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text 2017-06-01 16:51
June TBR: Small Bear Press Month
Tyrannia: and Other Renditions - Alan DeNiro
North American Lake Monsters: Stories - Nathan Ballingrud
The Monkey's Wedding and Other Stories - Lizza Aiken,Joan Aiken
The Liminal People - Ayize Jama-Everett
The Fires Beneath the Sea - Lydia Millet
Fire Logic - Laurie J. Marks
Couch by Benjamin Parzybok (2008-11-01) - Benjamin Parzybok
After the Apocalypse - Maureen F. McHugh
The Child Garden: A Novel - Catriona McPherson
A Stranger in Olondria - Sofia Samatar

Last year I got a Humble Bundle of Small Bear Press books that I archived and never got to, so I'm dedicating June to at least testing out some of them. I read one last year called Stranger Things Happen that a lot of people seem to like but I hated it. A lot of these look good though. They seem really creative so I'm holding out hope. Once I finish Dragondawn, I will tackle this pile and see where it leads.

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review 2016-12-12 21:04
Joan Aiken Reading Notes: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Joan Aiken,Pat Marriott

“It was dusk–winter dusk. Snow lay white and shining over the pleated hills, and icicles hung from the forest trees. Snow lay piled on the dark road across Willoughby Wold, but from dawn men had been clearing it with brooms and shovels. There were hundreds of them at work, wrapped in sacking because of the bitter cold, and keeping together in groups for fear of the wolves, grown savage and reckless from hunger.”

So begins The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, the first book in the Willoughby Chase series. I love this opening–there’s a kind of delicious thrill about it and the way it starts off quiet and calm and then turns into something very different. And it serves as a good summary of the world of the books, which looks a great deal like our Georgian/Regency England…except not quite. There are those wolves at the end of the paragraph, wolves that run freely through the countryside.

In fact, Aiken has created a wild alternate history, where Hanoverians in support of Bonnie Prince George are trying to overthrow the Stuart King James III. We see very little of the political aspect in this book, but it becomes a major theme and plot point in the rest of the series. In this first book, what we mostly get is a world that seems so much like our own, but a little bit slantwise.

Oddly enough, my personal history with these books doesn’t start here at all. My grandparents gave me a copy of Nightbirds on Nantucket when I was about 12, and I read that one first (and fell in love) and then went back and read the earlier books. And I do love the first two books! But at the same time my experience is very much filtered through the fact that my experience of these stories began with Dido Twite, who doesn’t appear here at all.

Instead, this is the story of Bonnie and Sylvia, the cousins who get thrown together when Bonnie’s parents invite Sylvia to live with them at Willoughby Chase and then depart for a long ocean-voyage, leaving them in the care of a distant relative none of them have ever seen before.

SHOCKINGLY, this does not go well.

Bonnie and Sylvia are both almost impossibly sweet characters. Bonnie is a little less so, but she’s also a privileged and slightly spoiled child, who is less saintly because she can get away with it. Sylvia seems too good to be true–quite literally. The other main character is a gooseherd name Simon who is an orphan and escaped from a cruel farmer. The Simon of later books is a kind-hearted and relatively fleshed-out character; here he’s more idealized. (We don’t see Bonnie or Sylvia again, as far as I remember.)

As is generally the case in Aiken’s books, the adults here are mostly either evil or naive and helpless. The sole exceptions are James the footman and Pattern, Bonnie’s maid, who try to look after the girls and later save them from the orphanage and Miss Slighcarp. But even in their cases, there’s an odd element of ineffectualness.

And then there are the Slighcarps and Miss Brisket, who represent the other kind of Aiken adults–the scheming ones, who try to take advantage of the well-meaning naive adults. These are the adversaries the children have to overcome, by sticking together and finding a way out of the mess. (Usually this means finding the one adult who will listen to them.) Miss Slighcarp especially is genuinely awful, as is Mr. Slighcarp/Grimshaw–in a less overt but even more realistic way.

What’s interesting to me about this book in particular is that, in a certain light, it looks like a familiar kind of morality tale. Bonnie and Sylvia are well-born, true-hearted, brave, and kind. Therefore, as is right, they eventually triumph. And yet, all through the book there’s also an ever-present sense of real danger. The triumphant ending is not assured. So although the story has the outward trappings of an uncomplicated “good children get their reward” trope, there’s a kind of subversiveness that’s lying just behind it. Aiken keeps reminding us about the howling wolves, and the dangers of the Slighcarps and Briskets of the world, and in doing so she makes it very easy to imagine the ways the story could go wrong.

