Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Magical Reading

If it were possible to lock C.S. Lewis, J.D. Salinger, Terry Pratchett, and J.K. Rowling into a room and force them to collaborate on a book, the result might possibly be a lot like Lev Grossman's The Magicians and The Magician King.  These are, strictly speaking, fantasy, but they do seem to bridge the gap between that genre and regular fiction.

The Magicians introduces the reader to the character of Quentin Coldwater, who is a familiar figure -- a teen with no clear direction.  Through an odd sequence of events, he lands at Brakebills, a Hogwarts-like institution of magic.  However, the similarity to Hogwarts is quite superficial -- Grossman's books, while lighthearted (and really funny) at times, lack the fairy tale/happy ending/hope for the world moods that underlie the Harry Potter series.  The sequel, The Magician King, builds on the foundation of the story told in the first book, and has its share of surprises. These books are about people who seem real in their characters and have a greater share of flaws and faults, and while their choices do have a great impact, there are situations in which the characters cannot win, and simply have to deal with in their own ways.

I don't really give a blanket recommendation for these books, even though I have reread the first one several times and intend to do so with the sequel.  If you really don't like fantasy, these books aren't for you.  These books can be graphic at times, disturbingly so for some readers.  This is not crossover kids' fantasy; these are real grownup books.  But if you enjoyed  any of the writers listed in the first paragraph of this post (with the possible exception of Rowling) you will probably enjoy these books as well.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Call For Guest Posters

It's been a pretty dry summer for me -- I've been plowing through lots of books, but I haven't found many that are worth posting for my discriminating audience.  It occurred to me that not everyone is necessarily having that experience, so I am calling for submissions for guest posts.  Sadly, I am not in a position to reward winning posts, but if you live in my vicinity, I'll be more than happy to make you dinner one night or watch your children for a few hours.

Interested?  Leave your contact info and a brief summary of what you'd like to post in the comments form below, and I'll get back to you post haste.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Little Women, Revisited

If you've never read Little Women, or if you've read it (or watched it) and loathed it, go play some Angry Birds, because this post is definitely not for you.

The Little Women Letters, by Gabrielle Donnelly, is a fluffy treat of a book.  It's nearly chick lit, but not quite, because there isn't anyone nasty in the book (and if they are, you soon see their redeeming features).  It's a feel-good book that will make you laugh out loud; in my case, I did so several times.

The book is based on the premise that the story of Alcott's Little Women is actually true, and that the March family did exist.  It focuses on three contemporary sisters, Emma/Josephine, Lulu, and Sophie, and their lovable but slightly odd parents.  There are truly no evil characters in this story -- everybody is really so nice!  Even the characters who initially seem standoffish or rude quickly are dealt with and their inner niceness is revealed.

Lulu, the middle sister, is going through a bit of a career crisis when she discovers the letters of her great-grandmother, Josephine March.  (Just a note of explanation -- the book takes place in England; her father is English and her mother is a transplanted American).   Through the letters, Lulu finds a lot of comfort, and of course the storyline cooperates.

The relationships in this book are ridiculously too good to be true, and the conversations almost sitcom-like, but who cares?  It makes its reader so so happy.  This is definitely a book to pick up if you're blue.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Persistence of Memory

I just finished a new book called What Alice Forgot, which I haven't been able to stop thinking about. By Liane Moriarty, an Australian author who I have never heard of until now, this is chick lit with a twist.

Alice takes a hard fall during her weekly spin class, hits her head, and when she comes to, it's 1998 and she's pregnant with her first child (she calls it the sultana; I think this is Australian for raisin).  Except it's not 1998 -- it's 2008, and Alice has lost the memories of ten years, has no recollection of her three children, and is evidently about to divorce her husband and can't remember why.

The ensuing action is fascinating.  The 2008 Alice, as depicted through the eyes of the other characters, is a hardened woman with uber-mommy features and doesn't seem at all like the sweet, loving, idealistic 1998 Alice. My favorite part deals with an episode involving her teenager (the former sultana) who is suspended from school for some infraction.  It's clear that the 2008 Alice, full of resentment towards the child who's evidently been giving her a hard time, would have dealt with this in a very different way than the new/old Alice who has just met her.  1998 Alice thinks Madison is a lovely girl, and with none of the backstory to affect her behavior, deals with the problem easily in a loving and proper manner.

I won't give away any more of this delightful story, but I would definitely categorize this as a must-read.

This reminded me a little of another book that I've mentioned before, which shares the theme of memory and the effect it (and the lack of it) can have on one's life.  Welcome To The World, Baby Girl, by Fannie Flagg, kept coming to mind as I read this book, even though in many ways they are not alike.  However, in this book memories that are buried and forgotten set off a sequence of events that culminate in a real comfort of a novel.