March 31, 2011

march reading review...

A once-a-month review of the books I read. I'll share quotes when I remember to copy them down.

The rating is the same as Goodreads--5 stars means "it was amazing," 4 is "really liked it," 3 is "liked it," 2 is "it was okay," and 1 is "didn't like it."

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (3 stars)

A fun and whimsical children's book about a castle that moves and the young girl who is under an aging spell. Can she help save herself, the wizard Howl, and the whole world? Just because she's an eldest child (and therefore not going to amount to anything), Sophie faces a life of drudgery until she annoys the Witch of the Waste, who puts her under a spell that makes Sophie an old woman. To reverse the curse Sophie goes off on a grand adventure and ends up in Howl's amazing castle. Well-written and engaging--I'm glad I own a copy.

So Brave, Young and Handsome by Leif Enger (3 stars)

This book was recommended to me by my friend, Scott Myers. The writing is excellent--elegant and raw. I cannot fault Enger's skill in any way, and on that level, the book was a joy to read.

And yet the story still failed to capture me. I had to spend a lot of time in the middle of the story with a character that I despised. It wasn't the storyline that I was interested in, and it made me like the main character less.

I don't see myself going back to this book to reread it. It wasn't a waste of time, and I have a feeling I missed something--maybe that the deeper meaning of the book is just something that I can't relate to.

Favorite quotes: --Love is a strange fact—it hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things. It makes no sense at all.
-- You can’t kill history. You can’t shoot it with a bullet and watch it recede into whatever lies outside of memory. History is tougher than that—if it’s going to die, it has to die on its own.

False Mermaid by Erin Hart (4 stars)

This was the first book by Hart I've read--the title caught my eye as I passed it in the library. Full of mystery, heartbreak, Ireland and botany. Hart's writing is very clean, her story intriguing, and she kept me guessing until the end, which is always fun.

The story of a woman who is haunted by her sister's murder, False Mermaid explores the death of Triona as her sister, Nora, is trying to make sense of her own life. Bring in Triona's suspicious husband, a now 11-year-old daughter, and two men who both have feelings for Nora, and you have enough drama to make things interesting. But throw in the a handful of selkie myths, some Irish fiddles, and plant DNA, and you have a great story. This is third in a series (didn't know, but I'm going to read the other two now!).

Favorite quotes: -- Elizabeth closed the book and held it to her, aware of the new, slightly foreign tenderness of the skin beneath her clothes, wondering what it felt like to shed your outer shell and become something new.
--It has seemed to him that unhappiness had its own distinct scent, and suddenly that sour, stale smell crept into his nostrils. Or maybe it was just acid fumes from the wine and dust from old record sleeves.

The Shadow at Evening by Chris Walley (3 stars)

Any book that says "in the tradition of Lewis and Tolkien" on the front is setting itself up for the big leagues, and in this case, Walley is still very much in the minors. It's more future sci-fi than fantasy (as the front also proclaims), set in the year 13851. I had some trouble getting into the story, first because the premises is rather illogical given what we know of mankind, history and the future (the world is not going to get better but we are slowly moving towards and are even in the final days), and second because the very idea of seeding other planets for human life is so against the ideals that Lewis presented in his own Space Trilogy.

But once Walley dropped a lot of the forced platitudes of a future Christian society, the story flowed better and even got interesting. While it's not epic fantasy, or even epic sci-fi, it was a diverting story with a few compelling characters. And of course, a possible love triangle, which I have already determined the best outcome, and now I'll have to read the rest of the series to see if Walley messes it up or not!

Dance in the Desert by Madeleine L'Engle (3 stars)

A sweet story that tells of a young family needing to cross the dangerous desert. But the child is no ordinary child, and when he is around, the most wonderful things happen. L'Engle doesn't come out ever and say, "This is about Jesus," but it doesn't take much to see that she's telling a "what might have happened" story about when Jesus and his parents fled to Egypt. The artwork was done well, and it was a charming, quick read.

The Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern (4 stars)

A spoiled rich girl, Tamara, and her mother have to move in with an aunt and uncle after the death of her father. As she bemoans her bleak future, she tries to make the most of her new, simple country life. The local traveling librarian lets her take a mysterious journal--which turns out to be blank. But once she has the book, strange writing appears--writing dated for the next day, in Tamara's handwriting. Worse yet, the events come true. Now she has to figure out if she should accept fate or see what she can do to change it.

