La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1)

Published: 19 October 2017 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
David Fickling Books
Pages: 560
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead and his dæmon, Asta, live with his parents at the Trout Inn near Oxford. Across the River Thames (which Malcolm navigates often using his beloved canoe, a boat by the name of La Belle Sauvage) is the Godstow Priory where the nuns live. Malcolm learns they have a guest with them; a baby by the name of Lyra Belacqua . . .

For over ten years I have been waiting [im]patiently for this book to finally be published. From 2005 when Pullman first really mentioned he was working on it I have waited. I’ve check update after update, any little mention from 2005, 2007, 2012 when Pullman said he was taking over a year off everything just to work on it. When the “late 2016” possible publication was announced I was excited but also doubtful, when that got pushed back to 2017 I was heartbroken. When that 19 Oct date was announced in February this year I may have lost my little mind. Then I had to wait, but it finally happened. I finally got it, I finally read it, and I have to say, my word was it worth the long wait.

The Book of Dust is everything I possibly imagined it to be and more. It is a beautiful and magnificent book that draws you right back into Pullman’s world, so much like ours but still completely different. It’s familiar, but not too familiar because it takes place away from the Oxford we know but still feels like slipping into a well-loved pair of shoes. I fell in love again almost instantly and the more I read the more drawn in I became. Every turn of the page I was almost in tears of happiness and I loved this new side of this world we got to explore. (As I said, I have a slight obsession with this series and I have been waiting a long time for this book, so no judgement please).

Pullman’s new characters are as fully formed and unique as his existing ones, and those we’ve met before (technically) are also introduced as if we’re meeting them for the first time, such is the benefits of having a new point of view to focus on. Malcolm Polstead is a great voice to tell this story; he is young, can come off as a little simple or naive, but shows strength and determination when needed. His loyalty and friendship for others, and his love and protection over Lyra is his driving force. His sense of what is right and what’s wrong is clear, and he has wonderful guidance around him to direct his curious mind.

I loved Malcolm. I loved his love of Lyra, and I love his childlike wonder and innocence. Having only really seen Lyra’s interactions with Pan as the example of child/dæmon relationship, it was great seeing Malcolm and Asta’s connection. Pullman also includes subtle and brief bits of information about the daemons through the story, and uses childlike curiosity to cover any questions, much as he did in His Dark Materials.

What I found interesting was that Lyra’s role is so small, she is just a baby after all, and yet she is the entire point of the book as well. One thing I adored, and actually had never thought about before was babies and baby daemons. There’s plenty of children’s daemons in the trilogy, but babies not so much. Seeing baby Lyra and baby Pan interact was joyous, and every time they’re mentioned I found myself aging them forward to the wild girl and dæmon ten years on and thinking of all the great things they were going to achieve.

Important things to note, there is some swearing in this book, one of the Big Ones I guess you could say is said by a few characters. Pullman has used them well so they work, but it was a surprise when they appeared. Also, there is a darker story here, it’s a bit more brutal at times, nothing too explicit, but just darker. Pullman has also said numerous times this is not a sequel or a prequel, he calls it an equal, a companion piece. I would agree in as much as it is separate from the trilogy, and even separate in part from the follow up books he did. But my opinion is you do have to read the original three first. Very much like Star Wars you need to have experienced all that there is in the originals before you go back to the Before. Knowing what it all means and to know the grandeur and power it holds is more impactful as you read this book. Secrets from the trilogy are openly discussed, mysteries are no longer mysterious as they play out before you. All of which is fantastic mind you, but knowing that they have been secrets means that reading the trilogy after this will not have the same effect at all in my opinion. Though I would be interested to speak to someone who does read this first.

When I finished reading I did find myself with a few tears. Not so much for what happens but for all of it: for the big, gorgeous new story, for Lyra and Pan and Malcolm and his beloved canoe. For the strength and love Malcolm has, and the beautiful innocence and unbridled sense of doing what is right. And of course, because who can read any book about this world and not end up in beautiful tears of happiness? When I finished that last page I wanted to hug the book close to my chest because it was perfect in all the ways that mattered. Pullman brought long time devoted fans the book they’ve been longing for for over ten years. He made us wait, but for what has come of that waiting I couldn’t ask for anything more. I can only imagine what is going to come in the next two volumes, and I’m sure Pullman will come up with something much better than I ever could imagine.

