Catching Up #1 (2012 mini reviews)

And it’s suddenly December.. That time of year when you notice that you have a ton of books that you were going to review because they evoked questions, or tears, or ALL THE LOVE… By now I might have forgotten some of the details so in the following weeks I plan to just offer you a number of mini reviews with the promise that I plan to reread some of these books and offer you an extensive overview of thoughts and feelings someday, maybe.

O Pioneers! - Willa CatherO Pioneers! – Willa Cather
Girlebooks (originally published 1913)
Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository *
Or get a free ebook version from girlebooks

O Pioneers! is the story of a Swedish immigrant family who tries to make a life in rural Nebraska. The story centres on Alexandra Bergson who inherits the family farm and tries to make it prosper at a time when many immigrant families  give up and move away.

Last year I read My Antonia and I mentioned how I always felt a little distance when reading stories about the American frontier and how, even if fascinating, these stories never truly seemed to become real to me. I think the general consensus is that My Antonia is a better book than O Pioneers! However, I think I loved this particular book more. Oh, the prairie setting and frontier-feel still seem somewhat alien to me, but it also felt a lot more human in this particular book.

Perhaps the secret is that, as Dead White Guys says, it is a deceptively simply story that hides quite a lot beneath the surface. For me, it was its decidedly subversive character that attracted me. It´s not that Cather does not revert to the socially acceptable throughout her story, but she also leaves room to discuss things that one can imagine were not often openly acknowledged in this type of literature at the time: to have a woman inherit, make a success of a farm, and have so much agency throughout the story; to have an unhappy marriage openly discuss and to reveal the tragic consequences (as I said, there is an adherence to dominant morality in this story) of an affair, and yet to romanticise it at the same time (the white butterflies?). So yes, as much as I do not remember all the particular details, there are still, 11 months after reading this particular book, details that stand out in my mind. I think I can safely say that I enjoyed O Pioneers very much, even if I had not expected it before picking it up.

Other Opinions: Dead White Guys Lit, That’s What She Read, Fingers & Prose, Melody & Words,  Stephanie’s Books, 1morechapter, an adventure in reading, Joyfully Retired, Yours?

A Monster Calls - Patrick NessA Monster Calls – Patrick Ness
Illustrated by Jim Kay
Walker Books, 2011

Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository *

Sometimes you read a book and it is so perfect that you are at a loss for words that could possibly do it justice. That’s how I felt while I was reading, and once I had finished, A Monster Calls. That, and all the tears and gratefulness combined.

Patrick Ness is of course the king of tackling impossibly difficult subject, and although this is nothing like the Chaos Walking Trilogy, it is simultaneously just as good as that trilogy. The main difference is, perhaps, that this is a children’s book instead of a dystopian story for the slightly older, and that as such this book might have a more universal appeal.

In A Monster Calls  Conor meets a monster during three subsequent nights. Conor has not been having an easy time: he is lonely and does not find comfort in school, his mother is suffering from cancer and asks her grandmother to help out, and Conor is frequently tormented by nightmares at night. However, this monster he now encounters is different from his previous nightmares. The monster tells him three stories, and after those three stories are finished, it asks Conor for his own story, and the monster won’t settle for anything less than the truth.

This is a book about cancer and how it impacts the lives of Conor’s mother, his grandmother, and most of all, his own. It is a story of loss and dealing with that loss. And it is unapologetic in discussing all the feelings involved in that process. It will make you cry, almost guaranteed. It was created with such love and honesty that even now, months after reading it, I cannot discuss it here without feeling the shivers of emotion creep up my spine. I cannot recommend this book enough, but I want to add the warning that even though I have seen the impact of cancer on the lives surrounding my nearest family, I have not closely encountered it myself. I am not sure when and how this book will be read, and what reactions it would evoke, if you are currently going through the sadness associated with this disease.

Other Opinions: too many to count. You can find a detailed list here. For any discussion of Patrick Ness’ work I would recommend the posts over at Things Mean a Lot, which also features a beautiful post on A Monster Calls.

Code Name Verity - Elizabeth WeinCode Name Verity – Elizabeth Wein
Electric Monkey, 2012

Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository *

This must have been the hit of the first half of 2012. And deservedly so (if you ask me). It is a clever story that is compelling for its execution but also for its themes of friendship, war, truth, and its emotional intensity.

