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JENNIFER HECATE MACBETH AND ME by Konigsburg, E
This seems to be a slightly abridged version of "Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth"? It's not stated that Elizabeth is new to town and I recall no mention of William McKinley.

It's a cute book and I recall it fondly from when I read it as a kid but reading it now I feel sorry for Cynthia, the girl who Elizabeth claims is so mean and so revels in all the tricks played on her: from this distance I see very little evidence of Cynthia's meanness, certainly not enough to justify what amounts closely to bullying from Jennifer and Elizabeth.

Nor is Jennifer, the hero to Elizabeth's worship, overly admirable, though one does sense that she's hiding an even more desperate loneliness than Elizabeth. So it's a relief that their unhealthy relationship of most of the book seems to give way to a more equal and real friendship at the end.

Lud-in-the-Mist by Mirrlees, Hope
This is the mode that Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell echoes. The entry is a little slow (so a glance some years back wasn't sufficient to pull me straight in), but that slowness covers a great depth and wit.

The parallelism of the delusions of Faerie and Law was wonderful, subtly made manifest in the way the Law refers to fairy fruit as silk, and then when Nat's house is searched for silken vanities, fairy fruit hidden by one of the Silent People is found instead.

And every word and moment deeply deeply creepy; and if I knew how she does that!

Utterly fantastic.

People-faces, The by Cherrington, Lisa
This is mostly Nikki's story, of how she's affected by her brother's mental illness and her journey in understanding it - caught between Māori and Pākehā models of understanding - and her journey alongside that of getting to know herself and her strengths. Her grandmother tells her that the dolphin Tepuhi is her guardian, but her grandmother is demonstrably not infallible and with the repeated point that Joshua is of the sea while Nikki is of the land, I think the book bears out that the real/more effective guardian for her is the pīwaiwaka.

Her brother's story is told in the gaps between, and completes the book.

Despite the focus on Nikki and Joshua, we get to see various other points of view, showing the further impact on the rest of their family and their motivations. Some of the point of view shifts are a bit clunky, for example when we get a single scene from the Pākehā doctor's point of view, or just a couple from Nikki's boyfriend.

But this is well-told; the author (of Ngāti Hine) is a clinical psychologist and has worked in Māori mental health services, and the emotions of the story ring very true to me.

Cereus Blooms at Night: A Novel by Mootoo, Shani
This was a fantastic read but at times a very hard one; serious trigger warnings for child abuse (verbal, physical, sexual).

It begins as a beautifully sweet story about racial and sexual and gender identity; about family separations made by force or by choice, and about forbidden liaisons both healthy and unhealthy. Set in the country of Lantanacamara, colonised by the Shivering Northern Wetlands -- more an open code than fantasy countries -- the story focuses on three generations of locals, straight and gay, cis and trans, more and less inculturated by Wetlandish education. The narrator begins by disclaiming any significant role in the story; instantly I want to know more about him, and (though he was right that this is more Mala's story) I was not disappointed.

The main story, switching among its several timelines, grows darker and winds tighter with perfect pacing. Revelations are neither too delayed nor too forced. And as it heads towards the catastrophe we've foreseen, through horror worse than we could have imagined at the start, so it brings us towards its equally inevitable -- and no less satisfying -- eucatastrophe.

Korea As Viewed by 12 Creators by Various
Some of the stories in this collection were fantastic; others were distinctly mediocre. By "others" I'm mostly referring to the French ones.

The problem is that creators who've been sent to a country on a brief visit in order to write about their impressions can only really tell one story: character arrives in Korea, is struck by its amazing exotic foreignness, eats bulgogi (bulgogi is the restaurant dish you feed foreigners who you don't know well enough to trust with anything other than bulgogi), gets drunk on soju and/or baekseju, and leaves. And sure enough, all of the French stories follow this basic format (admittedly in two stories you couldn't be certain they were eating bulgogi, and one brave story went for beondegi instead) and only two or three did anything remotely interesting with it.

