Saturday, November 18, 2017

Not Now, Not Ever (Book Review and Giveaway)

Title: Not Now, Not Ever
Author: Lily Anderson
Publication: Wednesday Books/Macmillan, Hardcover, 2017
Genre: Young Adult

Interview: I am so pleased to interview Lily for Staircase Wit!
Q: I loved The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You, and am eager to read your new book which I know is inspired by The Importance of Being Earnest, my all time favorite play. What inspired you to do retellings of classics?
LA: I have always loved retellings—pretty much since the first time I read Jon Scieszka’s Stinky Cheese Man picture book when I was little. Even now, I read pretty much every fairy tale and classic literature retelling I come across. But I wasn’t finding retellings of the things that I loved—plays. I’m a lifelong theater geek. Certain plays—like Much Ado About Nothing and The Importance Of Being Earnest—have stuck around just as long, if not longer, than other stories being retold. Their themes still resonate with audiences all over the world, every day. It seemed silly to me that they weren’t being transformed into YA novels. And I waited and looked around before I decided to do it myself! 
 
Q: You seem to understand the ups and downs of teen friendship. Do you have any friends who have lasted since teendom?
LA: I actually have a lot of friends that I met when I was a teen! My group of closest friends all met doing youth theater together and we’ve stayed close ever since, which means that we have been through the highest highs and lowest lows between middle school and adulthood. Teen friendships can be hard because everything is SO INTENSE when you’re a teen, but finding the right group of people who won’t bail when things get hard is key. 

Q: What were your favorite books when you were a teen?
LA: Whew. Well, get ready for me to date myself because I was into some early aughts club bangers. I loved The Princess Diaries, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat books. I was super obsessed with The Outsiders (although I somehow never saw the movie?). And I was reading a lot of comics and manga—mostly Ranma ½, Kodocha, and anything from the X-Men universe.

Q: From your website, I can make some guesses about books you like to recommend as a librarian – are there any hidden gems you can share?
LA: I’m an elementary school librarian, so I get kind of shouty about great middle grade novels. Everyone should be reading Anne Ursu, Grace Lin, Varian Johnson, Natalie Lloyd, Sheila Turnage, Kat Yeh, Megan Morrison, and Mac Barnett. 
Q:  Great, some new authors for me!  I also see you are a fan of Little Women (if you have never visited Orchard House, I volunteer to take you on a tour when you next visit Boston), have you read one of my favorites, The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton – also set in Concord?
LA: OMG, visiting Orchard House is literally my greatest dream. I’ve never been to Massachusetts—I actually only visited the East Coast for the first time this year when I went to New York Comic Con!—but I will get there and will totally take you up on that tour guide. I haven’t read The Diamond in the Window, but I will put it at the top of my TBR! I love old-school kids’ books.
Q: What do readers tell you is their favorite thing about your books?
LA: I usually get people repeating back their favorite jokes from the book, which I love because those are also my parts I like best, too. 

Thank you, Lily!   Keep me posted on your travel plans to Boston!
Click to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway

Plot: Elliot Gabaroche does not want to spend the summer at home in Sacramento or attend mock trail camp at UCLA. And she certainly isn't going to the Air Force summer program on her mother's base in Colorado Springs. What she is going to do is pack up her attitude, her favorite Octavia Butler novels, and her Jordans, and go to summer camp. Specifically, a cutthroat academic-decathlon-like competition for a full scholarship to Rayevich College, the only college with a Science Fiction Literature program. And she's going to start over as Ever Lawrence, on her own terms, without the shadow of all her family’s expectations. Because why do what’s expected of you when you can fight other genius nerds to the death for a shot at the dream you’re sure your family will consider a complete waste of time?

My Impressions: This book is so new I don’t yet have a copy – can’t wait! You can buy it from Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Amazon, or at your favorite bookstore.

About the Author: Lily Anderson is an elementary school librarian and Melvil Dewey fangirl with an ever-growing collection of musical theater tattoos and Harry Potter ephemera. She lives in Northern California, far from her mortal enemy: the snow.

