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Category: TBR

READING THE TBR, DAY 277: A Thousand Pieces of You (2014) by Claudia Gray

This book has just restored my faith in its entire genre. After having read a bunch of lacklustre YA novels lately, I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever read one that I really loved ever again — or, worse, whether I had at last outgrown them.

Thankfully, the latter dire possibility has not come to pass, because I loved this one as I have rarely loved a YA offering before.

The dimension-jumping adventure of young Marguerite, on a revenge quest for the death of her father, and the — inevitable, of course, but well played — love triangle that haunts her, this exhilarating story travels from near-future now to cyberpunk London to the-Russian-Revolution-never-happened to waterworld alternaverses without mercy, alternately heart-breaking and beautiful and wacky and wonderful as it goes. The main characters are flawed but Secretly Special (of course) and a lot of the YA tropes are hit hard, but they are often given new and delightful spins and I just really, really liked not being able to predict exactly where all of this was going.

Naturally, this is the first in a trilogy — don’t authors of speculative YA know how to do standalones? — and I enjoyed this one so very much that I will be seeking out the other two intallments just as soon as I can. 

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 277: A Thousand Pieces of You (Firebird #1) by Claudia Gray
GENRE: YA, YA Science Fiction, YA Romance
PUBLISHED: 2014
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: K-mart.
KEEP: Sure.

READING THE TBR, DAY 276: The Ruby in the Smoke (1985) by Philip Pullman

It came as something of a surprise to me when I learned that Philip Pullman had released other YA novels long before his best-selling His Dark Materials trilogy took the world by storm. Coming upon this historical mystery YA quite by accident some years back, of course I bought it and of course I didn’t read it.

It is the story of young Sally Lockhart, a teenage prodigy in Victorian London, who investigates her father’s untimely death and is drawn into a seamy underbelly of opium addicts, crime lords and a Maharajah’s priceless gem.

It’s not very good. I mostly liked Sally — she’s a shade too perfect, but I like that in a YA heroine, to be honest — but her adventures are pretty boring and her tendency to make instant allies among the general citizenry is just unlikely in the extreme. The prose is confusing, switching perspectives and tenses and even persons willy-nilly, and I wanted to stop reading it at least five hundred times.

Then the ending was so predictable, I wish I had.

It is true that there is usually a reason that the earlier books of a future-famous author didn’t cause said fame. This paltry offering is just more evidence of that very obvious fact.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 276: The Ruby in the Smoke (Sally Lockhart #1) by Philip Pullman
GENRE: YA, YA Historical Fiction 
PUBLISHED: 1985
TIME ON THE TBR: 7 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: Probably not, actually.

READING THE TBR, DAY 275: The Puppy Sister (1995) by S. E. Hinton

How odd. The creator of The Outsiders, Rumblefish and That Was Then, This is Now, three books of teenage angst, also brought into the world this quite bizarre example of juvenile magical realism, in which an Australian Shepherd puppy named Aleasha — heh — decides to become human, and then does.

It’s quite cute, and Hinton’s observations on family, and sibling rivalry, is almost as acute here as it was when she was dealing with Ponyboy and Sodapop, but a dog becomes human in this book. And everyone is fine with it. So, yeah.

Odd. 

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 336: The Puppy Sister by S. E. Hinton
GENRE: Children’s Fiction
PUBLISHED: 1995
TIME ON THE TBR: 1 year.  
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: As a curiosity.

READING THE TBR, DAY 274: What Katy Did Next (1886) by Susan Coolidge

The best part of this book: a now barely grown-up Katy has a reunion with some of her boarding school friends, and we learn what those girls — many of whom I had forgotten, even though I literally met them yesterday — are up to in their late teens. (Mischievous Rose Red is married with a kid! Of course she is.)

The worst part of this book: Katy goes travelling to Europe and hates it.

So, that is what Katy did next. She became the kind of person who hates travelling. And Europe.

I am so done with her.

Bye, Katy.

