Jul 17, 2014

Reading Notes: Everything Leads To You, The Duchess War, West of the Moon

Reading Notes: Everything Leads To You, The Duchess War, West of the Moon

The following will be very brief because my writing-about-books muscles are pretty rusty. These novels were all lovely, though, and I thought I might as well share a few lines on why.

Everything Leads To You by Nina LaCour
Everything Leads To You by Nina LaCour: D’awww. Adorable romance between girls is adorable. This is a contemporary story set in LA, about high school senior Emi. She spends the summer after her graduation looking after her older brother’s flat, spending time with her best friend Charlotte, working on a movie, and trying to unveil a mystery that eventually leads her to a person: red-haired Ava, the long-lost granddaughter of a classic movie star.

First of all, I loved the details about filmmaking in this book. Emi is a set designer, and her passion for what she does (as well as for the movies in general) is at the heart of the novel. Seeing the world of cinema through her eyes allowed me to pay attention to little design details I never really noticed before, and to think about what they add to a movie’s emotional tone.

I loved Everything Leads To You because it satisfied my eternal craving for stories where girls get to be the subject of a type of desire and infatuation I usually only see in male protagonists. As I’ve discussed at length before, I’m very interested in both the very human process of idealising someone and having them open up previously unexplored possibilities in your life and in the dark underbelly of this kind of idealisation.

This story is all the more satisfying because it goes far beyond that initial infatuation. Ava begins as a mystery but quickly becomes a person, with all the complications that involves, and Emi realises “she was never something to be solved. All she is—all she’s ever been—is a person trying to live a life.”

Another great bit:
We love films because they make us feel something. They speak to our desires, which are never small. They allow us to escape and to dream and to gaze into eyes that are impossibly beautiful and huge. They feel us with longing.
But also.
They tell us to remember; they remind us of life. Remember, they say, how much it hurts to have your heart broken. Remember about death and suffering and the complexities of living. Remember what it is like to love someone. Remember how it is to be loved. Remember what you felt in this moment. Remember this. Remember this.
The writing is lovely too, as you might have gathered from the above. Definitely recommended.

The Duchess War by Courtney Milan
The Duchess War by Courtney Milan: Courtney Milan! She’s just the best. This is the first book in the Brothers Sinisters series, whose prequel novella I read and loved a few months ago, and it’s yet another thoughtful and very satisfying romance.

As Jenny once said, Milan is great at writing characters who are aware of their own privilege and willing to engage with what this really means. In The Duchess War, we have an adorable girl meets boy story; plus smart commentary on women’s limited choices and precarious position in Victorian society, on worker’s rights, and on class issues; plus a Duke with a social conscience.

Courtney Milan also continues to write the best sex scenes. The Duchess War has warmth, humour, silliness, trust, communication, and two partners willing to learn together so they can both have a good time. Also, these are sex scenes with female pleasure at their centre, which is always wonderful to see.

As I said, she’s just the best. I want some more.

West of the Moon by Margi Preus
West of the Moon by Margi Preus:
In the story of the girl and her prince, after the girl had gained entry into the castle, and the prince had finally overcome the sleeping potion that had been given him, and after the troll had tried and failed to wash the tallow out of his shirt and had flown into such a rage that she burst, the prince and the girl (now his bride) took as much gold as they could carry and moved far away from the castle that lay east of the sun and west of the moon. And that was the end of their story.
My story has not come to an end at all, but a sort of beginning. This is my story now, to make with it what I will.
This one was made irresistible to me by its pretty cover and a title that references my favourite fairy tale. Preus’ tale is not, however, a retelling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”, but rather a historical novel with some magical elements that references and plays with several Norwegian folk and fairy tales.

Things to love: sisters! Historical detail! Three-dimensional antagonists! A wonderful voice! A story about stories (my favourite)! And did I mention sisters looking out for each other and surviving and making it to the other side of some terrible stuff together? On a shallower note, this book, with cover art and illustrations by Lilli Carré, is a thing of absolutely beauty.

The only thing is that, as I explained recently, I have some seriously unrealistic expectations when it comes to retellings of, or stories that play with, “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”. One day I’ll find my dream novel; in the meantime, this is a perfectly fine one. For a proper review, I shall refer you to Bookshelves of Doom, where there’s a great one that persuaded me to buy this book.


  1. I'm really, truly coming to believe that you are going to get me through this ridiculous block I have when it comes to romance. Said block existing largely through my own ignorance for knowing where to begin.

  2. Yay good books!

    Love those quotes from the Nina LaCour book.

  3. Debi: Courtney Milan! Courtney Milan is where to start. Read her and love her and then come be a romance newbie with me.

    Amy: I think you'd like the book a lot. It has so much heart <3

  4. I've been looking for a YA love story with a girl couple to send to my niece, whose mother seems to have raised her with no consciousness that girls can fall in love with girls. Is this the one? She likes theater and movies, so it might be. The question is will her mother be able to tell that she "shouldn't" read it from the cover?

  5. I absolutely love it when characters in books are obsessed with a thing, and they are passionate about that thing and talk about that thing in a way that makes it seem interesting to me too even if I hadn't previously thought about it much. One of my absolute favorite things about people in real life is how you will suddenly stumble upon their particular pockets of nerdery and they'll suddenly light up and start telling you all about film set design or bird species or whatever their thing happens to be. And I love it in books too.

    Courtney Milan has a new book just out, as well! I haven't consistently loved the Brothers Sinister books (though I did really enjoy The Duchess War), but I'm still excited for the new one.

  6. Jeanne: She won't, and not from the blurb either (publishers' coyness when it comes to identifying lgb love stories unambiguously in plot summaries usually rubs me the wrong way, but I can see how it can be useful in cases like this).

    Jenny: Yeeeeeees! That's wonderful in both real and fictional people. I love it when someone's passion for something is contagious.

  7. Great! I've ordered it for her 14th birthday in September!

  8. That cover for Everything Leads to You is just so beautiful. I've been drawn to it and now that I know you loved the story I want to read it even more!


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