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A Month of Reading: October

An Ice Cold Grave by Charlaine Harris
I am so into this series. I stumbled across Charlaine Harris right about the same time I discovered Janet Evanovich--just after my son was born. I credit the two of them for getting me through those postpartum blues, for making me laugh when all I felt like doing was cry. While I always look forward to the next Sookie Stackhouse book, it's Harris' Harper Connelly mystery series that's really got me champing at the bit for more. Harper finds dead people. With the help of her stepbrother Tolliver, she travels from town to town helping police departments and grieving families alike get to the heart of mysterious deaths. The best thing about these books is the unexpectedly complex relationship between Harper and Tolliver (two people who don't have a thing in the world except each other) and the increasingly mesmerizing/horrifying events they find themselves mixed up in. Harper never fails to find the body(ies) in question, but the two of them just can't seem to make it out of town before all hell breaks loose. This third installment is by far the most chilling and Harris wisely balances out the heinous with some great interpersonal stuff between Harper and Tolliver. I like that she isn't dragging this series out. With Harris you always get plenty of bank for your buck.

Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley
A new Robin McKinley. It's got the word "dragon" in the title. And it's narrated by a boy. As I'm constantly telling long-suffering family members (anyone who will listen, really), with McKinley you never know what you're gonna get. I mean, yeah, she's known for her fairy tale retellings. And her fantasy stories about girls who kick butt. Oh, and that one vampire book about the baker. But just when you think you know what to expect, she writes a contemporary only sorta fantasy about a boy who grows up in a national park inhabited by dragons nobody's ever seen but who are nonetheless there. Jake finds this out firsthand when he stumbles across a dying dragon and her litter of dragon kits. Without thinking about it twice, he stuffs one of the babies inside his shirt and heads for the hills. Thus the adventure begins. Jake's wandering, frantic, self-deprecating narration was right up my alley. I loved it. I loved that she gave her all to get inside a fifteen-year-old boy's head, threw in a few dragons, a heckuva lot of governmental red tape, and decided to see where it took her. Bottom line: Sequels or no, Damar or no, I am up for anything you are, Ms. McKinley. Winner of this month's Best Last Line Award.

The Queen in Winter by Sharon Shinn, et al.
This is the second short story compilation I've read in which Shinn returns to one of the worlds from her novels. In "When Winter Comes," she follows a briefly mentioned character from the Twelve Houses novels, a girl whose sister Senneth saved from death in Mystic and Rider. In the story, Sosie, her sister, and her sister's newborn child flee certain death in the dead of night. With no money, no food, and only a vague idea of where to go, Sosie leads the three of them on an arduous journey. Sosie is used to working hard and making sure those she loves are taken care of. In this short but sweet story it was nice to see someone concerned with her welfare for once. The fact that it was the amiable Darryn Rappengrass was just cream.

The Declaration by Gemma Malley
Set in the year 2140 when the world population subsists primarily on the drug Longevity, which holds aging at bay, this dystopian novel seemed just what the doctor ordered for a particularly stubborn reading slump. Couples are only allowed one child and any they have illegally after that are known as Surpluses. Surpluses are taken away from their parents and raised in a facility such as Grange Hall where our protagonist Surplus Anna resides. They are intended to learn how to be useful to society by serving legal humans. That or end up in a work camp or, even more likely, dead. I liked that Anna wasn't rebellious from the start. That she had been so thoroughly indoctrinated she had to be kicked and beaten into believing in something more. It made her more interesting than I originally anticipated. However. From that point on, the storyline got so predictable it was difficult to stick with it. Right up to the melodramatic ending scene which had me holding the book at arm's length in disbelief. Really? I asked it. I mean, really? I wanted to like The Declaration. I wanted to like Anna and Peter and their shadowy resistance-fighting parents. But I found myself agreeing with Diane Samuels' Guardian review. The execution just didn't live up to the promise. No matter how much I wanted it to.

Beastly by Alex Flinn
I read this in one big gulp the day it showed up on my doorstep. I've flirted with the thought of reading an Alex Flinn book for awhile now and just never got around to it. Beastly was the perfect point of entry. Loved the title, loved the cover, loved the back jacket excerpt. Set in contemporary NYC, this version is told from the Beast's perspective as he recounts the tale of how a scorned gothgirl witch changed him into a beast and his subsequent efforts to regain his human form (and perhaps a little actual humanity while he's at it). What I loved about this book was the way Flinn absolutely threw her story (and her characters) into the modern world of teenagedom. If a 16-year-old former cock of the walk high school student suddenly found himself a big beastie, he'd, well, once he got over the social mortification of it all, he'd totally find himself a chat room for transformation survivors where he could take advantage of his anonymity and make snarky remarks. And that's exactly what Kyle does. The book opens with a transcript from one of these chats, and they are interspersed throughout the rest of the narrative. They are the most hilarious parts of the book. BeastNYC, SilentGirl, Froggie, and GrizzlyGuy talk about their struggles as three transformed beings (and one wannabe). The discussion is moderated by the mysterious Mr. Anderson and as the familiar fairy tale characters took shape I couldn't stop myself laughing out loud. This B&B story hits everything right and the changes Ms. Flinn made enhanced her grittier version of the tale. For instance, Flinn's Beast is more akin to a dark superhero. Batman prowling the streets of Gotham City at night. He even takes a new name--Adrian--symbolizing his complete reversal in fortune, bleak new outlook on life, and ultimate rejection of the boy he used to be. In addition, the reader gets to catch the whole transformation thing as it happens. In most versions, we come to it way after the fact. Often the Beast has been languishing under his curse for hundreds of years when we come upon him. In this case, Kyle/Adrian has just two years to find true love and break the spell. I liked that we got in on how he coped with it all, as opposed to getting it in retrospect. This is also the first version I've read where Beauty's family didn't want her. Where, by all accounts, she's had a rougher life than he has. It makes it that much sweeter when these two people who have suffered much find not only love, but a way out.

