Sarah Rees Brennan (sarahtales) wrote,
Sarah Rees Brennan

Book Reviews, Sarah Style

I was sitting in Chat'n'Chew in New York waving about a forkful of exotic, mysterious mac and cheese, and telling my friends Jen Barnes and Sarah Cross about a book I'd read, and they told me I should review books the same way I tell people about them. Which is usually with gushing, grumbling and sometimes entirely inaccurate acting out of scenes.

So I decided to try that out. Therefore, the fact these reviews may be completely incoherent is in no way my fault but directly attributable to Evil Influences.

With that in mind, then, three books I have read, loved and talked about in the last four months...

The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong

I was in London at my friend Ki's house, and she told me to read Dime Store Magic by Kelley Armstrong. I'd already read Bitten by Kelley Armstrong and it hadn't worked for me, but Ki insisted I would like Dime Store Magic. I really liked it, so when I saw Kelley Armstrong's first young adult fantasy book I leaped for it.

Chloe's crazy: she sees and hears people who aren't there, so she's in a home for disturbed adolescents. There are two brothers in the home with her, Gorgeous Lovely Simon and Hideous Derek, and they seem to be suggesting she's a necromancer.

Well, they're obviously very disturbed. The fact they're in the home with her is Chloe's first clue, though Hideous Derek creeping creepily up on her at every opportunity is another hint.

Then her roommate disappears without a trace, Gorgeous Lovely Simon displays some powers of his own, and Chloe raises some zombies in the cellar. She's forced to re-evaluate. (Derek should still quit it with the creepy creeping, though.)

I love Chloe! She's so realistic, as a teenage girl and a real person both. I love how she translates real life to movies because she's so interested in moviemaking (I do the same with books). And I love her because she is so practical. I have read about too many brainless heroines who the heroes have to rescue: I don't particularly care about sensible heroes, but sensible heroines make me so, so happy.

And I love Gorgeous Lovely Simon: it's fun to have a character who is casually biracial (half Swedish, half Korean) and also super hot, and genuinely nice. It's also fun to have Derek, since in books people who aren't that attractive - well, it's often 'I am too slender!' or 'my ladylike curves are too curvy!' or 'this rakish scar is disfiguring!' or 'my grimly dark, rugged features FRIGHTEN people!'

Derek is covered in acne and his hair is greasy and he showers twice daily and he still sometimes has BO. Puberty has hit him like a meteor! You never see those teenagers! I love him the best of all, and so, of course, I want Derek and Chloe to be together forever even though Derek has shown no interest and Chloe and Simon are into each other. I simply do not care. I love them and I want them to get married.

Some scenes from The Summoning featuring the future married couple.

DEREK: creeps up on her creepily for the fiftieth time
DEREK: All right.
DEREK: creepily creeps up on her for the fifty-first time and this time creepily whispers, I'm behind you.
DEREK: ... But you said!
DEREK: Women, there is no pleasing them!

TEACHER: Chloe and Derek, what have you been doing down in the cellars and why are you all covered in mud?
DEREK: Not raising zombies, that's for sure.
TEACHER: Seriously, what were you up to?
CHLOE: Um - what it looks like.
CHLOE: Yeah. It was um - hot.
DEREK: ...
TEACHER: Ah. Ahahahahaha! But seriously, Chloe, like you'd ever touch Derek, he is hideous. What was really going on?
CHLOE: That's a terrible way to talk about Derek! He cannot help how he looks! He could have a really great personality!
CHLOE: You know. Hypothetically.

CHLOE: Hey Derek, glad I caught you alone.
CHLOE: Ah I see you are surprised I have ambushed you in the shower! See, I listened when you said the teachers shouldn't see us talking.
CHLOE: Men, there is no pleasing them!

CHLOE: I hope that Derek didn't notice that when all those zombies came at us, I kind of peed myself.
DEREK: ... This may not be the moment to reveal I have super senses.

