Saffy’s Angel and Indigo’s Star, Hilary McKay

Oh I just love Hilary McKay.  She has written these Casson books, which are among the most endearing books I have ever read.  I organize my bookshelves (more or less) by how much I couldn’t do without the books, with the books on the right being the absolutely most essential ones, and then getting less and less essential moving to the left.  And the Casson books, despite being a recent discovery, are on the far right of my children’s books section, along with the likes of The Ordinary Princess and Peter Pan and Indian Captive, which I read when I was tiny.  So there you go.

Having had a stressful week of (joyously successful) job interviewing and hospital visiting, I ditched Cat’s Eye and switched over to reading Saffy’s Angel and Indigo’s Star.  They are lovely.  Clever me for discovering them.  The Casson family consists of two artist parents – Bill, who is always taking himself off to his studio in London, and Eve, who buys squashed paint tubes and does all sorts of different things that Bill says are “Not Exactly Art”, and their children, all named after paint colors – Cadmium (Caddy), Indigo, Saffron, and Permanent Rose.

One day Saffy discovers that her name, Saffron, is not on the paint colors chart, and this proves to be because she is really Eve’s twin sister’s daughter, born in Italy and only transferred into Eve and Bill’s family when her mother died in a car accident.  And years later, when their grandfather dies, they discover a note attached to his will that says “For Saffron.  Her angel in the garden.  The stone angel,” and Saffy, fierce and lonely, becomes determined to find it.  And Caddy is learning to drive, and trying to pass her exams, and being in love with her driving instructor Michael, and Indigo is learning not to be afraid of heights, and Saffy makes friends with Sarah, a girl in a wheelchair who lives close by.

When I last read The Ordinary Princess, and I said that it sounded like it could be saccharine?  But every time it could have been saccharine, it stopped being saccharine and be awesome instead?  Same is true of Saffy’s Angel.  It isn’t saccharine because it’s wry.  When Caddy and Rose and Indigo decide to go to Wales to look for Saffy’s angel, Caddy says she can’t because she can only do left turns; and Rose fetches a map and says “Wales is left!  Look!  It’s left all the way!”  Which is exactly how I view the world.  Everything is either left or right.

Also, I like it when Caddy is studying for her exams, and not wanting to read Hamlet (I totally sympathize):

“He was a prince,” said Caddy.  “Of Denmark.”

“I’ve been there,” said Michael, sounding very pleased with himself.  “I went to a concert in Denmark, years ago!  In a sea of mud.  Never stopped raining for three days.  Terrible place, Denmark!”

“Hamlet went mad.”

“So did a lot of us.”

“And his girlfriend drowned.”

“Not surprised at all.  Wettest place I’ve ever seen.”

“She was called Ophelia.”

“And she couldn’t swim?”

“No.”

“Poor old Oph.”

“Yes,” agreed Caddy, beginning to feel a bit better, “and poor old Ham, in all that mud.”

Other reviews of Saffy’s Angel: Book Nut, ten cent notes, Framed and Booked, Semicolon

And then Indigo’s Star is about Indigo being bullied by British schoolchildren and making friends with an American boy called Tom who plays guitar and goes up on high places, and does not miss his family in America, and wants a new black guitar that he does not have the money for.  Rose, missing her father, writes him letters intended to be terrifying and make him come home.  And she gets glasses, right at the start, and I love it when she gets glasses:

Rose had the sort of eyes that manage perfectly well with things close by, but entirely blur out things far away.  Because of this even the brightest stars had only appeared as silvery smudges in the darkness.  In all her life Rose had never properly seen a star.

Tonight there was a sky full.

Rose looked up, and it was like walking into a dark room and someone switching on the universe.

The stars flung themselves at her with the impact of a gale of wind.  She swayed under the shock, and for a time she was speechless, blown away by stars.

