Best reads of the past month:
Love Walked In by Maria de los Santos
I picked this one up on the recommendation of....now I've forgotten who (she says sheepishly). In any event, this is de los Santos' first novel. She is an accomplished poet and her way with words is evident throughout this charming debut. When I read the dedication, I knew this book and I would get on together. The book is dedicated to her significant other, with the lines, "You're the Nile, You're the Tower of Pisa." Ah, Cole Porter. What follows is essentially an homage to the films and film stars of the 1930s and 40s, particularly The Philadelphia Story. Not far in Cornelia, our protagonist, notes, "Jimmy Stewart is always and indisputably the best man in the world, unless Cary Grant should happen to show up." I nod my head, Yes, this is true. I liked Cornelia and the way she viewed her life as a film, waiting for Cary Grant to walk through her door. I liked Teo and his wonderful, warm Jimmy Stewart. I even liked Martin's flawed Cary Grant and the choice Cornelia makes between the two. In this book, refreshingly, the adults manage to take control of things at the right point, so that 10-year-old Clare is not forced to make it all come together herself. Cornelia's tiny hands held onto them all so tightly, how could they not come to love each other? I did.
On The Prowl by Patricia Briggs, et al.
I read this short story anthology because of Patricia Briggs' entry "Alpha and Omega." Last month I read the first two in Briggs' wonderful Mercy Thompson series (Moon Called and Blood Bound) and when I heard she had a short story coming out centered around Charles--an intriguing side character from the Mercy books--I could not wait to get my hands on it. It was so entertaining and Briggs' publisher liked it so well, they signed her up for a 3-book deal following Charles and Anna. So from here on out we'll be getting a Mercy book every January and a Charles book every June. Makes you just feel at ease, doesn't it?
Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
So we've all been waiting for this book for a year. Not an uncommon occurrence for me, but New Moon ended with such uncertainty, that I was particularly anxious to get on with things. I try to imagine Stephenie Meyer sitting down to write the next installment, knowing the extraordinary amount of anticipation and expectation on the part of her readers, and I just cringe. An unenviable position to be in, I would think. I for one loved Eclipse. It was so fun to have all the Cullens back and there the whole time, to hear their stories as well as those of the pack. I'm convinced those tales, along with Bella's increasingly disturbing dreams, will play an important role in the last book. Eclipse was as good as it was because Bella finally gave her chosen future the consideration it deserves, because Edward was, well, perfect in this one, and because Jacob...*sob*...fought as hard as he could. Don't stay away forever, Jake.
Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin
Everyone went nuts over Zevin's first novel Elsewhere. So naturally I stayed away and waited for her second. I was not disappointed. Our girl Naomi falls down the stairs, bumps her head, and loses the last four years. Unfortunately the last four years include her parents' divorce, her insipid tennis star boyfriend Ace, and her best friend and yearbook co-editor Will "Coach" Landsman. Zevin's writing maintains a cheerfully slower pace than so many of her contemporaries, and I liked Naomi's voice. She begins by telling us, "Above all, mine is a love story. And like most love stories, this one involves chance, gravity, a dash of head trauma." Good start. Naomi doesn't rush things trying to find out about her past. She slips back into her life as unobtrusively as is humanly possible when everyone around you knows all about you but you don't know the first thing about them. She gives poor Ace a fighting chance even though he's mind-numbingly boring. She falls in love with James because she wants to and because he needs her. Best of all she remembers Will and something she knew all along. Well done, girl.
Carpe Diem by Autumn Cornwell
Vassar Spore's parents named her after one of the most prestigious women's colleges in the country. Unsurprisingly, she grows up a goal-oriented perfectionist intent on winning a Pulitzer Prize and marrying an MIT grad. In steps Vassar's bohemian grandma who demands she spend the summer with her backpacking across Southeast Asia. This plot line could have easily slipped into the predictable too-serious-girl finds there's more to life than book learning...and even though I did predict one key surprise correctly, Cornwell won me over with her genuine love for her character and the region of the world she was exploring. Her wonderful sense of adventure lent the story a freshness I wholly enjoyed. Lastly, Hanks the Malaysian Cowboy Bodyguard alone is enough reason to read the book. "Hanks plural, not singular." Love that cowboy.
Best rereads of the past month:
The Dream-Maker's Magic by Sharon Shinn
I find myself coming back to this one more frequently than its predecessors. The last book in a trilogy, The Dream-Maker's Magic strikes just the right chord with me, I guess. A main character whose mother is convinced she's a boy. A best friend whose legs are crippled but whose mind is razor sharp. A Dream-Maker who is weary of making people's dreams come true. And a first-person narrative that maintains a dogged authenticity amid elements both magical and fantastical. I found myself empathizing with Kellen, trying to carve out a space for herself, her real self, while everyone around her insists on offering their versions. Kellen and Gryffin's friendship is the highlight of the novel. My favorite line: "I was not completely lost if Gryffin knew how to find me."