In a Sydney Morning Herald article Pullman said that the second book is written but not yet edited. With a hopeful release date of next year I have something to look forward to that’s much less vague than it has been. If you’re interested, it’s a great article, Pullman talks about his Australian connection to parts of La Belle Sauvage, and his experience with the whole writing experience.

You can purchase La Belle Sauvage via the following

QBD | Dymocks

Booktopia | Book Depository

Amazon | Publisher

Audible | Wordery

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Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares

Published: 9th January 2007 (print)/2008  (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Delacorte Press/Bolinda audiobooks
Pages: 384 pages/7 discs
Narrator: Angela Goethals
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

With unravelled embroidery and fraying hems, the Traveling Pants are back for one last, glorious summer.
Lena: Immerses herself in her painting and an intoxicating summer fling, fearing that the moment she forgets about Kostos will be the moment she sees him again.
Carmen: Falls under the spell of a sophisticated college friend for whom a theatrical role means everything and the heritage of the Pants means nothing.
Bridget: Joins a dig for an ancient city on the coast of Turkey and discovers that her archaeology professor is available in every way except one.
Tibby: Leaves behind someone she loves, wrongly believing he will stay where she has left him.
It’s a summer that will forever change the lives of Lena, Carmen, Bee, and Tibby, here and now, past and future, together and apart.

The first year of university for the girls and with it comes all sorts of drama and life lessons. Brashares did a good job bringing us into this world of separated friends who are trying to find their place in the big wide world and still struggling to hold onto their former lives. The distance of college and being forced to grow up and be independent challenges the girls and makes them assess who they are and what they want from life.

And, again, Pants that still fit and don’t smell and apparently still look wearable after having pond water, dirt, sweat, and who knows what else on them make the rounds. At least this time doesn’t seem to be focused as much on the Pants. They make their appearance and are shown to be worn a few times, but they mainly just sit nearby, so much so I had moments forgetting they were even in the story until they were mentioned. They have definitely become more of a symbol than requiring any real wear from them.

After seeing some improvement in Bee after the first two summers, her storyline is strange and annoying. I’ve figured out I’m just not going to like her character. I will accept her for who she is and just not like her that much. Why Brashares needs Bee to have these older guy relationships, 15 and 19, now 19 and 30. Can’t she stop falling for older guys who are now not only married but also her teacher? The fact she’s even on a dig in Turkey is a complete surprise, has she been harbouring this archaeological love for three books without us knowing? This plotline came from out of the blue as far as I know. Full credit to her though, she treats her family storyline with care and brings to light the struggle she has had over the years.

One thing Brashares doesn’t seem to have realised that book four means the girls are practically 20, and while they do 20 year old things, they still act like they’re children at times. Her language is telling us these adult things are happening, but the petulance and childishness still remain from her characters.

Having said that, some of the girls are better than others. Carmen, who also has picked up a theatre hobby from nowhere, was much less spoilt than before. I actually sympathised with her a lot in this, Brashares develops her like a proper person and makes us understand her emotional neglect and absence from her friends. Lena also is a bit more focused and adult, she is being the 19 year old she is meant to be, working out who she is and what she wants in her life.

I will admit, while I have been a fan of Tibby’s for the series, I think Brashares drew out her storyline for a lot more drama and length than needed. I liked the drama, but I disliked the overdramatic reactions. Though four books deep into this I really so think it’s the writing that keeps bugging me. I think Brashares just needed to tell the same story better and it wouldn’t feel as melodramatic and sickly sweet and charming sometimes. She writes really well sometimes and then other times it just doesn’t work.

Where Brashares shines is in the final chapters. The summation of this story and these girls’ journey is the best part. It is about friendship, about memories, about love and good times. I remembered why I enjoyed reading these stories in the beginning; it highlights the growth of the friendship over the years and gives you a sense of satisfaction as it ends. It remains the sweet and charming book it’s always been, but Brashares ends the fourth book with respect and a promise for the girls’ futures.

