Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Sunday, August 15, 2010
You know how if someone has a particularly lovely or compelling speaking voice the old adage is you'd happily listen to him or her read the phone book? Well that's how I feel about Sherman Alexie's authorial voice. It's awesome and I will read whatever he wants to write for as long as he wants to write it.
That being said, feels like the book I've been waiting for him to write since I first picked up in high school. A semi-autobiographical tale of Arnold “Junior” Spirit, a high school freshman growing up on the Spokane Reservation, TATDOAPTI is at once hilarious and heartbreaking.
Near the beginning of the book, Junior makes the unpopular decision to leave his reservation high school to attend the all-white Reardon High School. What prompts this decision is when he realizes that he will be using the exact same geometry book his mother did in high school. As a veteran of a high school where textbooks often looked like they'd survived the Great Flood, I could sympathize. However, leaving the reservation for school just isn't done and by challenging the status quo, Junior finds himself at odds with his best friend Rowdy and the unwilling focal point of a lot of attention both at home and at Reardon.
Alexie does a masterful job balancing the hopeful (Junior's progress in school and making friends, however unlikely) with the tragic (the body count in this novel is higher than many murder mysteries). He doesn't shy away from the bleakness of the future for many of Junior's family and friends, but he also shows the love present in almost every Spirit family scene.
Junior is the kind of hero you don’t even realize is one until the end of the story. By focusing on his broken brain, general nerdiness, and lack of appeal to the opposite sex, Alexie camouflages the fact that Junior is also willing to walk miles in the blistering sun or freezing cold, face down the majority of the reservation, and, perhaps most intimidating, enter an entirely new high school as a complete outsider in order to get a better education.
Writing a YA novel right now seems to be the thing to do amongst well-regarded novelists. Jane Smiley, Cory Doctorow, John Grisham, and Neil Gaiman are just some of the names flooding the market. With such an influx it's always hard not wonder if their agent suggested they write a YA book because 1) they're hot right now and 2) they're shorter. Thus I approach most of their offerings with a healthy degree of skepticism. However, I don't care if Sherman Alexie thinks YA is the scratch lotto ticket of the literary world. Whatever prompted it resulted in his best book to date - and one I would recommend to any reader I know.
YA is right for Alexie and Alexie is right for YA. His voice - funny and furious - is a much-needed addition to the high school lit oeuvre.
Friday, August 6, 2010
Heidi W. Durrow's The Girl Who Fell From the Sky
Durrow's debut novel begins with a mysterious family tragedy. The only survivor is--you guessed it--the girl who fell from the sky, Rachel. As the daughter of a white Danish mother and black G.I. father, Rachel's exploration of her racial identity is compounded by her broken family. Durrow's prose is excellent; deliberate and evocative. Durrow doesn't shy away from hard truths about what it means to be biracial in America or having to deal with difficult family dynamics. My only disappointment was that while The Girl Who Fell From the Sky starts off strongly, the narrative loses some of its drive towards the end. However, I would still recommend this title, and I'm looking forward to more of Ms. Durrow's writing.
Check out Heidi Durrow's excellent blog, Light-skinned-ed Girl.
The Best American Series: The Best American Comics 2009
When I realized that this installment of the Best American Series was edited by Charles Burns, I immediately ordered it. Charles Burns is one of my favorite graphic novelists (if you haven't read Black Hole do so immediately) and I was excited to see which established and up-and-coming graphic novelists were showcased in Comics 2009. So far there's an excellent story by Adrian Tomine and a sweetly sad brother-sister tale by Laura Park. The Best American Series rarely disappoints, so I'm eager to continue reading.
