Saturday, January 31, 2009

Admitting Comeuppance

I was going to blog the other day about a book I had just started that was promising to be pretty mediocre. I wasn't going to specify the book, because 1) I now fear the self-googling of authors, and 2) though I don't know her, I went to school with the author, making it even more desirable that I not be found out.

The first four chapters were, in my opinion, pretty mediocre. The story begins in medias res, as is only proper--the main character and some of her friends are rescuing someone from the dungeon of a king. There are a lot of names introduced (the friends who are with her, the friends who are waiting elsewhere, the various royalty involved), which is a muddle, but one trusts the author to sort out a muddle of introductions in the first chapter, so fine.

This is followed by three or four chapters of "backstory." This was painful--it reminded me of that chapter at the beginning of all the Babysitters Club books where we learn that Stacey has diabetes and dresses really cool and Dawn is from California and an individual and Kristy's new stepfather is a millionaire. Ex Po Si Shun. Some potentially really good storytelling, actually--I suspect that the book was much longer and she was forced to boil all that down and tell-not-show the background. Oh, this girl has been a thug and then started a secret organization for righting cosmic wrongs. Check--now back to our story.

So I wasn't very hopeful. By the end of the book, though, I couldn't put it down (thank God the baby's been napping well), except when something so nerve-wracking was happening that I couldn't bear to watch. The characterizations that started out so heavy-handed ended up with some really nice character development. A number of fantasy cliches were avoided (some weren't, but if you read fantasy you really can't mind a few cliches). I really liked this book.

Graceling is the title. Thumbs up.

Monday, January 26, 2009


City of Thieves is by the author of 25th Hour which was an excellent movie with Ed Norton. Can't remember the author right now, but I'm enjoying the book very much. I belong to a message board with an online book club and this is the February book. I miss my book club--kind of. I don't miss reading all those books that I was only minorly interested in, especially now that so much of my reading time is stolen.

Also making my way through the short stories about English history, which is a good way to get the background without getting too bogged down, which is something I often find in historical nonfiction.

I'm terribly afraid that tomorrow I'm going to be checking out the latest Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery by Colin Cotterill. Also, possibly, the book Home by Marilyn Robinson, who wrote Gilead and Housekeeping, which are both very good.

Still on deck from the library: The Buffalo Soldier, Bloody Jack, Graceling, The Chrysalids, Adam's Navel, and The Tower in Stony Wood. The Hunger Games is in transit. There are two books called Bedside Manners about doctor-patient relations--I don't remember which one I wanted to read, and so I might have to read both.


Thursday, January 22, 2009


Oh, God. Just because I was having lunch with Jo didn't mean I needed to go to the library across the street from her office. It certainly didn't mean I needed to get two more books than I had half-planned, including one I've never even heard of. Never mind the fact that I have nine books out already, about three local (owned or borrowed) books that I'm very eager to read, and precious little time to meet these personal demands.

I can't stop, though. I drive by a library and I have to go in. Adam has been to three separate libraries in the past two weeks. (He sleeps like a champ in the Baby Bjorn.)

And on this note, I'd like to shout out to Molly Collins, a truly awesome YA librarian whose job is in jeopardy due to budget cuts at a local library. She runs a really wonderful YA room (it's always packed with kids), and it would suck for her AND for the town if she got laid off. Good luck, Molly!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

How Long Has It Been?

Jeez, have I really not posted in 10 days? It's true what they say about kids making time fly.

Anyway, you can tell I'm obsessive because I'm upset that I've only read four books so far this month. I'm now reading a really interesting nonfiction book called The Forger's Spell, which is about an art forger who created a bunch of fake Vermeers and pulled a fast one on the Nazis. It's really interesting--the things I'm learning about Holland, Nazis, forgery, and the art world in general are just amazing, and the book is a lot of fun to read. And there was a cameo by none other than Leo Baekland! (Inventor of Bakelite, the plastic that changed the world.)

I also finished David Rakoff's Don't Get Too Comfortable, which was a book of very amusing essays, made even better by his incredibly dry, delicate reading. I highly recommend the audiobook. It was abridged and (did I mention my obsession with my statistics?) so I had to check out the book itself from the library to read the four essays that were omitted. I really am a nut, huh?

