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READING THE TBR, DAY 280: Catherine, Called Birdy (1994) by Karen Cushman

Corpus bones*, I loved this book.

My friend Laura recommended it to me years ago, and, as usual, I bought it right away but just never got around to reading it.

It is so good, I am thoroughly ashamed of myself.

Written in the form of a diary, this book is set in late-13th century England and details the daily trials and tribulations (and occasional joys) of Birdy, the fourteen-year-old daughter of an uncouth but somewhat powerful minor noble of the time. Whether discussing the parasites that plague her, the maidenly occupations that annoy her, or the forthcoming marriage that disgusts her, she is a feisty, hopeful yet strangely pragmatic soul, who rails against her inevitable fate but is aware that she has little say in the course her life will take.

The book does not shy away from some of the less pleasant aspects of Medieval life, nor does it romanticize the period. it is funny, it is immersive, it is upsetting and thought-provoking. One of my favourite parts of the book is how Birdy often denotes her days often by the feast days of saints (England was solidly Catholic at this time), and gives a rather acerbic commentary on the reason for their sainthood. She’s a free-thinker in a time when such was discouraged, especially in the “gentler sex,” and she makes one wonder exactly how many of the girls and women who have disappeared from history — history — might have been just as charming, intelligent and resilient as Catherine, called Birdy.

It was a pleasure to meet her. And I very much hope she ended up with her happily ever after.

* “Corpus bones” is a favourite exclamation of Birdy’s, which I am assuming Cushman gleaned from Chaucer. I very much appreciate this kind of period-specific detail. I was less enamoured of all the fleas, which I know is era-appropriate, but ew. 


TBR DAY 280: Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
GENRE: YA, Historical Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: 5 years. 
KEEP: Absolutely!

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. 


TBR DAY 277: A Thousand Pieces of You (Firebird #1) by Claudia Gray
GENRE: YA, YA Science Fiction, YA Romance
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years. 
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.


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

READING THE TBR, DAY 261: Legend (2011) by Marie Lu

There was a time in the early part of the this decade — which is soon to end; I can’t believe it either — when it seemed like every second YA novel released was mired in some kind of dystopian hell world. This… is another one of those. And it’s not a bad one.

Oh, the dystopia is bad, obviously. There’s a dictatorial government and military that have no qualms about torture, biological warfare, child abuse and outright murder.

But the book itself — it is zippy and even occasionally surprising, and I rushed through it with a minimum of the eye rolling that is often, even usually, engendered in me by works in this particular subgenre. 

Our two protagonists, criminal Day and prodigy June, fall hard and quick, but there are hurts and betrayals and secrets, you know the drill. The alternating narrative is somewhat interesting, and seeing the brainwashed, highly conditioned June slowly come to understand that her privileged life is built on massive injustice and cruelty, is mildly satisfying, but I can’t say I was so moved by the story, or so intrigued by its would be cliffhanger-y ending, to even search out the remaining books in the trilogy, not to mention the related novels.

As I said, this book wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t great, either.


TBR DAY 278: Legend (Legend #1) by Marie Lu
GENRE: YA Dystopia
TIME ON THE TBR: 5 years. 
KEEP: Sure.

READING THE TBR, DAY 256: Pride (2018) by Ibi Zoboi

I have read dozens of Pride and Prejudice reimaginings, revisions and variations, many of which have been YA and yet more of which have moved the story into modern times and more diverse cultural milieus. Of those dozens of versions, quite the best of them all may very well be Pride, in which Zuri Benitez and Darius Darcy hate their way to love on the streets of Bushwick, Brooklyn.

When the wealthy Darcy family moves across the street early one summer, Zuri is not impressed. Who are these people gentrifying her neighbourhood? Who is this private school kid who looks down his nose at her Afro-Latino clan?

The story follows a very familiar pattern, of course — Zuri falls for the sob story of the charming Warren, who has a history with Darius’s younger sister; an older female relative is horrified over Darius’s interest in the unsuitable Zuri; Zuri has competition from a rich mean girl, Carrie; Zuri’s younger sister, Layla, is a precocious and man-hungry; and Zuri’s older sister Janae is devastated when Ainsley, Darius’s brother, dumps her for no apparent reason. But despite all the expected story beats from the original, this version felt fresh and new as it found its own path through the narrative, and had time and space to make Zuri a pretty amazing beat poet, too. 

The one sore spot for me was the Janae storyline — I felt like Zuri was far too quick to forgive Darius for his part in that. Our Lizzy would have had him begging for her forgiveness for at least another hundred pages. But aside from that one misstep, the rest of this book is awesome, both as a YA novel of finding yourself in an ever changing cultural landscape, but as an adaptation of one the greatest novels ever written. 


TBR DAY 273: Pride by Ibi Zoboi
GENRE: YA, YA Romance, Retelling
TIME ON THE TBR: ~1 year.  
KEEP: Yes!

READING THE TBR, DAY 239: Opposite of Always (2019) by Justin A. Reynolds

I can’t remember the last time I got so far into a book before being forced to stop reading it. I actually got to the 75% mark of this one, and then a plot development so stupid, so utterly without reason or justification or sense, took place so suddenly that I was just like… nope. Not doing it anymore. 

Shame on you, book!

Don’t bother with this one, friends.


TBR DAY 143: Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds
GENRE: YA, YA Romance
TIME ON THE TBR: 5 months.  
PURCHASED FROM: Readings Carlton.
KEEP: No way!