And then there are bits that I like because I have a big family and sometimes conversations get exactly like this (also the reason my family continues to love While You Were Sleeping – because the way that family talks is exactly how my family talks when we are all together eating dinner):

“There’s your breakfast, Rose!”

“It looks just like hot concrete,” observed Rose.  “I’ve got to describe a day in the life of an Ancient Egyptian.  What shall I put?”

“Is this your holiday homework?” asked Sarah.  “Don’t do it, Rose!  Eve will write you a note to say it’s iniquitous to give eight-year-olds homework in the school holidays!  You will, won’t you, Eve?”

“I could never spell ‘iniquitous’, Sarah darling!”

“Hot concrete,” said Rose mournfully, prodding her porridge.

“Write this,” ordered Saffron.  “‘The Ancient Egyptians are all dead.  Their days are very quiet.’  Porridge is meant to look like hot concrete.  Eat it up.”

“Full of vitamins,” remarked Eve hopefully, scratching another gluey chunk out of the saucepan and shaking it into a bowl.

Heeheehee.  Hilary McKay is great.  I have read very few alive-authored British children’s books anywhere near as good as Hilary McKay.  Which is why I didn’t mind that there is written a sequel to A Little Princess even though normally I absolutely hate for people to try to write sequels to books that I like a lot (I mean, different people, other than the original author – I am not opposed to sequels qua sequels!).  I concluded that if anybody could ever write a sequel to A Little Princess and have it not be awful, it would be Hilary McKay.  But I will let you know when it comes out.

Other reviews: Book Nut, bookshelves of doom, Library Queue, and I can’t imagine why more people haven’t read it!

Ordinary Victories, Manu Larcenet

I got this at the library because I am always on the hunt for good graphic novels, and it said THE BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL OF ALL TIME EVER or something like that on the front.  I believed this because I’m easily taken in by the printed word.  Fortunately for me, this may actually be one of the best graphic novels of all time ever.  I loved it.  I really, really loved it.  It’s translated – I didn’t even care!  Hooray for Joe Johnson, the stalwart translator!  Mr. Johnson, you have done an excellent job in translating, and thanks for that, because although I can sort of read French, it is easier and nicer to read English, and if this book only existed in French, the library would most likely not have had it.

Ordinary Victories is all about a professional photographer called Marco.  He has a cat, a brother, and a panic disorder.  He acquires a veterinarian girlfriend called Emily, and tries to balance out what he wants for his life and what he knows she wants.  His father has Alzheimer’s, but refuses treatment.  He befriends a strange old man who fishes near his home, and discovers some dark things in the old man’s past.  He tries to do a triumphal return to photography that doesn’t entail his photographing “exotic corpses”, which is what he’s known for.

The book’s French title – Le combat ordinaire – captures it perfectly – it’s about the things you struggle with every day, and hey, can I just say, what a wonderful depiction of panic attacks.  The panels turn all red, and all Marco can do is gasp “H! H! H!”  Emily, the girlfriend, is adorable and endearing without being nauseating or a pushover at all.  The relationships between Marco and his brother (who he calls George, as a joke – we never find out his real name), and his parents, are so genuine and lovely.

Here’s where I cried (emotional spoilers – click on it to make it bigger):

forgetting
An argument might be made that the book touches on too many issues without resolving them, but because the book is about Marco and his struggles to navigate the world, it doesn’t seem unfocused for many of these things to remain a bit fuzzy and uncertain.  It’s just the things you encounter, and try to deal with, in your life – romantic difficulties, people not being who you want them to be, politics not going the way you want them to go.  There’s this wonderful scene towards the end where Marco talks to a longtime friend who has chosen to vote for the far right, despite its platform of intolerance.  Marco is full of certainty that he is right and his friend is wrong, and the question is, on a personal level, so much more complex than that.  Gorgeous, gorgeous.  Plus, see above re: where I cried.

What a wonderful book.  Please read it so we can talk about how great it is!

