- Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married by Marian Keyes
- The Borrowers Afloat by Mary Norton
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
Monday, August 23, 2004
- Watermelon by Marian Keyes
MK's debut novel is quite different from her last one, which I loved. However, I'm a woman of varied tastes, so I can like chocolate AND vanilla, thank you very much. The first person narration is the most salient difference, and has the advantage of being more accessible and immediately empathetic. The presence of a snarky, but loving family keeps the protag from becoming self-pitying or insane, given her circumstances (her husband leaves her the day of their child's birth). All the same, I didn't exactly warm to Claire. Nothing bad, but nothing really charismatic either, although she is funny in a neurotic way that most women can relate to. The other characters are more clear, in terms of love-hate. Hate James. Love Adam. Love Claire's family. A plot doesn't really exist, but brings one woman's early-life crisis to life with humor and emotional truth. Also a precursor of Bridget Jones's inner monologue writing.
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
A curious book. A quick read, despite the strange logic that rules Christopher, an autistic teen, and the first person narration. Christopher is a wonderful character. He's so straightforward and clear, sweet and vulnerable. How many people are afraid of the color yellow? Okay, so he's not totally rational, but he's also very true to his established character. I mostly forgot that he was fifteen because, although he's precocious - a math prodigy, he is emotionally very innocent. Even though the book begins with a tragedy and continues to unearth more lies and secrets (all that icky realism), Christopher's slightly skewed view on life makes each page a pleasure to read. Really, he's a just an adorable kid who has some tough breaks, but comes out a winner, groaning and all.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
Monday, August 16, 2004
- A Scholar of Magics by Caroline Stevermer
It's always gratifying when a writer gets better with successive works. The earlier readings seem more worthwhile in retrospect and you can rely more on the author's quality in the future. This sequel is a decade coming, but well worth the effort. It's also dissimilar to the original, being more of a spin-off with a supporting character from the first book, rather than a strict continuation of the previous plot.
That being said, who says different is bad? While I enjoyed the prequel, the years or experience in the meantime have done CS some good. ASoM is delightful alternate reality fantasy adventure that is entirely unlike its predecessor in tone or feel. This book is cheerful, sparkling, and charming. CS makes better use of the historical time setting, the principles that govern this magical England, and the complexity of characterization. Perhaps this is due to the author herself or a better caffeinated editor that didn't sleep through the writing of this book. The story has excellent continuity, coherence, charisma, and control (apologies for the alliteration), which were somewhat lacking in the more ethereal and dramatic Book One.
The characters steal the show here. The sensitive American cowboy and the independent British professor with a flair for fashion are charming and original, not to mention hilarious. CS again displays her knack for creating strong secondary characters, without losing the narrative thread's credibility. Also, if these books are appealing, ASoM follows very well with the Victorian period alternate reality books that Patricia Wrede has written (two of them with CS, not coincidentally).
Saturday, August 14, 2004
- A College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer
A lovely bit of alternative reality period fantasy. This takes place in the very early 1900's where magic and imaginary countries exist within Europe. The feel of the novel has fleeting impressions of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials (incidentally, published after ACoM), Tolkien, J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series (also published after Stevermer), Lloyd Alexander (particularly the Westmark trilogy), and Robin McKinley, as well as others I can't recall. The story remains very original, but comes closest to those particular fantasy classics, which was an unforeseen boon as the sixth Harry Potter is nowhere in sight. I really only read this to get to the newly released sequel. So this was another unexpected, pleasant surprise.
I had some issues with the book, though. I never really got a firm grasp of the temporal setting, which would feel like something from the Middle Ages and then the Victorian Era. There are time-markers like trains and a rare car, but generally, I was confused. This was also a case of DiNoE - Desperately in Need of Editing. What happened to the editor? I'm thinking s/he went on vacation and this was harriedly skimmed by some underpaid recent college grad. This could have benefited from a tighter pace, a clearer plot, and an economy of words. Also odd but not really negative, the secondary characters were more vivid and more interesting than the driven, but slightly aloof protag, who was uncharismatically named Faris. Fortunately, the overall book charmed me enough to give this its four stars. I took a shine to the characters, their passion, their mission, but I don't expect everyone to. The ending had me reeling for a while, although that simply may be because I haven't read a fantasy in a long while. I found the adventure stimulating, authentic, and well worth the read.
- A Scholar of Magics by Caroline Stevermer
Thursday, August 12, 2004
- The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald
What a find! Some of my reading inspiration comes from a movie I may have seen that is based on a book. I heard about this while looking up something else, and it just goes to show you that life works in tiny but significant ways that are usually overlooked in the grand scheme of things. Actually, this happens pretty often with reading. One thing leads to another, another reader leads to more reading.
