"review" · concenter · fiction · mystery · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · young adult lit

{book} the friday society

friday society coverThe Friday Society by Adrienne Kress

Dial Books, 2012.

Hardcover, 437 pages. teen fiction. {owned}

An action-packed tale of gowns, guys, guns–and the heroines who use them all

Set in turn of the century London, The Friday Society follows the stories of three very intelligent and talented young women, all of whom are assistants to powerful men: Cora, lab assistant; Michiko, Japanese fight assistant; and Nellie, magician’s assistant. The three young women’s lives become inexorably intertwined after a chance meeting at a ball that ends with the discovery of a murdered mystery man.

It’s up to these three, in their own charming but bold way, to solve the murder–and the crimes they believe may be connected to it–without calling too much attention to themselves.

Set in the past but with a modern irreverent flare, this Steampunk whodunit introduces three unforgettable and very ladylike–well, relatively ladylike–heroines poised for more dangerous adventures.—publisher’s comments.

That “modern irreverent flare” is the thing that seems to be snagging people’s attention with this read, and I can’t say I was immune. Of the few things anachronism truly has a hard time forgiving: playing with the language is one, so your long sword is made of pvc pipe, but none shall be referred to as “hot.” It’s just too startling.

confession: I am not a Jane Austen fanatic—I like her well enough, can appreciate her and all that, and Emma is hilarious fun. I know that as a female English Major in Literature I am supposed to have read every volume at least three times and swoon at the mention of Mr. Darcy. My reading of Wuthering Heights could be viewed as disrespectful at best. This does not make me immune to a love of the historical period or even ignorant for that matter, but maybe what it does make me is sensitive to the idea that not everyone does take to it; that perhaps the time frame harbors a language and culture that could seem impenetrable to potential lovers of Steampunk—a subgenre which necessarily must reside then and there historically, at least until more envision it further along the timeline.

I was reading a blog post the other day where a mother was trying to find fantasy books that might appeal to a daughter that only likes ‘realist’ fiction—to broaden her genre horizons and share her own love for fantasy. Well, The Friday Society is “contemporary chick lit” in steampunk clothing. A bridgework. And Kress does not approach the genre without credential, so if you worry that she is incapable there is a lovely anthology of short stories (Corsets and Clockwork) in which Kress’ is one of the best. Kress is being deliberate here and I find this bold move fascinating.

AdrienneSteamPress2

{Adrienne Kress. Photo: Tanja Tiziana}

As much as the modern language should have turned me off of the read, I liked The Friday Society. It was light and fun, and I enjoy Kress’ style. I like the feminist inclusions. Cora Bell is remarkable to me because Kress has built in recognizable vulnerabilities with which to commiserate and creates an opportunity to show some self-determination, e.g. Andrew and the kissing and the effort or lack thereof to overcome his distraction. Some young female leads seem immune to that sort of foolishness and I liked this lead for having hormones and not necessitating deep emotional attachment—call me old fashioned that way.

in which I elaborate: We have a strong female protagonist who kisses a young man who is not an actual love interest. She does not end up with him. Turns out that the attraction is not the first sign that they were fated and the make-out sessions (a term used, 256) do not confirm ours suspicions of such. Cora is physically attracted but unsure that she even likes/respects Andrew. She kisses him back because she likes it, and pursues further kisses for the same reason. What does the Cora/Andrew spin tell us? One: Girls experience sexual feelings/response/pleasure, too—even to distracted and foolish extents. Two: just because she likes kissing and is attracted to a male she does not “love” does not make her a loose woman, but rather it may actually be possible if not normal to be sexually attracted to someone not “loved.” Three: just because she wants and enjoys does not render her incapable of applying her intelligence to the situation; which, after validation of the first two points, is awesome to see played out. You are neither a slut nor a freak, but you should be wise. [read 256-8.]

