Crowned and Dangerous by Rhys Bowen

I do so love this series (Her Royal Spyness.) In this latest entry it picks up mere minutes after the conclusion, with Georgie and Darcy headed off to that most promising of historical destinations-Gretna Green.  But of course, events waylay them.

I really enjoyed that this installment brought the action into Ireland and included Darcy’s family. We took a break from Belinda and Her Majesty, which I think keeps the series fresh.
I loved the historical detail and the tiny village and the traditional mystery format. I also appreciated that there was a little less of Queenie in this one (though she’s far from gone.)

Delightful!

The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase by Wendy Mass

candymakersWhat a terrific sequel! Confession: I loved The Candymakers very much when it came out and have gifted it, recommended it, bought extra copies for the library, but couldn’t quite remember the main story of it. No problem-my memory was easily refreshed in here and I’d go so far as to say that even if you hadn’t read the first one you’d be fine reading this (or reading this and then going back to read the first.) I was super pleased to find that it employed the same technique that I had loved in The Candymakers–beginning the story from one character’s point of view, getting to a moment and stopping, and then telling the same part of the story from another character, until all 4 characters have covered the same time and then the story continues with all in from that point. It’s very clever and well done and really established the distinct personalities of all four kids.
This sequel was loooooong, but very satisfying. It had plenty of Willy Wonka like candy descriptions, tons of super cool spy gadgets, a road trip, geocaching (which, since I like to do, I found very appealing), and a good mystery to solve.
And it also had something very fun for Mass readers–an appearance by Mia from A Mango Shaped Space, her first book, and the first one I read way back in the day and used to booktalk a lot. I often forget that that same author is the same author as the Willow Falls books, which are very popular in my library. In fact, when a character said she had synesthesia I thought “Oh how cool! I love reading about that! It’s just like in A Mango Shaped Space.” and then moments later realized “oh, of course. They are by the same author.” –as reinforced by a mention of a cat named Mango. I just loved that little detail in there. Later on there is also a reference to Willow Falls that I’m sure the 11 Birthdays fans will adore.

This is the sort of story where there are no coincidences and while some might say things work out too neatly, it was exactly the sort of thing I adore. Fans of the first book will love this.

Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married by Marian Keyes

lucyThere was a time where I was reading all Marian Keyes all the time. I even once went into the city to meet her at a book event and it was super. I have read her newer books and liked them, but have always thought most fondly of this, Watermelon, Rachel’s Holiday, and Sushi for Beginners.  After said friend and I insisting that another friend must read this one, I thought I’d go back and reread it myself. It had been so long and I’m definitely in a reading frame of mind where I want some good, reliable, friendly revisits with cherished books.

Sadly, this took me a surprisingly long time to read. 1, I was on a busy, not relaxing vacation. 2, It was quite long. As I read it I realized I actually remembered nearly zero things about this one and I was worried that I wasn’t loving it that much. Maybe I should have reread Sushi for Beginners instead?
At any rate, it was still a treat to read about Lucy and her roommates and their terrible attitudes toward work, and their drinking, and what not. Good fun. And then, just as I remembered, near the end of the book a sort of awakening of the character to what you, the reader, have been clue-ing into.
I did enjoy this very much, though it felt a little long to me. That said, I’m still going back to reread all the others, especially the ones about the sisters.

Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan

sfpI’ve had this on my to-read list for a really long time, but neither of the library systems we use had it. Last week while on vacation we went to Newbury Comics, they were having a buy 2 get 1 graphic novel sale, and I thought a-ha! I’m going to buy that book I’ve wanted to read! And I did. And it was worth it.

I really liked this a lot. It was clever and funny, interesting and charming. I wasn’t sure at first if, with the talk of “Guardians” and people all getting their powers from a global event, much to the alarm of the world I was supposed to think (or know) that it was part of some already familiar superhero universe (Agents of SHIELD, Guardians of the Galaxy.) In some ways it felt like this was a story that was already going on, but backstory nicely filled everything in, and I liked the way that was done. MegaGirl being a college student (or trying to be an ordinary one) reminded me of Squirrel Girl, and talk of registered superheros (or rather, people with changed biology) reminded me of The Incredibles, and especially the last episodes I watched of SHIELD (before I sadly gave up on it.)

All in all, a terrific graphic novel and I can’t wait to read more, which I will do by visiting strongfemaleprotagonist.com where I can read installments twice a week!

The Shell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher

 

I’ve already said a bunch about this favorite book, both here in my brief Goodreads review:

I cannot say enough good things about this, one of my all time very favorite books. What a pleasure it was to read it again, comforting and familiar, and a nice long engrossing book. I honestly didn’t want it to end. A lovely long saga, cleverly putting together the story by weaving together different strands in different times. I usually think of this mostly as a WWII book, but actually that is only part of it.

and then here, in my post about rereading. But I’ll add a few more thoughts, not reflecting on rereading, but on the book itself.