You can purchase Forever in Blue via the following

Dymocks | Book Depository

Booktopia | Fishpond

BookWorldAmazon Aust

Girls in Pants: Third Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares

Published: 13th June 2006Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Ember
Pages: 338 pages
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

It’s the summer before the sisterhood departs for college . . . their last real summer together before they head off to start their grown-up lives. It’s the time when Lena, Tibby, Bridget, and Carmen need their Pants the most.

Three books in and I’ve realised the words to describe this series is feel good. These books were written before the big YA take off, and are most of the time a feel good story with teen drama and selfishness, family life, angst, and the wholesomeness of doing bad things and then learning your lesson. This is a broad statement having read three out of the five, and knowing that there are deep moments and serious issues discussed and explored in them. This also could be said of a number of current YA books, but this feels very…wholesome and just nice.

Bee almost seems better after infuriating me in the first book, the rest have their own moments of frustration and annoyance so no one really escapes. No one seems to have grown up much; their world just seems to have different events around them. Carmen is still a little selfish and a brat, but maybe less so than before. There are certainly unbelievable parts but it was enjoyable. It was nice, it was wholesome. The usual eye rolls and annoying behaviours but I’ve come to expect that from these girls and Brashare’s story. Overdramatic Carmen seemed to be the main issue again this time round but all four girls seem to have some crisis they need to work through, an emotional journey of their own.

As for the Pants; from the second book I have been suspect of these magic jeans. Having been worn by four people for three months (granted not continuously), then left to fester for practically a year, they then are worn again but girls who still magically fit them and the cycle continues. Now, magic Pants aside, what state are these jeans in? Does the magic ward off the smell? Here we are in our third year, three years older and it’s still fine? Bee describes the Pants in one scene saying “their presence now lent a particular sweetness to the air even stronger than the wafting smell of honeysuckle.” I’m sure there’s a stronger scent than that hanging around them. But I am going widely off point.

I liked Lena’s development. She worked out what she wanted to do, she went against what her father wanted her to do and she seems at peace with what happened in the previous books. I feel like much of Lena’s story before was about Kostas, now it’s more about herself and what she is doing. Tibby also grew up a little, discovering what real friends are, making real films with substance. All of this is very shallow; Brashares’ doesn’t really make these books to in-depth. Whether that’s because she is splitting it between four points of view, or whether it just feels like these big emotions are both brushed over and minor things are drawn out it unbalances the whole thing. Even knowing about some big changes in the girls’ lives I felt like nothing much happens.

I will keep reading just to see where this goes. I’ve accepted the Brashares’ writing style and know what to expect but I just need to see now how much more she is going to try to put into these books (emotional angst and random events included) when I feel so much of this book wasn’t necessary.

You can purchase Girls in Pants via the following

Dymocks | Book Depository

Booktopia | Fishpond

BookWorld

The Second Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares

Published: December 2004 (print)/14th May 2010 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Delacorte Books/Bolinda audiobooks
Pages: 373 pages/1 disc
Narrator: Angela Goethals
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

With a bit of last summer’s sand in the pockets, the Traveling Pants and the Sisterhood that wears them embark on their 16th summer.
Bridget: Impulsively sets off for Alabama, wanting to both confront her demons about her family and avoid them all at once.
Lena: Spends a blissful week with Kostos, making the unexplainable silence that follows his visit even more painful.
Carmen: Is concerned that her mother is making a fool of herself over a man. When she discovers that her mother borrowed the Pants to wear on a date, she’s certain of it.
Tibby: Not about to spend another summer working at Wallman’s, she takes a film course only to find it’s what happens off-camera that teaches her the most.

The second summer, the second adventure of the girls and their magic pants. The jeans are out doing their thing and the girls are having adventures. This time around they aren’t as separated, Bridgette does go to Alabama, but the other three stay close by for most of the summer. Now that the Pants have been established, this book was more a continuation of their own journeys, not so much about keeping them together and close. They do all have their own problems in their lives so the Pants do act as a connection, and each girl still uses its magic for guidance.

I liked this one a little bit better than the first one. Bridgette still annoyed me at times, but she seems to have subdued and maybe growing up emotionally. She finds peace of sorts away from her suffocatingly absent family and goes on an emotional discovery which I think she needed.

