Happy birthday to A Blogging Good Read! It's one year old today and hasn't it been a fun year? Thank you to everyone who's taken part or commented. You've definitely expanded my reading horizons!
Joining me for the June edition are Rachel from Cold Knees and Jo - you can find her on Twitter @JoMarieOReilly
First up is Rachel's choice - How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff:
I first picked up this book about eight years ago and was completely captivated and wrapped up in the world Meg Rosoff created. How I Live Now relates the tale of Daisy, a 15 year old New Yorker shipped off by her father and evil step-mother to spend the summer with her eccentric cousins in the middle of the English countryside. A big adjustment at first but Daisy is soon very much part of this family of “magical misfits”, in more ways than one… Unluckily World War Three kicks off and puts a dampener on her rural idyll, eventually splitting up the family.
I don’t want to spoil the ending, but this is no ordinary teen fiction book. In fact, re-reading this for the Blogging Good Read I’ve realised quite how sad it is (and living in the UK post 7/7, you do start to wonder whether the idea of a WWIII is really that far-fetched). I would also say this book is probably a bit like marmite- some people (like me) will totally be swept up in Daisy’s world and practically live each moment of hope and despair with her, wishing they too could be part of such an unusual family, and also find her very, very funny. Others may not get on board with her wry, sarcastic narration style, and habit of putting capital letters on certain passages- it may Float Your Boat, or not.
Like Rachel, I was immediately hooked when I read this book first time round and it was a nice treat to pick it up again this month and dive straight back into that world. My tolerance for apocalyptic/dystopian YA fiction isn't that high so a book from that genre has to have a bit of a twist or be very well written in order to capture and maintain my attention. This way events in the book unfold seems so much more possible than in others I've tried and I really think that helps the reader engage with the story and get swept along with the adventure and tension. Daisy is such an interesting narrator that you can't help but care about what happens to her, even during her most annoying moments. I've read a couple of Meg Rosoff's other books and they share the same characteristics - a real sense of place and a powerful, fascinating (if occasionally unlikeable) narrator.
What did Jo think?
First off, a disclaimer, I never was a fan of literature specifically geared for young adults. Despite this I found myself instantly warming to the narrator, Daisy. Her cynical-New York-worldliness cuts through what could have otherwise been a twee story with war as a picnic, all jams and chutney and unspoiled countryside. Her self-awareness surrounding her own eating disorder (which she eventually overcomes) is also well written without either glamourising or moralising the issue.
This said, even when the story turns towards the desperation of survival it still can’t help feeling a little bit Enid Blyton. As the plot gets darker it can’t help becoming a little like a post apocalyptic Famous Five, a strange hybrid of Blyton and the fiction of Douglas Coupland. This is ultimately a book about forming relationships and although as the war storyline picks up pace, the plausibility becomes even more tenuous. It’s the relationships between the main characters that keep the pages turning, most notably Daisy’s connection with Piper, and even her telepathic meetings with love interest Edmond.
Jo's choice was Geek Love by Katharine Dunn:
Art and Lil Binewski are circus performers, who concerned with the failing fortunes of their circus deliberately concoct weird and wonderful potions for the pregnant Lil. This causes their children to be born with various deformities, Arturo with his flippers, Electra and Iphigenia the singing Siamese twins, Olympia an albino dwarf and finally the normal in appearance, yet telekinetic Chick.
The frequently uncomfortable story is narrated by Olympia. The characters are often unlikeable yet, always engaging. You can’t help but feel that much of the story is a study in how much we let our differences and ultimately society’s response to them define us. Olympia weaves the story from the children’s charming carnival beginnings, taking an increasingly dark trajectory towards her quest to find her own grown up daughter. It’s not easy to love Geek Love, like the characters the book itself initially feels too weird, too damaged to love. But if you persevere, and you must, if you can look past the chemically engineered deformities of the Binewski children, you will see that Geek Love is more than just a book about being different, it is a book about family
Did Rachel like it?
