Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!
Since Suzanne’s lack of Library Chicken-ing of late is TOTALLY MY FAULT, I’m filling in for her for a few weeks. I am hoping that filling in for the BookNerd will inspire me a bit—I feel like my reading of late has been a bit lackluster, as my grumpy commentary below no doubt indicates. So here’s to stepping it up.
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye
Suzanne recommended these to me, and I totally get why: I love Jane Eyre and subversive retellings of Victorian classics! I love Sherlock Holmes fan fiction, especially when it involves the Great Detective getting an assist from a plucky Victorian prostitute! Faye has a great eye for historical detail, and she picks exactly the stories I’m interested in reading. Objectively, both these books are quite good. I just … well, I didn’t like them. It’s hard to say why, exactly.
I really enjoyed the first half of Jane Steele, which reimagines Jane Eyre as a serial killer. You know how sometimes as you’re reading Jane Eyre, you wish Jane could just push John Reed off a cliff or stab Mr. Brockelhurst when they are particularly awful? Well, in Jane Steele, she does, and that part is awesome. When she finds her way back to Thornfield and its new master and her pupil, the book lost me, though — the snarky, serial killer version of Jane faded away, and the book started to become something different. Similarly, I loved the set-up in Dust and Shadow — Sherlock Holmes investigates Jack the Ripper! — and Lyndsay Fay has clearly done her homework with the Holmes canon. While the voice isn’t pitch-perfect, it’s darn close, and Fay gets so many of the little details just right. I’m trying to pinpoint where it went wrong for me, and I think it may just be that by choosing two such well-known and much-studied topics: Holmes and the Ripper. It felt like her plot ended up as trapped and constrained as those twisty Whitechapel alleys — her solution and even its secrecy are reasonably wrapped up, but it just didn't feel interesting or exciting. Which seems impossible when you’re mashing up the greatest detective and the greatest unsolved mystery of the Victorian era, but there you have it.
Suzanne has never steered me wrong, and I am glad to have read both of these — they didn’t work for me, but they’re both good books worth reading, and Suzanne loved them, so if you are intrigued, you should pick them up and read for yourself.
(LC score: +2)
The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden
I loved Godden’s In This House of Brede, so I was happy to grab this last week when it was cheap for the Kindle. It’s a dreamy, drifting story about a family’s summer holiday in France after World War I. Their botanist father is off collecting specimens and their mother is taken ill, so the five Grey children are left to fend for themselves at their old-fashioned hotel. A mysterious English gentleman takes a fancy to the family, especially to beautiful 16-year-old Joss, who is the catalyst for the events that follow. Narrated by second-sister Cecil—who feels very much like the second sister to Joss that summer — it’s a surprisingly lyrical coming of age story.
(LC score: +0, read it on my Kindle)
Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes
I was so ready to love this book. June’s parents suddenly decide that it’s time to pull “inappropriate reading material” off the library shelves, and avid reader June fights back by starting an underground library that she runs from her school locker. It’s a great idea, but it doesn’t make sense—especially the part where June’s parents suddenly care so much about her reading material that they start abridging her books at home (which she has already read multiple times without them worrying about it) to be more “appropriate” — and the resolution is, frankly, ridiculous. (Spoiler: June’s parents still do not see the value in reading banned books, but that’s okay?) I’m still itching to read the book I thought this was going to be — someone write it for me?
(LC score: +0, advance copy)
The Glass Town Game by Catherynne Valente
The idea for this book is genius: The young Bronte siblings get pulled into the imaginary world they created, peopled with historical heroes and fantastic characters. And Valente uses language in a way that nobody else does—I love reading her work because she’s always surprising me with her descriptions. I think I have read too much about the Brontes to let myself get totally swept away by this story, though — I’ve had the same problem with other Bronte stories, so I think it’s a me-thing rather than something about this particular book.
(LC score: +0, read it on my Kindle)
The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
I thought this thriller — about an agoraphobic woman with a dark past who thinks she sees a murder across the way — would be a little like Rear Window, but it was like The Girl on the Train. I am kind of embarrassed to admit this, but I couldn’t get into this and so I just skipped and read the end to know what happened. I think that’s a minus-1, right? I regret nothing.
(LC score: -1)
Library Chicken Score: 1