The Vintner’s Luck
by Elizabeth Knox
2000 (originally published 1998) • 284 pages • Picador USA
You know how you can spot a period film made in the nineties? Well, I’m going to be no help, because I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I know it when I see it. Like in Restoration—there’s something about the production design. The quality of the costumes. The Meg Ryan. It might be set in the 1600s, but a single frame can tell you that it was released in 1995. Never mind the fact that it can be carbon-dated by the fullness of Robert Downey Jr.’s lips. (This is why I nearly crawled out of my seat and over the very sweet Spider-Man fan when young!Tony appeared in Captain America: Civil War. His mouth was wrong.)
The same is true of, for some reason, most queer-minded media made in the late nineties and early aughts that I’ve consumed. Velvet Goldmine and The Vintner’s Luck have nothing else in common besides “dudes kiss in them” (oh, and shirtlessness, I guess?), but the quality of the atmosphere is quite similar—heady, languid, rarefied.
The Raven Boys
by Maggie Stiefvater
2012 • 409 pages • Scholastic Press
I’m actually very punctual in real life, so it never ceases to amaze me how late I turn up to bandwagons. The book blogging community has been raving about The Raven Boys since 2012, and the final book in the quartet, The Raven King, was released this year. It was only seeing the (I’m assuming positive?) weeping and gnashing of teeth on Twitter that I thought, well, I really loved The Scorpio Races… and made an effort to collect it from the public library. I was briefly thwarted by others doing much the same thing—or fans trying to reread the whole cycle in one go, which I heartily salute—but finally was able to get my hands on it and read it.
So, if you, like me, are a little unfamiliar with The Raven Boys, let me catch you up. Continue reading
Code Name Verity
by Elizabeth Wein
2012 • 451 pages • Hyperion Books
So… remember when Code Name Verity was making the rounds four years ago? Yeah, I finally got around to it last week. My lead time and my list of books to read grows longer every day, cats and kittens, but, you know, I’m a busy lady. I do busy lady things and sometimes I do them for four years before picking up a book. No big deal.
Except it kind of feels like a big deal, which is why I’m mentioning it.Code Name Verity is exactly the kind of young adult book that haunted me when I worked at the bookstore, because it came so highly recommended. World War II! Lady spies! An emphasis on female friendship being as life-altering and important as any romance! What wasn’t there to like? So I tenderly shelved it and its sister volume, Rose Under Fire, and then moved across the country and promptly forgot about it entirely until a spin through my reading list brought it back to my attention.
Letting a book percolate in your subconscious that long can be risky. Letting any media percolate in your subconscious that long can be risky. It often results in something like that heart-stopping moment I experienced, putting Velvet Goldmine into my laptop at college, wondering if it could possibly live up to the decade of furtive hype I’d spent on it?
It did, obviously, as I’ve managed to stuff in a reference to Velvet Goldmine in a review of a young adult novel set during World War II. Code Name Verity, despite having a shorter time to percolate in the old noggin… not so much.
Between You and Me
by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus
2012 • 272 pages • Atria Books
Between You and Me is, quite obviously, inspired by the story of Britney Spears, especially her well-publicized personal struggles in 2006 and 2007. Regular Jane Logan Wade is having a rough go at life in New York City, with a career that’s going nowhere, a living situation she can’t stand, and a man who will never commit to her. When her cousin, international pop sensation Kelsey Wade, reaches out to her, she jumps at the chance. But she ends up embroiled in the personal drama of Kelsey’s life—her controlling parents, her tempestuous relationship with back-up dancer Aaron, and the secret, traumatic past they both share that eventually comes out…
Well, it comes out on Kelsey’s family’s end. I’m still wildly unsure what Logan’s dad did.
It ends up reading like Poppy Z. Brite’s Plastic Jesus meets Gossip Girl, but without the core transformative element at the core of Plastic Jesus that makes it at least an interesting premise. It even suffers from the same “inspired by real life” problem that Plastic Jesus does—it assumes that you know all about the inspiration, so it can glide and elide to the points in the narrative that are juicy without doing any of the legwork. (That’s a Zack Snyder kind of move, people!) Continue reading
The Girl of Fire and Thorns
by Rae Carson
2011 • 423 pages • Greenwillow Books
Previously, on the Literary Omnivore, I asked where God and organized religion was in speculative fiction. (Okay, I asked “Where is the God in fantasy”, but tomato, tohmato.) When speculative fiction deals with gods and goddesses, it often does so in objective terms—one cannot dispute the existence of the Valar, for instance, in Middle-Earth. But Throne of the Crescent Moon shows characters actively struggling with and practicing their faith in a world where the divine is not objective, and it gave me a taste for more. But where to start?