Please visit other stops on the Fantastic Flying Book Club tour:

November 14th

November 15th

the bookdragon - Review

November 16th

YAWednesdays - Guest Post
Amanda Gernentz Hanson - Review + Favourite Quotes

November 17th

BookCrushin - Guest Post
Book Munchies - Review + Favourite Quotes

November 18th

November 19th

We Live and Breathe Books - Review + Favourite Quotes

November 20th

The Mind of a Book Dragon - Review + Playlist

November 21st

Boricuan Bookworms - Review + Playlist

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Whispering Mountain (Book Review) #1968Club

The 1968 Club is a meme created by Simon from Stuck in a Book, who chose a literary year and has encouraged other bloggers to read up and post on books published that year.  Check out all the reviews here!  When I realized the other book I had chosen, Cousin Kate, had been reviewed by several people, I wanted to pick something not previously included, hence:
Title: The Whispering Mountain
Author: Joan Aiken
Publication:  Jonathan Cape, hardcover, 1968
Genre: Children’s fantasy/historical fiction/speculative fiction – part of the twelve book Wolves Chronicles that begins with the beloved The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

Plot: When Owen’s irascible grandfather, old Mr. Hughes, discovers the legendary golden Harp of Tiertu, he brings unwanted attention to the small Welsh village of Pennygaff. Everyone has a claim to the Harp, including the mysterious Seljuk of Rum, an obscure order of monks which has mostly moved to China, and the local lord of the manor. In fact, the Marquess of Malyn hires two rascals to seize it when old Mr. Hughes, who manages the Pennygaff museum, insists on researching the rightful owners. The thugs snatch both Harp and Owen, who is falsely accused of the theft. With the help of his friend Arabis, a young girl who is a talented herbalist, and his frenemies from the Jones Academy for the Sons of Gentlemen and Respectable Tradesmen, Owen seeks to clear his name and solve the prophecy of the Whispering Mountain, which concludes: “And the men of the glen avoid disaster / And the Harp of Tierto find her master.”

Audience: Children, fans of alternative history fiction or fantasy

My Impressions: This was a fun read, and would appeal to most fantasy readers. Owen is a quiet, bespectacled boy who is treated like an interloper, lives with an unappreciative relative, and is much braver than he seems at first (sound familiar?). Miserable in Pennygaff, he is too proud to burden his only friends, Arabis and her absent minded father Tom Dando, a poet, with his troubles, so he plans to set forth to seek his fortune, armed with nothing but his greatest treasure, a little book given to him by his father, “Arithmetic, Grammar, Botany & these Pleasing Sciences made Familiar to the Capacities of Youth."  Instead, he gets kidnapped, and that is when his adventures begin. The combination of the Welsh used by the characters (much of which can be guessed but I didn’t notice the glossary until I finished the book – I guess that proves I am not one of those read the last page first people) and the cant used by the two thieves might be off-putting to some but just takes a little getting used to. It is very reminiscent of the slang used in Black Hearts in Battersea, which is good training for Georgette Heyer!
Although I read and reread The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Black Hearts in Battersea, and Nightbirds on Nantucket repeatedly as a child, I have no recollection of The Whispering Mountain (maybe I didn't like that odd blue cover above - I remember that clearly), which is now considered a prequel to Wolves published in 1962 (her daughter Lizza has created a wonderful website with information Joan was probably too modest or too busy to share (plus, harder to do in a pre-web world), and is also working to keep all the books in print). I also read several collections of short stories and I remember the first book I ever put on reserve at the Newton library was the extremely scary Night Fall (back then you paid for a postcard which was sent when the book arrived).  
Joan Aiken with some of the NYC Betsy-Tacy Group
One of the big literary thrills of my life was meeting Joan Aiken in person when she did an event at Books of Wonder in 1998! I think I respectfully asked about her ruthless habit of killing off characters (I don’t recall to whom I was alluding although she does it somewhat gratuitously in The Whispering Mountain), and she told the audience at that event that she had planned for Dido Twite to drown (at the end of Black Hearts in Battersea) but an impassioned letter from a fan changed her mind and she is thus rescued at the beginning of Night Birds on Nantucket.

For those who don’t know – and I must admit it went over my head when I first begin reading these books at 8 or so – the Wolves books take place in an alternative 19th century in which the Stuarts had not been deposed by William and Mary. Instead, the Hanoverians are plotting to regain what they consider their rightful thrown. The Prince of Wales who appears in The Whispering Mountain is meant to be the son of James III. I have always intended to read the full series in order, so this is a good start, although I am surprised to find I am missing a few.

I am also a big fan of Joan Aiken's sister, Jane Aiken Hodge, who also wrote some wonderful historical fiction mostly set in the 19th century.  My favorite is Savannah Purchase.  She also wrote a fascinating book about Georgette Heyer.