This is one of my all time favorite books, though it is in a tie with Coming Home. (Somehow though, this is the one that I think of most often.)

I love how this story is put together with different sections focused on different characters, and how time is fluid, going back to the World War II years to show the heart of Penelope’s life. It is such a satisfying story and achieves that wonderful feeling where, at the end of the character’s life, you feel as satisfied and ready as that character is.

The descriptions of Cornwall and the artistic community are wonderful, and I loved reading about the easy luxurious bohemians of the time. As always, Olivia’s time in Ibiza seemed like a dream and no matter what I read now about the wealthy hedonism of Ibiza, it will always be in my head just like it was in the book.

One thing did stand out to me this time as exceptionally dated, or possibly backward (here’s a spoiler, stop reading if you haven’t read the book)………….. the build up of Danus’s secret felt incredibly anticlimactic to find out he was epileptic. And people’s reactions were preposterous. I know it was in the 1980s but honestly, would anyone have reacted like that? It seemed ridiculous. But that’s a small quibble with this most marvelous of stories.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

26247008First, the non-spoiler review: As with her other books I went into this blind-I knew I would read anything she writes and this was my most looked forward to book of the summer. I deliberately read nothing about it, so knew nothing to expect, which I love to do. I read this entire book in one day, which seems an unheard of extravagance, as well as a bit of a waste-why couldn’t I stretch it out and enjoy it longer? But it was a rainy Saturday and frankly, this book was hard for me to put down. If you read her other books, but particularly the previous one (something or other Lies) then you know Moriarty is very good at employing a technique of establishing right away something big has happened, but not quite coming out and telling you. She moved between “the day of the barbecue” to the present, 8 weeks after the barbecue. You see the terrible effects of whatever the incident was, but it takes a long time to find out. So, hard to put down because she builds up to it so effectively. As usual, I really enjoyed her writing, her ability to create that suspense, and her multi-dimensional very human characters and their points of view. Two people I know who’ve also read it (mom and Melissa) said they didn’t like it as much as her others. I can see that. If I was ranking all her books this wouldn’t be my favorite. However, I still loved it, couldn’t put it down, and thought it was great. I think that if you read her books not in publication order you wouldn’t necessarily give it that critique.

Now, I’m going to move on to some more detail which would/could spoil it if you haven’t read it, so move on if you like a blank slate when you read.

Having not read anything I didn’t know what the big event was going to be. I had a guess, which turned out to be correct, but I dismissed my initial thought because it didn’t seem quite right. There was so much sexual tension and discussion that it felt very Tom Perrotta. I kept thinking, do they all suddenly swing? Did someone do an inappropriate sexual act and a child saw? I was very tense about it being a sexually uncomfortable incident. In the end the sexual part was really not a big deal at all.  I was most fascinated by all the, well I wouldn’t call them side stories or subplots, but the parts not having to do with the incident: Erika’s horrible childhood, her mother’s hoarding and mental illness, Erika and Oliver’s adult life as a reflection of their awful childhoods and their compulsive neatness, Clementine’s professional music career, Sam’s awful job, Harry the elderly neighbor and his nasty behavior and death. And then best and most impressive of all–how it all tied together and some of the surprise revelations at the end. I found myself wondering often about Clementine and Erika’s relationship and if they ever had a good time together, knowing how each perceived the other.

Another fantastic story by Moriarty!

Rereading a Treasured Favorite

It’s been months since I’ve written here, and while one of my goals this summer is to get caught up on all my reviews, today’s post is not a review. For the past few days I’ve been completely consumed by rereading a favorite book. And so many thoughts have swirled around in my head, that I felt the need write it all out. So maybe you want to read this, maybe you don’t. But here it is, a little essay about rereading a favorite book.

When I was young I reread a lot. Part of the reason was that if there was a book I liked, why not enjoy it all over again? Another reason was that our library was small and we relied on the books that were there. Without the internet, social media, Goodreads, there was much less awareness of what new books were coming out. I simply read what was on the shelves. If I didn’t see anything I liked (and sometimes it felt like I’d read everything), I just grabbed something I already knew I liked and read it again. When I started my job this winter I shared this quotation with my students:  “There’s nothing wrong with reading a book you love over and over. When you do, the words get inside you, become a part of you, in a way that words in a book you’ve read only once can’t.” ― Gail Carson Levine, Writing Magic.

