Sarah Rees Brennan (sarahtales) wrote,
Sarah Rees Brennan

Book Reviews, Sarah Style

Just now I am so frantically busy that I feel like a hamster in a messy ponytail, running in her little plastic ball, trying to get to her fainting couch. The plastic ball keeps bouncing off the fainting couch: the hamster keeps running.

Nobody wants to hear about the adventures of the sad hamster.

So instead I decided to write you all some more book reviews. The last ones were received well, so I shall keep the same style, warning for incoherence and inaccurate acting out of scenes as I go!

How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier

In New Avalon, an imaginary place that may resemble a slightly-futuristic blend of New York and Sydney, everyone has an invisible fairy. Some people have a clothes-shopping fairy, a get-out-of-trouble fairy, an all-the-boys-like-you fairy. Most of the celebrities have a charisma fairy.

Charlie has a parking fairy. She keeps getting loaned out to the neighbours and kidnapped by the local bully so they can find awesome parking spots. So she's on a mission to ditch her fairy, armed with the slightly-stolen Ultimate Fairy Book and helped out by the last person she would ever have thought might want to ditch their fairy, too.

My very favourite thing about this book is the language, which is an Australian-American and believably futuristic blend of slang: 'spoffs' is my new favourite word, and I plan to use it all the time.

Given my love for the mystery set-up in books (and soon I really must write a post about mysteries!) I love the 'Aha! Now it all makes sense' moment, and thus I love the way the fairies are set up in this book. In New Avalon the fairies have only been around a few generations and are in any case invisible, so it's easy to think that fairies have started showing up now. This book makes Paris Hilton make sense!

I also love it when a book makes me into what the main character's into, for the duration of the novel. In McKinley's Chalice Mirasol was into beekeeping, and in How to Ditch Your Fairy not only is Charlie into sports, but she attends a special sports school where they weigh her and monitor her behaviour!

To say I am not sporty is like saying a giraffe is not short, and the sky is not bright pink. I used to run cross country with a book in hand, and every Sports Day I tried to cheat. If I lived in an Enid Blyton novel, I would be beaten with hockey sticks until I learned the error of my unsportsmanlike ways.

But I found Charlie being into basketball awesome. Usually sports stories seem to involve either people who are just flat-out awesome, Gods and Goddesses of the Pitch, or Plucky Underdogs who will triumph in the end despite being hopeless at the start. Charlie starts out being very good at basketball, but being handicapped by being pretty short: I like this happy medium. I found it refreshing, and I wish to see it more! I also love Charlie because I may have mentioned I have a weakness for sensible heroines?

At one point in the book, Charlie swaps fairies with a girl who has an all-the-boys-like-you fairy. Which sounds great, until you realise that the girl hates being hunted all the time and doesn't even like boys. (Another awesome feature of the book: Charlie simply mentions this casually, and some of the boys have boyfriends. It's never treated as anything out of the ordinary. Can the future be now yet?) I wish I had a writing-girls-like-Justine-Larbalestier fairy.

BOYS: Hey Charlie, you so fine! You so fine you blow my mind, hey Charlie!
CHARLIE: Thanks, guys.
BOYS: Oh Charlie, you came and you gave without takin'...
CHARLIE: Thanks, yes, but I have to get to gym.
BOYS (mournfully): Then you took it away, oh Charlie...
CHARLIE: Thanks - yes, okay, thanks, can we move it along?
BOYS: Shake that ass! Show us what you're workin' with!

The flaw in this book is that while it examines how a fairy can give you gifts that should be helpful but go wrong (like the 'all the boys like you' fairy) it is clear to me that there are also evil fairies which deliberately and maliciously give you obviously terrible gifts. I for one have the Bad Hair Fairy and the Never Even Remotely on Time Fairy: what bad fairies do you guys have?

Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale

Since a lot of the books I've been recommending lately are young adult fantasy, as, well, that is what I best like to read: warning, warning, Wicked Gentlemen is very adult indeed. Explicit scenes! May be offensive to the religious!

Wicked Gentlemen is a noir detective novel set in an alternate world: a place very like Victorian London, except that a few hundred years ago the devils were all redeemed from hell, got baptised, and came up to live with the humans so they could all be happy ever after in unity and peace.

That worked about as well as you might expect. Now the Prodigals (the devils' descendants), who have yellow eyes and black nails and are a bit conspicuous, live in a ghetto formerly known as Hopetown and now known as Hells Below. Yeah - that about sums it up.

Belimai Sykes, Prodigal and private detective (among other things) has been having a pretty bad seven years, and then a captain of the Inquisition shows up on his doorstep and demands help with a missing girl.

So it's sort of like Sherlock Holmes meets The Master and Margarita. If Sherlock Holmes was, uh, descended from devils, which gives the police rather an edge.

POLICE: Your behaviour is erratic, sir!
BELIMAI: Yours is unimaginative.
POLICE: Taboo!
BELIMAI: Totally boring!
POLICE: Corrupt!
BELIMAI: Right back at you!
POLICE: Spawn of Satan!
BELIMAI: ... Well, you have me there.

A cool concept beautifully written, with some excellent supporting characters. I particularly liked Captain Harper's brother-in-law Edward, sweet and blond and chatty and too good for this world, and at first glance not too bright, and then at second - maybe you're wrong about that. I also particularly liked the writing: I always feel I suck woefully at descriptive writing, and thus it is a pleasure to read intricate well-done description, even though it makes me want Ginn Hale's description-writing fairy.

The mysteries were more a framework for the world and characters than actual involved mysteries: villains are revealed pretty soon after they've been introduced. I love a mystery, but I love characters too, so that was all right. Particularly since Ginn Hale gave me Captain Harper, one of those well-meaning, stiff-necked, trying painfully to do right characters stuck in a corrupt world which has them almost at breaking point but dash it still minding their manners. I love him! And I love his big crush.

BELIMAI: I have been pursued by the law, cut up, tortured, called names, and looked at funny at least seven hundred times today, may I ask what it is you want now?
HARPER: I was wondering if I could maybe buy you a drink sometime.
BELIMAI: Oh my God, why did you even join the Inquisition?
HARPER: Heard it was a good way to meet Prodigals.
BELIMAI: That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard!
HARPER (shyly): I don't know. Seems like it's working out pretty well to me.

I would have liked more of Belimai Sykes: though the first third of the book is told from his point of view, I wish I'd got a better sense of him, because I like his type - bitter, funny and secretly sensitive - a lot, and I get the feeling I could have loved him. And while I saw that Belimai wanted love and Harper fancied Prodigals, I would have liked a bit more about why this was the love Belimai could accept and give up the drugs for, and this was the Prodigal Harper wanted: I liked both the characters, and wanted to see more of why they liked each other.

But as critiques go, I figure 'I wanted more' is the one you want.

Tags: book recommendations, book reviews

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