Weekly Reads: Roundup #4 (The Sky is Everywhere, Reserved for the Cat)

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I have a quick roundup this time, since I read a perfectly reasonable two books over the course of the last week. However, one of them was The Sky is Everywhere, Jandy Nelson’s other book, which was not a reasonable decision. (Why did I read these two books explicitly about grief in the course of one week? Who does that? Someone start me a Kleenex fund.)

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

Premise: The protagonist’s older sister dies; she starts dating; their family is Northern-California quirky. (I can’t personally confirm that this is a thing, but the author leads me to believe that it is a thing.)

The Good: So reading Jandy Nelson’s current books back to back has given me a sense of her strengths. She certainly has a grasp of the different ways that people go through grief (and how to describe them), the catharsis of art, sibling relationships, evoking the particularities of a Northern California setting, and making superstition and family quirkiness fun and compelling. The spark of first falling in love is also vivid in both books. It was neat for me to spend some time thinking about the catharsis of art in terms of writing and music (and band geekery), since those are more my wheelhouse personally. But…

The Bad: Where I’ll Give You the Sun shows us the catharsis of making art through describing the art and the process of creating it, The Sky is Everywhere does more telling us about it. It does more telling in general: about the characters, about their feelings, about their secrets, about their motivations. What I’ll Give You the Sun gets at through imagery and indirect thought, The Sky is Everywhere explains in dialogue or in flat out exposition. Also, the conflict in The Sky is Everywhere is the love triangle (predictable), a missing mother (we don’t get much of a chance to puzzle out a story, we just get an explanation eventually), and some things the sister kept to herself (that we just get as reveal-drops). The conflicts in I’ll Give You the Sun are much more entrenched in the characters’ protection of and spite for one another, and progress more interconnectedly and less predictably, building throughout with clues and revelations. Which is another way to say that the later book has better foreshadowing and pacing, where in this book it was a bit clunky.

OverallI’ll Give You the Sun is the superior book. (Which is good news, because it means I might like something new by the author even more in future.) This book was okay, but I won’t keep it, and there’s no use recommending it when the author has written a better book with the same themes and setting.

Reserved for the Cat by Mercedes Lackey

Premise: A ballet dancer is guided by a talking cat to an opportunity to star in the shows of theatre-owning elemental mages.

The Good: The perspectives of the ballet dancer (Ninette) and the antagonist were engaging. In what I’ve read by this author, I appreciate how in medieval or pre-industrial fantasy settings, she makes women the heroes of their own stories even when they have distinct disadvantages and/or aren’t “strong female characters.” (They don’t need swords or even the most powerful magic to save themselves and others, and they can be as feminine as they like.) I liked how cocky and able the talking cat was, as well as the fact that there was a reasonable explanation for him. (In terms of this book’s world, anyway.)

The Bad: Okay, before I get into this, I have to admit that someone gave me this book years ago because they thought I’d like it, and I did not realize it was maybe the fifth book in a series. It kind of worked on its own, but I imagine with prior knowledge of the “Elemental Masters” it would be much more engaging. I was pretty bored by the perspectives of other characters (the Elemental Masters) who became focal points (it was a third-person limited that switched focus). I wasn’t too into them as characters, actually, and other than in one instance, their magic more or less bored me. It’s possible good descriptions of their spells or they themselves were stinted because that’s old hat from other books. This is also an author who just has to pair people off even if it’s their last concern in the plot, which gets a little tiresome for me (but is definitely not uncommon).

Overall: This book was also okay, but I also won’t keep it. To be honest, during a stretch of Nigel, I was just going to scrap reading it and start something else, which is probably why I didn’t finish many books this week. If you’re really keen on a fantasy with elemental magic and a talking cat, then maybe it’ll work for you.

Sheesh. When you don’t have a laundry list to complain about or to praise, well, there’s not as much to say, is there? I guess that’s how it goes with “okay” books. But I’ll see you again Thursday, probably much less concisely. Thanks for reading!

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