So I’m at a dinner party, or the pub, or on a date, taking part in my least favourite activity: small talk. The person I’m talking to hears me say that I’m an avid reader, and the next thing out of their mouth is, “Oh! What’s your favourite book?”
This is how I know that this person does not read avidly. Anyone who does knows what a brutal, terrible question this is. F-favourite? You mean today? Or this week? Wait, you mean ever? That’s not how books work!
My answer varies depending on how much I like that person and how much I’ll have to interact with them in the future. The fastest way for them to magically see a friend on the other side of the room is to wax lyrical about DFW’s “Infinite Jest,”* a 1,079 page postmodernist treaty on ennui, ment – aha, see? It works every time.
If I actually want to have a conversation, I’ll recommend a favourite author instead. But even there, I’m fickle. Or I was, until recently. I’d bounce between Neil Gaimain (sometimes too icky), Robin McKinley (love? yes. favourite? mm…), and whomever I adored that week. But wow. Wow with hyphens between each letter w-o-w. I still don’t have a favourite book, but Rosamund Hodge just blew everyone out of the water for favourite author.
I am a demographic of one, blindly devoted to gritty fairy tale reboots with feminist leanings and character growth and happy endings that are sometimes more bitter than sweet. These books were written for exactly me.
And when I say “reboot” I don’t mean “thin retelling with different names.” I mean beautifully fleshed-out worlds full of magic and politics. You might be familiar with their stories, but if you took away Beauty and the Beast (“Cruel Beauty”) or Cinderella (“Gilded Ashes”) or Red Riding Hood (“Crimson Bound”) you’d still have well crafted stories about the lives of compelling and complex young women.
I want to have something bad to say about these books. (Maybe it’s that I want more queer content? But then, I always do.) I’d have to go back and read with the intent to find flaws, though, which is just silly. I’ve seen the worst this genre has to offer and Rosamund Hodge has brought water to a desert of brooding male leads and plucky ingenues. I’m just going to sit in my oasis and splash about – and I encourage you all to join me.
Cruel Beauty (AUDIBLE.COM) – Four sparkly wands out of five (I have to dock one because of the potential for Audiobook Bias; a good reader can make even a terrible story compelling.)
Gilded Ashes – Four sparkly wands out of five (I wanted this to be more fleshed out, especially the endings!)
Crimson Bound – Five sparkly wands out of five.
* Use with caution: If you’re at an English Department wine and cheese mixer, you might actually catch someone’s interest.