Book blogger Samantha of A Musical Feast came to my rescue with a recommendation of The Girl of Fire and Thorns. I’ve known of Rae Carson’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy for a while, in that I used to spend many a shift at the bookstore in the young adult nook and they were in there. They looked like young adult fantasy (which is no slam, but just rarely distinctive enough to grab me), which is why it took Samantha mentioning that it’s actively based on medieval Spain and Spanish Catholicism for me to put it on hold at the library.
The Scorpion Rules
2015 • 384 pages • Margaret K. McElderry Books
If you’ve been a reader for long, you may know that I have a soft spot for young royal women with steel in their eyes and the world on their shoulders. This stems from being reared on The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, wherein that incarnation of the eponymous princess sacrifices seven years of her life and, perhaps, the player protagonist to save her kingdom. It’s a soft spot that goes often unsatisfied, because grim-eyed shield maidens have strangely not become a popular archetype in fantasy. But when it’s satisfied, it’s often satisfied well, as in the case of both Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue and Erin Bow’s The Scorpion Rules.
2015 (originally published 2014) • 452 pages • Riverhead Books
It’s a surprise to me that this is my first Nick Hornby. High Fidelity and The Polysyllabic Spree have been hanging out on the Behemoth for many a moon, but I’ve never made so much as a lurch towards them. And Funny Girl never even made it onto the Behemoth; I just saw the cover and had a vague, fuzzy memory of Jenny really enjoying it despite not traditionally enjoying Nick Hornby novels to the hilt. But I’ve been finding myself at my local library fifteen minutes before closing on weekdays, lately, stunned and a little confused by all this sunlight we’ve got now in the evenings, and I’ve had to make a lot of quick decisions in that amount of time.
But Funny Girl is, of all of Hornby’s work both fiction and non, the one most pandering towards my strange little demographic. I mean, I did recently watching all of Monty Python’s Flying Circus (and getting steadily more and more disenchanted…) and I was raised on British sitcoms (To The Manor Born and The Vicar of Dibley…) by Madame, so a novel about a young woman from Blackpool who moves to London in the 1960s and lands a leading role in a situational comedy that becomes a beloved British institution is right up my alley.
Throne of Glass
by Sarah J. Maas
2013 (originally published 2012) • 406 pages • Bloomsbury
When Sarah J. Maas mentions that she got the idea for Throne of Glass in high school, inspired by dark music in Disney’s Cinderella, in the supplemental material in the paperback edition of said book, I thought—well, that makes perfect sense.
I do not say this to be shady, or, more correctly, needlessly shady. (Shade is being cast, is what I’m trying to say.) But it made sense to me that Maas has spent years and years with these characters. The overall effect of reading Throne of Glass is a bit like wandering into somebody else’s high school reunion and finding yourself bewildered, simply because you don’t have access to the connective tissue between in-jokes, knowing looks, and old stories told in laughter and dropped phrases.
by Elissa Sussman
2016 • 272 pages • Greenwillow Books
I am very weirdly proud of my local library for carrying both Elissa Sussman’s Stray and Burn. I may have mentioned that my local library has the lackadaisical policy of never really circulating books back to their libraries of origin when holds crisscross this fair island, which means that I get to see what my neighbors are reading. (This is how I know that I managed to get somebody else hooked on Ōoku, because they are way ahead of me!) While I’m not as familiar with their young adult selection as I was of the public library I volunteered for in my teens, I am nonetheless very happy to see some feminist-minded fantasy young adult novels mixed in with more traditional fare. The teenagers of Brooklyn deserve Elissa Sussman’s books!
The Empress Game
by Rhonda Mason
2015 • 352 pages • Titan Books
As concepts go, The Empress Game seems pretty clearly suited to my taste: a galactic empire elects its empress not through political process, but through the Empress Game, a tournament of ritualized combat where any woman with a title can compete for the seat. The mysterious but brutal pit fighter Shadow Panthe is hired as the illegal double for Princess Isonde, the emperor-elect’s politically powerful beloved, but participating in the game will bring her uncomfortably close to her past.
Ooh! Action, awesome ladies, and mysterious pasts? Sold! (And also sold on the strength of that cover, which insinuates both female empowerment and pulpy delights. I am a simple woman of simple tastes.) When I saw that Thea recommended this at the Book Smugglers, I immediately added it to my list.