Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “epistolary”

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #91:Dreaming of Amelia by Jaclyn Moriarty

This is the fourth (and as far, as I know, final) Ashbury/Brookfield novel. It can be read completely independently of the others, but as many of the characters in this book were introduced in previous books in the series, it may be more enjoyable if you’ve read at least Finding Cassie Crazy and/or Becoming Bindy Mackenzie, where several of the characters in this book were first introduced.

Like all the previous novels in this series, the book is entirely epistolary, telling the story of the graduating year of high school at the posh Ashbury high. Two new scholarship students have been accepted to the school, Riley and Amelia, and no one seems to know who they are or where they come from, only that they are a couple, and enigmatic and glamorous doesn’t begin to describe them.

Told through the exam essay accounts of Riley, the girls Emily and Lydia (both introduced in Finding Cassie Crazy), their friend Toby (introduced in Becoming Bindy Mackenzie), various meeting transcripts from the scholarship committee, and the occasional blog entry, we are given the story of how Riley and Amelia arrived at Ashbury, how they at first seemed completely unwilling to engage in anything, but slowly revealed themselves to be brilliant at swimming, various academic subjects, drama and music.

As always, Moriarty captures the voices of the various teenagers brilliantly, as well as those of the adults in the books. I’m truly sorry that this is the last of the books, as I’d grown so very fond of these characters, and would’ve loved to read more about them, and Riley and Amelia, who I only got to spend time with in this book.

Though the cover of the book is bright and pastel-coloured, don’t let it fool you. This is also a Gothic novel, complete with hidden rooms, dark and mysterious pasts, drama, jealousy, deception and manipulation, unhappy love affairs, self-serving plots, and of course, ghosts. The American title of this book is The Ghosts of Ashbury High, and the students writing exam papers all have to write with reference to the Gothic fiction they have read during the term.

As Emily begins her paper: “Lighting struck! There was a howling of wind, as if wolves roamed about, howlingly. Thunder crashed! Lightning struck again. 

 It was the first day of year 12. I had set out that morning with trepidation. I did not, in all honesty, see a crow, a raven, or any other black bird on the way to school that day. And yet! I was trepidatious.”

It therefore fits perfectly into the R.I.P VII challenge, and is probably my favourite of all the books I’ve read for the challenge so far. Highly recommended to everyone.

Cross posted on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR4 Reviews #66-69: Magic Lost, Trouble Found by Lisa Shearin, Becoming Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase

So I did a fair bit of reading over the summer, even though I actually spent 15 days while in Iowa not so much as thinking about opening a book (which may be the first time in my adult life I can remember that happening). I did fall dreadfully behind on my reviews, and I’m not even blogging everything I read anymore. You can therefore expect several bulk posts from me in the coming weeks.

Book 66: Magic Lost, Trouble Found by Lisa Shearin.  Beginning of a very enjoyable paranormal fantasy series. The covers are particularly awful, even by the standards of the genre. Please don’t let that put you off if you like light-hearted adventure fantasy. 4 stars.

Book 67: Becoming Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty. Extremely well-written young adult novel with a protagonist it’s difficult to like at first. More teenagers should discover these books, they’re an absolute delight to read, and a million times better than most YA fiction out there. 4 stars

Book 68: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I break my own rules for the first time in three years of reviewing for CBR. I’ve read this book four times now, but it’s one of my absolute favourites, and when Mrs. Julien and a bunch of others were reading it, I had to revisit it as well. 5 stars

Book 69: Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase. One of her weakest efforts, but still quite entertaining. Worth checking out if you like this sort of thing. 3 stars.

Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #22: The Mislaid Magician or Ten Years After by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

This was the third and apparently last book about cousins Cecelia and Kate, and while it was good, it was a bit of a letdown after the second book. I think I enjoyed the adventures more when they were together, and this book is back to being epistolary. Cecilia and James leave their numerous children with Kate and Thomas while they go off on a mission from the Duke of Wellington. In this book, the husbands get letters/chapters too, and that definitely adds to the story. All four of them write back and forth as they stumble onto shady characters, magical mysteries, create new spells, and talk endlessly about the children, nannies, and servants.

All the elements of the previous two books are there, but they seem a little less-than somehow. The mystery (a missing wizard and some concern over a newfangled steam train) is fine, but doesn’t come together as gloriously as book two. The letters are great fun to read, but they don’t glow like book one. The characters are still grand, but now they seem weirdly class-conscious, as if having herds of children had made them more aware of their station and their money. All that said, if there was a book four, I would happily read it. The writing and the characters are still great fun, even if this book didn’t wrap itself around my brain like the others did.

A snippet from a letter to James from Thomas:
“I have every confidence in your skill at interrogation and in Daniel’s complacency. The man’s sublime interest in himself is only matched by his serene assumption that the rest of the world shares it. With luck, Daniel will never even notice he’s been questioned.”

