My Real Children by Jo Walton

realYou know those books that you start reading and can’t wait to get back to every time you stop? And then when you finish you can’t stop thinking about it? This is one of those books. I found it immensely fascinating and thoughtful. It begins in the present day with an elderly woman with dementia in a nursing home. The nurses always say she is confused because the woman gets mixed up about who her children are. The thing is, the woman is remembering two different lives. How can this be? well, the story goes back to the woman’s childhood during WWII and starts her story. When she is a young woman in a pretty lousy relationship the man wants to get married and insists they do it immediately, saying “now or never.” And there her life divides, one path for saying “now”, and the other for “never.” Those two lives are extraordinarily different.  The story covers at least 50 years so things often move very quickly within a chapter, covering a few years at a time. To keep them straight one path she is known as Pat, the other Tricia. Pat and Tricia have similarities, but mostly differences. One finds love with a woman, the other is a downtrodden miserable housewife. She has children in both lifelines, but they are very different. And, fascinatingly, the world is different in each lifeline, indulging in some serious alternate history.

At the end the lines converge and there is a good comparison. But was one life better than the other? Which would she choose? There was a lot of sadness in both lives, but also many good moments. It was a great story, well told, and very thoughtful.

China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

chinaTruly my most anticipated book of the year. Crazy Rich Asians was one of my favorite books of the year when I read it, and among my group of reading friends all 4 of us absolutely loved it, and we couldn’t wait for this sequel. Thank God Melissa got a prepub of it for us to pass around! I’m pleased to say this absolutely lived up to expectations and the first book– it was totally wonderful.  Just totally over the top luxury, outrageous behavior, spending, fashion and art, and shenanigans. The story is the same characters with new drama, tons of secrets, and scheming. And again I found all the descriptions of food absolutely tantalizing and wish I had someplace to taste all these things (without having to go to Hong Kong or Singapore) Rachel and Nick continue to be the breath of normality in the story. Fantastic!!

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

dragonslayerI’m a fan of Fforde’s books for adults and somehow had missed out on his YA series. Thanks to a Hub blog post I found out about this one and immediately put it on hold. I was super impressed at how well Fforde was able to retain his trademark humor and skewering of corporations, but bring it to a YA appropriate level.
In this world there is some magic left, but it is highly regulated. Teenager Jennifer Strange is the acting manager, like an agent, for the company that employs the working sorcerors. Strange things have been happening, Big Magic is rumored to be coming. And Jennifer is revealed to be the Last Drangonslayer, with everyone seeing a prediction that she is going to kill the last dragon. It’s all very quick and funny and bizarre.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks

royalThis was highly anticipated, described as a fictionalized version of Will & Kate and looking to be a pretty fun read and it absolutely delivered. It was a surprisingly thick and long story, covering (just like Will & Kate in real life) several years from when they first meet in college, all the way up to the wedding. It’s so beyond anyone’s reality-the luxury and lifestyle of the royal family, that it just is delightfully escapist.  The heroine, Bex (Rebecca) is an American who meets the prince when she goes to study abroad for a year. They hit it off immediately and eventually become a (secret) couple.  There are plenty of details of what it’s like to be in the royal family, the practicalities and rules, as well as how the royal family are not perfect.  This was such a fun book. I loved it and was completely entertained.

*I’m going to edit this having just had a very good book discussion with my friend Melissa. She did not really care for it and I had to say, I agreed with all of her points. So thinking critically about the book-it’s very unevenly written and the pacing is not great. It’s a long book and some years are covered in slow thorough detail, while others fly by, without any particular reason for either. My biggest gripe would probably be that the drama of the story was pretty unnecessary-I think most readers would have been happier with a shorter time frame in the book and more details about that transition to being accepted by the royal family, having a team of people make over your image, and things about that. (Some of that was definitely there, but there could have been more. I can think of at least two major scenes where that was glossed over rather dug into.) I’m still going to give it 4 stars (out of 5, Goodreads) because I was entertained, did find it fun, and loved it when the stuff I wanted was included.