The Ordinary Princess, M.M. Kaye

I am so pleased I got this book!  I got it in hardback!  For eight dollars!  At Bongs & Noodles, totally unexpectedly!  This, and jPod, and a hardback of From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (I know, right?), and a nice new copy of Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, and The Annotated Alice (the annotations are ever so interesting), and for twenty dollars altogether total, all seven of the Chronicles of Narnia on CD, read by cool people like Lynn Redgrave and Kenneth Branagh.  But of all these things, I am the most pleased with The Ordinary Princess.

The eponymous princess, Amy, is the youngest of seven princesses, each more beautiful than the last.  At her christening, the water fairy Crustacea comes and announces “You shall be ordinary!”  Which is just what Amy grows up to be, mousy hair and freckles and a turned-up nose, and when she’s of marriageable age nobody wants to marry her, and what with one thing and another she runs away and gets a job as a scullery maid in another kingdom.  There she meets a very agreeable man-of-all-work called Perry, and on their days off, they hang out in the forest feeding nuts to squirrels and building a little cottage for themselves.  (Until all is discovered.)

M.M. Kaye is so mysterious.  She wrote two books about India, Shadow of the Moon and The Far Pavilions, which I really enjoyed.  She wrote a series of mysteries, which I found terribly tedious.  She wrote a book called Trade Winds in which the protagonist gets raped and falls in love with her rapist and they live happily ever after, which I’m not even going to get into because it makes me so furious.  And then she wrote The Ordinary Princess, the loveliest book ever.

I can see how this book would sound totally saccharine – Amy hums merry songs while she does her drudgery work, and she has animal friends with names that follow her around.  She talks to her wisteria vine and likes picking wildflowers with the local maidens.  This talking to plants and animals and frolicking in meadows tends to be the sort of thing about which my mother puts on her old lady voice and snaps “Too sweet to be wholesome!”  EXCEPT THAT, M.M. Kaye obviously decided that every time she started to be saccharine, she would stop being saccharine and be AWESOME instead.

True story.

Moreover, in case this story wasn’t already genius enough (it was), M.M. Kaye illustrated it herself, and I have rarely read a book in which the illustrations went so well with the story.  Not even The Ghost of Opalina.  Amy looks exactly like you’d think she would – ordinary.  Not ugly.  Just ordinary.  And Perry, who is introduced as “the nice young man” looks like an exactly nice young man.  I would go out with Perry.  He offers her illicit ice cream, and makes her a necklace out of acorn cups.

I can’t imagine why anyone would not like The Ordinary Princess.  Do you have books like that, where you really can’t see any reason for anybody, ever, to dislike it?  Is it because they’re stunningly good, or because they’re just friendly and likeable?

Love Lessons, Joan Wyndham

I just want to excerpt massive passages of this book.  I almost didn’t get it out of the library, and when I did check it out, I almost didn’t read it.  It’s this woman’s diaries from World War II – she was living in London during the Blitz, which you’d think would cause her to, you know, write about the Blitz, but she’s seventeen and mainly unsupervised, and largely what she’s writing about is all the men she’s running around with.  I keep thinking “Oh, the author has done things so cleverly here, look at all the things she’s leaving unsaid,” but it’s diaries, not a novel.

(I am actually rather curious about seeing the manuscripts, because I’m assuming she edited them before publishing them, and I wonder what she changed.)

I’ve been sitting here for several minutes, watching Buffy in French (Xander’s being such a prat, but I feel nostalgic for the old school days and I really, really must buckle down and learn French, for heaven’s sake!) and trying to think of how to explain why Love Lessons was such a delight.  I think because Joan Wyndham reminds me of Jane Eyre – a comparison I doubt either of them would appreciate much.  It’s just the mix of a sense of humor and romanticism and down-to-earth practicality.  Cassandra in I Capture the Castle is much the same, which is why I always read that when I’ve finished Jane Eyre.