Carmen is an absolute brat in this book. I can see Brashares was going for the only child/single mum whole world combo and I get it, but my goodness she was intolerable. When her world is disrupted and she is put out in the smallest way she overreacts. I feel like Carmen was meant to have learnt from the events in book one, but she hasn’t seemed to learnt anything. She mistreats people and sabotages things and for someone meant to be almost 17 it was a bit ridiculous.

The other girls had minor improvements. Tibby tries to continue her film career and seems to gain some understanding of herself and her family. Lena too has some hard lessons to face. I feel Brashares cheated with some of Lena’s story, it fell into predictability. Actually, a lot of the book felt predictable. That’s why I was surprised that Bee’s storyline was actually probably the better of the three.

It was a good story, it wasn’t amazing, it was just four little adventures that kind of overlapped at times. The format is there, the jeans, the letters, the drama. As I say, some ridiculous moments and silly things, but I’ve come to expect that from these books.

You can purchase The Second Summer of the Sisterhood via the following

Book Depository | Dymocks

Publisher | Wordery

Booktopia | Amazon Aust

The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants by Ann Brashares

Published: 11th September 2001 (print)/14th May 2010  (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Delacorte Press/Bolinda audiobooks
Pages: 294 pages/1 disc
Narrator: Angela Goethals
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Carmen got the jeans at a thrift shop. They didn’t look all that great: they were worn, dirty, and speckled with bleach. On the night before she and her friends part for the summer, Carmen decides to toss them. But Tibby says they’re great. She’d love to have them. Lena and Bridget also think they’re fabulous. Lena decides that they should all try them on. Whoever they fit best will get them. Nobody knows why, but the pants fit everyone perfectly. Even Carmen (who never thinks she looks good in anything) thinks she looks good in the pants. Over a few bags of cheese puffs, they decide to form a sisterhood and take the vow of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants . . . the next morning, they say good-bye. And then the journey of the pants — and the most memorable summer of their lives — begins. 

Possible spoilers, I have a few thoughts to get off my chest.

I finally get around to reading this book and discover I’m not a big fan. It took a long time to get used to the audiobook version; the narrator wasn’t the best, but I kept going. I tried very hard to focus on the story and try to judge whether my displeasure was based on the narration or the story, and I do think I didn’t like the story as much as I thought I would. I even thought I should switch to the book to see if it made a different but it wouldn’t’ve.

The general story was good. The idea was sound and it is laid out well plot wise, the quotes and breaking up the POVs with letters between the girls was good (poor audio narration didn’t help with breaking up each girl’s story but that’s a different issue). I don’t know, there’re just so many questions I had through this book. Ok, so we can’t wash the magic pants, but they get sweated in, pond water gets on them, and a bunch of stuff. I can imagine after three months they’re gonna need a wash, no matter how super close and wonderful these four are as friends, gross, smelly jeans is not pleasant. Not to mention creepy moments where the 15 (but almost 16 we keep being reminded) girl is trying to seduce and bed a 19 year old. Which, I dunno, maybe if you are 15 you think is cool cause he’s older, but as a non 15 year old it’s creepy.

The language was very…creative. There’s a strong use of metaphors and descriptions, so many analogies and flowery language that seemed unnatural. When something could be stated simply it had to have a weird analogy out of the blue that seemed convoluted and unnecessary. I’m not against using these in books, it works and that’s what they’re there for, but Brashares goes over the top in my opinion, they spring up out of nowhere and there’s far too many of them.

In terms of characters, I think the only character and storyline I actually liked was Tibby. She seemed to be the only one who grew up, who changed for the better. The other three had variations of change but it was so minor it didn’t count. I didn’t like Bridgette and wasn’t a fan of her storyline, and the other two had their moments where they were ok but mostly annoyed me. But, they are only 15 in the book which I had to remind myself, but still.

I may have to rewatch the movie because I can’t even remember if it’s anything like the book. Perhaps I’ll enjoy that more.

You can purchase The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants via the following

Book Depository | Dymocks

Fishpond | Wordery

Booktopia | Amazon Aust

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