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Inspite of what N+1's Keith Gessen has to say about blogs and reviewing, ("Back in the day, you would occasionally stumble upon some person blogging about their very private reading, what it was like, what their reactions were. Those people still exist, but they're drowned out by people who are just purveyors of literary gossip--who comment on books they haven't even read, who, as Marco likes to say, are just basically freelance publicists. It's one thing to be corrupted by, say, the pressure of writing for the New York Times Book Review, or the prospect of employment somewhere, or a blurb. But to sell your birthright for a couple of review copies and a link on a blogroll! For shame."), there are a few things I'd like to share about some recent reads. All will be reviewed more formally in the next couple of months at Bookslut or Eclectica. (And really - "sell my birthright for a couple of review copies"? For God's sake - when did book reviewing become so fucking serious??)

Snowfall by K.M. Peyton - Described as a "victorian romance" by Booklist and others, I found a lot more to love about this book then who 17 year old protagonist Charlotte would end up with. It follows Charlotte, who is about to become engaged to a very nice but unsuitable (as in she doesn't love him) young curate and thus falls upon her older brother to save her from a very dull fate. She ends up joining his group of vacationing Oxford students/grads on a mountain climbing trip to Switzerland (these parts are quite fascinating to read) and ultimately finds herself in a Bohemian type life living with a group who challenge the social order of the day. It's certainly not a big sexy book - it's about young men and women in the 1890s who wanted to do something different then stay in the social class they were assigned from birth. Very deep and lush and full of the sort of confusions and questions that any book with a half dozen major characters is bound to have. I sank into this story - literally. It's great for teens, but equally appropriate for adults as well. (And the last chapter is dynamite!)

London Calling by Edward Bloor - I initially thought this was going to be an adventure story and as it does involve time travel back to WW2 London, and certainly has elements of danger and excitement. But the further I read the more I realized that really it is a coming of age story about one particular boy. In a very unique and thrilling manner it poses the age old question of "what will you do when you must make the hard decision to do something - or fade away." Along with issues about truth in history and considering the importance of being true to yourself, it's really, more than anything, a story about personal courage. What I really think is great about it is that boys will want to read this, as it is a story wrapped up in war adventure and facing down modern day bullies - they will in fact love to read it. This one goes in my "coming of age" column, which will be in Bookslut next month (regular readers who wonder about my "quirky families" piece - it got too long and was shifted to the Winter issue of Eclectica.)

Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr - This book is pitch perfect for my "heirs to Judy Blume" column in Jan. It follows 16 year old Deanna who three years earlier was caught by her father having sex with a friend of her older brother's (he was a senior, she an 8th grader). It's all in the past now, but Deanna is still living with the reputation it gave her (that will not die) and with her father's low opinion. To be honest, there were a few times while I was reading this book that I thought "no way - there is no way she will say/do/let this happen" but then I had to remind myself that at 16 I would have let a lot happen (and we're not talking sex, but comments, etc.) that I would take someone off at the knees for even thinking now.

But it took me 20 years to get to this place, and Deanna hasn't had that 20 yet.

What I really liked about Girl, was that it doesn't dwell with the sex so much (it happened long before the events in the book and is only briefly described by Deanna) but more by the aftermath - by what happened because the boy turned the whole thing into a joke with his friends and her father made it the centerpiece of his relationship with his daughter. This is not at all a book about why you shouldn't have sex at a young age, but why this particular girl did, and about the bullshit that followed that had everything to do with meanness and nothing to do with sex. I really liked what Zarr did here, and I think a ton of girls will love this one.

Paradise
by Joan Elizabeth Goodman - This is a novel based on the true story of Marguerite de La Rocque. I thought it was a very gripping and well written survival tale and by laying out so clearly what few options Marguerite had as woman in the 1540s (go to the Canadian wilderness or get a forced marriage in France), Goodman echoes what I have already written about Peyton's book. (Buy both for a young girl and let her see how lucky she is to be living today - in fact, what a great history conversation these books would provoke if assigned in a classroom!) The only thing I wish (and this is the historian in me) is that I could find out more about what happened to Marguerite when she got back to France. Goodman gives just a few hints in her afterword and I could find nothing beyond that on the internet. I'm sure there is something in the French archives and libraries though - it seems like it was quite the story back then - and I would love to see what a historian could do with this tale. It's amazing, and she was clearly a young girl far beyond her life and times.

I also read and loved Ellen Klages The Green Glass Sea - more on that tomorrow! (When the boy and I return from the dentist....ugh!)

And just a reminder - in the midst of all these end of year lists that are starting to appear, I will continue with my "12 Days of Christmas" book recommending tradition this year. The first 12 days of December will be all about books that I think would be perfect for different types of readers - no set plan on who those readers are and no rules about the books having to be published this year or anything. It's just an alternative to what you might find elsewhere and a chance for me to recommend (just because I want to) some great books I have around here.

comments

Thanks so much re Story of a Girl - I'm glad you liked it!

Sadly, US publishers have not picked up K. M. Peyton's recent historical YA novels (Small Gains and Greater Gains,) on the grounds that they were "too bleak." Set in the Regency period, they are a gritty response to Austen. Her latest book, out now in England--no word if it will be published here--is set during WWII.

(Rabid K. M. Peyton fan. Nice to see her mentioned.)

"Too bleak" - how bizarre! I've read several books that hint at school shootings and suicide for YAs this year - I can't imagine that the Regency period is going to give us something too much darker than that. I think "Snowfall" is exactly the sort of book that YAs - especially girls - need to read. Let them see how limited choices were for women not so long ago (even Oxford educated women, as one of the characters is) and maybe then they would appreciate how important equality and freedom are.

This is so frustrating!

Melissa W.

The bleak thing really made no sense. It was just one of those publisher excuses when they don't want to really give their reasons. I personally think what they objected to was just what you praise in Snowfall, that it's not a big, sexy book. Her historical writing does not pander to contemporary sensibilities the way some other historical fiction does. Add to that the fact that these books are kind of the opposite of Austen and the US is in the midst of a major Austen love affair and that's probably the real reason.

Aah - making decisions based on the book they want to be reading, rather than the one they are reading. That is always annoying. I thought Snowfall was fascinating - it's a completely different look at Victorian society than anything I've ever read before. (And so I think it's refreshing - can't imagine why someone else wouldn't.)

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