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Discount Armageddon: Book One of InCryptid

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Seanan McGuire's been an author that I've been meaning to try for a while. I've heard good things about the Toby Daye series, and I do like urban fantasy stuff, so she sounded like a good fit. But I didn't really feel like starting a more established series, and when I heard she was starting another one, I thought I'd jump on that train instead. Particularly when that train, the InCryptid series, has such a nice pun in the series name, and, c'mon, Discount Armageddon, that's a cool name for a book. Eye-catching. Although eye-catching in a worse way (at least, from my perspective) was the cover, featuring a city landscape at night with our lead character in a pink halter and pink plaid skirt, carrying a gun (which, at least, that's sort of an outfit from the story. I know I shouldn't be embarrassed by what I read, but... yeah. I mostly knocked this one off at home.The whole story here's not an embarrassment at all, really. Our heroine, Verity Price, is a member of the youngest generation of a family of, well, cryptid managers / police, in a sense. They keep an eye on the paranormal populations in their territories, New York in Verity's case, and while most of them just generally go about their own lives quietly, there are some who look to prey on the population at large. And that, of course, is also Verity's job - she keeps them in line, through words or through a well-placed ass-kicking. This job doesn't much pay the bills, though, so she works a cover job as a waitress at a strip club where most of the strippers are local non-humans of one variety or another. But really? Really what she wants? Is to be a real honest-to-God ballroom dancing champ.So there are a lot of parts here to look at, and the plot is tipped off by the arrival of an agent from the organization that Verity's family used to work with, the Covenant of St. George, who has rather a different idea of what to be doing with those cryptids about, a rather more violently final one. So with a kill-'em-all agent, Dominic de Luca, showing up, Verity has to protect the group, and as she gets to know de Luca more, things get more... complicated.The plot actually does work pretty well, a fairly driving and enjoyable tale, but in this case, it's the characters that really made the story for me: Verity, our first-person narrator, with a world-weary, tongue-in-cheek, but driven voice, proud of her accomplishments, but not really happy with her life; Sarah, her cryptid cousin, with psychic powers and an interesting biology; Dominic, a holy warrior, yes, but not immune to new ideas; oh, all of them, Verity's family, the super religious cult-of-the-Price-family mice in Verity's apartment, the whole world. It's well thought out and well-realized, and it gives the plot that much more heft. This one, it's a lot of understanding Verity's world and then messing it around, as befits the first book in a series, and it pays off. You get the regular kind of showing how this world differs from the real one, who inhabits it and setting the rules, and then lets things tick off the rails nicely.All of which is to say, I did quite enjoy this. I'll have to try her other series soon, but this one makes for a nice, fast adventure, with good characters and a nice style. I see what the fuss was about, for sure. And even if I do think I'll try out Toby Daye, I'm looking forward to more about Verity, as well. Definitely a good read here for urban fantasy fans.
“Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!”

