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A Month of Reading: September


Best reads of the past month:

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Our book group selection this month and a good one it was. We had lots of fun discussing corn sex, mushroom fanatics, Italian pig hunters, and the dilemma of what to eat. We enjoyed some delicious pumpkin black bean soup while we were at it. I particularly liked that Pollan did not, in the end, offer the solution to the problem. Instead he spent his time outlining the many facets of this serious issue and then left it up to each reader to determine (if possible) what she can eat and still be able to live with herself. I feel more informed on the process of how mainstream food gets from the farm to me as well as the organic and locally grown alternatives. My views didn't change drastically through reading the book, but I certainly feel as though from here on out I will take my eating choices more seriously, that my final decisions will be more informed. Always a good end result.

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
Hale has proved herself adept at finding obscure fairy tales and reworking them in mouth-watering new ways. Her latest offering is based on the little-known "Maid Maleen" by the Brothers Grimm. A lady and her loyal maid are locked in a tower for seven years as punishment for the lady's refusal to marry the man her father wants her to. The story details their imprisonment in the tower and the adventure that follows. Hale's version is told in diary format from the point of view of the maid--Dashti. I finished this one with mixed feelings. The conclusion I came to is that I wanted more. There was so much potential yet I felt I wasn't allowed to scratch past the surface of things. I liked Dashti, but she didn't have to struggle that hard to get what she got. Or at least her struggle wasn't given the gravity it deserved. Lady Saren, who had quite clearly been driven mad by some atrocious event, was so wonderfully vacant and creepy. I wanted to get to the root of her madness. When I finally found out, it was appropriately weird but it wasn't given enough time or depth. I wanted more. More psychological exploration, more emotion, more pages in general. Her previous books are chock full of it and so this one came off a bit...flat. These comments aside, I always recommend Shannon Hale highly and I eagerly await the fourth Bayern book.

To Weave a Web of Magic by Sharon Shinn, et al.
By the time I finally got around to reading Archangel and realizing what the rest of the civilized world already knew (that Sharon Shinn ROCKS) I started scavenging around for everything she's written and came across this short story compilation. When I saw that Patricia McKillip was one of the other contributors, I ordered it immediately. Closer to a novella than a short story, Shinn's "Fallen Angel" was a special treat since it takes place in Samaria--the world she created in the wonderful Archangel and revisited in three sequels and a prequel. This story is set about eighteen years after the events of Archangel and anytime I can catch a glimpse of Gabriel and Rachel is a good time. The story of the young Manadavvi heiress and the reckless orphan angel was short, sweet, utterly predictable, and I read it through in one sitting with a smile on my face.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Clocking in at over 700 pages, this doorstopper has no right to be anywhere near as entertaining as it is. But it is so entertaining. Kostova knows how to pace a tale so that her faithful reader never tires or wavers in her interest to see what happens next. I thought for sure I'd bog down somewhere in the middle and have to press on through but I never did. There were points where I stopped to marvel in bewilderment, "How many layers deep is the narrative running now? 4? 5? And yet I can't put it down!" This followed by a smile of intense satisfaction and more fevered page-turning. The story follows an unnamed narrator who recounts for her reader the decidedly unfortunate and increasingly bone-chilling events surrounding the finding of a medieval book, empty but for a rough image of a dragon and the single word "DRAKULYA." And, just like that, the hunt is ON. Kostova's characters are easy to empathize with and she handles scenes of great tension and layered emotion with a deft hand. Highly recommended.

Best rereads of the past month:

The Road Home by Ellen Emerson White
I hit a bit of a slump at the beginning of the month. It's never pretty when I get that way, wandering from shelf to shelf, sighing. After a few minutes of this, Aaron looks over at me knowingly. "Looking for a friend?" he asks. *sigh* He knows me well, my husband. Said restless state usually does require an old friend and this month I turned to one of my all-time top comfort reads. I know. Historically accurate, minutely researched Vietnam War novel=comfort read? you ask incredulously. What can I say? My favorite characters tend to endure mountains of suffering before attaining (hopefully) a modicum of happiness. Lt. Rebecca Phillips is no exception. What a heroine she is. A Radcliffe-educated nurse, Rebecca comes from stalwart, intellectual New England stock. She's the last person anyone expects to enlist in the Army and voluntarily get herself shipped off to Vietnam. But after the boy she loves is killed in the war and the brother she idolizes flees to Canada to escape the draft, Rebecca has to do something to deal with the pain and confusion that suddenly is her life. The War, unsurprisingly, turns out to be a million times worse than her worst nightmare, and gets progressively worse until Rebecca finds herself racing for her life through the jungle on a broken ankle, having been shot down in a helicopter she never should have been on in the first place. Yeah. White doesn't pull any punches and Rebecca goes through hell and back again before she finds herself home once more, utterly unable to deal with the ramifications of The War and the friends she gained and lost there. And Michael is at the top of the list. Michael Jennings--the bad-tempered private Rebecca meets while MIA in the bush. The second half of the novel follows Rebecca's stilted attempts to reconnect with her family and Michael. To somehow fit together the pieces of her two lives: Before and After The War. It's a tour de force, in my opinion. White's prose and dialogue are as rapid-fire as ever and my pulse races every time I read it. Rebecca and Michael are such wonderfully strong, tangible characters. They deserve every scrap of happiness they can get.

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