June 1, 2011

may 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."

May was a busy month--and I'd like to report that I'm at 53 books for the year. I have no set reading goal this year, but at this rate, I'm likely to hit 100!

Illumination Night by Alice Hoffman (3 stars)

Set on Martha’s Vineyard, this novel follows a young married couple, an older woman and her granddaughter, and a reclusive giant, as their lives intertwine. The small island setting provides the perfect background for the tangled web that results when the characters tangle their desires, hopes and dreams. Hoffman is a brilliant writer and I’ve enjoyed discovering some of her older works. (This one has some adult content.)

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry (3 stars)

A “companion” book to The Giver, this one takes place in a future world that has gone more rural. Kira, a young girl with a gift for weaving, is given a chance to live a pampered life after her mother’s death, but the life turns out to be more than she bargained for. The story follows Kira as she discovers more about her peaceful society than she ever imagined, and starts to question how good a society they really are.

Assignment in Eternity by Robert A Heinlein (3 stars)

This collection of sci-fi short stories by master Heinlein was a great look at where we thought society might be going, and where it still might go. I love reading Heinlein now because it’s fun to see what he was right about and what didn’t pan out. Two of the stories really resonated with me—the one about time/parallel universe travel, and the one about humans who tap into all that unused potential in their minds. The first felt like a much better fleshed out Time Machine (though no machine was involved :P ) and the second touched on some of the things I like to ponder as I lay awake at night. Highly recommend this one for any sci-fi fans out there!

The Seal Wife by Kathryn Harrison (3 stars)

The story follows a young man who moves up to Alaska in 1914 to set up a weather station. He meets an Inuit woman who never talks, not a word, and he becomes infatuated with her. While I can't recommend this one to anyone due to subject matter, it did have some great writing. But I was a little disappointed that it didn’t really capture anything about the selkie myth (which I expected, given the title). But Harrison does create vivid characters, and she captures the desolation of early Alaska.

The Telling Pool by David Clement-Davies (3 stars)

An Arthurian-esqe story follows a young man, Rhodi, who is living in Britain during the second crusades. Rhodi’s father goes off to fight, and Rhodi is left to take care of his mother—but Rhodi is more than just the son of the falcon master, he is in the line of Arthur. And the old legends aren’t resting peacefully, and only Rhodi can set things right. The story is fun enough and serious enough to keep it interesting. This is one I’d recommend checking out from the library rather than buying (I got it at a used bookstore). Nothing grand about the writing, but the story held its own.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brian (5 stars)

This is one of those ones that kept popping up on lists as a must read. And since I love short stories, and because I found a copy at the used bookstore that was in excellent condition, I snapped it up. And wow. Sometimes a book is popular because it dumbs things down, panders to the audience, etc. Not in this case. O’Brian’s fictionalized stories about Vietnam (he was a soldier, and the stories are somewhat based on his experiences. The title story is amazing, and I think every person over 16 should read it. Don’t get me wrong, these are stories about war, and it’s raw and vivid and painful, but the way O’Brian presents them, in a no punches pulled manner, makes them haunting, sometimes funny, always beautiful, even in the muck. I highly recommend everyone pick this up at some point. Great book.

Eat, Memory: Great Writers at the Table edited by Amanda Hesser (3 stars)

This collection of essays from the New York Times focuses on food and the memories we have tied to it. It includes a poem by Billy Collins, and writer Ann Patchett among others. While I didn’t recognize most of the writers (and food critics, chefs, etc), they all had some amazing stories to share. It was a quick, intriguing read that really spoke to me.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (3 stars)

It was a charming enough story, but the characters were rather forgettable, the writing was nothing special, and it's not a story that's going to stick with me. I have a feeling I would have liked it more if I had read it as a child, but as it is, it was just a quick read.

The Disapparation of James by Anne Ursu (4 stars)

A family takes a trip to a circus to celebrate the daughter’s seventh birthday, the five-year-old son volunteers for a magic trick. The clown does his trick, which ends in James disappearing—only the clown didn’t really plan that. The story follows the family in the aftermath—what happens to mother, father, sister, and the people they interact with. Well written (despite random capitalization) and interesting—I liked the characters and how they handled the sudden upheaval in their lives. Miss Pottenger recommended it to me. And while I didn’t like it as much as she does (I don’t see myself reading it again any time soon), it was good.

Gifts by Ursula K. LeGuin (3 stars)

A YA fantasy novel about two young people who come from a line of humans with special “gifts”. Some can call animals, some can “undo” with thought and sight (ie, kill or untie or make it not), and some can make others go mad. But when Orrec learns he can’t control his gift, and his friend Gry decides she doesn’t want to use her gift in the way her community expects her, they have to figure out where that leaves them in a society that has no qualms in using their gifts to stay alive. This is the first of a series, and I’ve put the next two on hold.

Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein (4 stars)

A young mother is still grieving two years after the sudden drowning of her son. With her marriage on the rocks and her soul in turmoil, she heads back to Alaska, where she has family ties, and it’s also where her son died. Mixing Native American lore with the grief of a parent, this story explores why we believe and how that helps us deal with life. Due to subject matter, I recommend this with caution—ask me if you want to read it.