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I can't very well say when the first time I heard about Richard Feynman was. He's long been a hero of my father's, and he'd show up in unexpected conversations occasionally. I think I found this a bit interesting when I was a kid - why does he keep cropping up? I've heard and read more about him since then, and I read James Gleick's biography of him when I was in Japan, but somehow, despite seeing this book on our shelves every day for years growing up, I never actually gave it a try until recently. And it's definitely an interesting read, both for what's on the page, and what's not.This is sort of a biography of Feynman's life, pieced together from stories he told a friend of his, and one imagines with a final okay from Feynman (since his name's on the book, after all). It covers a lot of his life, with the different stories ranging from when he was a kid through being a student at MIT and Princeton, his time on the Manhattan project, up through being a renowned professor. There's a range in the scope of the stories, from short little anecdotes through long pieces about, say, learning to pick locks, or sensory deprivation, or tea-time at Princeton. It actually makes for an easy read this way; since the stories are all basically standalones, you can jump around the book based on how much time you have to read. It helps to have a little idea about his life ahead of time if you're going to do that, but it's doable without that knowledge, I think.So the subtitle for this book is "adventures of a curious character," and that really is what you're getting. Feynman clearly comes through as brash, fiercely intelligent, not taking anybody's word just on authority, trying out new things (art, drumming, lockpicking, etc) because they seem interesting - and then following through and trying to achieve the best he can with it, and invested in seeing things through to their complete and logical end. He has a sense of marveling at ways of doing things that get out wrong or incoherent results. It's an approach to life that certainly makes for a rich and diverse set of experiences, and the writing, while simple enough, gives you a real sense of who he was. It won't win any prizes for prose, but he wouldn't want those, anyway. And it still is engrossing and often very humorous.It's notable, as well, that there's very little science in here, and that you don't get a sense of how harsh he could be (beyond the fact that he very clearly doesn't suffer fools gladly, and that he says often in the earlier studies that had it happened to him now, he would have told the person off / did what he wanted). My dad says he was very invested in having everyone know he was a wild and crazy guy, and told the book that way. The book I read after this (by Herman Wouk; I'll review it next) gave more of the harder side. But the wonderful thing about this book is that it shows you what it really means to be curious and dedicated, to have a desire to really try a lot of things and try to see the heart of them. That's something to learn from, one way or the other, and for someone who was also a great teacher, one might imagine that was part of the purpose, too. It's a fun read to have around, I'd think, for inspirational, amusing refreshment. Not perfect, but then, it definitely held my interest well.
The Language of Flowers: A Novel

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It's nice to think of more ways for people to communicate, different forms of messages they can send. This idea of particular kinds of flowers communicating specific meanings, and that one should consider these meanings when they give them, rather than just picking what's prettiest... I mean, it's not for me, I guess, but I can see the appeal. And on top of this, Diffenbaugh outside the book seems to be a pretty admirable person, helping fundraising for kids getting out of foster care, for reasons that will soon become evident. On top of that, she's a pretty good writer, in a craftswoman sense. For those of you thinking there's a but coming, yeah, here it is: but this book didn't exactly do it for me.Our protagonist, Victoria, is coming out of foster care as an adult, and she's had a really rough time of it, as one is given to understand is usually the case for those emerging from foster care. She's rather a hard case, very closed off to others, and upon getting out, basically takes up being homeless for a while. But she understands flowers, and the messages they send, and before too long, she gets offered a job at a small flower store run by Renata, a pretty strong-willed woman in her own right. She helps out around the store, making bouquets that match the language of flowers she learns, growing the business... and meeting a guy, Grant, who is a flower wholesaler, and who has a definite link to her past.So that's the setup for the story; we get Victoria's current story, along with the story of her last and best chance at finding someone to adopt her, a flower-loving woman living alone in a large house in the California countryside named Elizabeth. Clearly, since Victoria ended up in foster care, even though Elizabeth is caring and accommodating, but pushing back against Victoria's acting out, slowly taking her in and building a bond, eventually this must fall apart, so the story has that tension going for it: not knowing how things are going to fall apart, and seeing how this plays out against Victoria's troubles in her more grown-up setting, with her way with flowers and trying to build connections, with people in general and with Grant and Renata in particular. She's quite a broken young woman, Victoria, and there's a lot of work to be done in getting back to a good and sane place.Let me here give credit to Diffenbaugh as a writer again: the characterization is deftly done (generally), and the construction and pacing of the story, matching the pace of the two time periods well to each other to build connections, lulls and character beats, and different climaxes in the two times working to build the mood in the story. And she commits to the concept with the language of flowers, as well; including that glossary at the back is definitely a wise choice, and I went and looked at it at rather a sizable number of times.Here's that but again: just... as much as I liked the writing, and I think the characters work, my disbelief just didn't really hold. Victoria is a scarred and hardened individual, certainly, and her behavior's quite erratic. I get that people would make allowances, but they really go too far, overall, and she is just unbelievably, incredibly lucky in the modern story. The backstory stuff is better, and I like the bond building with Elizabeth and everything, but the modern setting... I mean, she does some fairly crazy things that I think we're supposed to sympathize with, but I don't really get to sympathy, and also just lands a lot of luckiness. Just gobs of coincidences and people having nigh-magical powers to divine her life. Either she is the most captivating person that has ever existed, or the contrivances are laid on too thick. Not that everything goes well, but when they go bad, still... the contrivances and the coincidences, oh, the contrivances and the coincidences. I couldn't take it. And Grant, man, I couldn't really take Grant. I liked him overall, but he's really like this side of a fairy-tale super-patient hero who'd never been and would never be interested anyone else but Victoria. He belong in more of a romance novel than here, I think.I want to accept the story, and I liked the writing and the setting and all, but it's still rather problematic. I want to say, really, this is a book that has some good stuff going for it, and it wasn't a hard read, but I just couldn't take the story. I wouldn't say don't read it, exactly, but I wouldn't go out and jump on it, either, really. The begonia on the cover of the book means caution in the language of flowers presented in the book, and I get why the author chose it, but I'd assign it a second meaning on top of that one, personally.
Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

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Okay. So. Today's review challenge: trying to figure out what I missed. If we were going to put together a list of the most well-received and admired works of young adult literature from the past few years, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian would be somewhere around the top. The edition I have of it is filled with a lot of praise, blurbs saying how wonderful and humorous and insightful and all that stuff it is, from a multitude of newspapers and authors. It had been recommended to me a few times, as well, and so I picked up a nice copy, and decided to give it a try when I wanted something that matched that set of quality descriptors. And... I don't know. It's not like it was bad or anything, but it didn't exactly live up to its advance billing, and not even in that way that happens sometimes when your expectations were too high.Our hero here is Arnold Spirit, often just referred to as Junior, who lives on an Indian reservation in Washington, and whose existence has been fairly full of problems, what with having born with water on the brain, and is thus fairly susceptible to shocks; he stammers, he has huge thick glasses, he'd seem a bit of a mess if you met him, likely. But he does have a strong spirit, and a love of comics, for getting his drawings out into the world, and you see them over the course of the book, illustrating various points. That strong spirit, though, is what convinces him that he has to get out of the rez school and into the white school nearby; that's going to be the only way to build a good future for himself, even if it doesn't really make his life easy now, what with the troubles getting there, getting accepted, and most of all, explaining to the his friends and the people on the rez what he's doing and why, without looking like a traitor.Yes, the book has a lot to say about poverty, belonging, race, bullying, friendship and family, substance abuse, and death. There's a lot of well-observed stuff in there, really, and it's written up in an engaging way - it's not too heavy-handed, and a lot of fairly weighty stuff does indeed happen in here, but given Junior's voice and pictures, it doesn't get overwhelming. It can be rather amusing, as well. Really, I do think it was well-written; I've thought often of the phrase Alexie uses about being poor not teaching you about anything except how to be poor. The characters, too, particularly Junior and his best friend and great athletic talent Rowdy, are great to follow.So I don't know why I just didn't find myself that into the book; I think perhaps I read through it too quickly, or I wasn't in the right mood, or something. It's weird, but I rather feel like the fault should probably lie with me, and not with the book, in this case. When I look back on it, it seems admirable and interesting, with a good style and good art, but I didn't enjoy it that much, and I don't think it's because I really expected to enjoy it a lot. I see where everyone else is coming from, and maybe I'll give it another try, but for now, for all that I can point at good bits, I'll have to chalk this up as the most mysterious read, in a sense, of the year for me. Sometimes, it is in how it hits you; you bring yourself to the experience as much as the writer brings his story. Maybe I'll connect better next time.
