Oh, Sunshine, how I love you. Robin McKinley’s fantasy is a hugely satisfying read on two levels. Sunshine is a baker in a cafe that I devoutly wish was a real place, preferably right down the block. The book starts by laying the scene with cinnamon rolls and early morning work. The characters are wonderful and rich, and the talk of flour and butter and recipes and people is so absorbing that you forget you’ve just started reading a fantasy novel. And then vampire things happen, and that part is just as good.
The language is slipshod, and I didn’t care one bit. I just read and read and read with great happiness until there wasn’t any more book to read. Now I’m hoping for a sequel (I’m not sure if there’s one planned or not – it could go either way). I don’t want to give away any more plot than that: cinnamon rolls as big as your head, and vampires that are true to lore but not like any vampires I’ve ever read about before. It’s wonderful. Read it.
Three weeks before winter break started, I bought a stack of books in anticipation of being able to lie in a sunny spot on the floor and read all I wanted. The Good Fairies of New York was at the top of the stack. Partly because it’s a petite wee thing, like its subjects, but also because it seemed like such a beguiling idea. Two fairies with torn kilts and brilliantly dyed hair escape from Scotland and come to New York, hoping to start the world’s first radical Celtic punk band. What could be more charming?
I had planned to be swept off my feet, but although I enjoyed the book, it never really stole my heart. The characters, with the exception a wiry and lunatic homeless woman, all seemed two-dimensional to me. The plot got mired in a loop of repeated, frustrating action in the middle and didn’t launch out of it for about 30 pages. The two main characters are hilarious, but I never quite overcame my urge to send them for a time out. Neil Gaiman wrote a generous and lovely introduction to the book, and while he claims to be mystified about Martin Millar’s status as a slightly lesser author in the ranks of British fantasy novelists, I can see why that is. It didn’t help that I was simultaneously reading a perfect short story of Gaiman’s at the same time (“October in the Chair”), and so was reminded of his more masterful ability.
Still, it’s not a pleasing read. The final scenes are so speedy and tie up all the gags so brilliantly, that I wasn’t sorry. And I don’t think you will be, either.
Miranda lives in New York City in 1978. She has a best friend who’s pulling away from her, a sometimes job in a dubious sandwich shop, an extreme devotion to A Wrinkle in Time, and a mystery to solve.
When You Reach Me was the first book I read when vacation started last summer. I’d been hoarding it all spring like a nuggety little reward for surviving the year, and I stayed up late to finish it one night during the first week of break. When I was growing up, I also had an extreme devotion to A Wrinkle in Time (still do); this book is a pleasurable little love letter to that classic and a beautiful and complex piece of young adult science fiction in its own right. Miranda is genuine and likeable – full of faults and lessons and yearnings; each of the other characters is just as fully human and real, and their failings and strengths unspool into the fabric of a perfect plot. Enchanting and satisfying. Go read it. Now.