In August, I didn’t do as much “women in translation” reading as I had planned, so this book was the first one I picked up in September. It’s by a famous Hungarian author. Written in 1970 and set in 1943, with WWII as a backdrop, it’s the story of spoiled 15-year-old Gina as she’s uprooted from life of parties in Budapest and sent to a remote Calvinist boarding school where suddenly the weight of the war becomes her burden. This was a lovely book and also bittersweet. The marketing copy for this is way off base (thriller, Jane Austen, Harry Potter) and I think the publisher must have been trying to drum up interest, but was way off base. The title comes from a statue of St. Abigail that the students believe performs miracles. And while that is an interesting part of the story, Gina’s transformation from rich brat to brave friend is where the heart of the story lies.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg
The Newbery winner from 1968 and a beloved classic, I finally got around to reading it—someone left a copy in my Little Free Library. The story really holds up, I think. Although, I don’t know if kids today will identify with Claudia and Jamie’s escapade. Living unseen in the Met in Manhattan and worrying about lunches that cost 75 cents is a far cry from today’s tech-heavy world and 8 dollar lunches. Although, I did love The Great Brain books and 1900 rural Utah was a very different world than 1980 Southern California. The story follows Claudia, the oldest of four, and her middle brother Jamie. Out of boredom and feeling unappreciated, they run away and live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There they discover a mystery, surrounding a beautiful statue, that Claudia becomes determined to solve. I’ve recommended this book a whole lot, now I can do so with more honesty.
The Silver Arrow, by Lev Grossman
This is a great book for fans of The Phantom Tollbooth (at the bookstore, we’re always looking for similar books). I listened to this one on Libro.fm. When Kate appeals to her rich uncle for an exciting birthday present, she was not prepared to get a steam engine delivered to her door. He even arranges for tracks to be laid. Kate and brother Tom are exploring the engine when it starts to run and it takes them to a magical train depot where they get all sorts of wacky train cars (including a swimming car). They then begin to pick up talking animals who have been given tickets and their adventure begins. The story is fun and silly, yet the subtle, underlying message is about climate change.
Storm of Locusts, by Rebecca Roanhorse
The second book in The Sixth World series, we find Maggie a month after the events of the first book. She’s becomes responsible for a 15-year-old with strange clan powers. When she finds out that Kai has been sucked into a cult that intends to destroy the Navajo Nation, she and her friends leave the safety of their home territory to prevent the disaster. If you look at the cover of this one (above) you’ll get a sense of just how bad ass Maggie and her friends are. Action-packed, deals with deities, and creating a family, this book is a blast.
The Girl Who Reads on the Métro, by Christine Féret-Fleury
A slim novel with a big impact. Ordinary Juliette is bored with life when she stumbles across an unusual bookstore that instead of allowing shoppers in, it sends out books with passeurs who will match the book with the right person. She hesitantly becomes a passeur and then becomes close to the owner, Soliman, and his daughter, Zaida—both fierce lover of books. The story is about Juliette learning to take risks and to live a life of boldness. I wrote a shelf talker for the book and only used this quote from Zaida, “This book is amazing, it will make you clever, it will make you happy.” All true.
Upright Women Wanted, by Sarah Gailey
Another audio book. This is the story of Esther, a young gay woman living in a dystopian “old west” future that has adopted strict biblical morals. She stows away on a cart belonging to the Librarians—two women who travel the southwest of the former U.S. delivering approved (and definitely unapproved) materials. The librarians reluctantly take on Esther as an apprentice and they travel with their assistant heading towards the wilds of Free Utah. They take on passengers—women like Esther who need to escape—and face bandits, evil lawmen, and more. I liked this one all right. It was an interesting world, but I felt like the story had too much agenda. It reminded me of the book Slow River, by Nicola Griffith. The world building in that book was fantastic, but the plot didn’t really know what it wanted to be other than to be a book about gay women. Which is not a bad thing, of course. I’ve read stories about gay characters (Red, White, and Royal Blue comes to mind) where the characters’ sexual orientation makes the plot better. This one didn’t do that for me.
Death of a Fool, by Ngaio Marsh
And another audio book. I was interested in reading/listening to a mystery along the lines of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers and found Ngaio Marsh—a New Zealand writer who was their contemporary. It was a really good story and mystery. The person who committed the murder was fairly self-evident, but how they did it was quite interesting. I really enjoyed the background of the story. Probably the first third of the story was build-up to the murder and discussed old England folklore and folkloric celebrations. I’m excited to read some more of her mysteries.
Soul Music, by Terry Pratchett
It was a rough month and I needed a little Terry in my life. I hadn’t read this one before. The main characters are Death and his granddaughter Susan (this is her first appearance). A druid named Imp goes to Ankh Morpork to become a famous musician. He comes across a mysterious music shop that has a guitar that almost plays itself. He and his band, The Band With Rocks In, create a whole new type of music that has everyone going fanatical. But the guitar requires a sinister price. Very much a Discworld novel and a whole lot of fun.
By the Book, by Amanda Sellet
A fun YA romance that basically describes parts of my life. Mary is a well-read 15-year-old who goes from a freeform private school to public school. Her new friends there rely on her encyclopedic knowledge of literature and the archetypes within to navigate romantic relationships. It turns out that the boy she has labeled a rake, is in fact a really good guy and she begins to fall for his charms. As the literature nerd in high school in college, I was the person people turned to for advice, so I really identified with this book. It’s charming and sweet and a delightful read.
Feminist City, by Leslie Kern
A nonfiction entry this month! This is a short read, but absolutely fascinating. Kern describes how cities are designed and built with the white, abled, cis-gendered man as it’s average person. Cities are not created to make it easier for mothers to take care of their children, or for women to walk alone at night, or for queer people to feel at ease. Those spaces have to be carved out from the average design. Kern doesn’t talk so much about what a feminist city would look like, because that could be a lot of different things, but instead points out to how cities can be hostile to those it wasn’t expressly designed for. Super interesting subject. It made me want to study the intersection of geography and feminism even more.
Suncatcher, by José Pimienta
Beatriz is a young, aspiring guitarist who must create the perfect song in order to free her grandfather’s soul which is trapped in his guitar. Set in Mexicali, Mexico in the early 2000s, the book contrasts the emerging indie punk scene with Beatriz’s obsession with freeing her grandfather. It’s a graphic novel, and the art is kinetic and different. It reminded me of anime and manga art from the late 1970s. I really enjoyed the background, the story, and the unheard music.