She’s fancying herself in love with this guy Rupert who deflowered her, but still she says this after his house gets bombed:

In fact it’s not surprising number 34 was hit; if any three things called for a bomb on them they were Leonard’s painting, Prudey’s novel and Rupert’s poems!  This is a fair specimen of his work:

The sun has broken loose from its moorings
And its face is splashed with oil from the spouting well
The halting footsteps of blind spiders feeling their way
Along a fractured thighbone –
A pile of discarded genitals rusting in an old iron basket –
Come to my party!

Another one begins: “Sweet steaming cesspools disturbed fitfully by bursting balls of stinking gas.”  Oh, dear.

And then sometimes she writes quite evocatively about London in the Blitz:

He left me and I ran back through nightmare streets, cold and dark and the guns going, past a time bomb barrier, running into ropes that held me back like spiders’ webs, and treading on broken glass that cracked horribly underfoot and made my heart jump.

Of course it is Daddy Issues City in this book, as I noticed rather early on, but eventually she brought it up herself, which again pleased me because although she still has issues galore, it’s always nice to see that people are at least verging on self-awareness.

The fact is, I prefer men to be slightly caddish and knock me around, and not to love me too much.  I like men who think they are God.

Rupert, of course, has all the self-assurance in the world – never looks foolish or put out, is completely at ease with the universe and thinks himself a lord of it.  He belongs to that class of person that is adored by shopkeepers and servants – “Dear master Rupert, such a fine lad he’s grown into!” – and Rupert smiles his gentle smile that means nothing, and strides on in glorious self-absorption, six feet of indolent golden manhood in a spotlessly white unbuttoned shirt, his trousers just a little too big for him.  There is a kind of aura about him that suggests green cricket fields and white flannels, though God knows he detests all sports and exercise.  He has that irresistible lazy charm that often goes with decadence and overbreeding – just like my father.

Uh-huh.

Anyway, now I long and long and long to get hold of her other books, but of course my library hasn’t got them, and Paperbackswap hasn’t, and I’m not buying any books until after the massive book bazaar in March, so I will just have to delay that particular gratification for a while yet.

P.S. Her father was discovered messing around with the Marchioness of Queensberry one Christmas.  Not Bosie’s mother, and not Percy’s wife, but the one after that.  Those Douglases.  Always in a scrape.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling

Mm, this is the one I’ve been waiting for. My original plan was just to read Prisoner of Azkaban, my most favorite of all the Harry Potter books, but then I decided to read them all, since I knew that would take longer and afford me more lasting satisfaction. In Azkaban, a supporter of Voldemort (and, it more or less goes without saying, murderer) breaks out of the wizard prison Azkaban and is out on the lam, desperate – say the prison guards – to get to Harry and kill him dead. Meanwhile the soul-sucking dementors that generally spend all their time guarding Azkaban are out in force at Hogwarts in case Sirius Black (the aforementioned stone-cold killer) shows up there, and the dementors are so awful that poor Harry has a ‘sode every time they come around. A really unpleasant one in which he hears his parents’ last moments on earth. In other news, Hagrid has become a teacher, the kids have a new and wonderful Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, and we find out a number of things we didn’t know before about Harry’s father. Plus, Hermione gets a cat, and Harry learns a cool new spell, which is probably the most useful spell he ever learns.

There’s just nothing about this book that I dislike. I think the reason I like it so much is that all the elements are interesting and cool and handled well; and at the end, they all pull together beautifully: Hermione and her many classes, the hippogriff on trial, Harry’s spell to ward off dementors, his acquisition of the Marauder’s Map, the business with Sirius Black, the back-story on James Potter’s school life, the ongoing quarrel between Hermione’s cat and Ron’s rat. Everything. It’s synergistic. It’s satisfying. Not to mention that this is the book in which we first meet funny Professor Trelawney, whom I love, and Professor Lupin, whom I love even more (until the seventh book, at which point I kinda fell out of love with him because he was being a jerk, which is too bad since I spent books four, five, and six complaining loudly about how totally not enough Lupin there was). The end sequence in the Shrieking Shack is one of my top five favorite scenes in the entire series. (I’ve just pulled the number five out of nowhere. I don’t actually have a list of the five best Harry Potter scenes – though now I want to make one, to see how the Shrieking Shack scene measures up.)

