booklog, late August
We're probably going to do a field trip to the library in the next couple weeks. I plan to introduce him to Tamora Pierce's books and possibly Kate Elliott's. I can't go all-out bookrec because really, no one should have to handle that at school. But maybe two authors with a good bunch of books between them won't overwhelm the kiddo.
Tamora Pierce, Magic Steps, Street Magic, Cold Fire, Shatterglass. I did not mean to make a reread project of these, but I did want to reread them, and then I had Things to Say and I wanted to be sure I had actual data to work from rather than ten-year-old memories. Which is good, considering that the books themselves pretty much undercut my Things.
What I remember is that I was pissed at the end of Street Magic because the villain kill herself, thus escaping punishment. I remembered all of them having this sort of ending-- people ending up dead by their own actions. Not quite at Disney-villain-fall levels (speaking of, does anyone else remember the guy from Tarzan who accidentally hangs himself, apparently because that was the only way to get rid of him? Disney heroines are allowed to fight their villains, but not allowed to defeat them except by making them face the consequences of their actions. Or gravity.) but I remembered Briar’s ending specifically and the rest I thought I remembered-- eaten by magic, burned up, something something I don’t remember.
Sandry makes a plan to avoid killing her villains, but due to her idiot student, it doesn’t work and she kills them, first looking one of them in the eye; the killing is unavoidable and messy. Briar’s villain kills herself and he lets her. Daja catches hers and traps him for the courts, then, with a bunch of other mages, mercy-kills him during his execution. Tris manages not to kill hers in self-defense, then has to be talked back from killing him in cold blood by other mages.
So there goes my hugebig rant on mysteries never involving the courts. Which is a pretty good rant, and I might post it later. Everyone wants the story to end with, “And then we arrested the person we knew did it,” not with, “We arrested someone we were pretty sure did it, but the DA decided not to prosecute because we didn’t have enough evidence,” or, “We arrested the person we knew did it, but ten years later, it turned out two of our witnesses were intimidated into identifying the wrong suspect.” The mystery is in who did it and, if it’s a good mystery, why, with a side of catching them once you know who they are. Adding due process means the structure isn’t a mystery any more. Instead, you have the plot of bringing someone to justice, which will hopefully not involve them becoming conveniently dead.
I suppose that’s the heart of the rant. Suicide should not be convenient. It should not be chosen because it’s the easiest path to an ending for the story. And it bugs me that many books-- not including Pierce here because she’s better-- do that.
So. Um. Takeaway: Circle Opens better than I remembered. I will happily read more Tris in every context. Next up, if I decide to continue reading all the Circle books, is Will of the Empress, which I disliked in large part because there’s a hole in the series where Battle Magic should go.
Patricia Reilly Giff, Wild Girl. One hazard of picking up a book based on an elementary school book report poster is that the book will not be about what it says it’s about. Some kiddos don’t notice this enough to put it on their posters. In this case, the book has a horse on the cover, is named after a horse, talks about horses in the blurb, and has a yellow sticker reading HORSES on the spine.
This is not a book about horses. It’s a pretty good book about a girl from Brazil relocating to New York with absolutely zero support-- no English support at school, no meeting the teacher privately before school, no ‘here are some things you should know how to say’. She solves her problems by noticing they are problems and then applying very simple fixes, which work immediately. But the horses are peripheral.
Ruta Sepetys, Out of the Easy. Maybe I’m spoiled by Barbara Hambly, but I was surprised how white this New Orleans was. And how easily everything came together in the end. Inheritance ex machina, everything works out... but I wanted it to work out differently.
Betsy Cornwell, Tides. Some weeks ago, I left the library with three selkie books. This is the third. I expected a very standard YA fantasy, possibly with surprise heritage, possibly too busy because reading the jacket copy... there is a lot going on in this book.
Having read it, it is not a standard YA fantasy with hidden heritage; it’s a very simple story complicated by seven POV characters, each drawn about as fully as the next, so the central ones are too simple and in one case difficult to like (young sir, you are a high school graduate who beat college students for an internship with your idol. FILING IS YOUR LIFE NOW. There shall be no complaining.) and the minor characters are still flattish, but detailed flattish.