The four heroes are smart, resourceful, loyal, and funny. Even a slightly less-than adventure is still a fun ride.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #57: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

In October 1943, a British plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Both the pilot and the passenger are women, and they are best friends. Queenie, code name Verity, a British spy, is captured by the Gestapo, and tortured for information. While she knows she should be strong and defiant, revealing nothing to her captors, she breaks, and hopes to prolong the time before her execution with a Sheherazade-style narrative about herself and Maddie, the pilot who’s killed in the crash. She writes her story on beautiful stationary, recipe cards, prescription pads and unused sheet music, hoping to keep the interest of the Gestapo officer in charge, earning herself a day or two longer with each “chapter” of her narrative.

The story of how Queenie (actually a Scottish noblewoman) came to befriend the granddaughter of a Jewish motorcycle salesman, and how Maddie became a successful pilot during the war, while Julia was recruited into espionage, is told interspersed with desperate ramblings about her time imprisoned in an occupied hotel, her feeble hopes of further survival, her self loathing about having cracked under torture, how she knows the other prisoners despise her for being a collaborator. Each new chapter gives further insight both into Maddie and Queenie became unlikely best friends and got involved in the British war effort in their different ways, and the horrible situation that Queenie finds herself in.

About halfway through the book, there is a surprising revelation, and if I wasn’t already completely engrossed in the story, this development ensured that I was even more reluctant to put the book down. The chapters in the latter half of the book are much shorter, and I kept reading with bated breath, both to find out the end to Queenie/Verity’s and Maddie’s story, and what would ultimately befall Queenie? Would she be rescued by the allies, and have to face their condemnation for her treachery? Would she, condemned as a nacht und nebel (shadow and fog) prisoner, be sent off to a concentration camp to have medical experiments performed upon her? Did Maddie actually die in the plane crash, as the Gestapo claimed?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a book about a young woman, imprisoned and tortured, during the Second World War is heart breaking and unlikely to end with puppies and kittens and sunshine and fun. I haven’t cried so much during the latter half of a book since I read The Fault in Our Stars earlier this year, although it has to be said, not all the tears were sad. The book is very cleverly written, with more than one surprise in the narrative, and the two protagonists and their friendship are wonderful. True heroines both, they defy the contemporary gender roles of women, and risk their lives to make a difference.

While the book is not based on actual events, the author confesses that the story is inspired by a number of incredibly brave women who fought for their countries during World War II. This book is an absolute treasure, although the subject matter is obviously not a frivolous one. Because it’s written for young adults, most of the references to torture and the true horrors of Queenie’s imprisonment are implied rather than graphically described, but it’s still quite a harrowing read, so readers who tend to invest heavily in the books they read (like I do), should probably be warned that it’s a bit of an emotional roller coaster. You should still read the book, though, because it’s awesome. Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year, possibly several years.

Crossposted on my blog and Goodreads.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #56: Finding Cassie Crazy by Jaclyn Moriarty

Cassie, Em and Lydia are best friends and go to Ashbury High. Because their English teacher is all about forging friendships across school boundaries and The Joy of the Envelope, he makes his class write letters to pupils at the nearby Brookfield high school. While and Lydia appear quite lucky with their pen pals, and strike up tentative friendships and even flirt through their letters. Em tries to help the boy she’s writing impress a girl he likes, and as their letters progress, she even offers to take him on practise dates. Lydia and her pen pal give each other secret missions and challenge each other to perform dangerous and even borderline illegal feats of daring.

Cassie, whose father died the year before, and who is still grieving, is less lucky with her pen pal. What starts out as abusive messages and threats that she refuses to respond to with anything but sunny cheer, take a turn for the dark and sinister when the boy she’s writing to seemingly warms to her, and suggests they meet. When Em and Lydia finally find out what Cassie has been hiding from them, they are furious, and soon the two schools are in all out war against each other.

Just as Feeling Sorry for CeliaFinding Cassie Crazy is an epistolary novel, made up chiefly from the letters between the Ashbury girls and the boys of Brookfield. However, the story also unfolds in diary entries, e-mail, notice board announcements at the two schools, reports and Lydia’s creative interpretations of the “lessons” given in the So You Want to be a Writer journal her father gave her for her birthday

Jaclyn Moriarty is brilliant at depicting teenagers, and the seemingly mundane realities of their lives. The previous book centred on only girls, whilst in this book, the Seb and Charlie (the two boys who write to Em and Lydia) are just as important, and as fully realized as the female characters. This book’s got a larger cast of characters, but you feel deeply for all of them, and the growing unease Moriarty develops through Cassie’s diary entries and correspondence makes it even more satisfying when her loyal friends finally discover the truth and utilise everything at their disposal to find out the true identity of the creep who hurt her, and in getting revenge.

While I didn’t adore this book as much as Feeling Sorry for Celia, possibly because this book didn’t quite so much remind me of my own teenage years and writing to a best friend, it was still a book that I had trouble putting down. I’m very glad I have the final two Ashbury/Brookfield novels lined up on my reading list.