Source: I own a paperback copy that shows Arabis riding a camel with her falcon, Hawc, perched on her head. Recommended.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Cousin Kate (Book Review) #1968Club

What is the 1968 Club, you ask?  It is a year mostly remembered for tragedy.  Simon from Stuck in a Book chose a year, 1968, and has encouraged other bloggers to read up and post on books published that year for the #1968 Club.  This is a fun way to be exposed to a lot of interesting books, some of which I have heard of and some not.   The last time I participated it was 1951 and I reread All-of-A-Kind Family.
Title: Cousin Kate
Author: Georgette Heyer
Publication: Dutton Hardcover, 1968; my edition is a Bantam paperback
Genre: Historical Romance/Regency/Gothic

The first copy I read
Plot: Kate Malvern is the intrepid but impoverished daughter of a deceased military officer who left nothing but debts. Trying to make her living as a governess, Kate has been dismissed from her position after her employer’s brother made improper advances (as my Latin teacher used to say, there is nothing new under the sun, nihil novi sub sole). Kate is lucky that she has somewhere to go in a crisis – her old nurse Sarah, now married into a family that runs a London inn. Sarah is worried about Kate’s future so writes to the aunt Kate has never met, and soon Aunt Miranda, Lady Broome, has arrived, full of affection, and brings Kate home to Staplewood, where she lives with her husband, Sir Timothy, and son, Torquil. Kate tries to adjust to a life of luxury but begins to suspect something is not quite right about her new home. In the meantime, Sir Timothy’s attractive nephew Philip is suspicious of her motives in accepting Lady Broome’s hospitality and Kate’s banter with Philip distracts her from her worries about Staplewood. Yet soon Kate finds herself at the heart of a diabolical scheme, cut off from Sarah with only her own good sense to protect her.

Audience: Fans of the divine Georgette, regency lovers, gothic fans (however, she mostly disdained her fans - lucky for her she lived in an era where her publisher didn't urge her to go to romance conferences and bond with her readers)
Georgette Heyer
My Impressions: How I love a good orphan story! Kate is the perfect heroine: plucky, self reliant, loyal, full of humor, and attractive. As an unmarried young lady of good family, Kate has limited options which include the genteel occupations of governess or lady’s companion, or to be taken in as a drudge by distant family. While Sarah Nidd, her old nurse, is extremely fond of her, Sarah knows it is not suitable for Kate to live in a common inn. On paper, Kate is thus very fortunate to be rescued by her unknown Aunt Minerva. The mystery of the book is the secret of Staplewood, why Kate’s aunt is so eager to offer her a home, and whether Kate can withstand the forces working against her.
My Heyer shelves

“You were going to say that you wonder why she did invite me,” [Kate] supplied. “Torquil said the same, yesterday, and I wonder what you both mean. She invited me out of compassion, knowing me to be a destitute orphan – and I can never be sufficiently grateful to her!”

He stammered: “No, indeed! Just so! Shouldn’t think you could! Well, what I mean is – Did you say, destitute, ma’am?”

“Forced to earn my bread!” she declared dramatically. She saw that he was quite horrified, and gave a gurgle of laughter.

“You’re shamming it!” he accused her.

“I’m not, but you’ve no need to look aghast, I promise you! To be sure, I didn’t precisely enjoy being a governess, but there are many worse fates. Or so I’ve been told!”

Cousin Kate is Heyer’s one gothic novel but is not as well executed or as convincing as her more traditional regencies. I can understand why some dislike it because of its unrealistic portrayal of mental illness. Moreover, I think her books got weaker towards the end of her life and this was one of her last four books.

What makes the book appealing to me is the minor characters, beginning with the Nidds, a vivid cockney family devoted to Kate, from the irreverent grandfather to the inarticulate grandsons. Lady Broome is not a sympathetic or convincing character as she plots to use Kate for her fell purposes but if you can suspend disbelief a little, it is not impossible to understand her quandary – having devoted herself to her husband’s family it is heartbreaking to her that the line might not continue. Her elderly husband, Sir Timothy, is also interesting: he welcomes Kate to his home and becomes genuinely fond of her, and loves his nephew Philip. But he turns a blind eye to his own son’s unhappy situation and does not interfere in Lady Broome’s or the doctor’s treatment of Torquil. Kate and Philip (well suited in an understated romance) are very fond of Sir Timothy despite his flaws.

Source: I own nearly every book Georgette Heyer wrote, and happen to have several copies of Cousin Kate – the edition I am rereading (above right) has a particularly lurid cover; I like the Fawcett one better.