Becoming Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty — Reread Review

In Jaclyn Moriarty‘s Ashbury/Brookfield series, it’s quite a leap from Feeling Sorry for Celia to Finding Cassie Crazy in terms of the complexity of the plot and the depth of the characters. The jump from Finding Cassie Crazy to Becoming Bindy Mackenzie is bigger still. In the US, it was published as ‘The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie’, which gives you some idea of the dramatically higher stakes compared to the earlier books.

Unfortunately, it only partly works, at least for me as an adult reader. As far as I remember, when I read it closer to Bindy’s age, I really loved it, but at 34 the entire ‘murder’ plot feels unrealistic and also… uneccessary. There is more than enough going on in Becoming Bindy Mackenzie; the book doesn’t need a criminal gang of adults (who are, incidentally, almost as inept as the cast of teachers and parents).

I don’t know how I’m going to tell Dad. He will be so disappointed in me. I know it.
But he could not be as disappointed in me as I am in myself.

Becoming Bindy MacKenzie, Jaclyn Moriarty

What Jaclyn Moriarty does exceptionally well is Bindy’s character arc. Like Emma Woodhouse, Bindy starts the novel extremely unlikeable — in a peculiarly relatable way — but develops from there. Now that I no longer find these books as hysterical as I once did, the set-up section did feel a little long, but the look into Bindy’s history, and the way it explains why she is the way she is (without her first person narration ever being aware that’s what she’s doing) is really effective.

Emily Thompson may be many things, but, above all, she is loyal, determined and brave.
Imagine if she were my friend.

Becoming Bindy Mackenzie, Jaclyn Moriarty

As in the other two Jaclyn Moriarty books I’ve reviewed, all the other teenage characters are also well drawn, despite Bindy’s initial insistence on hating them all. Everyone (bar some of the adults) is a fundamentally good person, and that’s really nice. Reading about their developing friendships is the reason I sped through Becoming Bindy Mackenzie extremely fast, without even looking at the page numbers or realising when I was starting a new chapter.

Overall, I’d position Becoming Bindy Mackenzie as my second-favourite of the Ashbury/Brookfield series. There’s a lot to like, but the thriller plot doesn’t fully work for me.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee — New Review, Bookclub Edition

Cover: bookshop.org

One of the things I like about Fantasy Book Club is how many different types of fantasy book we read. I don’t think I’ve ever run across one where the main character was an artist before, and I probably wouldn’t have picked up Phoenix Extravagant just from the blurb if I didn’t have the extra incentive of a discussion to look forward to.

You don’t know? Jebi almost asked, then thought better of it, remembering the fact that they were a prisoner and some questions were better left locked behind their teeth.

Phoenix Extravagant, Yoon Ha Lee

Unfortunately, I didn’t feel Yoon Ha Lee completely delivered on the promise of Jebi as an artist. Painting was certainly an activity that they did on multiple occasions, and once or twice it was mentioned that they doodled even when they weren’t ‘on the clock’, but I never really felt that Jebi had any great passion for art, even though they went to some lengths to make it their profession. This was a symptom of a larger problem with Phoenix Extravagant in that there was too much telling and not enough showing. As a reader, I was told that Jebi loved art, or that they were sad or afraid or passionate, but I was never really made to feel it.

What Phoenix Extravagant did do well, however, was world building. Ironically, this isn’t something I’m usually as interested in as other book club members, but I really liked the detail Yoon Ha Lee worked into this novel. His take on dragons was particularly cool, fusing elements that I’ve previously encountered in The Bone Shard Daughter and Witchsign into something new and different. That said, the more celestial side of things didn’t gel with me to the same degree.

Getting drunk was difficult when one didn’t like alcohol. But if they kept at it long enough, inebriation would ensue.