The thing is, you cannot discuss what is so great about this book without giving anything away. And I want to avoid spoilers this time. So there you go. I will only give you the plot summary of the very beginning of this book:

When you open Code Name Verity you quickly discover that this is the story of a female British agent, Verity, who is captured by the Germans in France. During her imprisonment she has to write down her whole tale. She has two weeks to do this and at the end of those two weeks she will be shot.

Reading Verity’s story you find out that there is one person who is very important to her: her best friend Maddy who was a pilot for the British.

Code Name Verity is a story of friendship, as I mentioned before. And it is the friendship between Verity and Maddy that brings the emotional punch to this book. It is rare to find actual female best friends that do not hurt each other through jealousy or what-not in books, but it exists, for it is the very core of this book. This is why almost every review out there will quote the following to you. And yes, I need to do the same, because it is truly the best summary of this part of the novel:

“It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.”

On top of this theme of friendship comes the fact that Maddy and Verity are both very strong women. It is impossible not to fall in love with their agency and decisiveness and, yes, I secretly wanted them to be real. It is difficult to imagine them as unreal, for Wein did such a stellar job with bringing them to life.

What makes this story so interesting besides these themes are the questions it constantly evokes. Truth is a large theme in the book, and you never quite know what the true story is in here. I am not going to go into detail here, but I need to tell you that Code Name Verity is divided into two parts, and the second part sheds light and illuminates many of the questions you are left with in the first part. This is where the astounding cleverness of the story comes in, for as convincing as the first part felt for me, it is the slower part of the story. During the second half, I could not stop reading. Moreover, while reading that second part I kept wanting to return to the first part, to see how everything fit.

For me, the drawback of this book might have been all the hype it had received., Believe me, I still loved it. But there was a certain scene that I had been anticipating, and that I had been promised would have me in tears. And perhaps exactly because of that promise it didn’t evoke quite that much feeling. More details on that can be found over at The Book Smugglers where Thea mentions the same experience. Overall though: Code Name Verity is utterly brilliant. Go read it.

Other Opinions: Things Mean A Lot, My Friend Amy, Chachic’s Book Nook, The Written WorldDear AuthorThe Book Smugglers, Presenting Lenore, Steph Su Reads, Rhapsody in Books, Book Addiction, You’ve Gotta Read This!, Books and Movies, Book Harbinger, Capricious Reader, Kristi Loves Books, Semicolon, Bookworm 1858, Yours?

* These are affiliate links. If you buy a product through either of them, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

14 thoughts on “Catching Up #1 (2012 mini reviews)

  1. rhapsodyinbooks

    I didn’t react to A Monster Calls like most other readers. I didn’t *get* the monster’s stories! I think somehow it was beyond me! I think maybe I need to reread it alongside someone (which would be pretty much everyone else) who understands it!

    Reply
  2. Word Lily

    Shamefully, even though I live in Nebraska, I’m lacking in my Cather education. The only one I’ve read is Death Comes for the Archbishop, which isn’t even set in the state! I do want to get to more of her canon soon, though. Glad you liked it!

    Reply
  3. Ana @ things mean a lot

    I was lucky to read Code Name Verity early in the year, before the expectations had build up too much. Not that it’s not an excellent book that lives up to them, but you know what I mean.

    Also, your review of A Monster Calls reminds me to peer pressure you into reading Two Weeks with the Queen :P I think you’d really love it.

    And eep, only a couple of weeks left in the year! I actually have a catch up post scheduled for tomorrow, but as you’ll see I’m sort of taking the lazy way out :P

    Reply
  4. aartichapati

    Willa Cather is on my list of authors to read in 2013! And I obviously need to get on track with Code Name Verity.

    Reply
  5. Kristen M.

    I read lots of Willa Cather when I was in high school (by my own choice, not for school). I really need to go back and read the novels all again because I’m sure I would have a different perspective now. Hopefully I will still really enjoy the novels though!

    Reply
  6. Christina

    SO GLAD you loved Code Name Verity, as I was absolutely blown away by it! I understand your point about the hype, though. Fortunately I hadn’t been exposed to much of the hype when I read it, so my expectations weren’t too high. But oh, gosh — “Kiss me, Hardy!” had me sobbing.

    Reply
  7. Pingback: Happy 2013! (And belated goodbye to 2012) | Iris on Books

  8. Pingback: Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein | Iris on Books

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