I will say, because I don’t want this to be a total panegyric to the third book even though it’s the best, that-

Yeah, no. Nope. I can’t think of anything bad to say about Prisoner of Azkaban. Every time I read it, I have one of those reading experiences where everything else falls away. It’s always like reading it for the first time. Whenever I (spoilers ahead) get to the bit in the Hogsmeade pub where they’re talking about Sirius Black, and Madam Rosmerta says “Quite the double act, Sirius Black and James Potter!”, I always feel startled, it always makes me gasp (Social Sister will tell you that this was very irritating the first time I read it, lying on my bed in the room we shared and refusing to tell her why I was gasping), and I always worry about Harry, poor dear, with his many psychological issues. I continue to get riled up every time Snape acts like a jerk to Harry about his father, or to Lupin about his werewolfiness – Snape’s such a bully! I’m sorry, I don’t care how tortured and miserable he is, he’s got no call to be such a bullying meanie to a bunch of fourteen-year-old kids. Mean old Snape. The list of things for which I can never forgive him, oh, it is a long list.

As far as post-Deathly Hallows rereading goes – I think the only major change is that I find the scenes where Lupin remembers Harry’s father to be much more upsetting than I did when I was first reading these books. I mean, knowing Lupin’s whole story, how he was so lonely and sad and friendless as a kid, and then he finally made some amazing friends who did amazing things for him, and then they all died or turned out to be evil, and he went right back to being lonely and sad and friendless all through his adult life. Ouch. That hurts my heart. I also feel rather affectionate about Ron and Hermione’s quarrel over Crookshanks and Scabbers. It’s the first of many quarrels they will have on their bumpy road to happy togetherness. Oh, and how good was it when harry got to stay by himself in Diagon Alley before the year began? Staying at the pub and having nice meals and wandering all around by himself? That must have been fun. Since he will never have fun again, ever, I’m glad he got to have that experience.

Tom Finder, Martine Leavitt

I just bought a bunch of new books.

Tom Finder is the fifth from the bottom.  Two of the other books I got, I have not included in this picture, because I am going to get them for my oldest sister for Christmas, and although I’m pretty sure she doesn’t read this blog, I don’t want to take chances.

See, it turns out I was entitled to get this gift card from Amazon for $100, so I claimed it, and then I spent it.  I spent my money very sensibly, which allowed me to get free shipping and two of those books for free, and I ended up with a dozen of them.  A baker’s dozen.  I mean, fourteen – the dozen of an extremely generous baker.  I am exceptionally pleased with myself, and I am most excited about Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me, which I am putting off reading because I enjoy to delay gratification.

Anyway, I read Tom Finder first of the new-to-me books above pictured (only three are new), because I want to read the book to which Getting the Girl is the sequel, and it’s not yet in at the library, and because I thought I wasn’t going to like it that much.  I knew it was about a boy living on the streets, and I didn’t like Heck Superhero, which was similarly themed; whereas I loved The Doll-Mage and Keturah and Lord Death.  But indeed it was quite, quite, quite wonderful.

Tom finds himself on the street and can’t remember anything about his life before.  But he meets a man called Samuel who tells him that he is a Finder, and he must find Samuel’s son, Daniel Wolflegs, who has gone missing.  Samuel says that Tom has to find Daniel before he can find his own home.  Tom gets good at finding things – money, books, library cards, food – and he writes down all the things he can figure out about himself, so he won’t forget again.  He comes up with a theory that words are in charge of everything – because he writes things down and discovers they are true.  He writes down “Tom is nice”, and he always tries to be nice after that – because he remembers that he has written down that he is.

