Saturday, June 10, 2017

Noteworthy, by Riley Redgate

This is another random choice from the New shelves at my library. The tagline, "A cappella just got a makeover" drew my eye, and the premise hooked me (but you have to know that I've sung in choirs all my life and I love a cappella music, so I couldn't really help it): girl with a low voice pretends to be a guy so she can get into the exclusive all-guy a cappella group on campus.

Noteworthy could have been a cute cross-dressing caper and I would have liked it, but it turned out to be so, so much more.

For starters, the writing is fantastic. Redgate crafts her sentences with tight finesse (rather like a good choir arrangement). Here's a random example:

I snuck the word out into the air. "Yeah." It hung there for a moment, hesitant, before settling. Then smiles started creasing faces, heads started bobbing, and the inimitable relief of crossing some sort of finish line rushed into me, cold and overwhelming.
I may be using a lot of music analogies to describe this book, because Redgate is musician herself and it shows. She interweaves themes like she's writing a symphony. Friendship, identity, belonging, truth—plus some countermelodies about race, sexuality, privilege, status, family dynamics—if you look at all the things she manages to cover you might wonder if it's a mess, but everything ties together harmoniously.

Also, all the songs in the book are Redgate's songs. As in, she wrote them. And sings them. Can I just spend a moment here to be envious of the girl with all the gifts?

Our narrator, Jordan/Julian, is a wonderful head to be in: dryly self-depreciating, witty, brave, open and thoughtful.
Find a dog whistle and blow it, try to sing that note, and the resulting gurgling shriek will probably sound like my attempt to sing a high F-sharp.
I loved all the Sharpshooters, each with their own sense of humour, their own passions and hangups and fears. Redgate describes them all so well, physically and personality-wise, that I would instantly recognize them if I saw them in a cafe. It was a pleasure to spend time with them. The Crow's Nest is a vividly realized hang-out space that made me wish I'd gone to school at an uppity New England college that might have an old tower room like that. (And I've never, ever before wished I'd gone to an uppity New England college!)

The book Noteworthy most reminds me of, despite being not the least bit fantastical, is Stiefvater's Raven Boys. Redgate is just as good at characters, and at showing the bonds of a friendship so real it feels like another character. The members of the Sharpshooters coalesce into a family full of jokes and tension, secrets and loyalty. Jordan/Julian is lonely for various reasons—I love all the ways that she is an outsider, because every reader will find at least one to relate to—and she values her connection with them so much it's painful. She risks so much, because it's so worth it.

When I was looking through for quotations to use, I got sucked right back into the story and probably would have reread the whole thing if I'd had time. I love writing like that, so comfortable and assured that I can feel at home in it.

Must do a music analogy for this one, of course. It's not an a cappella choir, but Vienna Teng's "Level Up" is both upbeat and heartfelt enough to capture the feel of the novel. (I love the video: the dancing is beautiful.)



And if you want a choral version of it, I love this choir. The expressions on the kids' faces make me so happy.



I also adore this song, (also Vienna Teng), and hey, it's a cappella:



And now I'm going to drop everything else I was doing and watch all the rest of the videos from Indiek├Âr. This choir is awesome!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman

The Invisible Library was utterly delightful, with huge servings of awesome-sauce on the side. It gave me the happies on almost every page. I mean, there's a Library, so, yeah. And dragons. You'd think that would be enough (that would be enough for me). But, no, there's more! There's a super-smart detective who could convincingly be played by Benedict Cumberbatch. And airships. And remotely-controlled alligators, because, every plot can be improved by the addition of remote-control alligators.

(And Cogman gets the tone pitch perfect: just self-aware enough to take itself seriously without being ridiculous.)

Irene is a fabulous character, right up there with Prunella (from Sorcerer to the Crown. This book is right up there with Sorcerer to the Crown. Possibly even surpasses it. Wouldn't want my life to depend on picking one over the other.) She's competent, firm, thinks on her feet, rises to the occasion, but she's also still a junior Librarian who doesn't have all the information or experience she needs. She has moments of panic, doubt and sheer frustration and it's lovely to watch her deal with them—actually, it's lovely to listen to her narrate how she deals with them.

It gets better. There are, not one, but two really hot guys who spend the whole book being impressed by Irene, talking to her as equals and respecting her opinions and decisions. I could eat this stuff with a spoon; it's better than ice cream. There is a wonderfully complex rivalry between Irene and another woman Librarian. There's a fascinating alternate London, plausibly steampunk and infested with chaos (in the form of Fae, vampires and werewolves, among other things). And there's the Library, with its strange rules, twisted politics and mysterious purpose.

It's all fun as heck, and I can't wait to dive into the next book!

This might not technically be YA, since the characters are over twenty, but it would work just as well for YA or adult.

I'm feeling another music analogy this time: "Starlight" by Muse.