I also just got a book from the library, Graceling, which sounded interesting and has been on my list for a while. Come to find out it was written by someone I went to college with, Krisitin Cashore. No one I knew, but now I'm feeling pretty unaccomplished.

Deep sigh. This blog reveals my innate weirdness. Ah, well, what can you do?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Starting Again

Plain Secrets, the Amish book, was very good. It was an excellent use of a personal account to tell a broader story about a society. It's a little strange that he opens with a preface about how everyone who talks about the Amish gets it wrong and has their own agenda--either about oppressive religious societies or about the wholesome goodness of leaving behind our consumer culture. But I have to say, his story isn't that different. He sees the good points and the bad points, and you could say that his occasional waxing philosophical about being in touch with the earth is not so much idealizing as...well, I can't think of a better term. He does acknowledge the restriction of Amish life, but not in any kind of real critique.

I also finished Ever, another by Gail Carson Levine. It's a pretty good YA book, and I enjoyed it very much--a sweet romance about two young people who need to find themselves. But the most interesting part, I thought, was a really interesting angle on religious critique that it takes. It's a story told from two points of view; one is that of a girl who lives in a monotheistic culture, who's been promised as a sacrifice to their somewhat overbearing God who is everywhere and nowhere. The other protagonist is actually a god from another country, where the gods are more of the Greek and Roman variety--they have powers, but limited (he can see and hear from far off, and as god of the winds has control of them and can fly. That's about it.) They go among their worshipers occasionally, and are much more humanistic.

He's pretty sure her God doesn't exist, and, being in love with her from afar, is angry that she's going to be sacrificed and wants to do something about it. But he can't be absolutely sure that her invisible God doesn't exist, so his options for action are limited. The agnosticism of a god is a whole new take on theological debate; it was interesting.

And now I'm not in the middle of anything. I've just started a religious memoir and the English history book I have, but neither of them seems quite light enough to match my current attention span. I have Hogfather, but I can't plow through Terry Pratchett--it's like being caught in a funhouse. I have The Buffalo Soldier, by Chris Bohjalian, but that's going to be very sad and solemn.

So maybe I'll have to dive into my Personal Library Renaissance now. I have American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, and World Without End, which Brenda recommends (and lent me, and I still have), and Children of God by Mary Doria Russell. So many things to choose from, but any involves beginnings. I'm not great at beginnings.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

You Were Wondering, I'm Sure

So I returned The Explosionist. It just kept getting to be more and more about ghosts and less about alternate history, bombs, or girls' boarding schools. And while I'm not opposed to ghost stories, I don't like them enough to be pleased when they're the end product of a bait and switch game.

But I have to say I'm feeling gleeful, because I'm reading THREE interesting books right now, and they balance each other very well. I'm still working on Terry Pratchett's Hogfather, and that's nothing but fun. It can also be taken in small bites, because the plot tends to be so convoluted that you can easily follow the big points and really can't follow the small ones no matter what. It's all about the funny, anyway.

Then I'm reading Ever, which is another by Gail Carson Levine, whose Fairest I enjoyed recently. This one does not appear to be a retelling of any story I know (though it could be--Lord knows I didn't see it coming in her other books). This is pretty straight fantasy, YA and romance. It's sweet and fast and nice.

And finally, I just started Plain Secrets: An Outsider Among the Amish, by Joe Mackall. This is a nonfiction account of the author's friendship with an Amish family in his neighborhood (in rural Ohio, needless to say). They belong to a particularly insular order of the Amish, and he describes their lives very well. It's much more about the story of one family, rather than trying to make them "typically" Amish. It reminds me of the parts in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, where Barbara Kingsolver describes a family of farmers with whom her own family is close, only explaining near the end that they are Amish.

After these, I have a true story of someone who forged a bunch of Vermeers and almost got away with it, a memoir by an Episocopalian minister who leaves her post but not the church, a Chris Bohjalian that I still haven't read and am excited about, and a book that appears, at first glance, to tell short, engaging stories about great events in English history. You hear that, Kris? I'm going to know one Henry from another soon!