Crossposted on my blog and Goodreads.

Malin’s #CBR4 Review #55: Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty

Elizabeth Clarry is a pupil at the posh Ashbury Academy, where her new English teacher has decided that the pupils need to be introduced to the fine art of letter writing. Each of the pupils are to write letters to a pupil at the neighbouring Brookfield school, in order to improve relations between the schools (Ashbury students think that the majority of Brookfielders are delinquents and drug-dealers, while Brookfield students think the Ashbury kids are spoiled, vacuous and snooty).

Elizabeth lives with her mother, who is absent a lot, but communicates with her through the medium of hilariously written all-caps notes that she leaves around the house. Elizabeth also seems to receive a large amount of snarky letters from her own subconscious, addressed from the Cold Hard Truth Association, or the Association of Teenagers (who feel that she is a dismal failure, both in her lack of rebelliousness and never having had a boyfriend and it would be easier for everyone if she just climbed into a fridge and died). Elizabeth’s parents are divorced, and her father used to live in Canada, but has now moved back to Australia temporarily, and keeps wanting to see her and spend time with her. When Elizabeth isn’t worrying about her distinct lack of coolness, her non-existent love life or her missing friend Celia, she tries to keep both parents happy, and she also enjoys long distance running.

Elizabeth’s best friend Celia is clearly a rather unusual person, and in her letters to Christina, Elizabeth talks about the many different antics Celia has got up to in the past. This time, she’s gone missing, though. Celia’s mother seems to think everyone around her is overreacting, and that it’s perfectly natural for a teenage girl to want to spread her wings and find herself. After a while, Elizabeth starts receiving post cards from Celia, who’s run away with a circus.

Christina comes from a big family, and confides in Elizabeth about her wish for some privacy on occasion, which is difficult when you share a room with your younger sister, and her boyfriend troubles. While Elizabeth has little experience in the romance department, she advises Christina as best she can, and the two strike up a close friendship through their correspondence, encouraging each other, comforting and helping each other, without ever meeting face to face.

As the book progresses, it becomes clear that all is not well with Celia on her circus adventure. Elizabeth, with the the help of a boy she’s been running with, goes to rescue Celia, but their friendship isn’t the same anymore, for a number of reasons, and Elizabeth really struggles to come to terms with this. When she and Christina finally meet, it’s under fairly dramatic circumstances, where several story line threads have come to a head.

This is a really difficult review to write, because when trying to describe the plot of the book, not that much seems to happen, but it’s an absolutely delightful novel, made more interesting because of the epistolary device. All the characters are incredibly well fleshed out, even the supporting characters like Elizabeth’s parents, or Christina’s boyfriend Derek, and the two main characters are both wonderful girls, who you’d be lucky to have as friends in real life. There are also several unexpected twists in the narrative (which while a bit dramatic, nonetheless seem plausible), the first being the reveal that Celia’s run off to join a circus.

I absolutely loved this book, probably not helped by the fact that I got to know my best friend Lydia through old timey correspondence (back in the days when we didn’t really have regular access to Internet and e-mails), and the entire book made me miss the joy of writing letters. I’m just not very good at writing about books I feel really strongly about (I never seem to get across exactly what’s so great about them), but take my word for it, this book is a complete delight, and I will try to get as many people as possible to read it.

Crossposted on my blog and Goodreads.

Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #18: Sorcery and Cecilia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

This was my favorite so far in the Cannonball Read. It was delightful, and it gives me a warm glow to know that there are two more books to enjoy.

Patricia C. Wrede (whose books I have loved since middle school) and Caroline Stevermer (new to me but will be exploring) played the Letter Game to create Cecilia and Kate, a pair of spunky and fearless cousins in the ‘regency romance’ era of a slightly alternate universe, where magic is real, but not often practiced by Young Ladies of Quality. Patricia and Caroline wrote the letters to each other in character as Cecy and Kate as a writing exercise (they describe it in the afterword), then discovered when they reached the end of the game that they’d written a book.

Kate has gone to London for her first Season, while Cecy is left behind in the countryside. Their letters start out fairly typically – who’s wearing what to which party, how overbearing their chaperoning aunts are, and oh, by the way, did you hear our own Sir Hilary got accepted to the Royal College of Wizards. Kate stumbles onto some magical weirdness in London, and Cecilia uses her budding magician tendencies to help in any way she can, sending protective charm bags or theories with nearly every post. Both girls meet infuriating but irresistible boys, worry about siblings falling under nefarious spells, find themselves entangled with evil wizards, and desperately wish they were not separated from each other.

The characters are wonderful, the writing is terrific, the magic is fun, and I may start annoying my friends and family by calling my car a curricle and my purse a reticule. This is one of those books that, upon finishing it, causes a happy sigh and good mood the rest of the day.

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