I really, really liked this.  I am about to write a geeky fangirl letter to Martine Leavitt and tell her how much I admire her.  Because honestly, her books are very very good.  Tom Finder was.  I feel guilty for reading it as a substitute for Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me.  I completely forgot about Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me while I was reading it, which is funny given how much I’ve been yearning to read Suzy, Led Zeppelin, and Me for the past, I don’t know, week and a half.  And I forgot all about the stabbing pain about which I am too much of a lady to say more.  And I was too absorbed to stop long enough to write down in my commonplace book the bits I wanted to write down in my commonplace book.  So props to Martine Leavitt.  Again.

(Did I already discover she was Mormon, and then forget I had discovered she was Mormon?  She’s Mormon.  Who knew?)

Edit to add: This afternoon I went grocery shopping with my mum, and we stopped at Bongs & Noodles just for fun, but mainly I believe so she could get Chalice, and I was looking at bargain books, and I got Eleanor Rigby and Special Topics in Calamity Physics, both in hardback, for just shy of twelve dollars.  It is a banner week for me and new books!  So while I watched the very exciting LSU football game, I covered all my new paperbacks in contact paper, and I put plastic dustjacket covers on my new hardbacks until I ran out of plastic covers (need to order more).

Greensleeves, Eloise Jarvis McGraw

Omens are medieval.  But – so are masks and dominoes, and a merrie singing cuckoo and a song called Greensleeves that will probably haunt me all my life.  To me that whole fading summer has rather the flavor of medieval music.  It had the shifting key changes, the gay, skipping rhythm and minor melody, and that unresolved, inconclusive end.

I never feel that any review I could write of Greensleeves will ever be adequate.  But I lent it to my friend Teacher to read during the hurricane, and she loved it a lot, and it made me jealous that I didn’t have it with me, so I read my mum’s copy, and damn, is it ever a good book.  It’s my favorite book, my desert-island book.

Greensleeves is about a girl called Shannon Lightley who has spent her whole life in transit, shuttling back and forth between separate parents, schools, and continents.  She’s eighteen years old, and when she pictures her entire life ahead of her, she is filled with dread and misery.  So her uncle Frosty offers her a job, to live in a little apartment and keep an eye on the people in the area.  He’s a lawyer, and he’s got a really weird will from one Mrs. Elizabeth Dunningham, who left people weird-shit bequests like scholarships to study subjects of no practical use and money to take skydiving lessons.  So Shannon’s job, basically, is to meet the people and check out whether there’s grounds for contesting the will.

It’s brilliant because Shannon is so tired of being herself that she decides to become someone different.  She changes her hair and her clothes and her accent and is a completely different person altogether.  And she meets all the people in the will – the taxi driver with the dependent family; the professor of Greek who yearns to go to Greece but keeps putting it off to finish writing his textbook; the overweight girl who wants to be a sexy flight attendant; the delightful Sherry who draws wavery cartoons and wants to know everything about everything.  And so forth.

This book is terribly successful at what it does – both in bringing to life all the characters, as well as Mrs. Dunningham, but as well in reflecting on the nature of cages and the things we let stop us from doing what we want.  Greensleeves resonates with me in a way that few books do, I suppose because Shannon’s so confused by life, and really – life is damn confusing.

Eloise Jarvis McGraw is so mysterious.  She has written what is probably my favorite book of all time ever – I wish she were still alive so I could tell her so, or that I had read Greensleeves earlier than 2000 instead of waiting until I was in high school, though it was a singular joy to suddenly discover it – but most of her other books, I can totally take or leave.  Heavy on the leave.  I remember quite liking The Moorchild, but I’ve never been able to get through Pharaoh, and many of her books for kids I just can’t be bothered with.  They’re not bad, they’re just not that interesting.  I loved Mara, Daughter of the Nile when I was twelve or so, but I think now I’m rereading it for nostalgic reasons rather than because it’s such a good book.  But then she has written Greensleeves, which completely speaks to me and contains possibly my favorite fictional couple since Jane Eyre & Edward Rochester.