CHLOE: Derek! Open the door, Derek! I want a word! Open the door open the door open-
DEREK: Madam, I was sleeping and I am in my night attire!
CHLOE: ...
DEREK: Chloe? What is it? Why are you making that sizzling sound? Are you hurt in some way?
CHLOE: ...
DEREK: Have you sustained internal injuries, possibly to the windpipe? Nod once for yes.
CHLOE: ... Rockin' bod, Derek.
DEREK: ...

I will confess, when I read the first half of this book the first time, I was plodding a bit from A to B. I even thought about giving up on it. I'm not sure why that is, since I love it now, but I thought I should warn others. For the record my flatmate the Durham Lass felt no such thing, though she was moved to utter burning reproach when in all my wittering about Chloe and Derek's true, true love I failed to mention there was a cliffhanger ending.

Chalice by Robin McKinley

I will buy anything with Robin McKinley's name on it, because I love her writing: she's one of the writers whose prose I can just sink into, familiar and gorgeous as sinking into a hot bath. That said, I liked Chalice for other reasons than feeling like I could just splash around in her writing with bubbles and a rubber ducky.

Mirasol the beekeeper has just inherited the position of Chalice, which means she acts as right hand for the Master of her land. She's really new and inexperienced, and the last Chalice died with the last Master in very dodgy circumstances. Plus the new Master is a priest of Fire and seems to have mostly turned into a fire element. When he touches Mirasol's hand, he burns her. (Just so we're clear: Not 'hey, baby, you're so fine! Your touch burns me, baby!' but 'hey... baby... your cloak is billowing kind of like your body's made of smoke, your eyes are all red, and - did I say baby, I think I meant sir, or Master, or Lord Terrifying McInhuman, and - OUCH, that's going to scar.')

Humans and monsters interacting, fearing each other and thinking about each other and trying to get on and inching painfully towards understand each other? I love that so much, I will buy any book that seems to be even vaguely about it. Having that in a Robin McKinley book is sort of like having James McAvoy show up at my door saying 'Hi, this was the first door I came to? As you can see, there's been this terrible accident with a vat of melted chocolate in the street - I do apologise for appearing before a lady in this state - I was wondering if possibly this was a situation you could help me with?'

The only answer is yes!

Mirasol is a very McKinley heroine, in that she's very well-meaning and very fixed on one thing: in Sunshine that was baking, in Rose Daughter it was gardening, and for Mirasol it's honey. That's part of her magical powers, too, and McKinley is good, so she makes the heroine's interest interesting. Mirasol didn't really stand out for me, but I liked her and sympathised with her a lot. The book didn't have a lot of action, but often McKinley's books don't, and the world she'd built up was cool, and her dreamy pace felt suited to the pastoral fantasy land she'd set us in. And as I may have mentioned, the premise was amazing and guaranteed to interest me.

MASTER: Here I am, back determined to rule the land! Little help walking here, I may not be all that corporeal, but I feel fine!
VILLAGERS: Does anyone smell burning?
MASTER: Merely my very essence!
VILLAGERS: ... Oh because that's not worrying at all.
SARAH: I LOVE YOU, Master! You try so hard!
MIRASOL: Hey, take this ceremonial chalice. Oh God, your hand brushed mine AND IT BURNS.
MASTER: Uh, sorry about that.
VILLAGERS: What's that? Did she say it burns? Oh my God, we all live in thatched houses!
MIRASOL: Er - did I say burns? No, more of a tickle. This isn't a burn, it's a... bee sting. Yup. Anyway, it's definitely healing and not any kind of mystical everlasting burn, that's for sure.
SARAH: I LOVE YOU, Mirasol! You try so hard! You two crazy kids have a lot in common.
MASTER: When I concentrate real hard, I don't burn people.
MIRASOL: ... Sexy?

The end where the problem is magically totally solved did not work for me, though. I like magic and magical problems a lot, but I don't like magical solutions. I like for problems to still leave scars and after-effects. I want people to be changed by what they've gone through.

A happy ending that's too happy doesn't feel real to me, and if I can't believe in it then how can I be happy for anyone?