The Revisionists

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Sometimes, when we look back at history, we can see a clear line of a chain of events that comes up to some climactic point, and people wonder, well, what if we had stopped this, or changed that? Could we have avoided the whole thing, if we had managed to save that guy's life, or broke the code sooner, or something? But however it is, you get the world the way it is now.But if you have time travel, well, why not go back and change it? Although... maybe you like the way things ended up, even if it was horrible to get there. Maybe if you have time travel, you try to make sure the bad things in the chain happen, so you can get to the shining future you want. It's a hell of a job to have, probably. But that's our Zed's job. He's come back from the future into modern-day DC to make sure things play out the way the future utopia needed them to play out, even if that means a magnificent cataclysm that will require people to learn the multiple of decimate to count all the dead, in the end.That's our setup for Mullen's book, a multiple POV piece where one of the viewpoints is our future fixer Zed, with the others taken up by a young lawyer, an immigrant maid in a diplomat's residence, and a contractor who's just been cut off from the government. For all of the science-fiction trappings, they basically sit mostly within Zed's viewpoint; he has to keep a low cover to not disrupt the timelines further, after all. The rest of the book is more of a story of modern government, diplomats and bureaucracy and small projects of skulduggery, all connecting our characters together.In many ways, really, this is a government thriller, a story that asks about the power of an individual against the bureaucracy and the systems of the world, against history. It's a story of alienation, with all of our characters feeling out of place, geographically, temperamentally, temporally. These are themes straight out of Kafka, but it's not like the world's changed that much since then. Even world-shaking events can't break the hold the idea of systems have on us, after all.But as I say, this is science-fiction, and a character piece, and a DC thriller, rolled into one. They should clash more than they actually do, all the different modes, but Mullen actually does a pretty good job of holding them all together. The characters have clear, different voices, and there's a good amount of world-building on Zed's side, to get a real sense of the future, and the way he looks at the present. But the SF-ness of it goes away somewhat over the course of the book. Mullen had a good run of it, and there's a lot to recommend it, but I can't say he totally stuck the ending. Still, it actually all comes together well enough, and that's pretty impressive.In the end, I don't think this quite came together as cleanly as I'd have liked, but it actually works well enough, down to some nice, real ambiguity about some of the narration. And it grapples with the consequences of doing bad things to try to keep your shining future ahead of you, along a number of different axes, and that's a rich theme to explore. I can't recommend it totally unreservedly, but it's definitely worth a try if you like some time travel in your reading diet, or some low-key piecing-it-together informational thrills. Mullen's an inventive guy; I should try more of him. But this isn't a bad place to start. Zed's a good place to end, though.
Riding the Bus with My Sister: A True Life Journey

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One of the worst kinds of literature, to my mind, are the ones where your main character is a busy person, trying to succeed, doing their best to make the most of their lives, and then they are exposed to wise old sage / intelligent animal / precocious child / disabled veteran. And then they learn the true value of life, and hurrah, hurrah, their minds are forever changed for the better, and they love the world. Urgh, the trite pastiness of it. And then those books end up super popular, and you hear about them everywhere: this will change your life! You just sigh internally. I picked up this book because my mom recommended it, and she usually has good taste, but I look at the blurbs on the cover ("it touched my soul" - Rosie O'Donnell) and I read the first twenty pages, and I worry.But - and thankfully, there's a but - the story doesn't pan out that way. This memoir details the year that Rachel Simon spent with her sister with mild mental retardation around on the buses in her sister's small Pennsylvania city. A few years before the time detailed in the book, Beth, her sister, took up riding around the buses of the town all day, chatting with the drivers and learning all the routes and the timetables, to the degree where she serves as a backup resource for new employees, getting access to the driver's room, etc. Not all of the drivers take to her, but enough do, and she feels as if she's found her place.Rachel had not been close with her sister for some time, but when Beth reached out to her and invited her to spend a year riding with the buses with her, she decided to take time out of her schedule to take up the offer, alongside her classes and writing. The memoir goes along month by month, for the days she's out there with her sister, with the chapters for each month generally