If you read it, tell me what you thought.  You will of course love it.  Nobody could not love it.  I wish J.K. Rowling would read it and then shortly before the release of whatever her next book is, I wish that she would say, “You know what’s a good book?  Greensleeves.  Wish that were in print,” and then two days later it would be BAM back in print and probably optioned for a movie, as was the case with I Capture the Castle (for which, may I say, very very many thanks, J.K. Rowling).  I would rather have Greensleeves back in print than The Ghost of Opalina, and that’s saying something.

(In selfish terms I’d rather have The Ghost of Opalina, because I don’t own my own copy of The Ghost of Opalina and I do have a copy of Greensleeves – though I always want to buy more copies of it, just in case.  Backup copies.  You never know what’s going to happen.  What if I got in a huge fight with one of my friends and they decided to hit me where it hurts and shred Greensleeves?  YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN.)

Anyway.  Read it.  I swear.  I wouldn’t lie to you.

Lonely Werewolf Girl, Martin Millar

I was very skeptical about Martin Millar. I heard about Martin Millar from Neil Gaiman’s website, because he (Neil Gaiman) wrote an introduction to The Good Fairies of New York extolling its manifold virtues, so I got it from the library because I liked the title. I didn’t expect much out of it. The last time I trusted Neil Gaiman’s opinion, I read four books by Jonathan Carroll and hated them all desperately. (Yes, the obvious question is why did I read four of them then, and the answer is, I’ve no idea, it was long ago and I can’t remember. I think I hoped that the previous ones were just flukes and I would soon come to love Jonathan Carroll – like when I first read Diana Wynne Jones’s books and hated them – but that never happened.) So I didn’t think I was going to like Martin Millar either.

But I was so, so wrong. Martin Millar is a delight. I want to give Martin Millar a hug because his books please me so much. The Good Fairies of New York was charming, and they found a flower.

Lonely Werewolf Girl is better, however. Which is partly because it’s longer, so there’s more of it to charm me, and partly because all the threads of subplots come together really nicely at the end. It’s about a werewolf girl called Kalix who is very, very dysfunctional and the youngest daughter of the royal MacLannach werewolf family, and all the dreadful and exciting things that befall her family. There are many subplots. They dovetail beautifully at the twins’ gig when the werewolves have a great big knock-down-drag-out. It’s all very impressive.

The thing about Martin Millar’s books, at least the two that I’ve read – which is definitely not enough to qualify me to state this opinion about Martin Millar’s books generally, but is also not my fault because I live in a city in the Deep South where despite the surprisingly wonderful public library system there is a dearth of contemporary British fiction – is that he is very fond of that traditional British humor mechanism in which everything goes spectacularly to hell. In fact I read a study one time that said that British people love sitcoms like Fawlty Towers where things start from a point of order and then descend into chaos, whereas American people – something else that I don’t remember. Anyway, this kind of humor sometimes gives me stressful feelings, but with Martin Millar, I have faith that everything will iron itself out.

Besides which there is just something very sweet about this book. And Good Fairies. They make me want to go enjoy other sweet things, like the Brownings’ letters to each other, and that episode of Angel where he first has little baby Connor and defends him from the vampire cults, and that episode of Buffy where she gets an award at her prom and it always makes me cry, and that book we had when I was little about the persnickety old lady who learns valuable lessons about love from a little Christmas angel. Which, um, may not have been what Martin Millar intended when he wrote it.

Edit to add: I discovered Martin Millar’s blog, and it sounds like he does a lot of reveling in the joy that is Buffy. (Like me.) A man after my own heart.

The Color Purple, Alice Walker

You know what I don’t understand? I don’t understand why The Color Purple is so ridiculously awesome, and why when there are all these really subpar books running around, why people don’t just go ahead and read The Color Purple all the time. Why don’t people just read The Color Purple all the time, and forget about that Atonement crap?

The Color Purple. Wow.