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TBR DAY 274: What Katy Did Next (Carr Family #3) by Susan Coolidge
GENRE: Children’s Fiction, Coming of Age
PUBLISHED: 1886
TIME ON THE TBR: ~4 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: Eh, sure.

READING THE TBR, DAY 273: What Katy Did at School (1873) by Susan Coolidge

What did Katy do at school?

Be a total drip.

There is little that I hate more in a story is a falsely accused story line, and the fact that young Katy — newly arrived at a far away boarding school, in company with her sister Clover, the both of them as prissy as all hell — should have been severely punished for writing a note to a boy (which she emphatically did not), and, moreover, that she did not allow herself to be vindicated when the true culprit was at last revealed, just made me furious.

I know it was supposed to be a lesson about being understanding of others’ foibles, of general forgiveness of those that trespass against us, and that even schoolmistresses are human too. Katy’s determination (after her first, satisfying fury; if only she had maintained it) to “live it down,” to prove to all and sundry that she was such a paragon of all the virtues that she could never have done such a brazen thing (and she really couldn’t), is no doubt supposed to be all noble and inspiring. 

Maybe, had a read this book s a youngster, it would have been. Reading, especially early reading, can do much to shape our characters, and maybe had I read this then, I would be an entirely different person than I am now.

This being the case, I’m very glad I didn’t read it then.

Because the person I am now would, like Katy, be a total drip.

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TBR DAY 273: What Katy Did at School (Carr Family #2) by Susan Coolidge
GENRE: Children’s Fiction
PUBLISHED: 1873
TIME ON THE TBR: ~10 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 272: What Katy Did (1872) by Susan Coolidge

In Bookworm by Lucy Mangan, she mentioned What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge, a nineteenth century book I remember reading at much the same time in primary school at which I met the March sisters, Pollyanna and that one girl’s friend Flicka. It was one of those improving kids’ books that aren’t really what we’d consider eminently suitable reading for primary school kids these days, but that everyone then thought of as both age appropriate and of literary worth for a bookworm like me.

When Mangan described the book, though, I realized that I hadn’t actually read it all. I had definitely read the first part, the “few chapters of delightful adventures and mischief-making,” but I did not remember the part where Katy became bedridden and saintly at all. Meanwhile, I knew I had two sequels to the book, What Katy Did at School and What Katy Did Next, in my possession, and I certainly had not read either of those.

It was time to find out exactly what Katy did, indeed, do.

And what she did was she fell off a swing, became temporarily paralyzed, learned to be forbearing, and learned to walk again. (Not, as Mangan reports her sister — not a big reader — said when she finished the book as a child: “Katy did nothing!” ) It’s kind of dull, and also weirdly full of death for a book given to me by my godparents for my seventh birthday, but I have to admit that I am intrigued enough about Katy’s reambulatory life post-what she did that I am definitely keen to find out what she did at school.

Not to mention which of her family members are destined to die next.  

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 272: What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge
GENRE: Children’s Fiction, Classics
PUBLISHED: 1872
TIME ON THE TBR: 8 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: It was a gift when I was seven. 
KEEP: Yes, because it was a gift when I was seven!

READING THE TBR, DAY 271: A Modest Proposal (1729) by Jonathan Swift

The only Swift I have previously read was an abridged and — I think — sanitized version of Gulliver’s Travels, produced for younger readers and that spends a lot of time in Lilliput and not very much in Brobdignag and… the other lands. I don’t remember their names, exactly. In fairness, I was eight.

I never thought of it as an especially funny book, but I have seen it referenced so frequently as a compelling satire that I have long been determined to read it in its original form. (Plus, I loved that movie version with Jack Black in it.) But before embarking on such a course, I figured I might as well tackle a shorter and far less imposing example of Swift’s celebrated humour: thus, A Modest Proposal, short and much-acclaimed.

And… dark. So, so dark.

