Saturday, September 5, 2009

Getting back into the swing... Friday Finds!

I relapsed into some bad habits, namely not blogging (not even feebly attempting to do so), so I'll include both last week's and this week's finds in this post.

I think what locks me down, at least some of the time, is that I get hung up on trying to cover everything I've been reading. In the last few weeks, I've had the great luck to read some incredible books, of varying genres and styles, but when I go to actually write about these books (whether in a formal or informal review), I realize there's a whole bunch of things I haven't caught up on as of late, and then I become convinced that I should write about this before that, devote time to this book before moving onto the next good read... etc. Excuses, all of it, but honest excuses.

In case I don't get to them in future posts - I fully intend to, but it seems that my intentions don't always play out the way they should - here are the following books that readers should take notice of:

- Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins - The riveting and surprising follow-up to last Fall's The Hunger Games. This series is going to catch on even bigger now, so get to it before the hype wears you out.

- Candor by Pam Bachorz - Egmont USA's first title, and it's a doozy - A Stepford Wives-esque tale revolving around a small, affluent Florida community that is brainwashing its youth. Bachorz offers some small, but vital twists to her authoritarian nightmare, and the book doesn't quite take you where you think it's going to. Oscar, the son of the town's founder/chief manipulator, is an unlikely hero, a boy saving others for the benefits they bring to him (money, sex, favors...) until he meets the new girl in town... A quick, unsettling, and immensely satisfying read.

- Andromeda Klein by Frank Portman - This strange YA title is going to halt a lot of readers in their tracks by the first chapter. Plow through the extended references and intellectual musings on occult history and practice from the protagonist, and you'll end up falling in deep for the story of awkward and anti-social Andromeda Klein as she navigates mysterious occurrences following the death of her best friend, Daisy, the disappearance of her secret older boyfriend, and the sudden seizure of a collection of valuable and rare occult titles by the "Friends of the Library." It's hard to be very original when it comes to YA lit, but Portman has shown he has the ability to pull off one of the most difficult of voices - teenage girl - and make it sound not only convincing, but original and true.

- When You Reach Me Rebecca Stead - Random House is kicking butt going into Fall, but perhaps no title has had as much publicity impact as this one, a coming of age story masking a subtle fantasy involving a sixth grader, 1970's New York City, mystery notes, and time travel, all loosely wrapped around A Wrinkle in Time. One of those books that you fly through, only to re-read again and again, finding more clues and ties each time around. Stead has done a beautiful job melding two difficult genres - intermediate-level coming of age story and fantasy - and working it well into its background era. I really can't say enough good stuff about this book, partially because of how good it was, and partially because to elaborate thoroughly would give too much away.

- Shiver Maggie Stiefvater - With paranormal romance being all the rage in teen literature, it's hard to find a truly captivating tale amongst the rip-offs. Maybe it's just because I've never been into the vampire thing, but I find werewolves infinitely more interesting. Grace has watched for the wolf with the golden eyes since she was a child. Sam lives two lives, a human in the warm months, a wolf in the cold, but each half is wholly concerned with the girl whose life he saved years ago. I'm not really a crier with books, but this one left me with tears running down my face. It's not perfect - there are a few plot holes and a few moments that are a little too cute to match the tone - but it's definitely well written and offers a neat twist to the already well-tread mythology of werewolves.

Okay, that's a lot of YA, but I swear, I read adult books too! Three that I can absolutely stand by:
- The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery - A concierge masks her intellectualism with bland mediocrity, but cannot hide from the precocious girl living in the building, nor the sharply observing new resident who instantly senses a kindred spirit in the lonely middle-aged lady. A surprisingly affecting tale and perfect afternoon reading. The prose is clean but lovely, but most remarkably, Barbery doesn't write intellectualism as cold and aloof. Rather, her characters, in embracing those intellectual pursuits that they hide in public, become warmer, more gracious, more open selves.

- A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore - I could go on and on about how brilliant Lorrie Moore is, but if you even slightly care, you are probably well aware of how brilliant she is. It's been eleven years since she's published anything, eleven really long years, and now she gifts us with a novel of a college-aged woman, coming to terms with the changing terms of relationships amongst a country in crisis post 9/11. I feel weirdly attached to this book. Told from the distinct position of a Mid-Westerner, I could not relate with the stoic Tassie, who relates a period of heartbrokeness in a calm, controlled manner, with the detachment of an observer rather than the person suffering. If you're not familiar with Moore's work, start with Birds of America - this novel is not for the uninitiated, but it's a great follow-up for someone looking to further their Loorie Moore addiction. It certainly fed mine.

-The Magicians Lev Grossman - Holy crap. The worlds of JK Rowling and CS Lewis meet Jay McInerney. Quentin Coldwater is a Brooklyn teenager constantly fleeing real life for the fictional world of Fillory. Mysterious circumstances bring him to Brakebills, a college for the study of magic. Now Quentin can live out his fantasies... except that no reality is perfect, not even one where magic is real... Grossman divides his book into four distinct parts, each a perfect compliment to the other, and in some ways, more riveting than the last. It's cliche, but this is a magical literary fiction for adults. Any adult who enjoys indulging in the occasional children's fantasy read should pick this book up now.

As for the Friday Finds, I bought a ton of bargain books at work, so many that I can't remember all of them. Those I can remember:
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
- Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- We Tell Ourselves Stories... by Joan Didion (Score!)
- Carried Away: Stories by Alice Munro (Woot!)
- On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
And probably at least three or four other titles that I can't recall because I accumulate books at an inhuman level.

Also "found" the last two weeks:

The Magicians by Lev Grossman - Checked this out from work for the week, and I'm having trouble deciding if I want to buy it or just wait for the paperback. I loved it, but I don't know if I require the hardback now that I've read it through...

Epitaph Road by David Patneaude - Upcoming Egmont USA title, about a virus that wipes out virtually all males on the planet. I love the series Y: The Last Man, and the premise for this YA is similar, so I'm happy to give it a go.

Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol by Tony Scherman and David Dalton - I'm not a worshiper of the Warhol altar, but I'm always game to read about the Factory scene and the debauched fabulousness of it all. I'm hoping that this book will be more dishy than its exterior presents, but even if it is, this one's probably one I'm going to pick up and put down a whole lot.

Cooking for Friends by Gordon Ramsay - Of the several Ramsay reality shows, the only one I've watched enjoyably is the British Kitchen Nightmares where Ramsay scolds, swears, and browbeats restauranteurs into improving their failing, mediocre (or worse) businesses. This hardback was left on my desk by my generous general manager. It marks a change from my normal cookbook of choice - inexpensive, black and white, utility cookbooks with little flash or pictures. This is a cookbook of a variety I don't bother buying, but would love to own - pretty, hardback, nice quality, beautifully photographed, and filled with recipes that probably aren't immensely challenging but still look a bit sophisticated for my rice and peanut butter sandwich self. Though the point is to cook this for friends, so...

1 comment:

Marie said...

Great finds. I appreciate your thoughts on the Moore and the Grossman. Really want to read the former, can take or leave the latter. I love Gordon Ramsey but I don't know if I could bring mysefl to buy one of his books!