Friday, November 2, 2012

a few words on my October reads...

*Graven Images by Paul Fleischman. This Newbery Honor Book is a collection of three short stories. When I picked it up to start reading it, I was sure that I'd heard of Paul Fleischman before, but I just couldn't recollect where. So of course, I had to go google him...and yep, he's the guy who wrote Seedfolks, a short, sweet book I read a couple years ago. Maybe I should be ashamed of myself for forgetting his name in the first place, but fact is, I've forgotten far more important things in my day. Anyway, as I said, three stories. The first, "The Binnacle Boy," set in what feels to be colonial New England, talks of the mystery of a ship which drifts into its home port with all its crew dead. Family and loved-ones are left not only with their grief but also with the agonizing question of what happened. It is finally through a young woman, struck mute on the day of the ship's return, and her younger sister that the answers finally come to light. The second story, also set in colonial times, though this time in South Carolina, is titled "Saint Crispin's Follower." This story has a much lighter feel. It's sort of a comedy-of-errors type story, telling of a young shoemaker's apprentice smitten with a lovely shop girl. Smitten, but too afraid to say so. And finally, there is "The Man of Influence." This story takes place in Italy, and tells the tale of a cranky, and rather uppity, old sculptor named Zorelli. Times are tough though, and even the wealthy don't seem to have money to be spent commissioning artwork. Because he needs the money so badly, Zorelli agrees to something he finds horrifying and unbelievable--he's takes a commission from a ghost. And learns a lesson that just might change that uppity-ness. All told, I really enjoyed this collection a lot.

*Go With Me by Castle Freeman Jr. Okay, this was a very different book for me. There's a blurb on the front that starts, "A gripping, taut tale of suspense..." Well, there's no way I would describe this book that way. That's a personal judgment, of course. And just because I wouldn't describe the book that way, it doesn't mean I didn't like it. I did like it. But I'm at somewhat of a loss to describe it. The entire book (though it is a short one) takes place in the course of one day. It is largely the story of a young woman who is being terrorized by a very not-nice man. A man who has always gotten his way because everyone is afraid to stand up to him. When Lillian goes to the sheriff the morning after she finds this man, Blackway (nothing subtle about this character's name, huh?), has killed her cat, the sheriff tells her there's nothing he can legally do. But he sends her to someone who he thinks might be able to help her. The book is told largely through dialogue. It was an interesting psychological examination, and an interesting look at a rural logging community in Vermont. How accurate a look, I can't say. But overall, it was a disturbing book, and I suspect, that while it won't make my favorite books of the year list, it will be a book that sticks with me.

*The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. I really enjoyed this one. I was pretty sure I would, because infectious disease fascinates me. As well as scares the ever-living crap out of me. And yes, I found this book simultaneously terrifying, fascinating, and horrifying. And sad. So damn sad. This non-fiction work looks specifically at the filoviruses (Marburg, Ebola Sudan, Ebola Zaire, and Ebola Reston). It combines science and history, with a particularly close look at the events in the Washington, DC area where Ebola Reston was discovered. While I wasn't as enthralled with the short last section of the book as I was with the vast majority of it, there was one very interesting bit. I loved the author's thoughts comparing humans and what we've done to the planet to the way a virus sometimes overtakes its host. The author sort of muses aloud about Earth's immune system fight back. I found it a thought-provoking comparison. I had one small point of contention--the author pulled out the Africa-as-one-homogenous-place bit. He lived in Africa for part of his childhood, and he went back in writing the final part of this book. He says, "What came back first was the smell of Africa, the smoky smell of cooking fires, which produce a haze of burning acacia and blue-gum wood that covers the town and clings to the bodies of people." The smell of Africa, as if Africa has one permeating smell across the whole vast continent. I bring this up not to be hard on the author, but really more as a reminder to myself. Because I know I'm guilty of over-generalizations from time to time. And it really is something I'd like to do better with.

*Pretty Dead by Francesca Lia Block. It hurts me to say this, but I didn't love this book. It hurts me because I adore Francesca Lia Block for other books she's written. I couldn't love her Weetzie Bat books more--I think they are priceless treasures. But this book didn't have that same magic, the magic of unique characters and unconventional relationships. The book starts, "Teenage girls are powerful creatures. I remember; I was once one of them. They are relentless and underutilized. They want what they want, and they will do what they must to get it. Love, possessions, beauty, food, sweets, friends...." I was put off by this immediately. But at the same time, I trusted Block to not turn her characters into stereotypical catty teenage girls. And for a while, I thought she was going in the right direction...there is a friendship between the two main female characters that I thought was going to be lovely and refreshing. But ultimately it all went wrong. It's not that I don't think relationships going sour isn't part of real life. It's just that I trusted Block to do something different...all teenage girls are *not* willing to do whatever to do what it takes to get what they want. On top of this, I found the ending both predictable and somewhat forced.

But here's something I should mention--I was ridiculously tired when I was reading this book, and I'm guessing I missed some of the nuances of the story. And I also fear that I'm being a bit unfair--I think I want everything she writes to charm me as completely as her Weetzie Bat books did. See, profoundly unfair. I did enjoy her writing, as I always do. It was not nearly as lyrical as in other things I've read by her, but it was lovely nonetheless. And I was captivated by the story...I may have been disappointed in the direction of the book, but I have to admit it kept me reading straight through it.

*Troll's Eye View: A Book of Villainous Tales edited Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. I must say that I really enjoyed this little collection of fairy tale retellings. Each was told from the "villain's" perspective, and let me tell you, for the most part they were positively delightful. I read Datlow's and Windling's A Wolf at the Door, another of their fairy tale retelling collections for children, a few years back, and while I enjoyed it, I think this collection far surpasses it. As in most anthologies, there were some stories that were better than others. Probably my favorite story of all was "A Delicate Architecture" by Catherynne M. Valente, a beautiful and sad retelling of Hansel and Gretel in which my heart positively aches for the witch. Valente's an author who has for some unknown reason intimidated me, but now I'm positively dying to give some of her books a go.

And yep, every one of these books made for good RIP-reading! Many, many thanks to Carl for hosting one of the best community reading experiences ever!!!


Jean said...

Nice reviews, Debi. You do a very good job of summarizing the book and what you liked or didn't about it without any spoilers. I'm glad that RIP gave you an excuse to spend some time reading and reflecting, some Debi-time. The gods know, you deserve it.

Chris said...

Love these reviews!!! I'm terrified of that infectious disease book, lol..not because of the subject but just because I feel like I'd be too dumb to read it and understand it. And we've talked about the Block book and I think it's just unfortunate :( As for the Datlow and Windling book, I WANT IT!!!! I can't wait to see Datlow at WorldCon with Renay next year :D :D :D I'm so hoping that somehow Terri Windling ends up there too so I can tell her how much The Armless Maiden meant to me…speaking of, did you ever read that one? If not, you totally need to!

Carl V. said...

There are a couple of great sounding short story collections you've read there, ones that I'll need to keep in mind in my future reads. I'm glad you enjoyed them. I love short fiction and especially RIPish short fiction.

I'm sorry the one book was so disturbing. I get a disturbing feeling just reading *about* it.

It is hard when an author you like writes something that doesn't do it for you. I never enjoy that experience. It makes me feel like somehow I've failed as a reader and yet the reality is that this is just not the case. Sometimes books and readers don't click. The good thing is that you know there are other Block books that you like so chances are you'll be excited by more of her work in the future.