Sunday, August 31, 2014

Summer Reading, Part 3 - August!

AKA, the month I decided that I WANTED to do several rereads but also NEEDED to work my way through the pile of books that I've already bought but hadn't yet touched.  Seriously...the queue in iBooks was getting out of control, and I have several preorders coming this fall!

1. Tam Lin, Pamela Dean - I have a special place in my heart for Tam Lin as it was my official gateway into the world of fantasy literature.  (Caveat, OF COURSE I grew up on Narnia, Tolkein, L'Engle, and fairy tales.  Given how much I've always loved those books, I'm not sure why I didn't travel the fantasy path earlier.  Instead, I grew up on a steady diet of classics and Victoria Holt romances, sometimes struggling to find reading material because the books at the time that were marketed  to my age group were so horrendous.)  I was a freshman in college, and was developing an interesting circle of friends that included fellow alums from Missouri Scholars Academy and the fencing club.  In some instances I can remember who recommended what.  This, sadly, is not one of those cases.  I do remember falling hopelessly in love with Tam Lin, and that love propelled me to chase down the rest of the excellent fairy tale series it belonged to.  (Also starting my love affair with the work of Terri Windling.)  In short, Tam Lin is a modern retelling of an old Scottish ballad set in a 1970's liberal arts college.  It's been years and years since I last read it, and to be honest I'd forgotten how strange the pacing is.  Lots and lots of nothing happens for a very long time, but every single detail is focused on as if it's of immense importance....which is just exactly what it feels like when you first go to college.  The end then happens with a breathless rush.  Incidentally, this is exactly how the pacing of the original Scottish ballad feels.  I'd forgotten how many similarities I felt between myself and the book - English, classics, fencing, the focus on my campus, the importance of all of that reading.  True, I rolled my eyes a bit over the crazy details.  I think perhaps if I hadn't read Tam Lin during college I might not have enjoyed it quite so much.  Timing, sometimes, is everything.  It was a delight to reread!

2.  The Quick, Lauren Owen - This was a BOTNS recommendation, and the thing that made me perk up my ears when it was first mentioned a month or so ago was the fact that Kate Atkinson loved it.  (Recommendations by authors sometimes go a very long way with me...but only of a few select writers.)  Darn it, I loved it....but I soooo wish I'd read it in October, when I start to yearn for stories about monsters.  I'm not sure I want to say too much about it, because I don't want to give away any details in case you'd like to read it.  For sure, this is a book for you if you like Victorian Gothic and/or more classical style horror novels.  As a special bonus, it had one of the most satisfying endings I've read in a really, really long time in this genre.

3.  The Magician's Land, Lev Grossman - Oh my, the first of those preorders came through!  Going to admit, I wasn't too excited about reading this final entry in Grossman's Magician's trilogy because the second book wasn't so much fun for me.  (To be completely honest, the teen antics in the first left me a bit cold, too...I was so NOT that kind of teen.)   Buuuuutttt....yeah, I had to finish the series.  I'm so, so glad I chose to read the final installment, because it was amazing.  In fact, it was probably the best of the three books.  The really awesome thing is that Grossman allowed his characters to truly gain maturity throughout the series, while staying true to his irreverent tone.  In fact, I kind of wish that I had waited until they were all published so that I could read them back to back as it truly would have felt like one big book.  It's a pretty incredible thing to wind up a series in such a satisfactory manner, having seen the writer improve throughout.  Now...I need to reread my Narnia books....

4.  Enchantment, Orson Scott Card (audio) - I honestly don't remember the when I first read this book. I'm guessing it was in the few years prior to my marriage.  I remembered the details only faintly....Russian folklore, a woman lying on a bier in the woods...ah yes, I didn't remember much, but I remembered it was lovely.  When I found it on hoopla, I immediately borrowed it and began reading it even though it wasn't on my list of rereads I'd planned for the month..  (To my delight, it uses both male and female readers, and they are among my favorite Blackstone readers.)  Truth - Card is a little bit problematic because of his personal politics/beliefs, and on rereading I can see how some of that crept into the book, particularly in gender roles.  Having said that, I still really enjoy this book even if it's not quite as perfect as I remember it.  For me, one of the biggest delights is Baba Yaga (and if I remember correctly, this book was my very first introductions to her), who is delightfully wicked.  Plus, Card's take on her house with chicken legs is hysterical!