When I was young, my mother had told me once that The Color Purple was one of her favorite books of all time, and I remember her telling me her favorite line (“White folks is a miracle of affliction”), and in early middle school I asked her where her copy was because I wanted to read it. And that’s the only time in my entire life I can remember my mother telling me not to read a book. She said wait a few years and I’d like it better. When I finally did read it (and oh my God, it blew me away), I assumed that she had been trying to steer me clear of it because of the fairly extensive sexual and violent content, but I asked her and she said no, she just thought I’d like it better if I waited a few years. She said that giving it to an eleven-year-old to read would be like giving To Kill a Mockingbird to a precocious kid of eight – the kid might be able to read all the words, but s/he’d be missing out on all the richness that’s there. She said you only get to read a book for the first time once, and there are some books that you just really deserve to have the best first-reading experience possible.

I totally agree with that.  And this is a damn good book.  It’s one of those books that everyone should read.  Everyone in the whole world.  In fact I’m just off to ship a few hundred copies off to world leaders.  Do ’em good.

P.S. Although they are both Important Black American Women writers, I am forced to read Toni Morrison much more often than I am forced to read Alice Walker.  In fact I have never had to read Alice Walker, except for one short story once, whereas I have had to deal with Toni Morrison kind of a lot.  And you know what, you know what?  I.  Don’t.  Like.  Her.  Beloved makes me feel queasy.  The Color Purple is a much better book and everyone should just, just, just revise their damn syllabuses.

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

Seven.

You roll and watch it coming, realizing completely that this is no regular die.  You claim it to be bad luck, but you’ve known all along that it had to come.  You brought it into the room.  The table could smell it on your breath.  The Jew was sticking out of your pocket from the outset.  He’s smeared to your lapel, and the moment you roll, you know it’s a seven – the one thing that somehow finds a way to hurt you.  It lands.  It stares you in each eye, miraculous and loathsome, and you turn away with it feeding on your chest.

Just bad luck.

That’s what you say.

Of no consequence.

That’s what you make yourself believe – because deep down, you know that this small piece of changing fortune is a signal of things to come.  You hide a Jew.  You pay.  Somehow or other, you must.

I saw The Book Thief first when I was in England, staying in London with my family over New Year’s, and I couldn’t decide whether I wanted it or not (I wish I’d bought it then because it would have been more expensive BUT it had a nice cover and was hardback), so I picked it up and glanced at it, and something the sales person said led me to believe it was in translation.  So since I didn’t really have any spare money for a book that might not be good and was in translation anyway, and since I definitely didn’t have any spare space in my luggage, I didn’t get it.

What with one thing and another I checked it out of the library this past summer and read it almost all in one go, lying on my couch at home.  It made me cry.  So I didn’t read it again, and I didn’t buy it, and by the time I noticed that I was pining for it, it was too late and the Official Christmas Buying Embargo was on, and when I didn’t get it for Christmas (I got many other things though!), I went round to Bongs & Noodles and bought it with my Christmas gift card money.

(Yay!)

Seriously, honestly, this book is as good as you’ve heard.  It is one of the best books I have ever read.  Markus Zusak, yay for you.  It’s about a little German girl who steals books and has a foster family and hides a Jew in her basement.  And yes, okay, the book is narrated by Death, and I know that might not be a draw for some people, but this book is just gorgeously written, and it’s extremely moving, and I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true.

But sad.  So if you have serious objections to bits of story that involve dead children and mums crying about it, and if those objections are serious enough that you actually cannot see past them, then okay, this book might not be for you.  For everyone else in the whole world though.  Yup.  Damn good book.  It made me cry, and although I tear up extremely easily, it is a much better trick to make actual tears actually fall out of my eyes, which is what The Book Thief has done both times I’ve read it.

Although I ordinarily cannot deal with Holocaust books at all, which I know this officially isn’t one of, but it kind of is.  And still I liked The Book Thief a lot.