Bouzard's "Operation Captain Zidane", I admit, was inspired. Sapin's "Beondegi" was mildly amusing and Igort's "Letters from Korea" at least attempted to go deeper than a tourist's impressions.

The Koreans' stories divided neatly into those looking at traditional life (Lee Doo-hoo's "Solgeo's Tree"; Park Heung-yong's "Cinderella"; Lee Hee-jae's "The Pine Tree") and those looking at modern social problems (Choi Kyu-sok's "The Fake Dove"; Byun Ki-hyn's "The Rabbit"; Chaemin's "The Rain That Goes Away Comes Back"). These were all really good but I can't help think that if, had the outsider's view not been given a full half of the book, there would have been room for even more variety among these.

D.A. by Willis, Connie
This is a slight book, in pages (I borrowed it from the library and read it on the bus on the way home) as well as content: the fun and easy read doesn't quite disguise the fact that the ending isn't just a betrayal of justice, but of the protagonist's character and principles and very nearly her entire free will.

Amnesty Anthology by Various
These are geared at young adults, probably early teens, and some (especially the first two) are a bit too trite and simplistic -- injustice easily recognised and easily solved -- for my taste. Others, though, looked a bit more deeply into the complexities of injustice (or its absurdities, as in Mussi's Scout's Honour). Rita Williams-Garcia's poem on the quest for water after Hurricane Katrina hit a bit close to home for me (fortunately, since the book was published, the UN has declared that safe and clean drinking water and sanitation is a human right; the right Williams-Garcia quotes as inspiration for the poem is 'merely' the right to move about freely in one's country). Eoin Colfer's Christopher was a strong one, avoiding some of the cliches of the Not-a-Sweatshop setting and ending on a hard, but not anvilicious, note. I also very much enjoyed Ibtisam Barakat's Uncle Meena and Jamila Gavin's Wherever I Lay Down My Head.

Capturing Annie by Wynn, Patricia
This is so bad it's hilarious, apart from all the times when the really unhealthy view of love intrudes. (Wanting to share someone's bed means you're in love with them, jealousy is proof of that, manipulating your love-interest into jealousy is a valid tactic, you can't possibly stop yourself from sleeping with your ward even when you know it's a really really bad idea, a woman's "potential" is measured entirely in her potential to be good in bed (p. 261), a wild woman has to be tamed to fit in with society, but oh no, now she's too ladylike, etc.) I know, I'm not the ideal reader for this sub-genre; I read it merely to mock it.

One thing I did like: our hero's Unsuitable Fiancée has no interest in him because rather than marry she wants to set up house with her lady companion. Our hero remains adorably clueless to this throughout the entire novel.

Black Amazon of Mars by Brackett, Leigh
Ah, the old pulps. :-) We have our Mighty Hero who binds himself by a promise to a dying friend, and then dares all and endures all in fulfillment of it (and to save his world as he knows it). Plus a pretty love interest to keep us occupied until the real love interest is revealed (and to be sad and wise about him near the end). The eponymous 'Amazon' is pretty cool but it's probably no real spoiler that it's Our Mighty Hero who wins the day.

Bliss & Other Stories by Mansfield, Katherine
The opening story, about Lottie and Kezia and family, was a good introduction for me because the only Mansfield I'd read previously was "The Doll's House" in high school. She writes wonderfully character-focused stories, whether these are ordinary or extraordinary characters, children or adults, lovely characters or characters with some petty nasty flaw: they're all intensely real.

"Bliss" itself was wonderful -- the emotion in it, and the constraint around it, and then the ending... And "The Little Governess" who I just want to hug.

Some I had trouble following -- it didn't help that the NZETC epub tended to repeat chunks of pages and sometimes paragraphed strangely, but there were some stories (especially "The Escape") where the focus moved from one character to another just when I wasn't expecting it to; and then I just couldn't grasp the nub of "The Wind Blows".

Death on the Nile by Christie, Agatha
Tidily plotted and an enjoyable read, if one is able to wince-and-move-on from the appallingly colonial characterisation of Egypt and its inhabitants...


Of the month, my favourites were Lud-in-the-Mist and Cereus Blooms At Night.
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