Wednesday, September 22, 2010

books a' plenty

this is going to be one helluva book round up. in the last two months i've read no less than 11 books and i've been slacking on the reviewing department - so if your book club is looking for suggestions or you want some ideas about what to read next - here you go.

patrick ness is an american author, who wrote "the crash of hennington" (which i haven't read) and "topics about which i know nothing" (which i have read). "topics" was really, really funny. a collection of witty, erudite, and perceptive short stories with a quirky, droll sense of humour - this makes "the knife of never letting go" all the more surprising - it was a radical departure in genre, tone, and execution than my previous experience with ness' work.

i found the suggestion for this book via the blog of a YA author i like. it's a YA title about a distant world where people can constantly hear the thoughts of all living things - this stream of sensory input is called "noise." young todd is on the cusp of his 13th birthday, whereupon he will become a man, according to the rules of the town he lives in, prentisstown. there are no women in prentisstown and there haven't been any since the plague that brought the noise to humans - caused by the native race of the planet the humans settled, who are known as spackle. one day, todd stumbles across a lost girl who not only does NOT transmit noise, but can hear todd's thoughts. todd and the girl subsequently find out that prentisstown has a horrible, dark secret at its' core and that they're in great danger and go on the run.

i read a little further about the book and discovered that the idea of noise was inspired by the information-heavy world we live in. the book is tight, compelling and creates an unbearable tension - to the point where i'd be reading and have to put the book down and the dotytron would give me heck for raising my blood pressure and "freaking out the baby." it's a gripping, gripping read. i couldn't put it down and immediately put a hold on the next title in the series.

"the ask in the answer" is the second title in what's become known as the "chaos walking" trilogy - the third book, "monsters of men" has just been realized in the uk and the states and should be making its way into my hot little hands soon. this book picks up immediately where "knife" left off - todd and the girl have been separated and are each being used as tools to court a war. i can't tell you too much, but i can say that you should pick it up right away and read the whole series.

i followed this up with a few more YA books (i went on a bit of a tear there, following suggestions from YA bloggers). "first light" is by rebecca stead - i've reviewed her second title, "when you reach me" already. "first light" is very similar in tone - that kind of mostly realist but slightly fantastical madeleine l'engle type of feel. it's about a boy who goes to greenland with his family (his father researches glaciers and global warming) and suddenly develops awful headaches and sees visions. concurrently, a girl named thea lives deep within the ice beneath greenland and has never seen the sun - her people were chased down below generations ago by intolerance and ignorance. this is a well crafted story, but it lacked the sadness and mystery of "when you reach me" - i'm still interested in stead as a writer to see where she's going to go next, as she's gotten better with each novel.

"beautiful creatures" is like a southern gothic "twilight" - but much better written and with better developed characters. it's kind of soapy, but overall the mood and world are much more extensively fleshed out and it's creepier. it reverses the twilight model - in this case, you have a human boy who is inexplicably drawn to a witch (or caster, according to the mythology of this series) girl only to find that the town they live in and their story stretches back over generations of thwarted love. if i was going to recommend something to a pre-teen girl, it would be this series - the writing is just that much more accomplished and i loved the southern gothic setting - all crumbling antebellum mansions and trees dripping with spanish moss. this was decent, but not the best.

"will grayson, will grayson" is a curious little novel. it's co-written by john green (one of my favorites!) and david levithan. the story is told in alternating chapters, with each author telling the story of a teenaged boy named will grayson whose stories start separately and then eventually coalesce around one fantastically huge, queer queen nicknamed tiny. it's a hard book to sum up in words, but there's a lot to commend it. namely, the matter of fact depiction of high school life and the fact that tiny is neither marginalized or fetishized but just allowed to be a really rich, nuanced character with the same high school issues as either of the will graysons. i definitely favored the john green chapters over the david levithan ones, but both managed to be pretty funny and speak with an honesty to the contemporary urban high school experience.

tired of the YA? i also read grown-up books, too. technically, we didn't read alan bradley's "the sweetness at the bottom of the pie" - we listened to it on cd during our countless drives to geneseo, to R&R acres, to cottages and back this summer. i can tell you that the audiobook version is simply brilliant, because the reader is absolutely fantastic. it's a mystery novel, but if i tell you that and then you don't read it because you have an aversion to "genre" fiction then you're cheating yourself out of one of the most pleasurable reading experiences and one of the most endearingly precocious young heroine sleuths ever to grace the printed page. flavia de luce is almost 11 and lives with her eccentric family (a philatelist father and 2 sisters - one vain and peckish, the other mooning and bluestocking-y) in a crumbling mansion named buckshaw in england in the post-war period (1950). flavia is obsessed with chemistry, is far brilliant beyond her years and possesses a keen perspicacity an edward gorey obsession with the macabre and a matter-of-fact precociousness that had me and the dotytron laughing out loud.

it's all veddy veddy british - the language is exquisite in this novel - turns of phrases and sentences and descriptions that are as rich and plummy as a treacly pudd. a long-lost acquaintance of flavia's father turns up dead in their garden and with that, flavia is on the case. you simply have to read it - it's delicious. i'm so glad it's a series - i've ordered the next title, "the weed that strings the hangman's bag" and can't wait for it to arrive.

david nicholls' is another british author, whose "one day" was touted by many, many sources (NPR, new york times, entertainment weekly, etc.) as "the book of the summer" it follows 2 people, emma and dexter, on the same day every year for twenty years as they fall in and out of friendship, love, middle age, careers and the rest. my sister read it too. to be honest, we didn't know what all the fuss was about. it's a light enough summer read but i didn't really like either of the characters and the ending is a bit of a cop-out. the concept is interesting but that's about all there is to it, in the end. they're making a movie out of it, with anne hathaway and jim sturgess. anyway, i'd be interested to know what other people think - i thought the acclaim was rather overblown for this book.

"commencement" was for the august meeting of my academic book club. courtney sullivan went to an all-girls college (smith) and now writes for elle or something like that. the book was touted as being similar to curtis sittenfeld's "prep" (which i reviewed here) a kind of boarding school bildungsroman type thing. i'm here to tell you that those people who said such things were DEAD WRONG. it tells the story of four women who become friends attending an all girl's college. the chapters are told from each of the women's perspectives as they meet during frosh and then grow up and out of their university selves and forge careers and go on to the rest of life's milestones. the women are less characters than cariactures - you have bree the southern princess, sally, the practical one, april the radical feminist, and the other one i can't even remember. the writing is TERRIBLE - the story kind of slumps along before ending on this stupid, soap opera, ripped-from-the-headlines implausible event. the characters are by and large unlikeable and lack any dimension and most galling of all, sullivan seems to want to insert this dialogue about contemporary american feminism but doesn't have a clue in hell how to go about it. so you have this weird judy blume-esque (which is an insult to judy blume) story of female friendship grafted onto a high school lilith fair understanding of the strands of contemporary feminist discourses and neither tack is done very well. it's terrible, terrible stuff.

phew, that's enough out of me on a rainy wednesday morning. i have 4 more titles to review and then i'll be mostly caught up.

tonight is night class. my deadbeat da' is taking me out for indian buffet lunch - i'm treating that as my dinner, but i also packed fruit and some leftover minestrone in case all that butter chicken and chat papri isn't enough to tide me over until 10pm - ugh.


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