wonder. It’s gorgeously written and it was physically painful to put down, with everything I love not just in a fairy tale but in a story.

What are some of your favorites so far of 2012?

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo

June 6, 2012 at 6:39 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , )

Alina Starkov came from nowhere, an orphan on the wars raised on the charity of a duke’s estate and trained as an army cartographer. The only thing that makes her anything, at least in her mind, is her friendship with Mal, skilled tracker and ladies’ man extraordinaire. Until the Fold, until the attack, until the blaze of light that comes from her and marks her as a rare form of Grisha. Then she’s whisked away, the hope of an entire nation, and taught to use her unfamiliar magic, lost within a world of luxury and beauty every bit as dangerous as the Fold, for where there’s hope, there’s also despair and expectation, and there are always those who try to use power to their own advantage. Alina will not only have to learn to use her strange new skills, but decide who she can trust.
Being the hope of all of Ravka? Kind of sucks.

Oh, guys. GUYS. This is such an amazing book. It immediately transports you into a world that’s alien and familiar at once, a pseudo-Russian setting that comes alive around you in so many ways. Clothing, architecture, language, food, it all wraps around you and just immerses you in this rich, atmospheric land. It’s detailed but not a slavish reproduction; it’s an homage that’s accessible and relatable and recognizable, but also stands easily on its own. It’s a Russia that’s still steeped in magic, but it’s also a time of significant change, as the old ways are fading before the new.

I love Alina. She’s a fantastic character, strong and achingly vulnerable, prickly and passionate, fiercely loyal to people who are often less than loyal to her in return. She’s got this deep well of inner strength that gives her the fortitude to weather deep pains, as well as the courage to face them again. This is a girl accustomed to being abandoned, but who faces that with minimal bitterness. Minimal- she’s too intelligent to forget the wrongs done her, too practical to hold a grudge, and too sharp not to make at least a few withering comments about it. She knows her place, has had it reinforced over and over and over again in her life, but she’s not discontent in that- it’s comforting in a way, because at least that one thing is a reliable foundation. She’s sometimes a little passive, letting others pull her this way and that, but it’s never in a way that’s disconcerting or irritating. It always fits the circumstances. And I mean, come on, if we were under those conditions- overwhelmed, hunted, confused, and with minimal training, how well would any of us do?

I think what I may love best about Alina is her stubbornness. She has to be dragged kicking and screaming into anything she doesn’t want to do, but once she’s in there, she’ll do her best to stay afloat. She doesn’t forgive easily and she’s not above taking a certain petty satisfaction in the discomfort of those who give her trouble. Which, let’s face it, is really appealing to me. I like a certain amount of snarly.

The Darkling, the uber-powerful and uber-attractive head of the Grisha is a a supremely interesting character. I frickin’ love him. He’s complex and contradictory, he’s menacing even at his most open and relaxed, and consistently enigmatic. He understands people very, very well and doesn’t hesitate to use that knowledge, and despite how alluring he can be, despite the draw of his power and physical beauty, there’s never a moment when we don’t know he’s dangerous. He is the ultimate mystery in a world that Alina doesn’t fully understand. That danger, that edge of the unknown, underscores everything he does. We never learn his name and his history, while vital, comes to us in tiny increments that don’t so much illuminate as obfuscate.

The Grisha are the magic-users, born not made, and they come from every class of Ravka society. Once they’re tested and found, however, they become something else entirely, separated from their well-compensated families. Grisha are a rank apart from the rest of society, but they have their own heirarchy. At its head is the Darkling, as good as a king within his own domain, but things break down from there into several broad categories, broken down further into specifics. They’re regarded with a high degree of superstition by the common folk, so Alina starts out knowing very little about the realities of the Grisha. She has to learn the truth and their history along the way, which lets us learn it at the same time without either her or the audience looking like idiots. They’re a fascinating group and there was a part of me that was desperate to know more- to know about their history and all the details of the different subsets and the way they work within the heirarchy- but I was also very grateful that it wasn’t there because this story was so well-paced that I didn’t want to worry about the distractions. (maybe a compendium? maybe? maybe?- this is me begging, if it’s not obvious)

This story get such a fantastic balance of danger in the midst of luxury, ugliness as an inherent part of beauty, and mercy in the midst of savagery. Some of these dangers sometimes seem a little underdeveloped and uneven, but there are two other installments to follow- while many of the threads come closer to resolution, some have to stay open for the future books. I love that very frequently, luxury and beauty feel like an active threat, a danger. It seems like it should be something everyone wants, but to those accustomed to a certain starkness (starkness? Starkov? Ha! I see what you did there!) it’s every bit as unsettling as the sudden lack would be to anyone else.

