Mentioned a while back that I’d probably be on 2009 books for a while, but perhaps they just need to get snippet-y reviews now (rather than snippet-y reviews later, when they’re even hazier in my mind).
Meg Cabot – Airhead: Being Nikki
Book 2 of the Airhead trilogy. I remember nothing of this book that isn’t spoilery, but suffice it to say that I am planning to read Book 3, and really enjoying the blend of scifi and chick-lit.
Lizzie Skurnick – Shelf Discovery
A collection of columns from the Fine Lines blog, which looks at books read as kids or teens, revisited from an adult point of view. I’d read most of the books discussed, and as soon as I stumbled across the book, I knew I’d enjoy it. I did – I love the critical-but-not-super-academic, fond-yet-mocking tone of the book recaps – even though it could have benefitted from more thorough copyediting. There is a moment where Ms Finney (we all remember Ms Finney from The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, right? Right?!) is given an incorrect first name (oh, here we go), and it distressed me slightly (because of course she turns up again in There’s A Bat In Bunk Five, referred to almost exclusively as Barbara). But at the same time I loved devouring a book that looks not just at Cormier and L’Engle and Paterson, but also Paula Danziger and Lois Duncan and Judy Blume and Francine Pascal and Julian F Thompson. Well worth reading.
Malinda Lo – Ash
Cinderella retelling, skilfully done. The world of the story is beautifully crafted, and in this version there’s no cheerful fairy godmother so much as there is the (as the blurb puts it) “the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean”. He’s sort of delicious, but not nearly as lovely as the King’s Huntress, Kaisa. It works well as a dark fantasy, while also adding to the could-be-larger canon of lesbian/bisexual YA fiction.
Rachel Simmons – The Curse of the Good Girl
I really enjoyed Rachel Simmons’ first book, Odd Girl Out, when I finally got around to reading it, so I was interested to see this one. It looks at the problem of the ‘good girl’, the various things girls are expected to be and the ways in which this causes problems at school, in extracurriculars, and in the workplace. I’d read something fairly grumpy about this being yet another book blaming women for their own downfall, essentially, and there is something to be said for looking at why society-as-a-whole rewards and reinforces certain behaviour in girls and women, not just why girls and women behave in certain ways, but the emphasis is on seeing through the ‘good girl’ myth and moving past it. It’s aimed a lot at parents and to a lesser extent educators, and even though there’s nothing wildly radical about it, it does make a lot of interesting points and frames its argument well. One of my favourite non-fiction books of 2009.
Julie Anne Peters – Rage: A Love Story
Julie Anne Peters is always good, and though this isn’t my favourite of hers, I do love the way she’s moved beyond the standard-YA-lesbian-novel fare and looks at various kinds of complicated and troubled relationships. Well worth reading.
Ann M Martin – Main Street #8: Special Delivery
Oh, I love Ann M Martin. The Main Street series continues to be sweet but not saccharine reading, with this instalment concentrating on the arrival of Aunt Allie’s baby.
Maeve Binchy – The Return Journey
My main recollection of this book is reading it when away somewhere doing author visit-y stuff, so probably sometime last October for the BookFest. Lots of short stories, some better than others, but generally all with that warm Binchyesque feeling about them. Not quite 100% warm and fuzzy though – sometimes it’s just about how horrible or foolish people can be, as much as it is about things working out for the best.
Marilyn French – The Women’s Room
So I finally got around to reading this! And it has become one of my favourite books. It is jaded and true and lovely; the men are all rubbish and the women are slightly less so, and there’s so much unhappiness and unfairness for these smart women, these academically-inclined women, and even though so much of it is about the time that was in it, there is – as there almost always is in great feminist texts – a lot that is still relevant. Also, on a slightly more trivial note, a lot more lesbianism (or, well, pseudo-lesbianism, really) than I expected from it. So there’s that…
Elizabeth Scott – Living Dead Girl
Short, but powerful novel from Elizabeth Scott, who does creepy just as well as she does cheerful. This is about a girl who has been living in captivity for years, who has been abused, and who, when faced with the prospect of recruiting her replacement, may have an opportunity to find the strength to escape (or not). It’s not my favourite of Scott’s books (Love You Hate You Miss You wins that prize), but it is well worth the read.
Cathy Cassidy – Angel Cake
Typical Cathy Cassidy fare, leaving you feeling as though even though the world is often quite a crap place, for kids and adults alike, good things can and do happen. This one has as its central character the Polish-born Anya who’s just moved to England, and there’s a cake shop involved, which is always good – bring back that Blytonesque tradition of loving descriptions of food, I say.
Meg Rosoff – The Bride’s Farewell
Meg Rosoff writes beautiful beautiful books, though The Bride’s Farewell is not my favourite of hers. It’s interesting to see her take on the Victorian era, and there’s a lot going on (and all done in a subtle and also condensed way that is so different from the three-volume novel way of going about things), and it is good… but I was so spoiled by How I Live Now that I’m not sure anything after that will ever live up to it.
Melina Marchetta – Jellicoe Road
A very interesting book, one that starts off seeming like it’s going to be about ‘territory wars’ and inter-school rivalry and turns ever-so-gradually into something completely different. It’s a difficult one to summarise, but basically there are two stories running through it, and they’re interconnected (though it does take a while to figure out exactly how – it’s possible to make a reasonable guess but still not obvious), and things tie together in nifty and often unexpected (and often heartbreaking) ways. And that’s probably all I can say without ruining it.
