is either a genius or insane. I know, I know there is a fine line. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is quite
simply brilliant. If you have read it, you know why I cannot say much about the plot without ruining it all. If you have not read it, I say...Nick and Amy are a generally happy couple with their share of problems like loss of jobs, ill parents, and a dwindling bank account. None of this however seems important when Amy disappears the morning of their 5th anniversary. Clearly based on the evidence and the stereotype, Nick is the prime suspect in the disappearance that may in fact be murder. But this story is so full of twists and turns the reader cannot possibly keep up without long pauses to think about it all.
I bought Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler almost two years ago, just after I heard it was being banned because it "promotes or sensationalizes sexual promiscuity." I love a good banned book and was hoping for a shockingly frank discussion of teen sexuality. Those people who tried to ban this book are idiots. Only someone who only read the title would think this book encourages promiscuous behavior.
The two teen girls in the novel are suffering because Frankie's brother Matt, who was Anna's boyfriend died of an undetected hole between the chambers of his heart. A year after his death, his parents decide to take Frankie and Anna to the family's long time vacation spot to promote healing. It is at this point Frankie suggests a game in which the two girls will meet 20 boys. They do not even get half-way there and one girl remains a virgin and the other sleeps with one boy, just one, not twenty. A boy who incidentally she feels quite strongly about even after knowing him for a relatively brief time. At no point does the story glorify sexual escapades. It is in fact a sweet story about loss, friendship, family, and love. I am sorry now to have waited so long to read it. I intend to read Ockler's other recent publications, Fixing Delilah and Bittersweet.
Now, a book that I would not be surprised to hear about being banned is Sarah Mlynowski's
ten things we did (and probably shouldn't have). I would not agree with such a ban, but this is certainly a book with a fair amount of teen sex. Mlynowski writes frankly about teen issues, which include decisions about sexual partners. This book is the story of sixteen-year-old Anna whose father and step-mother move to Cleveland leaving her in Connecticut to finish her junior year. On one hand this is what Anna wants, but on the other hand she wishes her father (who is a loving and attentive father just trying to make his daughter happy) would just command her to come with him. She moves in with her best friend Vi who has some actual parent problems with a mom who is away with the touring company of Mary Poppins. Yes, this means the girls are on their own, perpetuating a big cover-up so that April's father does not discover the truth. I do not want to ruin it, but one of the 10 things they do is buy a hot tub.
April is likeable and still reeling from her parents' unpleasant divorce two years earlier. She has lived with her father while her younger brother moved to Paris with their mother and her new husband. It is a challenging situation and April feels most comfortable around the friends and boyfriend who got her through that difficult time. Living on her own with some distance from her family is probably the best thing for April, but book banners of the world will disapprove of the not unusal teen behaviors show in the novel.
Mrs. Queen Takes the Train is a charming novel about a day Elizabeth II of England leaves the palace to travel on her own to Edinburgh to see her beloved, decommissioned yacht, Brittannia. While the possible inner thoughts of the queen are interesting, much of what The Queen thinks, feels, and does is mostly improbable. However, the staff who spend their time serving her and tracking her to Scotland are vastly interesting and probably more realistic. There is Shirley, The Queen's long-time dresser; Lady Anne, a Lady in Waiting; William, a butler; and Luke an equerry who has recently returned from combat in Afghanistan. They are joined by Rajiv, an aspiring poet, who works in the cheese shop The Queen visits before deciding to go to Scotland. Rebecca, who works in The Queen's Mews, is also swept along on the adventure. All of these people have fascinating inner lives and interact with each other in telling ways.
The narrative switches from person to person watching the activities of the pairs as they try to catch up to The Queen before she finds herself alone and resourceless in Edinburgh in the middle of the night. It is ironic I think, that The Queen who rarely finds herself alone, is the one person in the novel who does not have a partner on whom to rely during the journey. Each person finds strength and a much needed foil in his or her travel companion, while The Queen most unusually has only her own wits on which to rely. She rises to the challenge with no difficulty, but does dwell on her own connections to others, whether her subjects, her family, or her staff.
I enjoyed learning about the inner workings of the royal household, which I imagine was quite accurate given the author's background. The ancillary characters were full and as sympathetic as The Queen. While this might seem like a light tale, it really asks a great many questions about duty, family, and aging.
I have always liked fantasy and science fiction. So even now, I look forward to new fantasy by favorite authors. I am reading my way through Diana Wynn Jones work slowly so I can savor them all. Recently I read two books I enjoyed a great deal, The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde and The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne Valente.
I have read almost all of Fforde's Thursday Next series and his Nursery Crimes series, so I would have been able tell this YA book was by him even if his name were not printed on the cover. He has such a distinctive tone and voice. The main character Jennifer Strange is a foundling who runs Kazam Mystical Arts Management, an employment agency for magicians, not the birthday party type. Sadly though over the years, magic has been fading from the world. Not too far into the story Jennifer finds out that she is in fact the last dragonslayer who now needs to manage the death of the last dragon. Jennifer's exceptional management skills, and orphan street smarts make this task a bit easier for her. Fforde manages to make this a clever story about the strength of the individual as well as some rather adult political machinations. I look forward to more in the series.
The next fantasy I read, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, also took
place in a rich and detailed world. Before read the story, I read commentary that said this sequel was darker than the first book, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. This was said as a negative , but I believe this is exactly as it should be. September is a year older and longing to return to Fairyland for another adventure. When this finally happens, she returns to a very different place than the one she left. This time September's story is about accepting the consequences of ones actions and doing something to make it right. This is certainly dark, this is the darkness of adulthood. September has turned 13, which in our world is rarely considered adulthood, but Jewish tradition marks the passing into adulthood for boys and girls at 13 and 12, respectively. September's life in her world certainly is fraught with as it seems they are immersed in the deprivations of World War II with rationing and the absence of her soldier father. I do not think the story has made an inappropriate leap. Valente's world building is once again strong as September goes beneath Fairyland. She must awaken the rightful prince to take his place and recapture her own shadow who has become a queen. Because the Hollow Queen is September herself the novel is also about the darkness within us all and our acceptance and control of that darkness. I am hoping there will be a third book in this series.