This is quite a short post this week, because I’ve been busy with those #Noirville entries, but what could be more up my street than a Victorian-set adventure mystery with a feisty teen girl as a heroine? Not a lot, and that’s why Y S Lee’s A Spy in the House is this week’s BotW pick!
Mary Quinn is rescued from the gallows by a school for girls that’s actually cover for a female spy agency. At 17 she gets her chance to prove herself when she’s sent to help with an investigation by taking a job as a paid companion to the daughter of a shipping magnate. Once she’s in the house though she ends up getting more involved than she’s meant to and soon she may be in over her head. On top of all this, there are secrets in Mary’s past which seem like they may be linked to the mystery.
Mary is an interesting and feisty heroine and the story is fast-paced and exciting. I think this is aimed at a YA audience and it would make a great next step for teens who’ve outgrown (or want the next step) from the Wells and Wong series or the Sinclair mysteries and who aren’t quite ready for full on-adult mysteries yet. This has a developing love interest, but nothing too full on or adult-contenty if you know what I mean.
This is the first in a series and I’ll definitely be looking out for the others. You should be able to get hold of a copy from all the usual sources (like Big Green Bookshop)- and it’s available on Kindle and Kobo too.
Chaos continues. I mean honestly. I have words for my own incompetence in setting my Week in Books as ready to publish without adding my Sunday reading. I’m surprised I’m allowed out alone. Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed your Bank Holiday Monday if you had one. Anyway, on to another (quite brief) BotW.
Doreen Green is off to college. Her first task is to keep her secret identity as Squirrel Girl under wraps. But that’s easier said than done when you have a tail, your squirrel sidekick has followed you to campus and the world is under threat from all manner of bad guys.
I loved Doreen. She’s feisty, smart and a little bit nutty and she’s going to save the world. I don’t read a lot of super hero comics, but I picked this up as my Super Hero Comic with a Female Lead for the Read Harder Challenge. I’d heard a lot about it and it totally lived up to the hype. Doreen is the hero (or heroine) we need: she’s Unbeatable because she’s got a solution to everything and it’s often not to beat her enemy to a bloody pulp, but something smart and clever. Considering that I’d had a stressful week, this really hit the spot for me.
I love stories with strong, smart women at their centre and this ticks all those boxes. My only problem with this – as it is with all graphic novels – is that I read them too fast, and they’re expensive. But they’re also art, and labour intensive and so I give them a bit of a pass, especially as I really enjoy going into my local comic book store. I think I’ll be passing my copy on to my older niece (she’s 9) because I think she’d love this too.
You can get Unbeatable Squirrel Girl from all the usual places that sell comics, and at time of writing, the Kindle version for a very bargainous £3. I’m not a reader of comics on tablet, but Volume 2 was also super competitively priced, so I’ve got bought it and I’m going to give it a go. I’ll keep you posted. But visit a comic book store.
I had trouble picking my Book of the Week this week for various reasons, and I’m sorry that this post is a bit short. Anyway, this week’s BotW is Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley. I read this last week, and while bits of it didn’t work for me (of which more below) it’s a story that I haven’t read before (maybe I haven’t been looking in the right places!) and that needs to be represented more in fiction – particularly YA fiction.
15-year-old Aki is bi-sexual, but so far she’s only told her best friend Lori. She’s off to Mexico for the summer with her church youth group and the pair have a plan to start getting out there and living an interesting life. At the camp, Aki meets Christa and the two have a connection. But it’s not easy trying to navigate your first relationship with everyone watching you – especially if you’re trying to keep it quiet. And how do you know if it’s love anyway?
There was a lot about this that I liked. It’s a diverse (in every way) queer coming of age story that (spoiler alert) doesn’t end in deaths and disownment. But that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of angst, because there is. In fact that was my main gripe with the book – that at times Aki just went too far over my whining teenager limit and there was a lot of petty drama that I could have done without. But I have a low tolerance for that sort of thing – so it may work much better for the target market of angsty teenagers than it does for me!
But although it’s not perfect, stories like this need to be told and need to be out there. And the world needs more happy YA love stories (or at least I do!)- whether they’re F/F, M/M or M/F.
Gosh this was so hard this week. My favourite book I read last week was one I read to review for Novelicious (which is returning to the internets in full force very shortly) and my rules dictate that I can’t make that my book of the week here as well. My second favourite book of last week was the second Corinna Chapman book – and my rules dictate that I can’t pick that because I picked that series last week. So after that it’s not so much Book of the Week as Book I Quite Liked of the Week. And that’s not really in the spirit of the thing. I was prepared to cheat if I managed to finish one of the books I had on the go on Monday morning, but I didn’t so I couldn’t justify that either.
