Dash and Lily's Book of Dares (3.5*)
by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn (Ember, 2011 )
There was a LOT of hype around this book when I bought it, and recently it's been mentioned around the blogosphere as a favourite Christmas reread, so I had very high hopes. I'm sorry to say that although it was a pleasant diversion in the busy run-up to Christmas, I found it quite disappointing in some ways. I LOVED the notebook-swapping at the beginning, as we got to know Dash and Lily via their written thoughts and traded dares, and I also thought the ending, back in the Strand Bookstore, was perfect and very sweet. It was the chunk in between I didn't like as much, when the notebook exchange had faltered and Real-Life Contact Had Been Made. It felt a little dull and a little contrived and I definitely drifted a bit at that point. It was a nice read, and Dash and Lily were pretty great characters (funny, book-loving, quirky oddballs? YES!), but it wasn't as festive as I was expecting and I won't be making it a Christmas tradition, I'm afraid!
- "I wondered if what I really wanted for Christmas was to find someone who'd be the piece of paper to my stapler... All I'd managed to date so far was a series of pencil sharpeners, with the exception of Sofia, who was more like a pleasant eraser." - Dash
- "Our love had been liking; our feelings had been ordinary, not Shakespearean. I still felt fondness for her - fondness, that pleasant, detached mix of admiration and sentiment, appreciation and nostalgia." - Dash
- "I love snow for the same reason I love Christmas: It brings people together while time stands still. Cozy couples lazily meandered the streets and children trudged sleds and dogs chased snowballs. No one seemed to be in a rush to experience anything other than the glory of the day, with each other, whenever and however it happened." - Lily
Favourite part: Dash's run-in with the department-store Santa and his power-mad elf. Definitely made me chuckle!
Least favourite part: The 'Oh good heavens, my friend's aunt just happens to be famous, didn't I mention it?' moment. There may have been eye rolling at that point.
Source: I bought it from Amazon prior to Christmas 2011, when I'd originally planned to read it!
Oranges are Not the Only Fruit (3.5*)
by Jeanette Winterson (Vintage, 2001)
Hmmm. I really LIKED this book, don't get me wrong - but I don't think it'll turn out to be as profoundly memorable as I'd hoped. It was really, REALLY hard to separate out 'fictional character' from 'real person', as the novel is obviously heavily autobiographical and contains several little details I'd already heard mentioned in the recent Imagine documentary that I enjoyed so much; I heard Winterson's voice narrating in my head all the way through. Oranges is basically a beautifully written, powerful and wryly humorous coming-of-age novel, set against a backdrop of family conflict and religious abuse. To me, a child's indoctrination into any extreme religious group constitutes a form of abuse, but in this case the protagonist's relationship with another girl brought it sharply to the fore. The scene in which she is locked in her living room to starve before being pawed and prayed over to 'exorcise her demons' is just horrendous! From around halfway through there are also little stories, magical and poignant, inserted into the novel, which parallel the protagonist's journey towards freedom and acceptance, and reflect the way Winterson has always described retreating into her imagination during times of sadness or hardship. It's not going to be a keeper for me, but I'm glad I finally read it and I'm REALLY looking forward to reading Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (the 'story behind the story') in 2013!
- "One night, by mistake, she had walked into Pastor Spratt's Glory Crusade. It was in a tent on some spare land, and every evening Pastor Spratt spoke of the fate of the damned, and performed healing miracles. He was very impressive. My mother said he looked like Errol Flynn, but holy. A lot of women found the Lord that week."
- "Of course that is not the whole story, but that is the way with stories; we make them what we will. It's a way of explaining the universe while leaving the universe unexplained, it's a way of keeping it all alive, not boxing it into time. Everyone who tells a story tells it differently, just to remind us that everybody sees it differently."
- "There are different kinds of treachery, but betrayal is betrayal wherever you find it."
Favourite part: The humour, particularly nearer the beginning. Winterson's natural wit stopped the subject matter from becoming overwhelming and gave the novel a refreshing dose of warmth.
Least favourite part: One or two of the little mystical stories didn't seem to have any relevance, which puzzled me a bit. They were still nice to read - they just felt a bit out of place!
Source: It's been on and off my TBR shelves for ages, but I think this particular copy arrived on my shelves via the shop...
Meet Me Under the Mistletoe (4*)
by Abby Clements (Quercus, 2012)
I'd originally bought this novel to read on the run-up to Christmas, but I didn't finish my previous book in time! So I read it over the New Year period instead, which suited me just fine. It's a lovely girlie festive read about two friends - country housewife Rachel and glamorous fashion designer Laurie - who end up house-swapping in the run-up to Christmas after Rachel's mother-in-law has to go for urgent medical treatment in London. Friendly Rachel, of course, blossoms in the city even as she struggles to keep her family together, while workaholic Laurie begins to reassess her priorities in her friend's little Yorkshire cottage. Sure, it's not the most spectacularly-written book I've ever read, but there's a dash of romance, plenty of quirky characters, some tear-jerking moments, an unexpected twist, and plenty of Christmas spirit, and I loved it!
- "Dunn's Café was the first place on the high street she'd found open. It was the kind of café she would never have dreamed of going into back in London - formica tables with tea stains on, a frying-heavy breakfast menu, and not a whiff of vintage furniture or any cupcakes. But it looked warm, she thought."
- "'So we're driving to the walk, are we?' she asked. Good, but bad - people only drove to walks when they were going on really, really long ones."
- "With the fire on, and Christmas tunes playing, baking was the perfect way to spend the time, she realised. It was strange - over the years she'd convinced herself she needed constant stimulation, parties, work, travel - that was what made her happy. But it wasn't true after all. Home alone, with peace and quiet, and time to do things she enjoyed, she felt calm and content."
Favourite part: All of the peripheral characters are so awesome! In London there's lovely Lily, hilarious Siobhan, hunky Jay and Bill the Bikeman; in Yorkshire there's bark-worse-than-her-bite Diana, sweet biddy Joyce and gangly teen Ben... Every single one of them was spot-on. Oh, and Jenny Richards's cover design is so pretty!
Least favourite part: A fair amount of back story is delivered via convenient remembering. Y'know, "As she poured her wine, she found herself remembering the time..." This memory then goes on for about three pages before the present conversation continues as if nothing's happened. Did the character stand there completely vacant for ten minutes? How frickin' huge IS this glass of wine anyway?
Source: I ordered this book via Amazon following a spate of rave reviews from some of my favourite bloggers!