What I read this month:
The Case of the Bizarre Bouquetsby Nancy Springer : This is another in the Enola Holmes series, and in this one John Watson goes missing. Enola’s had run ins with him in the past and liked him, so she gets involved in the search even though she’s afraid it might all be a trick by Sherlock to get her to show herself. It’s well done, and the mystery at the core of it is clever.
French Twist: An American Mom’s Experiment in Parisian Parenting by Catherine Crawford: This is firmly in the realm of “cultural parenting”- the American author (living in Brooklyn) decided to parent the “French way”, and this book is about her experiences. I am intrigued by the French way of parenting, so it was very interesting to see how it played out, practically sp eaking, on a day to day basis. My favorite quote from the book comes from a vacation the family takes to an island where there won’t be constant entertainment for the kids.
“On this trip we pared down the excesses and turned up the trust in our kids’ inherent coolness.”
Isn’t that awesome?
The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris by John Baxter: Once I start reading about France it’s hard for me to stop reading about France. Baxter is a writer who also gives walking tours of Paris, and this book is about his experiences with that and different walks he’s taken. Makes me want to go to Paris RIGHT NOW! A funny note, I was in the middle of this book when we got to Tokyo, and from our apartment window you can see the Tokyo Tower, which was fashioned after the Eiffel Tower. So I’d look out the window and pretend I was in Paris.
Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood: Berlin seemed a good follow up to Paris in Tokyo. This is the book that I am A Camera and Cabaret were based on, and deals with a British ex-pat’s experience in Berlin leading up to WWII. The writing is evocative, and Sally Bowles is a bit of a jerk, but I suppose she was in the films too.
The Candymakers by Wendy Mass: I have no idea why I got this book (perhaps it was a Kindle daily deal?) but I’m so glad that I did. It’s a middle grade book about four kids who get to go to a candy factory to work on their entries for a candy making contest. One of them actually lives at the factory, he’s the son of the owners, and it’s his perspective that the book starts with, as the other kids show up and he tries to figure them out. The perspective shifts from kid to kid with each section, and as it does, information that was left out by previous narrators gets filled in, and what gets mentioned and what doesn’t becomes a fascinating puzzle as each kid has their own secrets and reasons for wanting to win. It’s complex and well told and absolutely delightful. I’m waiting to read it to the girls until they’re a little older- there are some aspects that are a little heavy though they all end up resolved, (one boy carries a huge amount of guilt over a disturbing incident, for example).
The Book of Story Beginnings by Kristin Kladstrup: Another middle grade book, this one started out really strong and was solid, if not quite as magical as I’d hoped. A girl moves with her family into the house of her aunt, where years before, her uncle (the aunt’s brother) disappeared. According to the aunt, one night he got into a rowboat in the front yard and rowed away. The problem is that the house is on a hill in the middle of a field, with no water anywhere around. When the girl finds a book with the power to make beginnings of stories become real, she finds out what happened to her uncle, but makes her father disappear, and the adventure is on.
The School for the Insanely Gifted by Dan Elish: And another middle grade book. I was on a bit of a streak. This one was cute- about a school for super geniuses, run by a Steve Jobs type mogul who comes out with marvelous new products every couple of years. The main characters are three friends who find themselves solving a huge conspiracy in the midst of trying to finish their big project for school. The characters are fun, there are musical, mechanical, artistic, mathematical geniuses running around the school, and the adventure the kids find themselves embroiled in is clever.
Doctor Who: The Angel’s Kiss: A Melody Malone Mystery by Justin Richards : This is a spin off Doctor Who novel that appears in The Angels Take Manhattan episode. The story is not the story of the episode, but another set in the same Manhattan, and featuring River as Melody Malone. Richards does an excellent job of capturing River’s voice, and the book is a blast to read. Super pulpy, super silly, super River. For example,
“Some days you just know things are going to get dangerous and out of hand, and this was without a doubt one of those. About time too.”
“I’d never seen any thing like it. And things I’ve never seen anything like worry me. Because I have seen so many things.”
Can’t you just hear River?
Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi : This book was perplexing. Even once I’d finished it I wasn’t sure what exactly had gone on. I don’t know that it completely succeeds at what it’s trying to do, but the language was interesting enough that I kept reading, so that definitely says something. It’s about writers and muses and marriage and how all of those things fit together or don’t. But it has one of my new favorite quotes:
“I’m never sad when a friend foes far away, because whichever city or country that friend goes to, they turn the place friendly. They turn a suspicious-looking name on the map into a place where a welcome can be found. Maybe the friend will talk about you sometimes, to other friends that live around him, and then that’s almost as good as being there yourself. You’re in several places at once! In fact, my daughter, I would even go so far as to say that the farther away your friends are, and the more spread out they are, the better your chances of going safely through the world.”
The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel by Diane Setterfield: Oh, this book was good. A bookish young woman (Margaret) gets invited to stay with a reclusive author (Vita) who is a notorious liar when it comes to her personal history, and is asked to write her biography. As the story progresses we get Vita’s story of her life, but both Margaret and the reader have to try to sort out what is real and what isn’t, because something is off about the story we’re getting. And what a story it ends up being. Vita’s books are described as impossible to put down, and Setterfield manages to create the same thing with her book. The language is gorgeous, the story engrossing. Favorite lines:
“A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth.”
“My gripe is not with lovers of the truth, but with truth herself. What succor, what consolation is there in truth compared to a story? What good is truth, at midnight, in the dark, when the wind is roaring like a bear in the chimney? When the lightning strikes shadows on the bedroom wall and the rain taps at the window with its long fingernails? No. When fear and cold make a statue of you in your bed, don’t expect hard-boned and fleshless truth to come running to your aid. What you need are the plump comforts of a story. The soothing, rocking safety of a lie.”
Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel: I don’t really know exactly what to say about this book. It’s good. It’s powerful. It’s painful. The idea at its core is that there should be more diverse ways at looking at the Holocaust in art, of processing it, of grappling with it. One of the characters in the book says that there are war thrillers, war comedies, war romances, war science fiction, war propaganda, and that we talk about war “in may ways and for many purposes. With these diverse representations, we come to understand what war means to us.” He continues that the Holocaust is generally only represented by historical realism- the same story, in the same place, featuring the same people.
It’s a fascinating idea, and one that plays out in an interesting way in the book. I personally think that artists/writers don’t create works that view it through a different lens because most audiences only want to deal with the Holocaust in a certain way- with their guard securely up. If you know the story you’re walking into, you can stay detached. And audiences influence what sells, and therefore what gets made.
I would love to discuss this book with other people, but I don’t know that it’s one I would freely recommend- you’ve got to be ready for it. Heh, see, I just did what I was talking about in the previous paragraph.
My favorite quote:
“To my mind, faith is like being in the sun. When you are in the sun, can you avoid creating a shadow? Can you shake that area of darkness that clings to you, always shaped like you, as if constantly to remind you of yourself? You can’t. This shadow is doubt. And it goes wherever you go as long as you stay in the sun. And who wouldn’t want to be in the sun?”
Anyway, that’s what I read this month. 11 books in the month, the yearly total is at 38.