So what I’ve decided to do is write about Judith Teaches by Mabel Esther Allen – which I read last week and which interests me on a few levels. Judith Teaches was part of a series of career books for girls published by Bodley Head in the 50s. Various different authors wrote the books which each feature a different career suitable for young ladies to do before they got married (and had to give up working to look after their husbands). Other titles in the series cover jobs like floristry, farming and modelling as well as some becoming a doctor or being a veterinary student.
Judith Teaches covers the first year of the teaching of Judith and her friend Bronwen who get jobs at a secondary modern school straight out of training college. They have a friend who is already teaching at the same school who they share a flat with, and although the book mostly focuses on Judith you hear about the other girls lives as well. The three are clearly Nice Well Brought Up Grammar School/Boarding School girls who have a bit of a culture shock with the pupils at their new school (dirty! desperate to leave school to go work in the factory! not interested in reading! can’t spell!) and some of these sections feel very of their time. But it does cover the potential ups and downs of teaching in a way that would have given the school girls that it was aimed at a realistic look at what they might be letting themselves in for – not all the children will be clever, not all the other teachers will be friendly, it will be stressful and tiring and you won’t be able to please everyone – in a way that you don’t get in boarding school books (which as regular readers will know Mabel Esther Allen also wrote along with my beloved Drina books).
I don’t think I knowingly read a career book as a child – unless Shirley Flight, Air Hostess counts – as the only ones I ever remember seeing were about nursing and that only interested me (as a weekend job, while being a teacher during the week) for a few days when I was about 6, so I’m not sure how representative this is of the genre, but Judith Teaches gave me several interested hours of reading – and a few wry smiles. It also made me realise how far the world has come for women in 50 years. After all, no one’s going to expect me to give up my job if I get married and I don’t think anyone would think I’m over the hill yet. There’s still a long way to go – but I like to hope that my sort-of-nieces who are at primary school today won’t need a book to tell them that they could be a doctor if they wanted to.
Anyway, Judith Teaches has just been republished by Girls Gone By if you’re geeky like me and want to have a peruse for yourself.
It was a close call for BotW this week (I like it when that happens) – with Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians deserving an honourable mention here for being utterly readable and totally cracktastic. But my favourite thing I read last week was Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here.
Have you ever wondered what the rest of the kids were doing while Buffy and the Scooby Gang were off saving the world? You know, the ones who voted Buffy class defender at the prom – who admitted that they knew there was something strange about Sunnydale and that she always seemed to turn up to fix it? Or the rest of the kids at Hogwarts while Harry is busy fighting Voldemort? The ones who aren’t The Chosen One(s)? Well this is the book for you. The Rest of Us Just Live here follows Mikey and his friends in the run up to graduation.
At the start of the book, it’s under 5 weeks away and weird things are starting to happen in the town. It’s not the first time this has happened – and as always it’s the Indie kids who are fighting whatever the evil is that’s descended on town this time. Mikey and his gang aren’t Indie Kids (you need a name like Satchel or Finn to belong) so they just see the blue lights, the zombie deer and worry that the high school is going to get blown up (again). Each chapter starts with a summary of what the Indie Kids are up to and then you get into the nitty gritty of the daily life of Mikey and his friends. And they have problems of their own. Sure it’s not zombies or vampires – but alcoholism, eating disorders, Alzheimers, ambitious parents (of various types), OCD and being worshipped by cats and Mountain Lions are pretty tough too.
I’ve seen some criticism of this book for not a lot happening or being boring – but I never felt that at all. What the kids are going through may not be as dramatic as fighting flesh eating monsters, but it’s important – and it’s relatable. I was swept up in the dramas of what was happening in the kids lives – and I identified with them. I wasn’t the popular kid at school and although I loved Buffy I would never have managed to be in her gang, but I did feel like I might have made Mikey’s team.
It is more low key than many other YA high school novels and it’s not as angsty and melodramatic as them either, but it’s touching and bittersweet and in it’s own way wryly funny. If you’ve read all the stories about the Chosen Ones and want another side to the story, then this might well be the book for you especially if you’re a teenager or a student. After all the schools are back, the novelty of a new year and new teachers has worn off and it’s nice to be reminded that as bad as your school life is, it could be much worse.