Still, I think Chalice may be one of my favourite McKinleys.

The Magicians and Mrs Quent by Galen Beckett

... Or, as I think of it, the adventures of Elizabeth Eyre and an Effeminate Young Gentlemen About Town.

This is one book about two people, Ivy (Elizabeth Eyre) and Eldyn (Effeminate Young Gentleman) with lives that touch briefly and run alongside, but fairly separate stories. Half of Ivy's story deliberately mirrors Pride and Prejudice and the other half deliberately mirrors Jane Eyre, which is enough to make me love the book all on its own as I love those books and I love the thought of smooshing them together with magic. Eldyn's story does no mirroring, but it does involve saints, actors, cross-dressing and highwaymen.

The book starts with an awesome description of the heroine reading while walking, and it made me love her instantly, since I do that and it puzzles people extremely when I don't bump into lamp posts and rubbish bins. That said, I didn't really get to know Ivy past that initial feeling of liking: she's pretty, good, reads a lot, loves her family, likes kids, charms everyone. I liked her, but I felt as if I never really got to know her. I would have liked to, though!

I liked her two love interests, Faux Mr Darcy and Faux Rochester, as well. Neither of them were like Darcy or Rochester at all, except for being clearly in their positions. Darcy was young, pleasant and a little silly but growing up fast. Rochester was very decent and while deceiving Ivy, he's doing so not because he has a mad wife in the attic and wants to bigamously marry her, but because he has two young kids he particularly needs her to protect against dark spirits in the woods.

Unfortunately, the kids-in-danger was the weakest part of the book.

ELIZABETH EYRE: Dark spirits in those woods? The ones right up beside your damn house?
FAKE ROCHESTER: Yes. You see, uh, their aunt and uncle were fighting with me and refused to take them in.
ELIZABETH EYRE: So what's wrong with boarding school?
ELIZABETH EYRE: I assume there are houses available for rent all over England, yes?
FAKE ROCHESTER: Do you hear the tea bell? I think I hear the tea bell.
ELIZABETH EYRE: Where are the kids now?
FAKE ROCHESTER: Oh, totally gone. Yeah, their aunt and uncle totally made up with me. So they're off.
ELIZABETH EYRE: As soon as their purpose as plot devices was fulfilled?
FAKE ROCHESTER: ... Do you fancy cucumber sandwiches for lunch? Because I think I do.

Pity about that. Otherwise the two love interests were awesomely handled, though, and someone was convinced not to dare all for love because of what the world would think! (I like daring all for love, but it seems like everyone does that. It was brilliant to have someone go 'Oh, you know, we really might be shunned by society. Wow, good point.')

And then there's the best scene in the book, which happens to the Effeminate Young Gentleman. His sister is being pursued by a dastardly highwayman, who is involved in a conspiracy against the government! Eldyn must find out the dastardly highwayman's secret, but obviously no gentleman could risk his sister in such a venture. So... Eldyn grabs his sister's dress and bonnet, and sallies forth to get the state secrets. (I told you he was an Effeminate Young Gentleman!)

HIGHWAYMAN: There's something different about you today.
ELDYN: La, sir, I cannot imagine what you mean!
HIGHWAYMAN: Really, really different.
ELDYN: I have tried a new rouge today, tee hee, that must be it!
HIGHWAYMAN: Let's discuss this in a private room. DON'T YOU THINK THAT WOULD BE BEST?
ELDYN: Oh dear.
HIGHWAYMAN: Seriously now, there's something very different about you. AND I KNOW WHAT IT IS.
ELDYN: Gulp?
HIGHWAYMAN: You inflame me as you never have before!
ELDYN: ... Say what?
HIGHWAYMAN: You saucy minx, I must have you now!
ELDYN: ...
HIGHWAYMAN: I can't wait to get under your silken skirts!
ELDYN: Well, I guess sometimes people like to get surprises?
HIGHWAYMAN: Beg pardon?
ELDYN: Baby, do you know what gets me hot? State secrets.

Tags: book recommendations, book reviews


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