While I was on hiatus from the blog I never stopped reading. I could never stop reading - no matter how stressful life is, I will always be reading. December was quite a stressful month, but even as life felt so overwhelming at times, I still found myself whisked away by several great stories. So today I want to share with you a couple noteworthy books I read during my absence. Two very different books, but both highly recommended.
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Recommended for: Anyone looking for a little extra sweetness and sincerity with their YA.
This book was such a surprise and such a delight. Yes, it's a YA contemporary with heart and maybe it dances a little close to the sappy 'sick-kids' clichés, but I didn't mind. What I loved about Everything, Everything was that, despite its grand title, it doesn't make any presumptions of profound tragedy. It's a story about a sick girl who learns just how much there is to miss in life - messy, risky, beautiful real life. Madeline is a 'bubble girl', allergic to the world and unable to leave the perfectly controlled environment of her house where she lives with her mother and her nurse/best friend Carla. Then, as you might have guessed, a cute boy moves in next door. You can probably imagine how the rest goes, but I also recommend you take the time to read the book to experience this perfectly charming love story. In the end, it's a story about a mother and daughter as much as it is about a boy and a girl. Madeline, who is mixed race (African American/Japanese) for anyone looking for a bit more diversity in their reading, is a witty and wise young girl, written with depth and sincerity, and you're just as likely to be enchanted by her character as by the love story. If you're wondering if this is a version of TFIOS-lite, you're not far off but Everything, Everything is so much more than clichéd sick-kid-lit. Nicola Yoon has captured the illusive spark of life's realness and weirdness - Madeline and Olly feel like real teenagers, their story has the heartbeat of real feelings. Everything, Everything is an utterly charming story about growing pains and learning to live, sappy but cute.
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Recommended for: Anyone who wished Downton Abbey had a lesbian love story.
We all know Downton Abbey needed a good lesbian love affair (Edith moving to London to break into the newspaper business, meets a modern big-city woman...it practically writes itself). And of course Sarah Waters was just the writer to fill this gap in literature. Gender, sexuality, class dynamics, historical setting, beautiful prose - that's Sarah Water's bread and butter. I read The Paying Guests over several dark winter nights on my parents' farm, engrossed in the story of Frances Wray in 1922 London, and even though I read it on Kindle so technically had no pages, I still couldn't stop turning them. This book is so many things at once - a richly detailed historical drama of a young woman struggling to adjust to her new place in the world after the devastation of WWI left England irrevocably changed, a slow-burning and tautly-woven tale of forbidden attraction, a vivid psychological exploration of a young woman stifled by the expectations and responsibilities placed upon her, and a few other things that should be discovered upon first reading. The 'paying guests' of the title are lodgers, a young married couple, Frances and her mother are forced to take into their grand family home to help pay for its upkeep. Parts of the book are almost dull, but the story's heartbeat - Frances Wray, her fervour and her desires - pulses throughout and keeps you turning the pages as slowly, very slowly, Sarah Waters pulls you into Frances' world. Before you know it you're fully engulfed in Frances' life, and so you experience the intensity of her every feeling as she grows closer to Lillian and as the drama unfolds in shockingly unexpected ways. It's a captivating book, beautifully written and masterfully wrought.