And if you get hooked on this one (fabulous book- you will), keep an eye out for Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: The Squire’s Tale, by Gerald Morris

May 30, 2012 at 6:56 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

Raised in a forest by the hermit Trevisant, Terence has grown up outside of the concerns of men. But one day, a strange green face leads him through the trees to stumble on a young knight named Gawain, and nothing in Terence’s life will ever be the same. He joins Gawain on his journey to Camelot and King Arthur’s court, and beyond that on a great quest that leads through this world and the Other. On his adventures, Terence will learn a lot about courage, strength, beauty, and the best and worst that man has to offer.

I can’t even guess how many times I’ve read this book. I must have been ten or eleven the first time I checked it out from the library, and I’ve read it over and over and over, several times a year, because this is one of the books that changed me as both a reader and a writer. In fact, this book spawned my first fanfic.

Which, let’s face it, I am so SO glad I never put up online because it was awful.

But this is a book I talk about all the time, a book I really wish more people knew, and I realized I hadn’t ever actually talked about why.

As a kid, I grew up on stories of knights and damsels and quests, on the golden age of King Arthur, and all of that. I remember more than a few afternoon “quests” where I hunted down the evil Mordred to slay him before he could take down the great king. That being said, though, I didn’t actually know too many of the stories. I knew about Tristan and Isolde, about Lancelot and Guinevere, about Sir Kai and the Round Table. I’ll admit that my first knowledge of Sir Kai came from Disney’s The Sword in the Stone.

And then this book.

Even the narration made it different than any other books I’d ever read. This is a story, told in the tradition of the bards and minstrels that weave so well through the setting, so it’s not afraid to play with the poetry of its descriptions. It doesn’t go overboard like most of the bards it gently pokes fun of. The thing that made me absolutely fall in love was the honesty of the emotions. It’s not like the characters don’t have filters, because they do- they know what is or is not appropriate to say in court, for example, and they know how to be polite (i.e. lie)- but they’re not afraid to be honest and cmofortable in their emotions. These are men and boys who cry when they feel sad.

It seems like a little thing, right? Males crying?

But keep in mind how old I was when I first read it. Ten was the age when boys and girls were really getting separated. Girls could fall on the playground and bawl their eyes out, but boys were supposed to get over it with nothing more than a sniffle. It was reinforced in classes, at the playground, at parties: girls were allowed to cry and boys weren’t. And I HATED that. Mainly because I hated crying and got irritated by adults telling me “It’s okay to cry” whenever I skinned my knee but my boy friends were told “you’re okay, you’re fine”.

And there was this book where these amazing things were happening, and people were getting injured or insulted, people were learning these incredibly painful things, they were getting their hearts stomped on- and these men were allowed to cry without there being anything shameful about it. I was hooked.

But it was so much more than that.

Their adventures were amazing, ranging from the Huge- fighting a war for the sovereignty of all England- to the Small- helping two people in love find happiness. But every step along the way gave something to learn. It’s not a moralistic story, but at the same time it’s full of valuable life lessons that made me look at things in a new way.

And the characters!

Terence is sweet and innocent, loyal, open to learning new things, and rendered entirely wide-eyed by this wide world from which he’s always been sheltered. He starts out a very young fourteen, but though only a few months pass, his experiences make him mature in thoroughly expected and lovely ways. Gawain starts out as a teacher but along the course of their journey becomes a friend, even a brother. He’s sometimes grouchy and overbearing, but he’s young, and he learns even more than he teaches. He learns that being a knight is much more than a title and a shiny suit of armor, and that chivalry isn’t just a word. The friendship that forms between the two is wonderful and inspiring. Arthur is the king you’d give anything to follow, wise and compassionate, a true leader of men who’s able to put the well-being of his people before his own personal happiness. There’s Tor, hungry to improve himself, and Plogrun, the grouchy, overbearing, opininiated squire he obtains. There’s characters you love to love, others you love to hate, and some you kind of can’t help but cheer for, even when you’d really rather not.

The setting is comfortable and casual. We’re in the early middle ages, no doubt about it, but it doesn’t strain or force the point. The historical details are effortlessly dropped in- clothing and food and weapons and armor, even bigger picture world events (in a general sort of way)- but they’re never done in such a way as to sidetrack us from the story.

And the story continues. One of the things I love about the series that follows is that it doesn’t always directly follow Terence and Gawain. We’re introduced to a wonderful, wide cast of characters that weave in and out of the story, that we revisit at times, like a reunion with old friends. I was heartbroken when this series ended, but also so gloriously happy because it was brilliantly done. I reread these books every year, usually more than once.

This is an amazing story to read on your own, with family, with a classroom, a gorgeous balance of humor, sorrow, adventure, triumph, setbacks, and just plain fun.

The Squire’s Tale, by Gerald Morris, one of my favorite books of all time.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein

May 23, 2012 at 5:39 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

It starts with a confession, a game she has no chance of winning. It starts with a war and a horror, a history. It starts with a chance, a crashing plane, a mission, and a changing name. But most of all, it starts with a friendship, one with the power to change the course of everything, a friendship that forms its own courage, its own strength, one that will defy the terrors of a Gestapo cell. Because sometimes, friendship is a code name for hope. Trapped in a nightmare, Verity will have to draw on that friendship to survive the unspeakable horrors that await a captured spy.