Accusations of being a “tease” are thrown around regarding Cora, but more often with the gorgeous and gregarious Nellie. Nellie who is, like the other two, in the throes of deciding who she is and whom she envisions herself becoming. What responsibility can and should she take for happening to be born physically beautiful?

confession: I flinch at the use of the word “squee.” And Lady Sparkle? I, like Cora, cringed, but Nellie is a dynamic and a personality to be missed. I like Nellie as much as Cora. She seemed ridiculous to me at times, but between her candor and the parrot Scheherazade I was won over. But not completely, not yet; which may have more to do with those moments where I just did not feel “girly” enough. Some women’s fiction alienates me in the same way.

Few of the characters are to be missed, really. Kress has a way with villains (Alex and the Ironic Gentleman is home to some of my favorite villains ever). The non-villainous Raheem and his possibilities have me curious, though I was experiencing a dreadful surfacing notion that I was in for a Charlie’s Angels twist. Fortunately Kress resists the urge to be normal and thus predictable (and I hope this continues). One point of resistance is Michiko. Michiko is not a token character, but one who could and should be an available historical figure to explore in parallel to the other two. She is one of three and Kress develops each of the three along their own paths (in alternating, 1st person, narrative sections), using “happenstance” to intertwine and affect each other until the most natural conclusion could be met.

“Go home, Michiko.” How she wanted to. She missed Japan—the countryside, the food. Understanding what the hell people were saying. (93)

Michiko understands very little English and comes from a very different culture. She carries the easiest explanation for physical bad-assery, but few authors would be this daring. Cora and Nellie click. Michiko takes some work.  It does take time for the three to work together, but Michiko is the more solitary line of the three. She is held most dramatically in in relationship to the others by this sense of fate, paths crossing in various and frequent inventions, all surrounding crimes being perpetrated in their vicinity.

“We’ve already been pursuing this, each of us, in our own way. And somehow we always manage to help each other out. It’s fate. It…it has to mean something. Everything is connected. Right?” She turned to Michiko, who nodded, but it wasn’t clear if she was agreeing with Cora or just humoring her. Nellie still didn’t look convinced. Cora sighed and sat down at the foot of the bed. “Haven’t you always wanted to just do something yourself?” she asked, her voice softer. “To make a real difference? Not for anyone else. Not an assignment or a task. Something that you made the decision to do?” (353)

The Friday Society is an excellent read for a young woman, especially perhaps the ones who take themselves too seriously literarily. Kress infuses a lot of personality and concentrates on building her characters. She has a great sense of humor. At times the crime-story seems frustratingly secondary–probably because it is. I found it a bit ridiculous at times and I acknowledge that that has to do with my aging, but I found the earnestness of it appealing. I’m looking forward to seeing what Kress does with this series.

recommendations: I mentioned young ladies, but young gentleman could do with reading these sort of heroines, too. for those looking for an accessible steampunk or science fiction or historical fiction (Kress is good with tech language as well as detailing costuming, place and normalities without breaking pace).

an author interview by InkyGirl regarding this book.

a Sci-Fi Experience 2013 qualifier

13sfexp300

"review" · Children's · Illustrator · Picture book · recommend

{book} the boy who wouldn’t go to bed

DAY 23

the boy who wouldn’t go to bed by Helen Cooper

Dial Books for Young Readers, 1997 (published in GB by Transworld, 1996).

This one didn’t stick with the much younger Natalya really long, but I had to keep it around just the same. It is pretty selfish of me to keep it, actually, because I know a couple of my nephews would enjoy it, and their parents could probably use it. …I guess I could still send it for Christmas (or buy them their own copy).

“A boy who does not want to go to bed has a series of imaginary encounters with a tiger, soldiers, the moon, and others, all of whom convince him to change his mind.”—publisher’s summary.