Phoenix Extravagant, Yoon Ha Lee

Although it was only okay, I’m still glad that I read Phoenix Extravagant, especially because Arazi might be my favourite individual fantasy dragon in recent years!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Lighthouse by P D James — Reread Review

Cover: bookshop.org

A lighthouse book that’s also a crime novel makes a nice change from all the historical fiction! I first read The Lighthouse while I was living in Cardiff, around the time my fascination with lighthouses actually began. I’d read other novels by P D James, or listened to them as audiobooks, but not in the right order. I actually confused DCI Adam Dalgleish with DS John Rebus for years before rereading this and realising that they’re different characters created by different authors!

A small group of suspects, if each was intelligent and prudent enough to keep his or her counsel and resist the fateful impulse to volunteer more than was asked, could complicate any investigation and devil the prosecution.

The Lighthouse, P D James

Despite this confusion on my part, the characters are the strongest part of The Lighthouse. Reading about Kate Miskin and Adam Dalgleish and Emma Lavenham made me wish I’d read the earlier books in the series so that I could better understand their relationships and history. By contrast, but showing equal skill, some of the one-off characters were so unpleasant that I actually hoped they might end up being murder victims. That said, I must confess that I struggled to keep straight the difference between the doctor, the lawyer and the vicar for the first half of the book. They all sort of melded into one professional English man archetype.

Unfortunately, the actual solving of The Murder in the Lighthouse (as this might be titled had it been written by Agatha Christie) left something to be desired. The SARS outbreak was interesting, especially living in a world where I still put on a mask to go to the shops, but it did take our main detective character out of the action at the crucial moment. When he ended up putting the pieces together from his sick bed, it didn’t read as inspired but rather as simply convenient. I won’t say there weren’t enough clues for a reader to solve this, because I think there probably were, but as someone who reads crime novels for the pleasure of the detective solving the case, this one was underwhelming.

The lighthouse was the last to disappear but even when its shaft had blurred into a pale spectre, the waves were still a white curdle against the blackening cliffs.

The Lighthouse, P D James

Even aside from the lighthouse, the setting of Combe Island was really interesting, but it didn’t come across terribly consistently. That was probably deliberate, to convey how a murder changes the atmosphere of a place, but it did add to my sense that everything wasn’t quite adding up the way I would have liked.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Best Friend Next Door by Carolyn Mackler — New Review

Best Friend Next Door is one of those books I don’t remember acquiring. For me, this happens more with e-books than with physical editions. My e-reader (Wendy) hosts a variety of titles that I picked up at some point and which I have no clear memory of. Among those, several are by Carolyn Mackler. While I’ve enjoyed some things she’s written, the number of titles is a perplexing, which is why I decided I’d better start reading & reviewing them so that I can move on to other authors.

I’m not usually such an optimist, but I’m going to act like one until Emme’s ready to be one again.

Best Friend Next Door, Carolyn Mackler

The other Carolyn Mackler books that I’ve read have all been Young Adult titles. I was curious how she’d handle younger characters. I found Hannah and Emme and all their similarities to be a little grating, so was quite pleased when part of the conflict was over them coming to like different things. This wasn’t delved into in any great depth, but it still felt realistic and interesting.

Yesterday Hannah said that leaving Sophie’s smiley face on the wall was so me. And Lessa said to be myself. But here’s the thing: I honestly have no idea what or who I am anymore..

Best Friend Next Door, Carolyn Mackler

As a person with a history of being the friend who moves away, I felt for Sophie, especially as she seemed to completely disappear from the middle of the novel. Of course, as soon as I’d articulated that thought to myself, Carolyn Mackler brought her back and tied her neatly into the plot. She didn’t have as much of a personality as the main characters, but I was glad that she hadn’t been forgotten entirely.

Best Friend Next Door was pleasant, but it didn’t grab me. That may be partly to do with not being the target audience, and having no history of reading this book when I was, but I think it also has to do with not gravitating towards these types of characters or these types of stories. I’m not sure I would have felt any more strongly for this book as a child than I do now.

Rating: 2 out of 5.