**To build off Kerry's previous post, David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is amazing. I'm more of a fan of his inventive rather than traditional narrative; Cloud Atlas is one of my favorite novels while it took me a while to get through Black Swan Green, so I was a bit worried that I wouldn't be as engrossed by the traditional narrative of Jacob de Zoet. I should never have doubted you, David Mitchell! Jacob de Zoet might be Mitchell's best novel yet. Add your name to the crazy-long library queues now.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Friday, May 14, 2010
But then I got to thinking--why should we even feel we have to justify reading romance novels? We shouldn't be ashamed of our love of the romance genre! Sure, romance novels generally are pretty fluffy and light, but they often empower women. There is a growing trend in the romance novel industry for strong, intelligent female heroines. The average reader can easily avoid such gems as The Spanish Billionaire's Pregnant Wife (thanks for that, Harlequin) and instead select well-written, humorous, and entertaining titles from some of the best in the genre. Two of my favorite authors are:
Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Ms. Phillips, or SEP, writes contemporary romance and is known for her lovable characters. If the heroes and heroines tend to be larger than life (SEP specializes in sports stars) their emotions are down-to-earth and obviously imbued with great thought. Plus, her books are almost always hilarious. The crème de la crème of the romance genre, SEP is not to be missed.
This Heart of Mine
Julia Quinn is a frothier version of Georgette Heyer. If you've gone through all of Heyer's works and are in Regency-romance withdrawal, Quinn is your woman. Quinn's books lend a mondern slant to the antics of the ton and are extremely accessible and entertaining. I never miss any of her new releases and her novels are guaranteed to grant highly enjoyable reading.
Romancing Mister Bridgerton
Sunday, March 28, 2010
I have a confession to make: I secretly think people who talk about how bad Stephen King's writing is are being snobby. Another confession: I can be unbearably snobby about books. Final, obvious confession: I can occasionally be a hypocrite.
Stephen King has written some pretty bad novels: Needful Things, Desperation, that awful one about aliens that infest people's intestines and whose title I am too lazy to look up...but the man has also written some amazing books: The Stand and The Shining, for example. It can be argued that Stephen King revolutionized the horror genre. He also seems like a genuinely good guy and never fails to write flattering reviews for new authors.
"Wait a minute," you're thinking; "This Horns book wasn't even written by Stephen King. Why is Elizabeth babbling on about him?" Aha, savvy reader! Stephen King is Joe Hill's father. Joe Hill has decided to follow in his father's literary footsteps, and, in my opinion, both complements and improves upon his father's work.
Hill's first work, 20th Century Ghosts, a collection of short stories, and his first novel, Heart-Shaped Box, both debuted to critical acclaim. Horns was similarly lauded and may be Hill's best work yet:
"Hill has emerged as one of America's finest horror writers....That empathy with the Devil — taking a despicable character and slowly bringing us around to his side — is the sort of thing Hill does best. It's also what's missing from so much of the girl-meets-vampire gruel that dominates the genre these days." Time Magazine
Horns is the tale of Iggie Perrish, who wakes up one morning with a terrible hangover and horns sprouting from his temples. He had spent the night before visiting his murdered girlfriend Merrin's memorial and vaguely recollects doing "terrible things," so the horns don't come as much of a surprise. Iggie assumes that they are a hallucination brought on by the year of rage and grief he's experienced after Merrin's brutal death and the blame his small town has mistakenly placed upon him as her murderer. The horns, however, are something else entirely: a conduit to people's innermost and often inappropriate desires...and the key to solving Merrin's murder.
A story of redemption, revenge, love, and a surprising take on what makes a man a devil and a devil a man, Horns is a genre-defying novel not to missed.
Monday, March 15, 2010
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Titles that are on my metaphorical BookShelf: (they're really strewn about my apartment in absolutely no order. My cat Chicklets is actually chewing on one right now. Thanks, cat.)
Possessed by Kate Cann
I picked up this title because I read somewhere that Kate Cann's young adult mystery-horror novel was gripping and entertaining. It's about a teenage girl who escapes the stifling environment of the British projects to work in a countryside manor, where she discovers evidence of black magic in the supposedly ideal hamlet surrounding the manor.
British countryside? Manors? Black magic? I'm a sucker for books like this. Unfortunately Cann's writing is, well, not good. I skipped the entire middle section of the novel and still wasn't remotely surprised by the ending. Stick with The Perilous Gard for British manor-magic tales.