5.  The Uninvited Guests, Sadie Jones - I can't remember where I first heard about this book, but it does have rather stellar reviews all over the place.  It took me forever to get into it...not going to lie....but wow, the payoff for sticking with it was huge!  It's kind of an old-fashioned, gentle ghost story on top of book of manners.  As I look back, the thing that really sticks out is how funny the book was in places.  I'm going to have to ponder this book for a's the sort that sticks with you, with more and more details emerging the longer you think about it.

6.  Her Fearful Symmetry, Audry Niffenegger - I loved the Time Traveler's Wife, and because of that this book has been on my wish list for a long while.  Sadly, I was disappointed.  Oh, I loved the characters....most especially some of the lesser characters like Martin.  (What would I give for an entire book about Martin?!)  I hated the plot, though.  Ultimately, the book left me feeling cold.  You know...I do like books about unlikeable protagonists, but the writer has to make me care about them in some way.  The younger twins I just couldn't connect with.  The older twins...well, Niffenegger managed to pull off the trick of having me love them in the beginning and despise them by the end.

7.  Tea With A Black Dragon, R.A. MacAvoy- This was recommended to me quite some time ago by my fairy godmother, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm only just getting to it!  First off, I'm wondering if the print version is easier to read.  There were some editing issues which I am guessing were caused when the book was transferred to a digital format.  Most noticeably, there were odd transitions between paragraphs where there should be a break in the page.  I got lost a few times in trying to figure out what was going on until I figured out this would be an ongoing problem, and I will admit that it dropped my enjoyment of this book down a few notches.

8. The Sword-Edged Blonde, Alex Bledsoe (audio) - I admit to being curious about Bledsoe.  I absolutely adore his Tufa books, which are some of the best modern fairy tales I've found in a long while, so I thought it would be worthwhile to try one of his other books.  At less than 10 hours, this is a quick audio book...and it was so much fun.  Bledsoe's Lacross books are a mash up between fantasy and the hard-boiled detective novel.  It's a curious combination that sounds like it shouldn't work...but in this case it really does.  Of course, another awesome narrator really added to the experience.  (I actually had to double check because I thought at first it was James Naughton, one of my favorite Broadway actors.)  There are more books in this series, and I believe I'm going to use them as some lighthearted quick reads between weightier tomes.

9. The Call, Yannick Murphy - Pretty cool to fall in love with a book/character on the very first page. Given the slow warm up I felt for so many other new books this month, that was big for me.  Of course, it helps that my dad is a veterinarian, and that I spent my childhood going on call with him, so  it all felt very, very familiar.  The book is written as though it's our narrator's notes for his veterinary practice...with lots of other comments added in.  It could have been an annoying format, but instead it was utterly charming.  This is absolutely going on my list of top 10 books for this year!

10.  The Poppet and the Lune, Madeline Claire Franklin - I have very few FB friends who I don't know in person.  The few I have come from very trusted sources, and are a delight to me.  One of my friends designs covers for indie publishers, and as she has tastes similar to mine I tend to rush to any recommendations she gives me.  A few days ago I accepted the FB challenge of listing 10 books that were important to me, and she suggested this book based on that list.  She said "the Poppet is probably one of the most exquisite faerie tales I've ever read."  I immediately downloaded it, and could not agree more.  It is a lovely, lovely book...and this is exactly the sort of thing I love most to read.  Now...I'm not entirely finished with it right now, but as I'm planning on burying my nose in it this afternoon I'm including it in August anyway.

Special Project:  The Call of Chaos, by Sean Frazier - Yep, my husband has written a book, and so a lot of my reading time this month was devoted to a read through (with editing/notes...making it a slow process for me) of his work.  I'm very proud of my husband for returning to his writing in the last year as it's a passion of his that he put on hold while our children were young.  He's much happier now that he's back to a regular writing schedule, and I'm absolutely delighted to be witness to his creative process.

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