Most of the book’s ending was too easy, which really bothered me. I think that the many POVs meant the story had to be simple and straightforward and the ending happy and easy because there simply wasn’t room to do anything else. I would much rather have had the story of the bulimic transracial adoptee with dysfunctional parents and then selkies to deal with.
Jane Smiley, Pie in the Sky. What I like about Smiley’s middle-grade writing is that it reminds me of older horse books. Plot? Well, things happen. In this one, Abby makes up her own moral for the book, but I don’t think it’s that pat in the other three. But there’s no central problem to solve, no revelations to have, just a girl in the sixties with her family, her friends, and horses. There are major issues in the book, more apparent to me than in the others, but they’re dealt with in the same way and on the same level as a difficult horse.
I was really pleased with the treatment of the Vietnam draft in this book. Most of the time, possibly all of the time I’ve seen it, characters’ reactions to the draft are either HELL NO AWAY TO CANADA or USA! USA! and in this one (and I shall spoil half a page for you) it’s, “Huh. I figure I should wait to make up my mind until I have to because I don’t want to be wrong.”
Book I Did Not Finish: I read a couple chapters, then asked Angela if the end was endy. She said no, which is about what I thought. I’d read the book this one is pretending to be even if it weren’t endy, but not the book it turned out to be.
Lorrie Moore, Anagrams. Recommended by Angela, and by ‘recommended’ I don’t mean ‘she said I might like this book’ but ‘she talked about one of the narrative choices in an unrelated conversation’ and ‘she has an excerpt displayed in her bedroom’. Not a Post-It or a tastefully framed passage of text. I mean four or five feet high, a third of a page printed out at Studio Arts and Heat ‘n’ Bonded to foamboard. The excerpt is a larger part of her decorating scheme than her bed is. It is only barely surpassed by the bright pink wall.*
So yes, this is a book I took my time getting to because it’s important.
I’m not sure what I expected, beyond the narrative choice Angela told me about well before I read it. I finished the book very interested in the ways the five stories told fit together or didn’t fit at all-- all of them are filled with Fauxgonquin Round Table wit, people doing their best to be Dorothy Parker and mostly coming up with puns; all of them feature showtunes in some capacity, thus earworming me; all of them feature Gerard, Benna, and Eleanor. They share a prose style, and a contagious one. I think that the real story, if there is a real story, is in the space between the stories in the book. If there is any truth of Gerard, Benna, and Eleanor, it can be found in the five stories together, much like figuring out a sentence based on several anagrams of it. Rearranging a known thing to create a new and unknown thing is very much the book’s point.
*Sometimes we are subtle. This is not one of those times.
Mercedes Lackey, Steadfast. An Elemental Masters book, and one based on Andersen’s story of a similar name.
This should worry you.
May I spoil the ending for you? Because I’m going to spoil the ending for you. In the end, the abusive asshole husband is set afire not by the Fire magicians, one of whom he has raped and abused, nor by the Fire magicians’ elementals, who have all been sent away lest such a thing happen, but by his own drunkenness. He manages to immolate himself and much of the cottage he and his desperate wife are in. The wife (our heroine) and the love interest are both Fire magicians, but they can’t fight the fire. They are saved by a dragon who promised to protect the heroine because she promised not to exploit Fire elementals. Oh, and the love interest is forgiven the atrocities of the Boer War, which he didn’t take part in of course but he also didn’t do anything to stop.
Things the Good Guys did to get rid of the Bad Guy: they provided gin so he’d be too drunk to hurt the heroine overmuch.
I mean really. This is bullshit. It is one thing for Lackey’s characters to be too nice to do anything bad, and another entirely for all their problems to go away Because They Are Good People. That goes doubly so when adapting Hans Christian Andersen, where being Good People mostly gets you cast into the fire and melted into the shape of a heart.