Sunday, July 28, 2013

The "I Finally Read It!" Reviewlettes

Greetings all, we interrupt the shameless over-buying of cheap books for...some reading!  No, wait.  *analyzes several teetering piles of books looming over just the desk*  Surely that can't be right.  We interrupt the continuous browsing of the Kindle deals page for...some vacationing!  Wait, no, the vacationing appears to over.  I believe this place might be my home...  Okay, one more time, we interrupt the continuous cataloging of new bookly acquisitions for...some blogging!  Ah ha!  Yes, some blogging.  I do that once or twice a month, and considering that the looming pile of books begging for bloggish attention is threatening to topple onto and destroy my computer thus severing my connection from the book blogosphere forever for a couple minutes, it's probably time to re-assume my secret book blogger identity and write about them before they rebel.

It seems that much of this year that I haven't dedicated to reading brand-spanking new books, I've been reading all the books that it seems like nary a soul has failed to read except for me.  What with how I am among the last few people on the earth to enjoy these three selections, I figured a few reviewlettes are in order, if only so I can remember the books I'm reading.  Frankly, it's surprised me how quickly being a barely there blogger has plunged me into complete inability keep the books that I'm reading in my head for more than a few minutes.  I'm all like, "Wait, what did I just read last month?"  Whoa, that's bad news.  So anyway, without further digression, reviewlettes of some books you probably have already read!

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green - I know, right?  Not only had I not gotten around to reading this until this summer,  this is also the first book I've read by John Green.  Oh, the multitude of reading sins being atoned for with just this one book!  Anyhow, if you've been living in a nuclear fallout bunker or something for the last year, I should probably mention that this is the book about the teenagers with the cancer, and I loved it as much as all the people who love it loved it.  Green's terminal teens, Hazel and Gus, are almost unrealistically precocious in a way that I just ate up.  The Fault In Our Stars is full of lovable characters, romance, intelligent unpreachy contemplations of mortality, an exploration of how there is plenty of truth to be gleaned from fiction, and also, sadness.  Of course, sadness.  I had to practically speed read the last third of the book on a Monday night so that I wouldn't be caught weeping at my cafeteria table at work on Tuesday afternoon.  Rather, I wept embarrassingly much from the safety of my own home.  I laughed, I cried, I loved it.  I've already recommended it to a few real life friends who are also behind the times, and I recommend it also to you, last person on the earth to read The Fault In Our Stars!

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson  - Can I just say that I think the problem with my reading last year is that for some infernal and unexplainable reason I pretty much just abandoned YA fiction?  Truly, I swear, my love for YA grows with every year I grow to be less of a, well, young adult.  There is something about charging through a good piece of YA that is totally refreshing to my readerly soul, and it's not because I have a craving for something simple because YA these days is smart, just in a different way than "grown-up" fiction is smart.  Anywhoodle, The Adoration of Jenna Fox.  I didn't love this like I loved The Fault In Our Stars, but I'm glad I finally got around to reading it just the same.  Again, in case you yourself are just emerging from a coma that might have prevented you from reading this book before me, this one's about a girl who wakes up from a coma in a decidedly more technologically advanced future, and as she tries to recall who she was before a tragic accident, begins to discover that she's not quite all of the person she used to be.   Jenna Fox's world is interesting because it seems like just a mildly tweaked version of the world today wherein bio-ethically questionable technological advances have led us into both the miraculous and the catastrophic.  As Jenna unravels the secrets behind her post-accident life, Pearson gets to present a lot of very interesting bio-ethical quandaries involving life and death and where the true essence of a person lies.  The Adoration of Jenna Fox is an excellently paced and compelling story of how much you would do to save someone you love.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey - Last but not least, a book which has an intended audience of...adults!  I grabbed a copy of this at BEA the last time I was there, and I was sure I would love it.  Then all the bloggers started saying fantastic things about it, and I was doubly sure I would love it.  After all, I'm sad to report that despite pretty much every review I've read of this book being unrelentingly positive, I was disappointed.  The problem here, and the reason I've waited so long to say anything about The Snow Child is that I can't quite pinpoint why I was disappointed.  Okay, if you're returning from a lengthy undersea holiday, this book is about an older couple who decide to try their hand homesteading in the wilds of Alaska.  Mabel is unable to have a child and is crushed by the loneliness of long winters in the wilderness.  Jack is crumbling under the crushing demands of carving a farm out of a very challenging landscape.  On the night of the first snow, the two find unexpected joy in building a child out of snow.  The next day the snow child is missing, but a real child has appeared in her place. 

