This past week was a good reading week. I read one novel that is definitely in my top 5 for the year and a couple others that were quite good, plus some new poetry and a short book of non-fiction.
Kate Mosse Labyrinth
I got this book through Bzzagent.com, recommended for people who enjoyed the Davinci Code and The Historian. While I didn’t fall in love with either of those books, I did find them both to be enjoyable. The DaVinci Code offered an afternoon’s worth of mindless diversion while I was flying somewhere that I now can’t remember. The Historian started off incredibly strong for me, then faded a bit as I went along, but I was glad I read it. So, anyhow, BzzAgent sent me my copy of Labyrinth and I read it right away. It didn’t grab me at first, but it did pique my interest more as it went along. In particular, I ended up really liking the two main female characters, Alice and Alais, both strong, intelligent women, and fairly compelling. The storyline, not as much. It was a bit convoluted for my taste – too many characters in too many different places and time periods. Actually, I guess that makes the title of the book pretty apt, huh; the book itself felt labyrinthine. Overall, I’d give it a B- or C+. I don’t feel like I wasted my time reading it, but it also won’t be making my favorites list. I am going to recommend it to my mom and sister, though. I think it’s more up their alley than mine.
Gail Tsukiyama The Samurai’s Garden
This book definitely ranks in the top 5 books I’ve read in the past year, and it was the perfect antidote to the overly convoluted Labyrinth. I picked it up off the shelves at work (have I mentioned that I love love love working for a company where I’m surrounded by books and book lovers?), though I’m not quite sure why it caught my eye. I’d never heard of the author before, and the book isn’t especially flashy on the outside. In any case, I’m very glad I did read it. Tsukiyama creates this world that is somehow incredibly lush but incredibly simple at the same time. There are really only 3 main characters, and not that big of a supporting “cast” either. Tsukiyama writes in this way that I can only describe as peaceful. Her language and images are quite lovely and reading this book made me feel incredibly calm and quiet and satisfied, like I’d just taken an especially relaxing yoga class.
Mary Lawson Crow Lake
Another one from the shelves at work. Very enjoyable, though I felt it was a bit heavy-handed in the foreshadowing department. Lawson spent most of the book hinting at this big, secret tragedy that ended up being presented in a rather anti-climactic way when it was finally revealed. I also was a bit irritated by being completely unable to place the book in time – the main character felt quiet contemporary, and was only meant to be 20-something, but the world of her childhood really felt like it was meant to have been 50 or 60 years ago. What I did love, though, was the sections of the book that were about the main character as a child. Lawson does a great job capturing that childhood naiveté toward the adult world, knowing that something is going on, but not really understanding what that something is. Plus, I love that the main character is this incredibly intellectual woman, who is so brilliant about the natural world but so un-brilliant about the relationships around her. I like that the book doesn’t slip into that “emotional women/distant men” thing that’s so cliché.
Tony Hoagland What Narcissism Means to Me
This is a book of poetry I ordered from Amazon after I heard one of his poems on an NPR podcast. I absolutely adored the poem from the podcast, and the book is good, but as a whole it didn’t quite live up to the poem. What I like about Hoagland is his sense of humor and the ordinariness of his subjects. He reminds me of Billy Collins in that way, except Hoagland is, even more than Collins, totally a creature of contemporary pop culture. He’s good, though. Recommended. Here’s a link to the poem I heard that led me to buy this book. It's called "A Color of the Sky"
Elizabeth Soutter Schwarzer Motherhood is Not For Wimps
Schwarzer writes a blog with the same name as this book (www.damomma.com), which has me in fits and giggles pretty much every time I read it, so I ordered her book at the same time I got the Hoagland. As I expected, it made me laugh till I almost cried in places. I think I still like her blog better, perhaps because it’s more “right now.” I think Schwarzer's writing has also gotten better over the years, and everything in the book is from a couple years ago. In any case, I’m going to send this book off to a friend who just had her first baby – hopefully she’ll get a kick out of it.
Katharine McMahon The Alchemists Daughter
Picked up this one on sale at Target, out of their “Bookmarked” rack. They had a buy two get one free thing going on (I also got Jeanette Wall’s The Glass Castle and Jodi Picoult’s The Tenth Circle, both of which I read last week). I think Target actually does quite a nice job selecting books for Bookmarked. Once you get past the inevitable chick lit crap, a lot of the fiction I’ve picked up there has turned out to be quite enjoyable, if not super-intellectual. This book was no different. I’m not usually a big historical fiction fan, because I often feel like the history somehow overrides character and plot development that has real depth to it. This book avoided that trap pretty well, though it did totally have the “gorgeous asshole husband sleeping with the wife’s maid” cliché. Actually, the book made me mad when I first started reading it. I was so pissed that the author had made the main character, Emilie, so naïve as to fall for that guy. It was so obvious, in some ways. Despite that, though, I ultimately got into the book, gained some respect for Emilie, and whipped through the whole thing in one day. I found myself hoping for a neat happy ending, and I didn’t quite get it. It was happy enough, though, and I liked that. Also, McMahon surprised me sometimes with these lovely turns of phrase that just came out of nowhere The book's upstairs and I don't feel like going after it, but I'll try to add a couple quotes later.
This afternoon, in between grocery shopping, house-cleaning, and getting to feed the sheep grain right from my hand, I started reading Wintering by Kate Moses. So far, it is quiet and lovely and sad and it’s making me long for something that I can’t quite identify. I’ll report on it once I’ve finished.