Friday, August 24, 2012

Summer Reads

It's been awhile since I did a book round up. Truth is, I've been so busy this summer that I haven't been reading as much as usual. Still, I have a few recent reads to share from the last couple of months.

 The Goddess's Choice by Jamie Marchant

I was excited to read this book as it was written by a friend of mine. Overall I think she did an excellent job. The story is based on a fairy tale that I wasn't familiar with before (The Princess on the Glass Hill) but Marchant really expands on the story and adds a lot of depth to the tale. This book is the first installment in "The Kronicles of Korthlundia" series with more books to come.

I particularly enjoyed the characterizations of the two protagonists. Samantha, the princess, is a particularly strong female heroine "who is every bit as likely to be the rescuer as the one rescued" (quoting Marchant about the character of Samantha). She can see auras surrounding people which help her to understand their true character and Robrek has the gift of being able to communicate with animals and is a gifted healer. The villain is especially odious (as villains usually are), so while I didn't really enjoy him as a character, the author definitely portrayed him well. I also thought she did an excellent job with the plot.

Almost all of my criticisms of the book I would ascribe to editor errors. Fair warning: this isn't a child's fairy tale. There are a couple of graphic sex and violence scenes and a little bit of adult language, but if that stuff doesn't bother you, it is an entertaining read.

Crossed by Ally Condie

This is the sequel to Matched, in Ally Condie's dystopian trilogy. This novel follows both Ky and Cassia as they make their escape into the outer provinces and pursue the possibility of a rebellion against The Society. Chapters alternate between Ky's and Cassia's points of view so we get a deeper understanding of the characters.

I like Condie's style. She's the kind of author that I like to think I'd be friends with if I knew her in person. Anyone who values language and literature so much has to be pretty cool, right? I did enjoy the book (though not as much as the first). There are some interesting plot twists that I didn't see coming and I'm looking forward to the third installment.

 The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

The Magician's Elephant is the most enchanting book I have read in a long time and my favorite summer read. I loved it. This is one of those books that was so perfectly wrought that when it all came together at the end, although one couldn't imagine it any other way.

I read this book out loud to my boys and they eagerly soaked it all in. Kate DiCamillo's prose has a magical, almost poetic quality to it which makes it a joy to read. She uses language brilliantly and her characters are memorable and lovingly crafted.

Incidentally when I was at Capitol Theater for Wicked at the beginning of this month I kept glancing up and imagining an elephant crashing through the ceiling.

  Rescued: A Prodigal's Journey Home by Jerry Earl Johnston

My father-in-law served an LDS mission with the author of this book so he chose it for our family book club. It is an easy, sit-down-and-read-it-in-one-day kind of book.

Johnston's memoir is simple and touching. I loved the descriptions of Bolivia (and mentally added it to my list of places to go before I die) and I enjoyed the little pearls of wisdom he shared throughout the text. I'd like to read it again and take notes about some of my favorite parts.

He begins his narrative with returning to Bolivia twenty years after he served there as a missionary then flashes back to his time as a missionary, his subsequent falling away from the LDS church and his eventual return (like the Prodigal Son of the New Testament parable). I enjoyed this down-to-earth read and it's message of redemption. After all, are we not all prodigals?

Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card

I had a hard time wrapping my brain around this one. I did enjoy it, but sometimes I think OSC is just too smart for me; the space and time travel involved, the paradoxes, the parallel universe thing--they all had me scratching my head at times.

Rigg is thirteen year old boy with a unique talent. He can see the paths that other people (and even animals) have traveled. Newer paths are brighter and easier to discern but ancient paths can be perceived as well. After the death of his father, Rigg finds that his father has kept secrets from him. He sets out on his own path: a quest to figure out who he really is and what his unique abilities mean.

It was particularly interesting to see some of the parallels between The Goddess's Choice and Pathfinder. Ultimately they head in different directions but some of the characteristics of the protagonists of the two books overlap, so it was fun to note the similarities.

Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall with Lisa Pulitzer

There's a funny story behind why I read this book. I originally picked it up for $1.00 at the local thrift store as a white elephant gift for a party we went to at Christmas. I thought it would be perfect--just the right combination of tacky and hilarious. I wrapped it up all fancy-like and it was the first gift unwrapped when the game started. The original recipient wasn't too thrilled with his pick, but a couple of the other ladies at the party got into a friendly competition to see who would end up with the book. My friend Stacy won. She started reading the book and liked it enough to buy an electronic version for her iPad to make it easier to read. She passed the original back to me and I started to read it. 

I really didn't expect much to be honest but I have to say that I was  surprised. The writing is passable (not great) and the story is definitely fascinating (and somewhat horrifying). Elissa Wall grew up in a Polygamous sect and was forced to marry her first cousin at the age of fourteen. This book chronicles her difficult teen years, her nightmarish marriage and her ultimately breaking ties with the FLDS church (not the same as the LDS church!) and making a new life for herself.

Wall's account is, of course, subjective. Memoirs usually are, but I felt she and co-author Lisa Pulitzer did a decent job of sticking to facts and events and not filling the book with overly opinionated narrative while maintaining enough of a personal voice to make reading it compelling. Sort of. It was a little long and a bit slow-paced at times but overall, better than I expected.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Charming. I think between this book and my recent discovery of Doc Martin, I have pretty much decided that I want to move to a small English village and spend my days in my flower garden, reading books and drinking [herbal] tea.

This book is a kind of At Home in Mitford meets Pride and Prejudice with all the quirky characters and keen wit that make those stories so enjoyable.

I really enjoyed the first 3/4 of the book, despite the leisurely pace, but I didn't love some of the turns the plot took towards the end. I loved the author's style and voice but honestly I expected a little more of a fairy tale ending. It's almost as if Simonson was afraid to write too sweet of a story. I don't know about you, but one of the reasons I read is to escape. Reality has enough disappointments. Still, overall I enjoyed the book.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (audio book)

We listened to an unabridged seven+ hour long recording of this on our recent car trip home from vacation. To be completely fair I fell asleep during a chunk of it, but mostly I enjoyed it. I am familiar with the story from reading/watching variations of it in the past but it was fun to hear it the way it was written by Stevenson's own hand.

The reader for this particular recording was awesome. Truly. He did voices for all the characters and it was almost as good as watching a play. This is a classic for all ages and my boys loved it as much as we did.

Huzzah for pirates, great literature and a worthwhile way to pass some of that time we had to be trapped in the car.

My boys started back to school on Monday. Summer is over (well, the vacation part anyway. It's still plenty hot). I don't know yet if this will mean more reading time for me or not, but I have lots of books on my bedside table and lots more on my to-read list. What have you read lately? Anything good? Please share!

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