Honestly, I'd like a do-over on this one.  I read it over Christmas-time when things were hectic and I was busy trying to save kittens from dying and a lot of stuff was going on, and I couldn't give myself to this book like I might normally.  It's got all good ingredients - excellent characters, incredible descriptions of the dangerously beautiful Alaska wilderness, the sort of magical realism I'd normally just go bananas for, but it somehow it didn't all quite come together for me.  Faina, the snow child, always seemed more magical than real to me, and her not being quite "real enough" in my mind made it difficult for me to get emotionally involved with the latter half of the book.  I'd still happily recommend it, especially to readers who like a good dose of magical realism, but I can't say I loved it, at least, not upon my first (admittedly flawed) read.

And that's three books off my teetering pile, not to mention my overburdened shelves! 

(Oh, and by way of disclaimer, The Snow Child is the only one of these three provided by a publisher.)

Surely, you've read at least one if not all of these, what did you think?  Or perhaps you'd like to reassure me that I was not the last person in the world to, say, read a book by John Green?  ;-) 

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Why look, it's the lackadaisical book blogger back to interrupt your (new) feed readers with yet another (few and far between) book review.  I know I've become a real one trick pony lately, when there are any tricks at all.  I know, I know, all book reviews and no play makes Megan a dull, dull girl, but it seems like if I'm only going to post three times a month or something similarly ludicrous, I should at least be sharing a great book with you when I do.  Good news, though, there is an acquisitions post in the works with my of late book haul.  If you're anything like me, those totally make me drool.  Until then, hopefully I can amuse you with my inability to so much as describe Neil Gaiman's latest much less actually explain why I liked it so much, what with how Gaiman somehow defies explanation and how I am vastly out of practice at describing and explaining things in general.

Adults follow paths.  Children explore.  Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of time, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences.

So, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  It begins with a man driving away from a funeral and surprising himself by ending up at his childhood home.  As he sits beside the farm pond that the decidedly different ladies at the end of the lane always referred to as an ocean, he recalls with unexpected clarity the momentous events of his seventh year.  They began with the suicide of a lodger in his parents' house and end with his discovery of the true nature of things at the Hempstock house at the end of the lane where things are a good deal more magical than they might appear. 

I hesitate to reveal much more than that because The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a short book that's full of surprises best met within its pages.  Suffice it to say that Gaiman is at his best creating the world of a bookish seven-year-old boy without any friends to speak of, who spends his spring holidays discovering the dangerous and magical things that lurk so closely beneath surface of the humdrum world where he lives.  Gaiman captures the perfect mix of the innate helplessness of childhood with the boy's desire to be the hero of his own story like the kids in the many books he reads.  For the second time this year, I found myself reading a book in which the narrator has no name, and that somehow makes the stories being told that much more engaging.

It's hard to describe what makes Neil Gaiman's books so compelling.  It might be his knack for expertly co-mingling the world we know with magical worlds of his own creation.  Reading Gaiman can be an exercise is whimsy and nostalgia.  His stories put me in the mind of being in grade school and reading James and the Giant Peach for the first time.  It's refreshing to be a "stuffy grown-up" and be allowed, nay, encouraged by Gaiman to believe again that magic both good and evil is never so far away as we might think.  That said, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is no mere children's book, rather it's a book that confronts the real presence of fear in everyone's life however young or old they might be, the inherent dangers of getting what you want, and the benefits of having a hand to hold onto. 

"Dunno.  Why do you think she's scared of anything?  She's a grown-up, isn't she?  Grown-ups and monsters aren't scared of things."
"Oh, monsters are scared," said Lettie.  "That's why they're monsters.  And as for grown-ups..." ... "I'm going to tell you something important.  Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either.  Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing.  Inside, they look just like they always have.  Like they did when they were your age.  The truth is, there aren't any grown-ups.  Not one, in the whole wide world."

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a great addition to Gaiman's work, and, I think, one of my favorites.  It's a beautiful modern day fairy tale that touches on universal feelings with the help of magic and myth.  If you're looking for a story to get totally caught up in this summer, then I highly recommend taking a dip in Gaiman's Ocean

(Many thanks to the people at William Morrow for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.)