Tom Dolby – The Sixth Form
Another of my ‘I wish I’d gone to boarding school!’ reads, the one concentrating on two boys in their senior year and the rather messed-up teacher who gets involved in their lives. One of those scenarios that fiction-writers love, I think. Good read.
Margaret Atwood – Murder in the Dark
Collection of short stories and prose poems, some of which I’d read before or skimmed before, so finally sat down to read the entire book. Like most things, a mix of good and bad, or in Atwood’s case a mix of super and so-so.
Catherine Orenstein – Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked
Orenstein’s book looks at various takes on Little Red Riding Hood, from the late seventeenth century to the present, and explores the implications of the changes in each version, the ways in which fairy tales and folk tales are both fixed in some ways but also flexible and malleable, and covers a range of topics in the process. Worth reading if you’re interested in history, gender, fairytales, cultural studies, literature, etc (why yes, it was one of those ‘oh I must read this, it has everything!’ books for me).
Ellen Hopkins – Identical
A novel in verse, told by two very troubled identical twins, with much angst, eating disorder fun, and sexual abuse. And it gets utterly stunning for the last 100 pages or so – but that’s another case of ‘cannot explain why it is so good without ruining it entirely’.
Tara Altebrando – What Happens Here
YA novel about a girl who goes to Europe with her family, and comes back to a tragedy. To be honest, I totally did not get the direction that the book was going (though in retrospect it is heavily implied from the back of the book), so I spent most of it being shocked. But it’s good stuff – high drama, but very real in how it’s handled.
Louise Doughty – A Novel In A Year
This is a collection of Doughty’s articles, one a week, about writing novels, and is one of the most sensible books about writing I’ve ever come across – though to be fair there were moments where I went “oh no! No, you cannot say that never works for people!” (one such moment was I think to do with outlining/plots). But these were far outweighed by the “yes, yes, yes, that’s it exactly!” moments. It is pretty rare to come across anything about writing that’s new – but what you’re hoping for is someone who’s put something in a particular way, or articulated something you’ve always felt or known but never quite expressed. (Given that this is what a lot of writing in general is about, you’d think you’d get more of it from the ‘how to write’ books, but alas no.)
Elizabeth Berg – The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted
Collection of short stories, with three of them looking at food in particular, and women’s relationship to food, but also looking at other issues. I like Elizabeth Berg’s work, though I think her novels appeal to me more than these pieces did. (Possibly this is to do with an ongoing uncertainty about short stories: to read them in a row, or dip in and out of a collection? And is it okay to skip a story and just go on to the next one? I haven’t quite managed doing that without feeling as though I’m somehow missing out on the overall experience, even though not all collections are themed or organised in a particular way.)
Ellen Emerson White – The President’s Daughter (series)
These were sort-of blowing me away, and then I read the fourth book, and was completely wowed over. (Spoilers in a vague, nothing-beyond-what-you’d-get-from-a-blurb way follow.) Meg and her family are a terrifically interesting bunch of people, flawed and smart and funny and brilliant. Her mother, the President, is one tough lady who loves her family but, well, is the President of the United States, and that’s the driving force of the series – how Meg’s life changes when her mother’s elected as well as everything that happens next – her mother’s shooting, and her own kidnapping. The fourth book takes place during Meg’s first year of college, and even though I completely do not get the romantic relationship (and trying to keep this non-spoilertastic, but honestly, if you’ve read it, you must have a sense that actually someone else who’s been there all along and, um, dresses super-stylishly is far more deserving of Meg), it didn’t bother me too much because there’s so much else going on. And I love the fact that Meg is actually a sexual human being! With attractions and desires and all the rest. So, generally good, but fourth book is fabulous – and handles a lot of issues without being An Issue Book but instead is just A Damn Good Read.
Holly Black & Cecil Castelucci (eds): Geektastic
Collection of ‘stories from the nerd herd’, ranging from role-playing to conventions to general fannish enthusiasms to having much obscure knowledge. The stories are interspersed with comic panels, which works well. As with most collections, the quality is mixed. I wasn’t a fan of the opening story, in which a Jedi and Klingon fall in love, and which was apparently the impetus for the entire collection, but your mileage may vary. I loved the story (‘One of Us’) in which a cheerleader gets the geekier kids in the school to educate her about nerdish/fannish culture and ends up enjoying it – not an overly radical concept, but handled really well. Cassandra Clare’s ‘I Never’ looks at what happens when role-players meet up and their real-world identities don’t quite match up to the ideal, and is another one of my favourites from the collection. There’s a story about a real-life Dawn with comparisons to BtVS’s Dawn, which works well. David Levithan’s story, about a quiz bowl team, is terrific, as expected (I like pretty much everything of his I’ve ever read). ‘The Stars at the Finish Line’ was another one that worked for me, which looks at astronomy. And even though Kelly Link’s contribution wasn’t one I utterly adored, it is one that sticks with me.
Whew. That does bring us up to the end of 2009, finally. Next week (in an ideal world): January and February reads.