Tag Archives: historical

July books

I’ve been having trouble keeping up with this blog since getting hooked on GoodReads. If you particularly care to subscribe, you can read my GoodReads RSS feed; for now, here’s what I read in July!

Sabriel (The Abhorsen Trilogy, #1)

Thursday, July 31, 2008, 1:17:36 PMGo to full article
Sabriel (The Abhorsen Trilogy, #1)
author: Garth Nix
name: Emily
average rating: 4.28
book published: 2003
rating: 4
read at: 07/08
date added: 07/31/08
shelves:
review:
A delicate, magical book; a book that manages to truly evoke a sense of the numinous while being grounded in the earthy details of life, with beautiful writing.

Ink and Steel: A Novel of the Promethean Age

Thursday, July 31, 2008, 11:47:46 AMGo to full article
A Novel of the Promethean Age
author: Elizabeth Bear
name: Emily
average rating: 4.17
book published: 2008
rating: 4
read at: 07/08
date added: 07/31/08
shelves:
review:
Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age books have this much in common: heartbreaking, intense, complicated personal relationships, and politics that go way over my head. My solution is to read for the personal relationships and shrug off the politics, though that won’t work for everybody.

This book focuses on Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare, and on the Elizabethan reign, which is being subtly supported both by the magic in plays and verse and by the faerie realm. Marlowe is killed early in the book – or thought killed, anyway, and taken to faerie, where he is drawn into a tangle of politics and relationships; Shakespeare, meanwhile, is called upon to support Elizabeth’s reign with his plays and in other ways.

The book’s great strength is in how Marlowe and Shakespeare feel completely like real people, complex and multi-dimensional and sympathetic but flawed. I have the urge to give Marlowe a hug and some hot chocolate, not that it would help! Bear also knows how to write sex scenes that are intimate and revealing but not mechanical, perhaps better in this book than in any other of hers – which always comes as a pleasant surprise when I read so much YA…

Rogelia’s House of Magic

Thursday, July 31, 2008, 11:36:13 AMGo to full article
Rogelia's House of Magic
author: Jamie Martinez Wood
name: Emily
average rating: 3.67
book published: 2008
rating: 2
read at: 07/08
date added: 07/31/08
shelves:
review:
I loved the premise of three Latina girls from wildly different backgrounds coming together, becoming friends, studying magic and conquering their own personal challenges. There’s hippie girl Fern, who has her first serious crush on a boy but is nervous about pursuing him; rich Marina, who has a complicated relationship with her mother and her heritage; and Xochitl, a recent immigrant from Mexico still reeling from the death of her twin sister.

The book ended up not working for me, though, because the prose is just too clunky. Emotions are a little too bluntly stated, lumps of background information stick out, and a lot of the plot and characterization sticks closely to predictable templates.

Also, it may just be my own personal issue with things that are new-agey, but it’s a book that may induce eye-rolling in people who are skeptical regarding new-agey things.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Tuesday, July 22, 2008, 3:42:48 PMGo to full article
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
author: Ken Kesey
name: Emily
average rating: 4.24
book published: 1960
rating: 0
read at:
date added: 07/22/08
shelves:
review:
It’s hard to dislike a book that has a lot of lovely writing, a clear sense of structure and story, and quite a few good bits in it.

It’s hard to like a book that expects me to seriously believe that the world is ruled by an evil matriarchy.

At that point it’s hard for me to have any response other than “Aaaaaaaargh.”

The Skin I’m in

Thursday, July 03, 2008, 3:57:54 PMGo to full article
The Skin I'm in
author: Sharon G. Flake
name: Emily
average rating: 3.99
book published: 2000
rating: 3
read at: 07/08
date added: 07/03/08
shelves:
review:
Maleeka is dealing with poverty, peer pressure, teasing, and the hideous clothes her mother sews – which also provide the only relief her mother finds after the death of Maleeka’s father.

Sharon Flake is super popular among the preteen/young teen girls I see at the library, and I can see why. It’s all too easy to be sensationalistic or condescending or didactic when writing about inner-city children, and this book is none of those; it feels honest and real in a rather low-key kind of way.

While I didn’t feel like it was quite polished enough or crafted enough that I really loved it, it’s definitely a good solid book.

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The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Vol. II, The Kingdom On the Waves, by M. T. Anderson

Octavian Nothing IIMost historical fiction books for young people take as their object to show a Typical Person with a Typical Problem in a particular era; and most historical fiction for young people reflects a sort of bland consensus view of history, something that is acceptable to teach in schools.Octavian Nothing is not most historical fiction.

Picking up where the first book left off, Octavian — a slave raised in luxury with a first-rate education as part of an experiment — enlists with the Royal Ethiopian Regiment, which has promised to free any Rebel-owned slaves that join up. There he encounters war, friendship, heartbreak, betrayal, the difficulty of fitting in when he fits in nowhere. He has spent his childhood learning Latin and violin fugues, where his comrades have spent theirs on plantations. Octavian’s cultural heritage is extremely complex. He has been given music and religion – but has been deprived of the music and religion of his own people. The novel refuses to make an easy calculation of what he has gained and lost.

We see Octavian’s growing maturity as he acquires wisdom — and also cynicism. Is selfishness at the core of human nature, human existence? Can success — or survival — only be achieved at the expense of others? And if so, how do we reconcile ourselves with that?

The issue of historical memory is one I’ve been deeply interested in for some years now. There is probably no nation on earth that has never, somewhere in its history, committed war crimes or genocide, that has no scars on its conscience. It’s easy to say, it’s history, it’s in the past. It’s too easy; the past is never past. Octavian Nothing is willing to confront that, to ask hard questions. To refuse to provide easy answers to them. It asks how we can reconcile ourselves with our past — with our present — and says, maybe we don’t. Maybe we can’t.

What a profoundly troubling and beautiful piece of work.

 

Octavian Nothing II will be published in October.

Tamar, Mal Peet

TamarIt’s the rare YA book whose plot focuses on those who are no longer teens; once the main character’s in college (with a few exceptions), it’s automatically an adult book. So it seemed odd to me that the book starts with a hundred pages of Dart (this is a code name) and Tamar (also a code name) working with the Dutch resistance in 1945. They must be young men, but they’re not that young, and their concerns are distinctly adult ones. There’s no reason this shouldn’t have been published as a young adult novel.

 Except for the other storyline, the other main character, and that’s Tamar’s namesake, a 15-year-old girl living in England 50 years after these events; after her grandfather’s suicide, she finds a box left to her containing maps, a crossword puzzle, money, an identification booklet, an old picture. As she searches for what these all mean, so do we.

These two plotlines, the YA and the not-YA, sit uneasily beside each other. They seem like they ought to be from two different books. They’re two different good books, mind you, with a lot of powerful moments; and while I hate twists at the end, the one here is quite effective… still, I can’t help but think that it’s not really a young adult book.