The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall

penderwickO how I love the Penderwicks! Jeanne Birdsall has totally tapped in to the perfect feeling of families I loved reading about when I was a kid (and consequently assumed when I had my own family that we would all be just like the families in The Saturdays and Gone-Away Lake and guess what? We’re not.) It’s amazing how perfectly she is writing something that feels completely old-fashioned, but is not. You won’t find a Penderwick child playing Wii, oh no. A Penderwick is exploring the woods, playing imaginative games, being a kind and loving sibling, and talking to animals. I’m afraid that the Penderwicks are basically what I want my kids to be.  Anyway, I had read the previous 3 Penderwick books as they came out and just this past month our family listened to the first book together on audio. We are now in the midst of listening (and reading aloud) the second book (Penderwicks on Gardam Street.) Consequently, it was a bit confusing to be reading about dear Batty being 4 years old and then switching over to what I was reading, in which Batty is now the main character, turning 11, Rosalind is off at college, and Skye and Jane are teenagers. The action is focused mostly on Batty, with a bit of Ben (who has only just been introduced in the chapter we’re on in Gardam Street as a toddler neighbor) and a new baby sister, Lydia. There is also a good bit of focus on Tommy, Nick, and Jeffrey.  Tommy and Nick are the neighbor boys and Nick is off in Afghanistan. In this latest book there are actually some heavy themes going on-Nick’s return from service and how that affects everyone, and even more-Batty’s grieving over the death of beloved Hound.  I admit that Batty’s grief over Hound hit too close to home for me (as we approach the 1 year anniversary of the death of my beloved dog, Pippin) and there were tears aplenty as I read this.
It was solid, touching, had humor, and was a great installment in this family series. I don’t know if my kids will want to treasure and re-read these books, but I feel inclined to buy a boxed set as soon as this new one is in paperback too. Oh-and if I wish that my kids could be like the Penderwicks, then I also wish Paul and I were like the Penderwick parents-calm, unflappable, lovable, and with really cool jobs.

The Ladies of Missalonghi by Colleen McCullough

I forgot to write about this when I read it right on the heels of The Blue Castle. As soon as I started the book it all sort of came back to me and I enjoyed it just as much as the first time I read it. And this time, having just read Blue Castle, I can indeed see what all the hubbub was about (and I have to think that if those books were published today, with all the social media, they just wouldn’t have even published Missalonghi, instead pointing out how it is a copycat story.)  Missalonghi is almost exactly the same story as Blue Castle. Some things, of course, are different. But it’s hard to believe that it’s a coincidence. But here’s what I have to admit–I like McCullough’s version better! Shorter and with much more wit.
In a nutshell, impoverished and homely Missy lives with her mother and aunt. They are at the mercy, as are all the single women in the family, of the unkind patriarchy that presides over their town. Poor Missy is doomed to continue her miserable life. They live at the edge of a wilderness and one day a stranger comes to town, having just bought that parcel of land. I loved the description of just how long it took to hack one’s way into the bush to get to his camp. The townspeople assume he’s up to no good and spin wild stories about him, but Missy is captivated.
A very short and quick read, clever and with plenty of comeuppance.  One thing I had forgotten was what a rather forbidding note the book ends on.
I think you can recommend this charming book to almost anyone.

The Mermaid’s Sister by Carrie Anne Noble

mermaidFantastic! What a wonderful tale, beautifully told like the most excellent fairy tales, legends, and stories are. Clara and her sister, Maren, live with their part faerie Auntie on a mountain. They have had a wonderful childhood and such a loving, if unusual, family. In addition to Auntie Verity there are Scarff and O’Neill, who travel in an exotic caravan and visit the mountain but a couple of times a year. Verity and Scarff have often told the tale of how Clara and Maren came to Verity-Maren in a big seashell and Clara by a stork.  Her seashell origins and ability to swim and remain underwater for an hour make it be no surprise when she begins to transform into a mermaid.  Eventually all agree she must be brought to the ocean, her true home.  But O’Neill and Clara have a challenging journey, including kidnapping, enslavement, a mad huckster, and more.  There is also a love story here as O’Neill is especially devoted to Maren and Clara is torn between her own secret love for O’Neill and her own devotion to her sister.
This was a wonderful story. I truly loved it, everything from the descriptions of Maren as a mermaid, to the setting of a traveling show with sinister characters. (And, refreshingly different from everything else I’ve read lately!)