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Joyful Girl

Andrea Blythe's blog about writing, reading, and everything else


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Books Completed in January
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(I'm counting picture books that I read to my niece for the first time with reviews by use both.)

1. Harry the Dirty Dog, by Gene Zion, illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham
2. Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama, by Alison Bechdel
3. Demon Hunts, by C.E. Murphy
4. Swamplandia!, by Karen Russell
5. The Foot Book, by Dr. Suess
6. Blood Magic, by Tessa Gratton
7. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, by Alison Bechdel
8. The Game of Boxes: Poems, by Catherine Barnett

REVIEWS:

1. Harry the Dirty Dog, by Gene Zion, illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham
My review: Harry is a white dog with black spots, who hates taking baths. So one day, he steals the bath brush and buries it in the yard and runs away from home. Along the way he gets very dirty.

I remember reading this book as a kid. I loved it then and I loved it now. It's a fun book of innocent mischief and great illustrations that clearly reveal how much fun Harry has getting dirty.

I'm going to have to buy No Roses for Harry for my niece, because I remember loving that one, too. It was another childhood favorite.

My niece's review: She doesn't speak yet, so it's hard to say for sure. Plus, she was a bit fussy tonight. But when I started reading it, she quieted down and played with the pages, smacking them and helping me turn them and then looking up at me when I was particularly dramatic.

Towards the end, she started to whine and cry, but as I said, she was tired and fussy, so I wouldn't take that as a criticism of the book. Actually, I think she rather liked it until her hunger and exhaustion got the best of her.


2. Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama, by Alison Bechdel
Discussed elsewhere.


3. Demon Hunts, by C.E. Murphy
A cannibalistic serial killer is on the loose in Seattle, and Joanne Walker (the reluctant shaman) is using all in her power to track it down. The is the fifth book in The Walker Papers urban fantasy series offers a more mature Joanne, one is is starting to come to terms with her powers and is using the more wisely. It's been really great to see her progress and how she's grown over the arc of these books, and I'm looking forward to see where she goes from her and whether or not she can keep from giving into the dark side (so to speak).


4. Swamplandia!, by Karen Russell
Discussed elsewhere (with spoilers).


5. The Foot Book, by Dr. Suess
My Review: Another favorite from my childhood. Suess in general is fantastic, his art is fun and his playful rhymes echo through many years of my youth. I remember fondly flipping through his books even in high school. The Foot Book in particular plays with opposites and is wonderful for kids.

My niece's review: Tasty. Literally, as the cardboard pages spent most of their time in her mouth.


6. Blood Magic, by Tessa Gratton
Everyone in town believes that Silla's dad kills her mom and then himself, except Silla, who cannot match the evidence to her own memories of him. And when she receives a mysterious package from someone called the Deacon with a book of spells written by her dad, Silla becomes even more convinced. This sends her on a journey into magic as she tries to reconnect with him through the spells.

Meanwhile, Nick has just moved to town with his dad and new stepmom. He witnesses Silla's first spell attempt and it dredges up memories from his own past.

This is an imperfect book. The beginning launched so quickly into things that I didn't have enough sense of the characters to care when something went wrong. Also some of the fancy fonts used to simulate people's handwriting can be hard to read.

However, there was a lot I loved about this book. One of the biggest things is the variety of relationships in the book beyond just love (so many YA books focus solely on the romance). Silla's relationship with her brother Reece, who is also torn up by their parent's death, is a vital component of the tale. The magic brings them together and helps them heal. And Nick's relationship with his absent mother is another component that not only shows the development of the character, but also the plot.

Then there's the romance between Silla and Nick. While it grows quickly, it isn't love at first sight. Nick's I goal interest is in the magic and he falls for her as he learns more about her. Her affections also develop as be draws her out of the depths of her own sorrow. They both have their secrets and they make mistakes, but I like how they learn to love each other and how mutual trust must be earned between them.

I also really liked the magics itself, which has rules and requires work (apparently Gratton is fond of this kind o magic). Circles and salt and specific ingredients and a bit of blood and a lot of focus is what it takes. Its messy and imperfect and powerful and I love it. I like that, while some people may have stronger blood than others, anyone can potentially learn it.

Woven in between Silla and Nick's tale is pages from Josephine Darley's journal, a women from the past who promises to obtain immortality for herself. And that too is an interesting tale. It's a challenge to make wicked characters sympathetic and Gratton does that.

I even loved how the book delved into the realms of horror (lots of blood), giving me chills as the story progressed.

Like I said, this book is imperfect, but I judge a book by how I respond to it and by the end I loved it. I can't wait to read more.


7. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, by Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel's first memoir negotiates the stormy waters of her youth with a focus on her dad and his eventual suicide. It would be wrong to say he was a mystery to her, rather he put forth a clear, solid mask of who he wanted people to think he was, a display of fatherhood and family and the perfect home. It was a skilful rendering, an artifice. It was only in adulthood, amid discovery and confession of her own homosexuality that she learned her dad was gay.

As she explores her memory of events, Bechdel interweaves literature and cultural references, making comparisons between her father and Marcel Proust among others. Much like Are You My Mother?, she loops the story, journeying forward and backward, and occasionally returning to previously mentioned events to show them from a new angle.

Fun Home is the more accessible of her two memoirs, less focused on intellectual analysis of one's life than the experience of it. It is profoundly moving, revealing a subdued emotional experience.


8. The Game of Boxes: Poems, by Catherine Barnett
It took me a while to connect with the poems in this collection. Some poems I had to reread several times until they began to click (though I think the distance had more to do with my headspace than with the poetry. Once it did click, though, I discovered poetry that took the everyday and commonplace and didn't so much as elevate it, as roll around in it, feeling the sharp and soft edges and appreciating them for what they are.

The collection is split in three sections.

The first, "Endless Forms Most Beautiful," features a dozen or so poems named "Chorus," which alternate with other poems with individual titles. The titled poems all deal with an "I" narrator, an individual, who could be the same individual in each case, while the Chorus poems all focus on a "We" narrator that takes up the song of the populace that circles the individual. Sometimes, while driving or walking down the street, I'll break out of my own personal narrative and be stunned by how many lives are going on around me, each with their own stories, their own internal monologues — reading "Endless Forms Most Beautiful" reminded me of that experience.

The second section, "Of All Faces," is comprised of a single long poems, called "Sweet Double, Talk Talk," a modern love story, full of sex and intimacy and distancing and coming round again. It's beautiful and subtle and bitter sweet, like love often is. I read this through a couple of times and connected deeper with it on the second reading.

The last section, called "The Modern Period," is a series of poems that approach everyday moments, such as visiting a doctor, and finds deeper resonance in each moment.
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