including some riding around with a particular driver on the bus, each with different views on the world, jocular, heavy, contemplative, religious, trying to help Beth, or not; and then also some time off the bus, and then finally about the history of the Simon family and dealing with Beth through the years.It's actually a very easy read, and the different profiles of the bus drivers, intelligent, thoughtful folk (for the ones that get profiled; Simon notes they're not all like that), add some nice variety. But the most interesting part of it is Simon's coming to grapple with her sister and her life, and what it means for her to be a good sister, and a more open person. Simon turned away from her sister some when she was growing up, but she didn't even really know what it meant for people to have the sort of disability her sister has. She hadn't done the research on it until during the year in question, and she hadn't tried to understand her sister's place in life, why she wanted to ride the buses, the level of self-determination she has.The overall trend in care for those with mental retardation has been to give them more control over their lives, and the book shows both the plusses and minuses of this system - Beth makes her decision about how to make her life fulfilling, but she makes her own bad decisions, too, and it's hard for her sister to watch. But she does get a lot more respect for her sister, and eventually, the feeling becomes more mutual. Beth's fiercely independent, but they do manage to make it work out between them, so that they each have their place with the other.I actually did come to enjoy this book after the beginning. It's a more complex story, written clearly and with enough emotion to become invested. I learned much about the toughness of the situation, the complexity of living with someone with a real cognitive disability, but that they're really still a complete, full person. Realizing that is hard even when you're in the situation; even with my mom being a special ed teacher, I have a hard time remembering this sometimes.Anyway, it is an interesting, informative, and, yes, heart-warming read. But not in that bad way. In a better one.
An Experiment in Love: A Novel

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As reasons to try reading a book go, the fact that a quote from it was used as an epigraph in another book you liked (here, A Monster Calls) is a pretty weak one. And yet, it can be enough to set matters rolling, and I had sort of meant to read something by Mantel since she won the Booker Prize for Wolf Hall, and this book was relatively short and easy enough to try, and so here we are. So was it worth it? Well... yes and no.This is a story of one Carmel McBain, narrated by an older and perhaps wiser version of the character as she gives an account of her school days in London, and her dealings primarily with two women she attended school with in her hometown, the rich and stylish Julianne and the working-class daughter of immigrants Karina. The book functions on two levels, really: the one dealing with the straightforward story of how each of the women adapts to life and the new circumstances and people it brings once they arrive in London, and the other looking at class issues in England in the late 60s, and at culture more generally. Carmel's parents are lower middle class and give her very little to live on at school, meaning she comes to find it hard even to survive on the funds she has; Julianne has enough money to essentially get whatever she wants, and fits into the culture of the dorm more cleanly; Karina has a different mindset from the other girls about money and the face needed to present to the world, what she wants from life, and what is fair play. Etc.There's much backstory about the three leads' life before coming to London, and wistful or almost sardonic framing from the future, and definitely some glancing but still caustic blows at what is probably a realistic enough depiction of life for women during that period in England - how hard it was to be taken seriously at events and meetings, to lead a life you could carve out and want with the strictures in both place and mores. The class stuff is actually handled fairly deftly as well; it's not waved in your face much or anything, you have to think about it a little, and that's nice.That said... yeah. The book didn't quite come together for me, perhaps because I found it hard to really get into understanding the character's mindsets, particularly Carmel's, or perhaps because sometimes the plotting really was too low-key for me. The style was generally good, and Carmel did have a clear voice, and yet it meant that the other characters didn't come in sharp enough sometimes. Also, the ending felt far too abrupt; there's a big event and no real denouement, just a sudden turn away from the page, from the feel of it. It doesn't do the story justice.I don't know that I would judge Mantel on this book only, and if you're looking for somewhere to start with her, this almost certainly isn't it, but it's not a bad book. It just didn't connect with me... it could be I didn't appreciate it because I'm too distanced from or unknowledgable about the setting, but it's still what it is: a slight volume that should probably have been less slight, for the betterment of all involved, including our slight Carmel.
