March was a fantastic and productive reading month. I had an opportunity to read a mid-century classic and two "of the moment" novels. To my sons, I read two middle reader novels from series. And, I finished reading a book I started back in October. But I have also realized the following: since it has taken me days to write this post, which is holding up my blogging, as well as my current reading, in a significant way, I need to blog about what I read immediately following the last page—or not at all. Without further delay, here are some of the highlights from March.
Revolutionary Road, Rapunzel’s Revenge, Little Bee, Deltora Quest 05: Dread Mountain, The Graveyard Book, Yarn Harlot, Little House on the Prairie, Warriors 04: Rising Storm
Revolutionary Road (Richard Yates)
Richard Yates’ domestic drama has been on my TBR list for over ten years so I was thrilled when it was chosen for book group. In fact, my book group had one of its best—and longest—discussions in quite a while. The novel blew me away. Set in 1961, the story explores suburban ennui through the young, ambitious couple, Frank and April Wheeler. A lot of this novel is like watching a train wreck as adultery, alcohol abuse, job dissatisfaction, and keeping up with the Joneses are plot staples. Even though there isn’t a single sympathetic or likeable person in the novel, Yates has masterfully drawn his characters, getting under each one’s skin. The dialogue is pitch perfect, and the scene is set with such vivid details that you can't help but step right into the early 60s. At the same time, Yates has an enviable economy of language and his word choice is exact—concise but not sparse. Kurt Vonnegut called Revolutionary Road the Gatsby of his time, and it was a National Book Award finalist in 1962 (Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer was the winner and the rest of the shortlist is pretty remarkable). I’m looking forward to seeing the movie, which should be on video soon.
Rapunzel’s Revenge (Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illus. by Nathan Hale)
My friend Caryl and a number of others have been gently urging me to read Shannon Hale so when I stumbled upon Rapunzel’s Revenge at the library, I realized the time had come. This updated Rapunzel story is retold by Shannon Hale and her husband Dean Hale, and is illustrated by Nathan “No Relation” Hale as a graphic novel, to brilliant effect. After Rapunzel escapes from years of imprisonment, she sets out to save the valley from her evil mother. Rapunzel teams up with Jack (as in Beanstalk Jack) for a Western-themed adventure that is very entertaining and rewarding, if you’re a fan of fairy tales—and who isn’t? It’s amazing what that girl can do with her braids! I’m not only inspired to read more Shannon Hale, but to read more graphic novels. If you’ve got time to burn, check out Shannon Hale’s absorbing website, with lots of great background info about her books, as well as her blog.
Little Bee (Chris Cleave)
Little Bee is a pretty remarkable novel, and Chris Cleave has done a bang-up job of artfully telling a story, in alternating voices that each reveal a little at a time. I loved and hated the novel simultaneously for this and for a plot that hinged on the kind of cliffhangers you find in more commercial fiction. But I’m willing to put those things aside because Little Bee, the character, is absolutely unforgettable. So, the story alternates between Little Bee and Sarah. Little Bee is a 16-year-old girl who lands in England, a refugee from Nigeria, where her village was burned because it sat on an oil field. Sarah is a young mother, a successful magazine editor, and a recent widow, who met Little Bee on a beach in Nigeria, where she was vacationing with her husband. Okay, I’m not really sure how to write about this book and its plot without completely spoiling it so I’m just going tell you to read Little Bee. The novel is compelling and stylish and well-paced. The characters are well drawn, and even if some are unlikable, they’re still sympathetic. Cleave doesn’t bash you on the head with geopolitics but writes about horrifying atrocities in a way that makes the read take notice. One review compares the experience of this novel to that of an Ian McEwan novel, and I would have to agree.
The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman)
The Graveyard Book is easily one of the best books I have read this year. In fact, it is an impeccably written novel that makes it impossible to pick up anything else. My expectations for a stunning plot and sparkling characters are so high that the next three books I try to read will be cast aside in disappointment. Which is why I have turned to Brunetti. Back to Gaiman. The Graveyard Book stars Nobody Owens, who has been orphaned as a baby when his parents and sister are brutally murdered. Nobody is an odd name but we soon learn the purpose it serves. Nobody wanders into a nearby cemetery, where he is rescued by Silas, who becomes his guardian, and the Owenses, a Victorian ghost-couple, who become his parents. Inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Gaiman’s bildungsroman is revealed in a series of adventures that has Nobody befriending a witch and learning how to open and close a ghoul gate. I loved every character, as well as the careful depiction of the graveyard as a community. The Graveyard Book—already a Newbery Award-winner, as well as a Hugo-nominee—is a real treat. I know I will read it again and again, and I look forward to the day when my boys are ready to enjoy it.
~Wanderlust (Rebecca Solnit)
I read about this social history of walking on a blog and special ordered it from Common Good Books
~Stern Men (Elizabeth Gilbert)
Gilbert’s first novel, written before her wildly successful Eat, Pray, Love; involves Maine lobstermen; impulse purchase at CGB while picking up Wanderlust
~Homemade Life (Molly Wizenberg)
A memoir in essays by a popular food blogger that I have been following almost from her first day; shamefully purchased at a chain with a discount on top of a discount on top of a discount. I know. The store practically owed me money for purchasing.
~State by State (Sean Wilsey and Matt Weiland)
I have been drooling over this book—50 authors, portraits of 50 states—for months; one day whilst browsing at Sixth Chamber, a copy found me
~Warriors 04 and 05 (Erin Hunter)
Purchased at Red Balloon and Wild Rumpus, each an outstanding children’s independent