On the other hand, the subversiveness only goes so far–I found myself frustrated at several points, with the assumption of Sir Willoughby as a good landowner who all the servants are happy to work for. There’s a lot of “dear Miss Bonnie” from the staff, who seem uncommonly attached to her. And finally, there’s an uncomfortable romantic view of Simon’s situation and life, which does express his general goodnatured optimism, but which also has a ring of “he’s happy with nothing, why aren’t you?”

It’s not that I expect some sort of political tract. I’m not even sure I think Aiken believed what she was writing, exactly. (The later books move away from this to a large degree.) Rather, I think that because she’s still writing within a certain type of story, and because she doesn’t quite have the experience or vision to reach beyond it yet, she’s still caught in this slightly antiquated sense of class and roles.

I do also have to say that on this reading I found the resolution oddly unexciting, especially considering the fact that there are literal wolves involved. It’s all a bit handwavey. Aiken is fond of ending books with a sudden surprise (in this case the reappearance of Bonnie’s parents), but in this case I didn’t feel there was much tension to begin with.

However, it is very satisfying to see Miss Slighcarp get her comeuppance.

All in all, I can’t quite say that this is my favorite book of the series–it’s clearly a first book, and Bonnie and Sylvia have nothing on Dido, or even Sophie. But it is certainly a memorable beginning.

Source: bysinginglight.wordpress.com/2016/10/06/joan-aiken-reading-notes-the-wolves-of-willoughby-chase
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review 2016-08-12 00:00
The Smile of the Stranger
The Smile of the Stranger - Joan Aiken The Smile of the Stranger - Joan Aiken That's two down and one more to go. Then I'll do the reviews. This was really good. An innocent but feisty main character who moves quickly from one danger to another. She doesn't know who to trust and she's surrounded by some she can't and some she should. But nobody's sharing their secrets. Full review soon.

My Review:
I'll try to get these in the correct order, though they don't have to be read in order, or even together. This book has a great heroine. She was in Italy with her father. Then he gets killed in France. So, she jumps into a hot air balloon with a man she doesn't know and escapes across the Channel to England for her first season, which she handles with aplomb, of course. She's quite a plucky character and well traveled by now.The unknown hot air ballooner flits through the shadows from time to time, but she still doesn't know who he is. She does know that he kisses very nicely.

She keeps having to explain whose side she's on, as she keeps getting into trouble. But in the end, the Count claims her and keeps her out of any more trouble. So there's the HEA.

I received this eARC from Sourcebooks Casablanca and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I am not being compensated in any way. All opinions are fully my own.
~ Judi E. Easley
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review 2016-08-12 00:00
Girl from Paris
Girl from Paris - Joan Aiken Girl from Paris - Joan Aiken This was a very interesting book. Not much of a romance, though there is a bit. More a bit of this and a bit of that. But taken all together, really quite good. I still have Aiken's other two to read. Then I will review them all.

My Review:
This book doesn't seem to know what it wants to grow up to become. It probably doesn't want to be a romance novel, since it only has a tiny bit of romance in it. It could be a historical novel, but it's not about any really famous historical figures. I guess we'll have to go with its being a period piece since that's what people seem to be categorizing it as. No one really seems sure, though. Even the book doesn't seem sure. It's a timid piece and the weakest of the three pieces in this series. It's a nice enough little story, but it really didn't excite me very much.

I think that sometime I will have to go back and reread these three books in the correct order and see if doing so makes a difference in how I view them.

I received this eARC from Sourcebooks Casablanca and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I am not being compensated in any way. All opinions are fully my own.
~ Judi E. Easley
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review 2016-08-12 00:00
The Weeping Ash
The Weeping Ash - Joan Aiken The Weeping Ash - Joan Aiken My Review:
Fanny is another intrepid heroine, especially given her time. She is thrown in with a bunch of people who are rather extraordinary, though. So I can't say what might have happened to her if she had been on her own. If she hadn't fallen in with neighbors down the tunnel, she really wouldn't have come through this whole ordeal in quite the same shape. Yes, I said, "down the tunnel", over the wall, and around the corner. This book is chock full of crazy little twists and turns. They really add to the tenor of the book and allow for some of the unique happenings in the book. I think of the three books in the Paget family series, this is the one with the most outlandish happenings. I just don't think some of these things would have been gotten away with, even by aristocrats. Some things I just don't think you can hush up. But it all made for a really great book and probably the best of the three.

I received this eARC from Sourcebooks Casablanca and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I am not being compensated in any way. All opinions are fully my own.
~ Judi E. Easley
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