April 4, 2007

A Month of Reading: March


Best reads of the past month:

Undine by Penni Russon
My lovely friend, who shall hereafter be known in this blog as The Editor, sent me an ARC of this book and the first thing I noticed was the cover. So pretty and sinister. Not far in I realize it's a modern twist on "The Tempest," set in Australia, and focused on a girl named Undine who can whistle up a storm like nobody's business. The names in this book are truly great: Undine, her prickly mom Lou, her best friend Trout, her mom's friend Mim, and her mysterious, absent father Prospero. These peripheral characters are well developed and compelling. In fact, I found myself gravitating more toward Trout and Grunt (and Jasper!) than Undine as the story progressed. Gifted with that much power and self-absorption at the same time, she's a little hard to like at times. But I did like her and her storm-drenched world and I'm looking forward to the sequel Breathe.

I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
I followed Undine up with I am the Messenger and it began to feel like 2007 may well be the year of the Australians. So far this year I've read a Marillier, a Russon, two Zusaks, and I've got the new Jaclyn Moriarty and Justine Larbalestier books on my TBR list. I feel a revolution coming. And I've liked all of them. But Zusak blew me away. It's just that the words were always right. A good story, great characters, it's not enough. The individual words have to be right. Not just good words. The best ones for the job. Zusak has this talent in spades (no pun intended). I loved Ed. I loved Audrey and Marv and Ritchie. And I freaking loved the way the language wrapped itself around me and made me laugh and cry and gasp. I felt better the next morning. Like the world was brighter, more vivid. I inhaled this book, but it swallowed me. I imagine Zusak would be pleased with that result.

March by Geraldine Brooks
I gave this book to my mom, who enjoyed Brooks' previous book Year of Wonders. I didn't pick it up myself until my book group chose it for March's selection. Embarrassingly enough, I did not pick up on the title/month coincidence until I typed it just now. How droll. Ok, I'm slightly torn on this one. I enjoyed the overall experience of reading it. I spent the majority of the novel wishing Marmee were narrating it and not the lackluster Mr. March. He had all the idealism of Emerson and Thoreau, but so little of the wit. He seemed to wilt his way through the novel. But just when I'm most exasperated, March lands himself in a hospital in Washington, D.C. and bang! There's Marmee, fierce and alive and suddenly narrating the story. I was in heaven. Finally the interesting characters take center stage. Marmee, Grace, even John Brooke. The final chapters revert to March's perspective but the whole thing closes on Marmee's spark. Recommended to anyone who loves Little Women.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I couldn't wait to get my hands on this book after finishing I am the Messenger. I knew it was a "holocaust novel" and I was well acquainted with how painfully beautiful (or beautifully painful) Zusak's writing style can be. But it is well worth it and I wasn't in the least disappointed. What a wonderful story this is. I was attached to Liesel Meminger from the start and all the inhabitants of Molching claimed a piece of me. The writing invites you in, slowly seeping into your cracks until you are soaked through. Makes you not want to leave. At least that's what it did to me. Find out what it does to you.
Winner of this month's Best Last Line Award.

Best rereads of the past month:

Dark Moon Defender by Sharon Shinn
Aaron started Shinn's Twelve Houses series *happy dance* so I couldn't resist rereading DMD for the first time. First rereads still feel like firsts to me, not seconds. I look forward to them with anticipation, holding off till the timing is just right to revisit that particular world or character again. What will it feel like this time? What will stand out to me?
I have a husband who never rereads books. "Why?" he asks. "I already know what happens."
I can only stare at him in bewilderment. "But, but..." I stutter, unable to wrap my brain around this mindset. This is not our only literary difference. He is a non-fiction addict. I prefer some good world-building any day. We occasionally stare at each other in affectionate befuddlement, agreeing to love each other, strange reading habits notwithstanding.
But I maintain that with some books that first reread is almost as good as the first read. Sometimes better. There. I said it. So despite our differences, this last month we sat together in bed at night reading the same series, laughing over the funny parts, enjoying the tingling sensation of inhabiting the same bookworld together. A rare occurance, and one to be treasured.

The A List: A to Z

Until The Book Thief came out almost exactly a year ago, I had never heard of Markus Zusak. By the time it reached maximum hype, I was in full resist mode. Upon further pressure, I bent and decided to read Zusak's earlier I am the Messenger. If I love it, then I'll tote The Book Thief home. One night of intense sitting-on-the-bathroom-floor-reading later, I go on a Zusak binge. Today I happily usher him into the A List. Not only is he the long-awaited 2nd male author on the list (I'm certain others qualify for induction, I just haven't read everything they've written yet), but his addition makes the list an actual A to Z List. Mr. Alexander to Mr. Zusak. And all those lovely ladies in between.