Tokyo Vice: a Western reporter on the police beat in Japan

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There's something to be said for firsts, even if the only thing to be said there is that you can probably get a book out of that first if it's notable enough. Fortunately, that's not all that Jake Adelstein has going for him in Tokyo Vice - the story itself is also quite good. Adelstein was the first white reporter for the Japanese edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun, the biggest and most prestigious newspaper in Japan. Adelstein takes us from his first moment of deciding to try to join the newspaper and the employment process, through learning to be a police reporter in Saitama, before moving into Tokyo and taking on life in the big city. There's a good amount in here in the early parts of people reacting to this white Jewish guy from Missouri showing up as a reporter, but as Adelstein gets more accustomed to his job, the stories of being a reporter and the more lurid side of Japan come forward more. And in the end, Adelstein ends up pursuing a story regarding the #1 yakuza in Japan at the time, and his work leads him to receive death threats. (Note: this is the prologue of the book, and thus not a spoiler.)A lot of this sounds fairly typical of these sorts of guy-makes-the-beat-and-then-gets-in-over-his-head stories, I suppose, but it's really done well here, and there are a lot of details that make the story quite fascinating, at least if you're interested in Japan stuff. The workplace scenes at the newspaper at the beginning, as he learns about his coworkers and how things are done, how to build up contacts and what goes into keeping them are well-observed, and then later on, when we hear about life in the Tokyo red-light district, it's sobering and harsh, but presented clearly and with the viewpoint of the police contact telling Adelstein about it. I have to say, I really did quite like the writing. It had a lot of impact - funny when it was supposed to be, disturbing and horrifying on call, and then always clear. As I suppose befits a journalist.It sounds odd to say, but I liked a lot of the characters (or real people) in the book, and particularly Adelstein's mentor, and the Alien Cop. But I really did like the way Adelstein himself slowly and subtly changed over the course of the book, from someone who was doing this because it seemed interesting and he wanted a job in Japan, but whose Japanese wasn't really that great and was clearly an outsider, to someone who knew lots of the connections in organized crime and became so part of Japan that he couldn't really go undercover as a foreigner anymore. And it helps, then, this dual inside/outside status, when he gets involved in investigations of human trafficking in the last parts of the book - the real, horrible record of it in Japan, and his connection to and feelings towards the women involved leading to breaking him down, and roughening his methods. It's all well done, and informative.On the whole, Tokyo Vice was a fairly fast, engaging read, with a good amount of informative kick, and an interesting, ground-breaking lead to follow. It's definitely worth a read if you're into Japan stuff, or if you like newspaper or crime stories. There's a lot here to offer, and while it's not always enjoyable, I don't think you'd regret trying it.
An Abundance of Katherines

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After having read and been wowed by the Fault in Our Stars, I went back over to the library and saw what other John Green books they had around at the time, and the answer was this book, so this was the next work of his I tried. As reasons go for reading a book, it's fairly prosaic, but still, I mean, I wanted to try something right away, and the cover was pretty cool, not to be shallow. But this, while being quite a different sort of story from the Fault in Our Stars, was still quite enjoyable, in a madcap comic way.Our plot: Colin Singleton is a former child prodigy who has dated in his time nineteen girls named Katherine. It is vital, yes, that they be named specifically Katherine, and not with a C, or Kathy, or Kate, or anything else. Katherines. But here is the other thing: all of these Katherines dump him, in the end. And when the last and most important Katherine dumps him in the summer before college, it seems the only way to get him out of his funk, according to his best friend and champion Judge Judy lover Hassan, is a nice, good-old-fashioned American road trip, leaving Chicago and ultimately making their way down into Gutshot, Tennessee for the summer after making friends with a clerk there, Lindsey Lee Wells, and ending up staying around at her mother's incredibly pink mansion.This sojourn does seem to be good for Colin, who is looking to find a contribution to make to the world that will allow him to jump from prodigy to genius status, and in the process, he does seem to grow into being a real person, more aware of the people around him, more aware of himself in relation to them, etc. It's a nice progression, and though Colin is offputting and awkward towards the beginning of the book, I mean, he does work it out more by the end. And that