When told by his mother that it is bedtime, the boy yells, “NO!” and then mentions that it is still light out, because it is summer (his mother tells him). Summer bedtimes are especially difficult that way. When she reminds him a bit later (very nicely letting him play with his car a bit longer), the boy yells, “NO!” again and makes a run for it. He is in his car so with a few fun sound effects he is off and away where he has his encounters with a tiger, soldiers, a train, musicians, and the moon all of whom are putting themselves to bed. “Nighttime is for snoring, not roaring,” the tiger says to the boy who wants to stay up and play. The train replies to the boy’s request for a race with, “Nighttime is for resting, not racing.” Really, there is just no fun to be had! The soldiers are headed home to bed, the musicians play a lullaby that even puts the boy’s car to sleep. Suddenly the boy is alone in a sleeping world, at least he thinks he is alone until a figure comes “nearer and nearer.”

Bedtime is one subject I hate arguing over. While I get the firm parenting thing, I also do not mind creative alternatives that can keep one or both of us crying and/or sulking ourselves to sleep. We had story time as a part of the routine so what better solution is there than a book where they are arguing about a bedtime that follows with the child seeing the futility of staying up? Helen Cooper understands a child’s intelligence—which is very likely why Natalya would refuse to read this one at bedtime after a time or two. N didn’t have to yell “NO!” and the sweet mommy look less of a meanie and more of a wise woman by story’s end. Yeah, I love that.

the boy who wouldn’t is fun to read aloud, though I was bummed when N wanted to make the car noises instead of me. But I had to smile when she would trace “Y-A-W-N” with her finger on the last page and do an exaggerated yawn face and sound. Cooper also implements the word “trundled” which makes me happy every time. The world the boy runs away to in his car is a slumberous one and the rich hues are a bit slumberous as well. There is a lot to look at in the pretty illustrations: figures and objects familiar to bedtime rituals and the boys bedroom in particular. He really is wandering around the house in his car the whole time which was probably Natalya’s favorite realization. Everything about the illustrations and the way it reads says lets snuggle in and think seriously about sleep. We can play in the morning, the story creatures remind the boy, they are going to bed and so should he.

{images belong to Helen Cooper, above arrangement of pages found here.}

"review" · fiction · horror/scary · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · Tales · wondermous · young adult lit

{book} chime

Chime by Franny Billingsley

Dial Books, 2011.

Hardcover, 361 pages. Library borrowed.

They cannot hang an Old One without a trial, and we can’t have a confession without the story behind it. While Briony’s life had begun to disintegrate into madness much earlier, she’d become resigned to her new normal until the swamp cough and a certain young Mister Eldric Clayborne came to Swampsea. How’s a girl to keep her masks and secrets with both a Boggy Mun and a charming boy determined to interfere?

One of the first lessons of storytelling is minding your entrance and many heed this well enough. We all understand the import. Franny Billingsley does when she opens Chime with: “I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged.” The resignation, the casual disregard, the impropriety and all in the use of contractions/the informal in that line and it sets the tone. Of course the idea of a confession and an possible execution doesn’t hurt either. What on earth could this girl have done?

Sticking the ending can be just as important and I know it has rescued more than a few reading experiences. Yet, a solid landing doesn’t make it memorable. I do not think I read many poorly written works, but I find those endings that linger–that take your breath, that infatuate you with anything and everything for several minutes after, that captures and closes everything from the story not with a tidy bow but a punctuated kiss—I find those kinds of endings all too rarely. Isn’t that sad? Maybe that is why I tire of trilogies; book ones offer some semblance of one, but must be coy, and two can’t afford it for the sake of the book three. I rarely make it to book three. I need to make a list of “gorgeous endings.” Chime  would be on it. I would copy those lines for you, most remarkable being that final sentence, and it wouldn’t be too much of a spoiler, but it wouldn’t have the weight of the story behind it.

From the very beginning we understand that Briony believes many things of and about herself. It all seems very matter of fact and who are we, as readers, to argue. We are still becoming familiar with this magical place where she lives near a swamp in rural England where the Old Ones still roam. We aren’t sure what to believe. But not everything is as foreign as the creatures of lore, like the Chime Child, Dark Muses, Mucky Face, or the Dark Hand. There are things even more familiar than witches and vampires (vampires who are the only Old Ones to remain in the cities, “They’re remarkably tough, which is lucky for them, as they don’t embrace country living” 57). We recognize jealousy and guilt and impatience and love. We begin to notice something very very wrong with Briony. I was honestly ready to strangle Rose and her inability to tell any one of the secrets she was holding. Briony’s self-image is so distressing, I can’t tell you—I probably needn’t.

