Thursday, June 30, 2011

June statistics

June has been a great month for reading! I have had glorious swathes of time to sink my teeth into books, particularly during those two glorious weeks when the boys were still in school. Finishing five books in a month is an accomplishment, to be sure, but I also managed to pick up Freedom right at the place where I left off in April. At the rate I am going, I may actually finish this door-stopper--608 pages, feels like 1,200--before the pub year is over.

Sojourn was covered here. The only thing I’d like to say about it now is that it is still one of the leading candidates for Favorite of 2011.

A couple of short reads improved my overall statistics. On son Simon's recommendation, and in anticipation of attending a Neil Gaiman event, I read Odd and the Frost Giant. This is folklore at its best. For one, it’s not updated in some ridiculous contemporary way meant to capture the short attention spans of the modern child. Brett Helquist's woodcut illustrations ground the story so it is approachable and transporting.This beautiful story pays homage to Norse gods and giants in a very pleasing way. I cannot wait to re-read.

Wither is a first novel, and the first book in the Chemical Garden Trilogy, by Lauren DeStafano. As a YA novel, this book was a quick read, which was, perhaps, the best thing about it. I didn’t connect with any characters, and I’m only mildly curious about what happens to them. Catastrophic illnesses have been bred out of the gene pool, but the trade-off is that people don’t live into adulthood. Girls—some as young as 13 years old (which I found disturbing)—are plucked off the street and forced to marry and reproduce. Rhine Ellery, an orphan, is the victim of such a kidnapping. Her husband is wealthy and young. He falls in love with Rhine after his first wife expires from a very messy death. Rhine may have feelings for husband, but she has stronger feelings for Gabriel the servant boy. Mostly she’s plotting her escape from the mansion-prison in which she’s held so she may be reunited with her twin brother. The plot follows predictably as well as makes allusions to experiments conducted in the creepy basement by the scary father-in-law. Yeah, the stereotypes are heavy. It seems as if the publisher—and author—are trying to capture the Hunger Games audience, but I think Wither falls far short. I think I can predict the progression of each of the three books. Also, I found a lot of inconsistencies with the circumstances under which the world has gone to hell and couldn’t suspend enough disgust for the child brides and trafficking. Not recommended.

Foiled, however, was a delightful read. Jane Yolen wrote the story and Mike Cavallaro illustrated this sweet graphic novel about a teen girl who fences. There’s romance and magic (of the fantastical sort). Our lead character is feisty and passionate and competitive and trying to figure out life. I wish more books like this had been in print when I was 14.

The most transporting book I read this month was An Embarrassment of Mangoes by Ann Vanderhoof. This travel memoir details the epic year (plus) that the author and her husband spent sailing from their home in Toronto to the Caribbean. They quit their day jobs in publishing, rented their house, bought a 42-foot sailboat, and set off for points south, covering 47 individual islands. I loved reading about the water, the sand, the sun, the food, and the people (cruisers and islanders, alike) that the couple met along the way. And, I fantasized constantly about taking a leave from my studies, renting the house, pulling the kids out of school, and having an unforgettable adventure. I also have a wicked craving for conch fritters.

Sadly, I was forced to abandon Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, which I had been listening to in the car. Half of the story focuses on Daniel Burnham, the architect who designed the grounds for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The other half of the story focuses on a serial killer in Chicago who was active during that same period. Clearly, the character's lives intersect. This past semester, my architectural history class spent a lot of time on international expositions and on Chicago’s post-Great Fire growth so this book has been high on my list for summer reading. No sooner had I returned the book than I learned a friend was reading it and another is searching for a copy. Ah, the power of backlist (Larson has a newhardcover out). Try, try again.

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