Basically, Swift contends in this faux parliamentary-style report that the best way to tackle the overabundance of parentless children in 18th-c Ireland is to turn them into a source of sustenance for the rest of society. Basically, Soylent Green way way before Soylent Green. I can only — and want to — assume that this is a commentary on the placing of such children into workhouses. And oh, it is funny, sure. Definitely funny, in a shocked-gasp, breathless, can’t-believe-what-you’re-reading kind of way. But also… yeah. DARK.

Maybe I don’t want to read the full-length Gulliver’s Travels, after all.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 271: A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift
GENRE: Humour, Satire, Classics
PUBLISHED: 1729
TIME ON THE TBR: ~3 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 270: Planetside (2018) by Michael Mammay

I love it when genres merge, and here Military Science Fiction meets Mystery as Colonel Carl Butler, no nonsense, competent and honourable (if kind of an alcoholic, in the tradition of many detective types), is sent to investigate the disappearance of a well-connected lieutenant during a battle on a war ravaged occupied planet.

The war that ravages is conducted between the human invaders and the indigenous species, and it is very interesting to see us portrayed as the aggressors, and moreover ones that are generally accounted as justified, due to the mineral deposits on the planet and the fact that some of the locals appear to welcome human colonization. 

Butler finds himself stymied in his investigation for much of the novel, but his investigative work never gets dull, and neither do the secondary characters, many of whom are very well fleshed out, who populate both the space station on which he is mostly based and the planet around which they orbit.

A stunning debut, I was close to blown away by this book — that ending! Woah! — and am now very excited for the sequel.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 270: Planetside by Michael Mammy
GENRE: Science Fiction, Military Science Fiction, Mystery
PUBLISHED: 2018
TIME ON THE TBR: 1 year.  
PURCHASED FROM: Minotaur.
KEEP: Sure.

READING THE TBR, DAY 269: When You Are Engulfed by Flames (2008) by David Sedaris

A couple of years ago, champion raconteur David Sedaris put on an Evening with… himself at a prestige theatre in my home town. My friend Austen scored some free tickets, and knowing how bookish I am, he was kind enough to take me along.

I had read a couple of Sedaris books beforehand, but afterwards I rushed out to buy the other ones, because he was fantastic on stage, and reminded me just how much I enjoyed his slightly off-kilter observations on life, the universe and, well, himself.

This is another terrific collection of Sedaris’s thoughts, scattershot and unrelated, but impeccably told. Some of them defy belief, some you hope aren’t true — because unpleasant people abound — but all carry a grain of human truth that cannot be either denied or ignored. And they are, for the most part, funny as hell.

I could have done without the story about parasitic worms escaping from people’s legs that kicks us off, though. I will have nightmares for weeks.

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TBR DAY 275: When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
GENRE: Humour, Memoir
PUBLISHED: 2008
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: Readings Carlton.
KEEP: Yep.

READING THE TBR, DAY 268: Shoes: Chocolate for the Feet (2000) by Cathy Guisewite

I can’t remember where I first heard of long-running comic strip Cathy, featuring a single woman with an obsession with clothes, her weight and romance, but I am pretty sure it was referenced pretty savagely on some American sitcom or other. (I know. Pot, kettle, right?)  

So, of course, I wanted to check it out for myself.

If this collection is any indication, then that forgotten quip was right on the money. Cathy is indeed obsessed with clothes, her weight and romance, and while she is occasionally relatable, and even occasionally raises a slight smile, the fact that this strip was syndicated in hundreds of newspapers from 1976 right up until 2010, and that Cathy was still lovelorn and bewildered as late as the 1990s (which is when these strips were published, which means there is a lot of discussion of this newfangled Internet thing)  is absolutely astonishing. 

So, now I know. And next time this comic strip comes up as a punchline in some sitcom rerun, I will totally get it.

Not sure it was worth it, though.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 268: Shoes: Chocolate for the Feet (A Cathy Collection) by Cathy Guisewite
GENRE: Comic Book
PUBLISHED: 2000
TIME ON THE TBR: ~10 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: No way.