You could write your way into happiness. It might not be the happiness you’d experience if Eldric pushed Leannee from a cliff, but there’s a firefly glimmer in writing something that would please Rose. (218)

It would be easier to count the books where the protagonist is not a writer, but few use this so beautifully. Or maybe I am that easily charmed by madness. The story is a collection of paper straight from Rose’s hoard of scraps, found and fashioned, cut and paste into images sometimes lost to abstraction anticipating the moment when all the secrets can be revealed and certain persons are unmasked for who they truly are. I have to say, there were hints I didn’t catch and I had the pleasure to impressed by Chime’s revelatory endings. Billingsley captures a Briony who can’t quite capture everything into a singular enough image to provide anything revelatory to herself or anyone else (e.g. the reader). She and her memories, her confessions, they are a puzzle to work out over the course of the book. And to the reader’s good fortune, her journey toward self-realization is marked by an irreverent humor. The self-annihilation she faces at the beginning is extremely liberating; nor, as a witch, does she consider propriety part of her nature, so we find an unguarded young woman prone to thinking just about anything. An additional loveliness would be the identical twin Rose who is prone to saying  just about anything (“Rose screams on the note of B flat” (39)).

“If you were a game,” said Eldric,” you’d be a puzzle. If you were a piece of writing, you’d be a code.” (292)

Billingsley makes use of our ability to observe things without seeing them (tangible in quality or no). The narrative style demands Briony’s skew, but even still, a character resists her perception. She shifts, and while other characters do undergo change, they feel the most steadfast (or consistent). This isn’t new, of course, but I can admire the Billingsley’s craftsmanship in Chime.

I can also admire her use of words.

The Wind smacked at everything. It smacked the river into froth. It smacked the willow branches into whips. It smacked the villagers into streamers of hair and shawls and shirttails. The wind didn’t smack us up, though, not the Larkin family. We were buttoned and braided and buckled and still. (5)

I was a bit overwhelmed by Briony and Chime at times, at how beautiful the verbs and metaphors were, the descriptons. I found this with Karen Russell’s collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves—but they are short stories. I’ve concluded that I really have to adjust my reading diet.

There is a romance, the loverly Eldric being a major catalyst for change in Briony’s state. Chime takes its time developing a friendship there and the interactions sustain other anticipations, like will she hang? what is actually going on? The patient development and progression of characters and relationships is an aspect of the novel’s success, but it can come into conflict with the less patient reader who wonders why it is taking so long for Halloween to arrive! And oh! but when it does arrive! And yes, I know I can’t have my ending without a bit of patience.

_

recommendations: ages 12 & up; those who enjoy a good story on identity and/or romantic tales; lovers of lore and its creatures, fantasy and mystery and/or historical pieces; those who are looking to improve their own writing. Yes, I’ve seen the cover, but I think boys could like this story, too.

of note: >>when returning for quotes, I suddenly had Doctor Who’s Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) narrating the text in my head—you’re welcome. I’m sure they’ve done the audio-book, but if another opportunity arose?  >>the conversations on preserving the Old Ones and their stories pairs nicely with the preservation of ecosystems; makes me think of Hayao Miyazaki’s work; which makes me think Studio Ghibli could do a really lovely take on Chime except viewers would miss Billingsley’s use of slam, slap, weep, and bleed, etc.

——–

I read this for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril (VII). A witch and a mystery were involved so I figured it would be good—and it is. The ambience of the swamp and impending disaster (e.g. hanging) is a good seasonal treat to say nothing of the body gulping Quicks, the Dead Hand who’ll rip the unprotected body’s own hand off, the Unquiet walking amongst the living on Halloween, Dark Muses, and witches flying about without underpants.