Jeffrey Lent -- A Peculiar Grace
I've not read anything by Lent before, though I did start to read his first novel, In the Fall, several years ago. I got distracted and never finished it. This book completely blew me away, though. I started reading it Thursday at bedtime and had finished it by midday Saturday -- I literally could not put it down. Basically, it's the story of this middle-loner artist who has never quite gotten over his first love, and how his life changes when a young homeless woman shows up in his backyard one morning. That's very simplistic, but it's the basic story. One thing I loved about the book: Lent manages to capture speech spot on. The two main characters in the story are from Vermont and Alabama, and each of their ways of speaking is completely distinct within the story and I knew instantly, before it was even revealed in the story, the general regions the characters were from. In my own writing, I've always avoided dialogue, as I struggle so mightily to get it right, so I was majorly impressed with Lent on that front. I also loved the fact that the book actually surprised me, yet the surprises were actually completely organic and true to the story. I'm often annoyed with novels that seem to throw in plot twists purely for the sake of having a twisty plot. Not at all the case here. And I loved the fact that the book made me want one ending, but at the same time, left me purely satisfied when it gave me a completely different ending. I could go on and on about how much I loved this book, but I suspect I lost the two people who might be reading this six or seven sentences ago, so I'll refrain.
Richard Adams, Watership Down
This book holds a special place in my heart, as some of my earliest memories are of my dad sitting with me on my bed, reading aloud to me from Watership Down. We even named one of my childhood dogs Rowsby Woof, after a dog in the book. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this book, and the time my dad spent reading it to me, played a major role in my ending up a lifelong reader and book-lover (and someone who makes their career of helping other people learn to love reading). I've owned and lost several copies of the book over the years, and on Sunday I found a used copy for a quarter at the Friends of the Marin County Library used book sale. The best part -- It's the same edition that my dad read to me from when I was a kid. White cover with reddish picture on the front, red coloring on the edges of the pages (do they ever still DO that with books, or was that a total 70s and 80s thing?) So this was a nostalgia read for me on a ton of levels. And I have to say, it was just as good as it has been every other time I read it, though I didn't cry this time around. (If you're a fan of the book, the Wikipedia entry for it is quite fascinating, by the way.)