I know it isn’t that long since I had Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl as BotW, but I loved this so much I couldn’t not pick Carry On – the book about the characters that Cath was writing about in Fangirl. But you don’t need to have read Fangirl to understand Carry On as they’re separate entities – and there’s no cross over (or at least I didn’t notice any) between the story of this and the fan-fiction that Cath wrote in Fangirl (Rowell has said that this is Canon not fan fic).
So, Simon Snow is returning to Watford School of Magicks for his final year. But his girlfriend has broken up with him, his mentor wants to move him to safety away from the school and his roommate-cum-arch-nemesis hasn’t turned up – which Simon would be loving except that he’s a bit worried about him. Then there’s the ghosts that keep turning up and the fact that the Evil Magic that’s trying to destroy the world (and particularly Simon) is still out there.
Now if this sounds a bit familiar to you, in Fangirl the Simon Snow series had a similar sort of world impact that the Harry Potter series did/does – so yes, it’s about a school for Wizards, and a Chosen One and his friends. But it’s also not the same. Magic works differently, the Baddie is different and the general dynamic is different and it’s not going to all work out the same (I don’t think that’s a spoiler). As I was reading this I was reminded of how much I loved the Harry Potter series when it first came out, and how much fun there is to be had from a YA series about a Chosen One and which doesn’t feature a dystopian future world where everything has gone to pot. And its been hard to find books like this – or at least I’ve found it hard.
I raced through this – reading pretty much 400 pages of it in practically one sitting (I stopped for dinner and Olympics) because I wanted to know what happened. I suspect Harry fans may have a love/hate relationship with it – I wouldn’t describe myself as a super passionate fan* but I really liked it. In fact I wish there were more books about Simon and Baz and their time at the school. It did what I want an adventure-y thriller-y book for children/youngadults to do – it has a strong core group of characters with strengths and weaknesses (who compliment each other but also don’t always agree), who have challenges to overcome. There is peril and adults are around but some of them are the problem and the rest might not be able to fix it.
I can’t guarantee that if you like Harry Potter you’ll like this, but equally I don’t think you have to like Harry to give this a try – if you like chosen one stories, quest stories, adventure stories then this one may well be for you. And it should be everywhere. My copy came from Tesco, but it’s also on Amazon, Kindle, Waterstones, Foyles, and Kobo.
*I own all the books (some in German and French as well), I reread Azkhaban fairly regularly and the other early books to a lesser extent, but don’t reread the end ones as much. I’ve seen most of the films (but not the last one), I haven’t bought the script for Cursed Child, but I have tried to buy tickets to see it and I haven’t been to any Harry theme parks or attractions.
This week’s BotW was an easy choice. I fell head over heels for Fangirl. I devoured it, nearly didn’t get enough sleep because of it and was annoyed when it broke two of my handbag-books rules (hardback, and at the point I was thinking of taking it to work I only had 150 pages left) so I had to wait longer to get back to it and finish it. And we should just contemplate for a minute, why it has taken me so long to read this. Yup. The state of the pile. Exactly. Hence my new shelf-reading kick (mentioned in yesterday’s post) to try and get down the pile.
Fangirl tells the story of Cath’s first year at college. Her twin sister Wren seems to be rebelling against their previous closeness, and she’s struggling to find her own way and place on campus with out her support. Then there’s Cath’s career as a successful Simon Snow fan-fiction author – the release date for the last book in the series is looming, and Cath has to finish her alternative ending first. And then there’s her worries about their dad, loving and sparky – but fragile – and now at home on his own.
I loved this so much. It tapped into some of my own experiences when I was Cath’s age. I’m not a fan fic writer, but I was a child who spent hours in pretend worlds based on the books that I had read. I could spend hours out in the garden during the summer, pretending I was in a series that I loved. Then when I was finishing A-levels I fell in love with a West End show and got heavily into its online community. I totally identified with Cath as she tried to fit Simon in with her “real” life. And while I’m not anxious to the extent that Cath is, I am quite shy and I can remember the terror of starting university – and not knowing *anyone* – so I was with Cath as she baby-stepped her way into college life.
This isn’t the first of Rainbow Rowell’s books that I’ve read – I read Eleanor and Park a few years back and really liked it, but this is the next level. I could go right back and read it all over again. And I do now have Carry On (the story that Cath was writing) sitting on the pile – and I have Attachments on the shelf too, which I’ll be reading sooner rather than later.
I’m late to the party, but you should be able to get this *anywhere* that is selling books. Amazon have it in their 3 paperbacks for £10 and it’s only slightly cheaper in Kindle. Waterstones and Foyles have it too – and I suspect it’ll be in W H Smiths, maybe HMV and perhaps even some of the supermarkets still too. Go forth and read it.