General Winston's Daughter by Sharon Shinn
Another perfectly pleasant offering from Sharon Shinn. This imperialist nation attempts to invade and conquer pacifist nation story served as a nice appetizer for the next Twelve Houses book just out. I kept getting flashes from the opening scenes of The Blue Sword while reading about Averie and her life in Chiarrin--the land her general father is busy colonizing. The young girl who travels from her homeland to visit the far reaches of the empire. Her attempts to immerse herself in the culture and her growing fascination with said culture. That was, in fact, my favorite part of the book--the descriptions of the Chiarrin people and their land, the broken gods they worshiped, and the heavily symbolic colors of their clothing. Growing up in the military, moving around the world every two years or so, I resonated with Averie's experience. I was suffused in memories. I understood her fascination and her desire to fit in seamlessly. I was devastated along with her in the face of betrayal from unexpected corners. And I felt courageous as, in the end, she shunned the easy choice in favor of another new horizon with its accompanying challenges, heartache, and joy.

True Confessions of a Heartless Girl by Martha Brooks
I spent the majority of last year researching Canada, its people, history, and culture. Along the way I managed to fit in a few for-fun books by Canadian authors and I surfaced from the whole thing mystified as to why we never seem to get wind of new Canadian books, particularly YA ones. That's why I was so pleased to find Heartless Girl. None of our local bookstores had it, but the library did (bless them) so I picked it up on my way home from work and read it later that night as my husband snored gently beside me (my second book-in-a-night of the month). Heartless Girl really ought to be swallowed in one satisfying session, I think. The writing is spare but weighty. Brooks' words leave a mark on you long after your eyes move past them on the page. Set in present-day Manitoba, the story follows self-proclaimed heartless girl Noreen. World-weary at 17, pregnant and on the run from her boyfriend Wesley (the first kind boy she's been with), Noreen steals his truck and his cash and winds up broke and alone in a small farming town not far from Brandon. We get the story from the perspective of Noreen, Wesley, and several of the inhabitants of Pembina Lake--the small town Noreen finds herself unable to leave. I loved the characters with their strengths and weaknesses, all of them prominently on display. Noreen is unbearably heartless at times. She is also sensitive and imaginative and capable of love. Where she walks trouble follows and everyone she comes into contact with meets with disaster at some point. But somehow they're unable to just wash their hands of her and let her go. Despite their own numerous personal issues, the people there take her in, feed her, give her work, and just try (sometimes against all reason) to help this girl whose life has been seemingly cursed since the day she was born. And then there's Wesley. The Cree construction worker with a sky full of stars and careful hands. I liked that he didn't let Noreen trample him underfoot. I liked that he yelled and stomped and left when he should. I get tired sometimes of the Tireless Good Guy. The one who's always there and comes back even when she doesn't deserve him. These two find their way back to each other only when their eyes can see clearly again. When Noreen learns how to stay still and not run. The vastness of the prairie is in this slim novel and I'm definitely going to check out more books by Martha Brooks.

Rereads of the past month:

Tis the Season and Stand Down by Zack Emerson (Ellen Emerson White)
Because I read The Road Home last month and my books finally came out of storage this month. We got them all up on shelves and I was able to hold the Echo Company books again and read the last two (my favorites because they're where Rebecca's story begins). Ms. White wrote these four books under the pseudonym Zack Emerson because publishers didn't think kids would read a bunch of Vietnam books written by a woman. A bunch of bull crap IMO, but whatever. They're woefully out of print and I can only hope that as they're reprinting the President's Daughter books, they'll go ahead and make me deliriously happy by reprinting these little gems as well. They follow Private Michael Jennings, Snoopy, Sgt. Hansen, and all the guys in his company. The third book in the series, Tis the Season is actually told from Rebecca's perspective and shows how she ends up in the jungle and eventually runs into Michael and Company. Stand Down, the best and longest of the bunch, goes back to Michael's POV. We get to read their early letters and the events take us right up to where The Road Home begins.

Comments

  1. I haven't been reading enough lately, I'm SO behind!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Lol. You're never behind. You're just surrounded.

    ReplyDelete

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