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Hay on Wye and A Book Review

This bank holiday weekend I went to Manderley Hay on Wye again. I know, I have a problem, but I wake up at nights and hear its beautiful Welsh voice calling to me. 'Tooown of... booooooks' comes the cry across the moors, and I'm telling you, it sure beats 'Heathcliff.'

This time I had an excuse: I had to take trincesstiara. She'd never been! She's been my best friend since we were eight years old! It was my duty, really.

She bought 35 books. I only bought 11. See, I'm growing as a person.

We walked the narrow, sunny, cobblestoned streets clutching bags of books and carrying on like deranged magpies.

CHIARA: tumbles to the sunlit-yellow floor of a small shop
ME: Baby! What happened! You fell on your face. Are you having a seizure?
CHIARA: I have just found five Dornford Yates novels!
ME: Oh, it's a good, literary seizure. That's all right then.

ME: whisks Margaret Mahy's Dangerous Spaces off a high shelf
CHIARA: Unfair height advantage! I protest!
ME: It is true. I am six foot three in my new red sandals. And why do I mention this? Because I love my new red sandals. Almost as much as I love my new Margaret Mahy book. Muahahahaha!

I also found my new favourite book in the world, The Hero of Crampton School by G. Forsyth Grant. It's sort of like What Katy Did, with far more cricket and athletic young schoolboys.

ME: I am not buying this book. I have far too much dignity.
CHIARA: No you don't.
ME: You know me so well.

The story tells of the trials suffered by The Hero of Crampton School, nicknamed Hercules because of his great strength and, uh, perfect manly beauty. He is a jolly good sport and the finest cricketer you ever saw, and of course he has a pale, nervy best friend called Trevor who constantly breaks down in hysterics. I could not be parted from this book. trincesstiara really tried.

ME: With all the force he could summon up he struck Hercules a stinging blow on the cheek! Oh dear. Trevor is so highly strung.
CHIARA: Oh look, a fudge shop.
ME: Then all at once he sank down into a chair and burst into a fit of wild, passionate tears. "Oh, Herc, Herc! How can I live without you? What shall I do if I never see you again? ... I do believe Trevor has the vapours!
CHIARA: Here's a teddy bear.
ME: Ah! If Hercules would only want him as he used to do!
CHIARA: Maybe I'll beat you to death with the teddy bear.
ME: He did not know that Hercules had looked after him with wistful eyes as he walked slowly from the room.
CHIARA: Nothing will ever stop you, will it? Oh look, a shop that sells greeting cards made of sheep poo!
ME: What? Where? Ew.

But this post is not, in fact, about Hay on Wye. Nor is it about The Hero of Crampton School or even my new red sandals. It's a book review! It's also about literary seizures, because this book gave me one.


Flora Segunda by Ysabeau Wilce

Exactly My Cup of Tea. Exactly My (Slightly Sinister) Spoonful of Sugar.

The diary of this novel's heroine might look a bit like this.

Dear Diary,

The shrieks of my father the madwoman in the attic ring through our ancestral halls. If only the General were here - Mamma knows how to control him. I am also constantly plagued by my best friend's well-meant fashion advice - he's such a font of glass-gazing frivolity.

So far everything is as usual in Crackpot Hall, then.

There is one small difference. I may have slightly disturbed the evil spirit of this house. After a few tingling kisses I am left feeling rather weak, Dear Diary, and he has grown rather strong and strangely alluring, in a sparkly purple sort of way. He creeps into my bed at night and whispers such things, makes me promises that leave me weak with longing.

He says he will do my laundry...





A quote from the text, right after Valefor the Evil(ish), More Sort Of Whiny Spirit has crept into Flora's bed.

"Isn't this fun? It's just like one of those slumber parties I have read about. The girls lie in the dark and tell sad stories of the deaths of kings, and eat popcorn and give each other green facials."

"You are not a girl."

"Oh. Well, yes, I suppose you are right, but now I feel better I could be a girl, if you wanted me to be-"

There are some really terrific minor characters: Flora's parents and a character called the Dainty Pirate are notables, but my favourites are the main three: Flora, a terrific red-haired heroine who is never sassy but always crabby and capable, her best friend Udo who is massively vain and massively ridiculous and also massively devoted to and determined to protect Flora, and Valefor. Evil Spirit. Parasite Preying on Young Women. A Dab Hand With The Housework. He's selfish, whiny, chatty and has serious shivery sexual tension with Flora which might actually endanger her life.

I think it's safe to say I have a bit of a crush.

This book's heavy on the whimsy, which is fine by me but may be too much for some people. The one and only thing that threw me off a bit was some of the language, which was a little too juvenile-sounding. Flora is pretty young - about to turn fourteen - but since the book is fairly explicit about a lecherous old Warlord's interest in Flora and touches on complicated marital infidelity, it's a little jarring to have mentions of 'my tum,' 'yummy' and 'squiggling.' It's a judgement call, though. On the whole I thought the book was amazing: it's one of the best books I've read all year. There's going to be a sequel, and the first person who tells me when it comes out wins a prize! (My undying devotion counts as a prize.)

But don't take my word for it. Diana Wynne Jones says this book is terrific. She's right.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
fadedbluejeans
Jun. 3rd, 2009 01:17 pm (UTC)
Repost:

I read this post when it was first written, and I remember reading in one of your comments your dismay about the fact that you had intended to promote Flora and had instead watched as a large number of your commenters were siezed by bookish longing for Hero.

I was, I will confess, one of those who fell for Hero. But after being unable to locate it outside the seven circles of Hell, or inside them for that matter, I was soon overwhelmed by your descriptions of Flora, most notably the diary entry you created for her, and the actual quote.

So, I began to search for that, instead. My local Borders failed me. Several other local bookstores failed me. The massive bookstore in the city which has never failed me before - utter failure. I gave up, telling myself that I would special order it when I actually had money to spend.

Some poor, misguided fool, who had clearly never seen me in the presence of books, gave me a job in a bookstore. Hardly daring to hope, I ran a search through our inventory. Three copies.

I bought it for myself yesterday, and blew off university assignments to read it. It was fabulous. Though I do agree with you about the juvenile prose. Suffice to say, I am writing a staff recommendation tomorrow.

So, yeah. Just wanted to say a huge thank you for the recommendation. And I think that the Valefor crush is inevitable, really.

Anyway, it's nose back to the grindstone for me if I want to get this essay in on time (in the post by 9am tomorrow...eep!), especially if I want to be semi-coherent at work tomorrow.

---------------------------------------------------
Since this original post, I have forced several of my friends to read Flora, and sent at least a dozen customers home with a copy.

Ms. Rees Brennan, your work here is done.
(Anonymous)
Jul. 14th, 2009 10:51 am (UTC)
I just finished reading Flora Segunda. I remembered that you did a review of it, and I'm glad to find that it got reposted; I remembered the verdict, but completely forgot about the hilarious journal entry.

While reading Flora, I realized that I'd read a story set in the same world... years ago, in an issue of F&SF Magazine. I was right, and it turned out that the short story was the author's first published piece. The most exciting thing was that I could see how the short story and the novel were built on the same invented cityscape, drawn from the same fantastic history. The short story, though rougher and also heavy on the whimsy (which I liked), didn't have the same out-of-place language. Perhaps because it was about the young man who became Hardhands?

Tomorrow, I'm going to the library; I'll be very disappointed (but not surprised) if someone has already borrowed Flora's Dare.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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