I’ll go ahead and give the warning: I can’t help but gush about this one. Days and distance are not helping any in that regard, because I think about all the amazing aspects of this book and I’m just blown away all over again. So there is gushing, and maybe a bit of drooling.

The ages of the characters in this book are somewhat nebulous. You get the distinct impression that’s on purpose, probably because it teeters on the edge between Young Adult and Adult. It really could have gone either way, but I’m so glad it went YA, because the voice- oh my God the voice- is so spectacularly compelling. This is a voice that sucks you in from page one and never lets go, and at no point does it become less than riveting. It’s beyond compelling straight into captivating, and even when you’re breathless and appalled and teary-eyeed, you cannot put this book down. Holy expletive, the voice.

It manages to make even the most horrific things matter-of-fact, not in a blase sense but in the sense that she’s tried very hard to prepare herself for anything. Watching the moments where her composure starts to crack, but you know she’s still thinking and planning and gah! awe. Absolute awe. She’s brutally honest and yet, there’s always this sneaking suspicion that she’s tricking us all sometimes. And sometimes, there’s the suspicion that she’s trying to trick herself. The fate of a captured enemy operative is torture and then death- she never flinches from this. She relates that torture in a way that’s sickening, but not grotesque. It doesn’t back away from details but neither does it dwell on them, as much a part of her experience as the fervent wish for clean clothing.

There is so much that’s going on in this book, and yet it has a single, easily identifiable pillar around which it revolves: friendship. Not a romance, but a friendship as deep and true, perhaps even more so, than a romance in such circumstances could possibly be. How these two very different young women come together under a common cause is both gratifying and hysterical as they compare fears, games, and histories. But they do come together, forging both a friendship and a formidable team, and that frienship sustains them through some truly horrifying trials. It’s more than edifying, it’s transformative. Because of this friendship, their lives could never be the same again. I love that even with the subtle threads of possible romances that crop up from time to time, the central focus is always on that incredible friendship.

I love love LOVE how even the villains are humanized with fears and histories and famlies. That human factor is a little bit terrifying- how can they be okay with doing this to other people’s children?- but so true to life and history. Sympathy for the devil is so hard to write, and even harder to sell to a reader, but it comes off so flawlessly it’s hard not to tear up even for the horrible people. Not are the ‘good’ people all valiant knights in shiny white armor. Just because someone is working for the same side doesn’t make them good, and there are distinct threats and discomforts even among your own people. A lot of this book takes place in the gaps in other stories, in the grey areas between accustomed roles and laws, between war and peace, between hope and death, but it doesn’t just hide in the grey areas, it flourishes in them.

This takes place in such a fascinating period of time, with vast leaps in both technology and the role of women. As men went off to the front lines, women stepped into the necessary duties of farming, civil service, and medicine, but also into the increasingly perilous roles in intelligence and aviation, whihc made for some fantastic opportunities they couldn’t be sure would still exist after the war. Entire auxilliary corps of women rose up to fill those positions and became instrumental to the advances that were made. Many of the radio operators- and nearly all of the first radar operators- were women. We see not only our captive’s work in the shadowy world of intelligence operatives, but also her best friend’s work as an aviatrix, a world of planes when aviation was still fairly young and in rapid development, and female pilots were few and far between and subject to discrimination from nearly every angle. The detail in these worlds, the precision of the story and the locations, is really just mind-boggling. This doesn’t come off as historical fiction, mainly because we never feel that divorced from the story. We feel like we’re there in the middle of things.

Oh, the twists. So many twists, and so wonderfully layered. Some you can expect, if you’re paying attention to the obscure details outside of the story, but they’re still wonderful in how they come to be, and others are wonderfully, devestatingly unexpected. More heart-shattering yet are the ones you’re waiting for, the ones you know will happen but you keep hoping and praying they won’t, and then they do and it’s just staggering.

Despite ALL THE TEARS, I love that this book had the grace, strength, and courage to go for the good ending rather than the happy one (and trust me, that’s not giving anything away; this book doesn’t let you make those kinds of assumptions). I don’t mind a book leaving me with a lingering hope-tinged sorrow if it coems hand in hand with the glorious satisfaction and contentment that comes of finishing an astrounding book.

If this review comes off as seeming light on details, it’s for a reason- I don’t want to deprive you of the discoveries. It is such an amazing book, with characters that live long after the pages end. And you can’t read it just once- as soon as you get to the end, tears streaming down your face, jaw somewhere around your knees with shock, you’ll immediately want to turn back and start it again to watch with more understanding how all of these pieces fit flawlessly, gorgeously together.

This is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year, and perhaps ever. Do yourself a favor and don’t miss this one.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, out in stores now.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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