Saturday, February 20, 2010

Elizabeth's BookShelf Take One

Kerry and I recently realized that so many of the books we read never make it into our illustrious blog reviews. As our reviews generally feature books we either absolutely love or loathe, we have come up with a new blog entry: the "BookShelf." The "BookShelf" will list books we're currently reading--good, bad, and boring--which may not have otherwise made into BookMates. Let us know what you think of it!

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

The Oscar Wao Fan Club

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

Guess what comes out tomorrow?

Connie Willis's new book Blackout! I have been waiting for years for this book. Yay!

I went to see Willis read at the fabulous Hugo House almost two ago and she read a section from this book (then titled All Clear) - set during the Blitz. I was hooked and couldn't wait to buy it. Except, in the Q & A, she mentioned that she wasn't quite done yet. Well, I could wait.

But then, about a year later, I went to hear her speak again. She read from Blackout and disclosed that it STILL wasn't done. Despair followed. So you can imagine how exciting tomorrow will be.

So what's all the hoopla about? Well, Willis has won pretty much every award out there - Hugo, Nebula, you name it, she has one. My personal favorite of her books is To Say Nothing of the Dog: Or How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump at Last, which, like most of Willis's books, defies easy description. The short summary would be a time-traveling comedy of manners set primarily in Victorian England. Right. It's great! I promise!

What's not great is the fact that Blackout was so long it's being published in two sections, first Blackout and then All Clear six months from now. I guess my wait isn't quite over yet.