I read the back cover of the book with some trepidation- this was clearly going to be something quite different. The tale of a travelling fair run by the Binewskis who deliberately engineer deformed offspring to ensure the fair keeps on bringing in the punters; it really did seem like an odd, disturbing idea for a novel. But once I’d read a few pages and got used to some of the strange vocabulary Olympia, the narrator, uses, I was hooked and ploughed through the book in no time at all. However I did find that the climax/finale (which is hinted at several times throughout) was pretty rushed when described. Overall though I enjoyed the book and the you really do get on board with the characters, whether they be tragic, comic or downright nauseating (I’m looking at you Arturo).
I did not think I'd like this book. I blame it on A Level English Literature: suffering through Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter has given me a real aversion to books featuring circuses and freaks. This book features both of those things. The narrator is a bald, albino, hunchbacked dwarf - that kinda tells you before you start that it's not going to be a normal, easy read. Yet the strange thing is, despite the utter weirdness of this book, I liked it. I'd never have picked it up in a bookshop but once I'd opened the front cover it only took me about 4 hours to read it. I reckon it's the sort of book you either zoom through, drawn in by the sheer macabre oddity of it all, or you read the first chapter and think "hell no." The latter reaction would be totally justified because christ, is this book weird. Almost every possible bizarre corner of the author's imagination has been poured into this and I can see how people would find elements of it a bit revolting but ultimately it's a really good read.
My pick for this month was The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley:
The books I pick for this series are mostly tried and tested favourites that I've read multiple times over the years. Not this one. I got it only a couple of months ago on my trip to Mr B's in Bath but I absolutely love it. I was completely sold on it the instant I read the back cover and saw that it was described as The Addams Family crossed with I Capture The Castle. You've got to read it after that, haven't you? It's about Flavia de Luce, an 11 year old amateur scientist, poisoner and detective who lives in a crumbling country house with her father and two sisters. A dead body appears in the cucumber patch one night and she immediately sets about solving the mystery.
She's a brilliant character: witty, intelligent and constantly battling against her older sisters (definite Mitford overtones there!). The setting is just as well described as the characters. It's that sort of very typical and comforting 1950s English country village that'll be familiar to anyone who likes Golden Age detective fiction, but with a slight twist that comes from having such a young narrator. This book is that enjoyable combination that you don't always find in detective fiction: really well written and thoroughly good fun. And I know this might sound odd but my copy feels lovely. That always makes me like a book more!
Did Jo like it?
I want to like Flavia de Luce, the heroine and narrator of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, but unfortunately her precociousness is grating. As is the idea that even if we are to believe she is a child genius, she is able to manipulate the adults around her including Inspector Hewitt, with such ease. Equally her relationship with her older sisters Daphne and Ophelia appears confused, her frequent attempts to poison them with home made chemistry and their indifference towards her is never really explored as much as it could be.
Much of the book is focused around Flavia’s escapades, as she attempts to solve the murder of the stranger found dead in her garden, and in doing so, clear the name of her Father who has been arrested for the crime. Whilst not altogether un-enjoyable the storyline in many parts feels like a parody of a murder mystery novel. As the book unravels you also get the distinct impression that the author, has never actually been to England, and that the England of the 1950s he writes of is a mere caricature fleshed out with Colonels and custard pies.
What did Rachel think?
A whodunit set in 1950’s England, narrated by a precocious 11 year old, I did enjoy the twists and turns in the plot, as well as heroine Flavia’s hilarious commentary about her family and surroundings. It did bug me a bit that other characters come across quite one dimensional (her sisters seem like caricatures and unreal) but I suppose we are entirely in Flavia’s world, and she probably would think of her sisters as being dull and one dimensional. I thought it interesting that she was so passionate about chemistry, and experimenting away in the laboratory stuffed in the country seat she calls home. But again it didn’t seem totally plausible that an 11 year old would be *that* knowledgeable and quotable on such a huge variety of topics. Still, I hear there are more in the series so I will be checking those out!
Thanks ever so much to Rachel and Jo for joining in this month!
I'll be back at the start of July with two different contributors and we'll be reading Delirium by Lauren Oliver, The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano and When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman. Read along with us if you'd like!