Numbers by Rachel Ward
Coincidentally, this young adult novel is also set in Great Britain, but with a much more original premise than Cann's Possessed. Fifteen-year old Jem has the unique ability to sense some one's date of death when she looks them in eye. This obviously has some serious downfalls, one of which is the isolation that Jem imposes upon herself to keep from caring about others. Soon Jem is caught up as an innocent bystander in a terrorist plot she can't stop, and is on the run from the law with her friend Spider. While this part of the novel is pretty ridiculous, Ward's depiction of the foster care system and the projects is affecting and the most interesting part of the novel. An entertaining read.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
I've just gotten into reading mysteries, and picked up Bradley's novel because it recently won the CWA Debut Dagger Award. So far it has fabulously lived up to the award. In fact, there's a definite possibility that I may write a post about this title in the future so I will keep this short: Flavia de Luce is an eleven-year-old girl living in her family's stately British home in 1950 (I really didn't mean to make this post British-themed). Flavia is also brilliant, a dedicated chemist with a special interest: poison. Thus when she discovers a dead body in the garden, she's pretty excited. Was the dead man poisoned? Why is his body in their cucumber patch? What does her reclusive father know about all this? Flavia makes it her mission to get to the bottom of the matter, and Flavia's mission is very entertaining indeed.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
This post is probably unnecessary given that Junot Diaz won the Pulitzer for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but I loved, loved, loved this novel. The narrative is incredibly engaging and Diaz captures the classic American immigrant tale in an inventive light. And then, of course, there's Oscar Wao himself. Oscar is a overweight, lovelorn nerd whom it's impossible not to empathize with. Diaz peppers his tale with uber-nerdy references which solidified my own nerd-ness as I understood about 92 percent of them. (Robotech? Akira? Octavia Butler? I spent my early teens watching Robotech on a continuous circuit. In my defense it was one of the only programs shown in English--I was in Japan at the time--but still. So nerdy.)
If you haven't already picked this title up, do so soon. As Kerry mentioned over coffee recently, Oscar Wao is so well written that you don't care what really happens plot-wise as long as you can keep reading Diaz's amazing prose. I haven't enjoyed reading a book this much in quite a while. Obviously it won the Pulitzer for a reason. If I could say this in Elvish, Oscar Wao-style, I would: Read on!
Monday, February 1, 2010
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
My latest favorite novel was, as you may have guessed, written for children. Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me is a coming of age novel and an homage to Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. (If you haven't read A Wrinkle in Time, I am appalled. Read it immediately.) Set in New York in the late 1970s, When You Reach Me perfectly captures that horribly awkward and amazing time of life when childhood is left behind but still within reach.
After twelve-year-old Miranda's best friend Sal gets punched on the way home from school one day, nothing is the same. New friendships are made, there's a mystery to solve, and a game show to prepare for. When You Reach Me is one of those novels that is fascinating to read yet frustrating to review because describing the plot in detail would ruin the mystery. I probably shouldn't have even mentioned A Wrinkle in Time. Stead's prose is excellent and I actually had to reread some of the scientific passages, which illustrates for you children's literature doubters out there that books meant for children can indeed be intellectually stimulating.
Please read this book. As soon as I finished it, I immediately turned to the first page and began reading it again. This is a rare reaction for me, as I have a pretty short attention span, and thus high praise indeed. Once You Reach Me has the makings of a classic and shouldn't be missed.
Plus it has a pretty nifty cover.
Other Children's Books That Are Fabulous and Should be Read Immediately:
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
A mouse saves a beautiful princess from the clutches of an very unpleasant rat. The moral of the story? Everyone has feelings--complicated, confused feelings, and within us all there is the possibility for good and bad, and redemption. The drawings are also adorable, and, you know, it did win the Newbery in 2004.
The Lightning Thief: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book One by Rick Riordan
Riordan's Percy Jackson series is so popular that a motion picture is coming out soon, so please read the book before the movie comes out. Not that the movie will be bad--in fact the trailer indicates it might actually be good--but I hate seeing a movie before reading the book it's based on. It ruins all my ideas of who the characters are. Anyway, The Lightning Thief is about Percy's realization that he is half god and half human: a hero. Before you can say "Zeus" he's off to hero camp, battling monsters, and discovering who his Olympian father is. Completely addicting.