offputtingness is on purpose for sure, which helps.Anyway, I did rather like the story and the playfulness of it, and I liked the characters - Hassan and Colin have a believable nerdy friendship, and Hassan reaching out to Colin and taking him on as a friend when Colin doesn't really how to deal with people feels like something I've done with some of my friends before. And I liked the members of the town that they interact with, Lindsey's boyfriend the Other Colin and her mother and Colin's friends and all that. I particularly enjoyed Hassan and Colin's relationship, though, and the way that contrasted with Colin's relationship with Lindsey and such. The characters felt real, and even if there was some comic goings-on, it didn't harm any of that.I did like the comic stuff, too, and it was a fun novel, on top of the character development stuff. Colin's route to genius, for one, was really quite amusing, and much of the dealings with Lindsey's friends were amusing. I just felt that some of the time, it kind of went a bit too far, and it just moved from comic to wacky or zany, and I didn't quite like that as much. My primary example is from near the end, though, so I won't discuss it just here, but still. There is some wacky stuff.Still... on the whole, I did really enjoy the book. I liked the conceit, I liked the writing and characters, I liked the Katherines, and I liked the formula. And the footnotes, all that. I think it's a notch below the Fault in Our Stars, but that's not exactly damning with faint praise. It probably wouldn't be where I'd start with John Green, but you'll probably enjoy it. And I mean, you even have the grave site of Franz Ferdinand. Hard to ask for more from a book.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: A Novel

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For a book that I really just picked up on a whim, because I'd thought to read it idly at a few points over the past few years, this really paid off. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a modern classic (to the degree that I read the Modern Classics edition), which is usually enough to put me off something, but perhaps I should reconsider that if this delightful, slim little novel is what I'm missing out on. For something that was a scant 123 pages, there's a surprising amount of depth here.Our Miss Jean Brodie here is a teacher at a fairly good private school in Edinburgh in the mid-1930s, who has different ideas about teaching than her colleagues. Thus, her headmistress at the school would like to find some reason to kick her out, but it's hard to find purchase among her students to find grounds to do so, since just being unorthodox isn't grounds as long as the students are learning. And her students, and particularly her own Brodie Set of six girls that she has decided to devote her prime to, hold her in high esteem, taking in all the lessons she cares to give, and of course much more from her own life, her lost love in WWI, and then her new romantic connections to two different teachers now in her prime. But in the end, one of them comes to betray her, and she is cast out. How and why this comes to pass, and the growth of the girls, that forms the bulk of the story.Saying that one of her set betrays her isn't really a spoiler, mind - we hear of this quite early, and find out the identity of the betrayer fairly early on as well, even if the betrayal itself only comes at the end. Spark writes her way through with a wide, knowing eye over the sweep of the years, so that we see the roots of the students' connections with her, starting off in junior school, and then on through the rest of their lives, just with making casual references to the future, and back again. This style actually does a great job of building along to the resolution while letting us see the different characters and how their personalities and lives were shaped, by themselves and by Miss Brodie. It allows for a lot of characterization, given the shortness of the book.As much as I had interest in the story, though, the writing and the characters really did sell it. The book really is quite funny, for Miss Brodie's teachings, all the Primes and the meanings of education and the nature of her classes, how she cuts through life. What the girls take away from it, what they actually do with the teaching and what they think about, is often presented humorously, as well. But there is a great feeling of psychological reality to it all, both for Miss Brodie and her love interests, and also for the different girls. The thematic structure, of connection and trying to find and protect your role, is really well done, and the characters we see a lot of definitely have complex minds. They're real people, and I imagine this is a book that would stand up quite well to re-reading. There're lots of good metaphor and psychology stuff to dig into.Anyway, for its size - really, you can probably knock this off in an easy few hours - there's a lot of humor and amusement to get out of this, and a lot of meat, as well. The story's got a real spark, and I really enjoyed it. Definitely this is one that's worth a quick try, to enjoy and to admire.
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