READING THE TBR, DAY 234: P.S. I Like You (2016) by Kasie West

Lily and Cade hate each other. There are various reasons. They do not matter.

But Lily starts writing anonymous notes to someone — a boy! — who shares her desk in Chemistry, but in a different class time.


That pretty much sums up this book. I liked it fine, but as I read it I did have to wonder I why I bought it, and at full price too. I remember thinking that I had heard good things of Kasie West, and should check her out some day, and the next thing I knew I was at the counter and handing over my hard-earned,  cold-hard cash. 

I swear, something sinister happens to me in bookshops.

It is outside my control.

I need help.


TBR DAY 234: P.S. I Like You by Kasie West
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Readings Carlton.

READING THE TBR, DAY 226: Magnus Chase: 9 from the Nine Worlds (2018) by Rick Riordan

I have a particular fondness for Rick Riordan’s YA retelling of various world mythologies, and while I probably wouldn’t have gotten into his ever-expanding alternate universe at all had he started with the Norse gods we visit with in the Magnus Chase series, the fact that he began with Percy Jackson and the Olympians — way back in 2005 — hooked me immediately. Greek myths have been an obsession with me since I was eight years old and my friend Megan swapped me (for several Babysitter’s Club books, as I recall) a chapter book retelling of them called The Dolphin Rider by Bernard Evslin, an author who remains, to this day, one of the biggest influences on my life to date.

This is a Magnus Chase short story collection, and its nine tales see us traverse the nine Norse worlds, taking various characters on individual adventures, on often the slimmest of pretexts. (One of them happens just because Mallory opened the wrong door.) Magnus and many of his friends are dead, warriors of Valhalla who can yet appear in the mortal realms, and it is quite fun to see some of the sidekicks — the aforementioned Mallory, plus Civil War-era TJ and berserker warrior Halfborn, among others — have some first person screen time. It all very silly, of course, but I like silly (well, except for the scatological humour Riordan all too often insists on including) and as a completist, naturally I couldn’t skip this entry into the ever-growing Riordanverse.

Plus, Magnus is sort of dating the gender fluid Alex these days, and I really like that development a lot.


TBR DAY 226: 9 From the Nine Worlds (Magnus Chase) by Rick Riordan
GENRE: Mythology, Norse Mythology, YA, Retelling
TIME ON THE TBR: 1 year.  
KEEP: Of course.

READING THE TBR, DAY 214: A Prefect’s Uncle (1903) by P. G. Wodehouse

Wodehouse’s second novel, and second school book, brings up a very modern family issue in an old world context. A senior schoolboy at a select boarding school is told that his uncle is coming to visit — but that uncle, it transpires, is a cheeky young thing newly enrolled in the school, several years behind his nephew, as the product of a late marriage. 

Gethryn’s troubles with his uncle, the rapscallion Farnie, are legion, and the book is often hilarious, much funnier than The Pothunters and showing even more of the dexterity with dialogue for which Wodehouse would become justly famous. Of course, I still didn’t get all of it — especially not the callousness of these schoolboys, not to mention the casual violence — but it was a highly enjoyable read, nonetheless.


TBR DAY 214: A Prefect’s Uncle by P. G. Wodehouse
GENRE: Humour, YA
TIME ON THE TBR: 4 years.  
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 213: The Pothunters (1902) by P. G. Wodehouse

I love P. G. Wodehouse so, so much. I have never read a Wodehouse novel — and there are dozens upon dozens of those things — and not been enchanted. His use of language, his humour, his sense of place and time; he brings to life a wholly fictional, but wholly delightful, vision of upper class, moneyed life in the early half of the twentieth century, and it is uniformly delightful, and invariably hilarious. 

But I had never read this first novel of his, a book written, apparently, for boys of a certain stamp, set in an English boarding school. In fact, though I vaguely knew that was how he had first begun his storied writing career, and I’d read Mike at Wrykyn and Mike and Psmith — both set in public schools, and the latter of which being one of my favourite Wodehouses — it had never occurred to me to search out these early works when I had so many other titles of his to find and devour.

But several years ago, I decided I wanted to read all of Wodehouse’s books in publication order, and so of course I immediately began to collect them, haunting vintage book shops and eBay and Etsy to collect the early titles I didn’t yet own. (Yes, I know about ebooks. But I wanted to own them. Sue me.) But I never read them, not — as is the usual story — because there was just so much else to read, but because I think I was scared. What if I disliked these early attempts by one of my literary idols? Could I cope with the disappointment?

I needn’t have worried. 

True, there is a lot here that I had to figure out from context, the slang and assumed knowledge of the time being laid on pretty thick. But this tale of missing trophies from an unguarded school room, the descent of a detective to get to the bottom of the crime, and some stalwart fellows with motive and no alibi but too much honour to be guilty of such a crime, is very fun, occasionally very funny, and shows enough incipient genius that it is easy to see in this early Wodehouse the seeds of matchless wit that would come.

For Wodehouse completists, for sure, but also for those who enjoy school stories and tales of pre-War Britain in all its feudal glory–which, of course, we egalitarians are happy to see gone, but somehow still miss.  


TBR DAY 213: The Pothunters by P. G. Wodehouse
GENRE: Humour, YA
TIME ON THE TBR: ~4 years.  
KEEP: Yes!