I think it’s important for kids to know that it is ok to read the same books over and over again (and I also think it’s absolutely ok to read books “below your level” and can’t stand it when I hear people tell kids not to, but that’s another story.) and I do believe that a book can become a part of you. I still find myself thinking of lines from books I read as a child in certain circumstances.

As an adult, though, I rarely reread anything. A big reason is the opposite of the reason I did reread as a kid–with social media, Goodreads, book publicity and promotion, I literally never run out of books I want to read. I have a huge list of titles I’m interested in. I seek out and anticipate newest titles by favorite authors. I know I’ll never get to them all, and so it seems I don’t have time to reread something. [Once, at dinner with my girlfriends who also love to read. Denise: “Do you ever worry that someday we’ll run out of good books to read?” Melissa: “No! I worry that I’ll never get to them all before I die!”]

A couple of years ago I decided that my reading goals would include taking the time to read a couple books each year that I have read before.  I even created, what else? a list on Goodreads of the titles I would like to reread, of course.

Last summer it was The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. Then I received a new set of Anne of Green Gables for Christmas and I read Anne of Green Gables, and then last week Anne of Avonlea. Last summer I read aloud to my children the Melendy Family books: The Saturdays, The Four Story Mistake, and Then There Were Five. These titles were probably the ones I had most recently read. And over the years I have read other children’s books from my childhood to them-Queen Zixi of Ix, A Dog on Barkham Street, The Trolley Car Family-and these held their own pleasures. And then, this week, in a fit of not wanting to read anything new I had around, I turned to The Shell Seekers (also, like Anne, a new edition I’d received for Christmas.)

The Doomsday Book, Anne of Avonlea, The Four Story Mistake, and The Shell Seekers. These books do not have very much in common, except that they are all books I would count as my very favorites of all time (top 5!) Why had it taken me so long to come back to them? When I read the Doomsday Book I truly could not remember the ending.

On the one hand reading these books was a pleasure because they are good stories, well written, and stand the test of time. The Doomsday Book is incredible historical fiction and introduced me to Connie Willis’s meticulously researched style. It brought to life for me the horrors of the Black Plague, and the dirty and hard details of life in the 13th century.  Anne of Green Gables might be super old-fashioned, but it is still a lovely story about a feisty heroine who is smart and spunky and romantic. The Anne books were a huge part of my adolescence and I couldn’t believe I had forgotten some very significant things in them. I also realized that I’ve seen the movie so many times that now when I read the books that is what I visualize.

On the other hand, reading these special-to-me books again, from the viewpoint of many, many years since I’d first read and fallen in love with them, gave me an insight I was not expecting. I was able to clearly see that many of my perceptions and expectations had their origins in these books! It was, honestly, kind of emotional. With the Enright books I realized that, having read them as a child, I truly believed my own children would be like the children in those stories. Guess what? They’re not.  And as I reread those books with my own falling-short-of-being-like-a-fictitious-1950s-child children, I saw that I had loved those stories so much that I believed my own family when I grew up would be just like theirs. I realized as I read a chapter about Rush and Oliver just whiling away hours in the woods, exploring on their own, that that’s where I’d developed that expectation for my own boy.

Now, The Shell Seekers. I adore Rosamund Pilcher novels, especially Coming Home and The Shell Seekers. I would love to live in one of her books. Reading this book again was like falling into a wormhole into a world I didn’t want to be disturbed in. The story was just as wonderful as I remembered, and it all came back to me so easily and quickly. How funny to find, too, that I visualized the places exactly as I had when I first read it. You see, those characters and places had become real to me, thought of over the years from time to time, and they were still there when I went back to them. I realized, the more I read, that this book is what created for me the things I look for in a British book, the likely misconceptions I have about Britons (everyone is “frightfully clever”, things are “horrid and ghastly”,  everyone has a scotch or whiskey or gin and tonic all the time, and people are clueless about medical care), and the interest I have in World War II fiction. And perhaps most of all, the built up in my head over the years idea that Cornwall is the most idyllic place in the world and that I must go there someday. Though let’s be honest, if I do, I won’t be a Pilcher character who easily throws on threadbare caftans and looks glamorous, easily treks 3 or 4 miles to get to the sea, and so on.  In the novel, The Shell Seekers is a painting, valuable and significant for many reasons, but especially because Penelope (whose father painted it) has found solace in the painting her whole life. When I read it this time I was very aware of all the times that Penelope sat and looked at the painting, and how she felt when she did. And I realized that this book had become, to me, much like that painting had to Penelope. A story that, even when I wasn’t reading it (as I haven’t for 20 or so years) I could escape to in my mind to find that same peace.

I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those people (or characters,I’ve yet to meet a person in real life who actually does this) who reads a favorite book annually. But to go back and read a treasured book after a long time apart, well, it’s wonderful. Go ahead, try it.