Betty MacDonald is my idol. Literarily, anyway. She's a wonderful writer, with a fantastic ear for storytelling. The chapters are episodic, but create one narrative thread, while the characterization brings the people around her to life. Her take on the Pacific Northwest is reminiscent of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She and her husband battle weather, fire, bone idle neighbors - the memorable Kettles, and wild animals. They live without indoor plumbing, electricity, or running water. All this just to raise some chickens, a truly thankless job from day one. I confess I have always thought farm life a little romantic, despite the hard labor. I shudder to think what might have been if I hadn't met this book. MacDonald bitches mightily and hilariously about the surreal life she walked into as a young bride. It's the rueful laugh of bitterness, mellowed by the years. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough, although the racist comments regarding Native Americans are unfortunate and difficult to read placidly. They sadly keep this from being a perfect piece of work.
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
- Please Don't Eat the Daisies by Jean Kerr
Kerr's observant essays on children, the theatre, writing, and life as an almost sane woman sparkle with humor and intelligence. Her writing is astute, but so smooth, you almost miss the satiric or rueful spin that completes her sentences. My only reason for not giving it a higher rating was because I didn't feel the essays flowed well. They're excellent singly, but reading them together didn't enhance Kerr's brilliance.
Reading her take on living in the modern age is refreshing and fascinating, particularly as this was written in the mid-1950's. JK didn't let motherhood and suburbia swallow her identity or personality. Her social life with her husband overlaps her professional life as a writer since they both worked in drama, but isn't overwhelmed by her role as a mother/citizen. Also, you get the distinct impression that she didn't have two personas - what you see is what you get. Her energy and perspective project a well-rounded image of a woman who manages to have it all. Not easily, but successfully all the same.
- A College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer
Sunday, August 08, 2004
- Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes
This is my first MK book and I find that my impressions of an author evolves quite a bit with each reading. It's like grading on a curve for the first-timers, so consider yourself forewarned. At any rate, I'm pleased because I think I've found the answer to one of my biblio-conundrums. Irish authors, much as I like them, have a beautifully sad style that can really bring a girl down. Bittersweet - I love it, but it haunts me for a while. That's why I've stopped reading Maeve Binchy. She always has an O. Henry twist in every story, delicious but painful. Marian Keyes combines the great storytelling with a satisfying ending (as in, it has a point and gets there - closure is a good thing!).
Although there are romantic elements, the essence of Sushi for Beginners boils down to three interconnected women: Ashling, Lisa, and Clodagh. Empathy is optional, but the people and action breathe. The book starts off a little awkwardly, but soon rights itself. The plot is believable and well-paced, the dialogue is witty, and the characters are distinctive and develop nicely. Call me blind, but I wasn't entirely sure how it was going to end or what characters were going to mix, so that element of semi-suspense kept me up reading late. It's a perfectly balance of lightness and purpose.
Saturday, August 07, 2004
- Fun With the Famous 5 by Enid Blyton
- The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride
- My Name Escapes Me: The Diary of a Retiring Actor by Alec Guinness
- Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
- The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien
- Second Person Rural by Noel Perrin
Wednesday, August 04, 2004
- Wicked by Gregory Maguire
Strange, really bizarre novel. Fascinating fantasy, provoking moral discussion, huge scope, and meticulous structure, but just a lot to take in. It was a truly original, literate, seductive read. Maybe I've wandered a bit from the literary milieu, but this is not fluffy entertainment. I guess you can take the face value of the plot and characters, but that would cheapen the experience of the book because there is more fathoms deep. This is the kind of book that begs to be read again as there is a lot to digest in one go. Allegory and some satire - unfortunately, my least favorite lit devices - veil issues such as racism, absolutism, religion, power, love, and the meaning of good and evil, naturally. Hello, Glinda the Good and the Wicked Witch of the West? While the writing easily drew me into the story, I didn't read it continuously and lost track of the huge web of connections. I forgot much of the detail in the previous sections that trigger or shadow later events. It's very readable - so much so that when I would flip back to refresh my memory, I'd find myself getting immersed in the earlier part. I need to read this again sometime when I have time to be serious about it. It's unsettling in a good way and I know I missed some key points this time. It's odd that this has been turned into a big Broadway musical. Their adaptation is nothing like the book. It's more like Wicked Lite, very condensed and simplistic with only superficial quirkiness. I still like the music, though, which is why I read this sooner rather than later.
Monday, August 02, 2004
- The Broke Diaries by Angela Nissel
This Penn grad puts a whole new spin on the starving-student model. Like living on $10 a week with no meal plans. While paying her way through college, Nissel began to document her broke ways in a proto-blog as a way to escape the reality of living in dire straits. She's unapologetic and brutally honest about the embarrassing, annoying, and maddening episodes of brokeness. Sound glum? Not the way Nissel writes. She is funny and sharp and takes no crap. Although I found her slang a bit harsh, it does capture the flavor of a native Philadelphian. There isn't much about her day-to-day student life, but focuses on the basic human needs of hunting (for change in sofa cushions) and gathering (with fellow broke friends in events with free food). Her adventures of ramen noodles, check cashing, and the Great Textbook Scam are hilarious and witty. Who says you don't learn anything in college?