Favorite quotes: --But then there are those whose minds are merely a bouquet of stalks that bud as they learn new information—a new bud for each new fact—but yet they never open, never flourish. They are the people of capital letters and full stops but never of question marks and ellipses…
-- I stopped walking when it came into sight. Little me before a big castle. It looked more domineering, more commanding as a ruin than as a castle because there it stood before me with its scars revealed, all wounded and bloody from battle. And I stood before it, feeling a shadow of who I use to be, with my own scars revealed. We instantly bonded.

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis (5 stars)

This retelling of the Psyche-Cupid myth is masterfully handled by Lewis. I've read this one three times now, and this reading was the best. The first time I read it, I struggled to get through it at all. The next time I read it easier but still not wonderful. This time was amazing. I finally was able to see the layers of story, the layers of meaning. Part of the change was in not trying to identify with Orual (the sister) and instead paying attention to Psyche. Through her, the story came alive. This is one I'll be reading again, and soon.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (4 stars)

I hadn't read this one in well over twenty years, and I had almost forgotten how beautifully charming it is. The story of an orphan adopted by two elderly siblings, the story follows Anne from her arrival at Green Gables at age 11 until she's 16 and getting her teaching certificate. What struck me the most about this book was the amazing vocabulary. This is, after all, a children's book, and yet the vocab had me reaching for a dictionary. There is a wonderful quality of language--a quality that needs to be preserved. I'll be reading the other books in the series this year.

Favorite quotes: -- "But it's a million times nicer to be Anne of Green Gables than Anne of nowhere in particular, isn't it?"
-- It was as if all the dreams, sleeping and waking, of its vivid occupant had taken a visible although immaterial form and had tapestried the bare room with splendid filmy tissues of rainbow and moonshine.

The Power of Night by Chris Walley (3 stars)

The second in the series (sometimes published as one volume, The Evening and the Night), this story picks up when the first book left off--the gate has been destroyed, the world of Farhome is on it's own, cut off from the Assembly. And then there are the intruders--the impending evil like no one has ever faced. The love triangle deepens and gets a few barbs. And there is still some heavy-handedness in regards to the spiritual aspects, but now I have to know who ends up together.

The Keys of the Kingdom by Garth Nix

This children's series has seven books: Mister Monday, Grim Tuesday, Drowned Wednesday, Sir Thursday, Lady Friday, Superior Saturday, and Lord Sunday. I gave all but the last 3 stars, and the last, 2 stars.

This is a charming series about a young boy, Arthur Penhaligon, who is selected by agents of another dimension, so to speak, as the heir to the Keys of the Kingdom. The Kingdom was made by the Architect, and it includes the House, the Secondary Realms (worlds like ours), and the entire universe. But her Trustees haven't been very faithful, and her Will has been split into parts and unable to be fulfilled. Arthur is pulled into a world of magic and mayhem where each Trustee has control over a different day of the week. His charge is to fight the Trustee, free the Will, and claim all of the seven keys. But this is no ordinary adventure, since all parts of the universe are connected, the impact of what he does in the House ricochets into his home world--and then there's that pesky side effect of becoming immortal. That's a lot for a young boy who just wants to go home to deal with.

These are well-written, quick reads. Though my friends who are sensitive to magic and alternate creation stories should avoid them, I found them fun and diverting. Not to mention quick reads. Nix is a fantastic writer, and it was fun to explore this world.

That's all (what, sixteen books isn't enough? Hello, I have to sleep sometimes!)


Sarah said...

I was wondering if you were going to do a March review. I am glad you did. Next time will you add how long it too to read or get through each book?
Also we are studying the life of CS Lewis on Sunday nights at church. So fun to learn what brought him to Christ and what shaped his writing and world views.

Sara said...

my plan is to do one each month :) I track reading time on Goodreads as well as put reviews up there--

Are you using any particular text or just doing his history? The more I learn about him, the more I adore him. I would have loved to be in an just one Inkling meeting...could have sustained my need for amazing conversation for years!

We should do lunch soon--maybe this week. Let me know what you are up to!