January in Books

Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Brontë

This was our token classic read for our January Book club meeting. I had read it as a teenager and in my angry, unsentimental, opinionated teenage way, hated it with a passion (I felt the same way about Romeo and Juliet- just didn’t feel their actions were believable or justified and it bugged me more than I care to admit right now.) So I was very curious to see how the balm of years would have affected my opinion of this revered classic.

Although I didn’t feel the violent hatred against it, I still have to admit I was a little perplexed. It just wasn’t that good. Oh, she creates a creepy scenario, and the Gothic elements (the wailing wind, the ghost of Catherine, the surly servants, the dark, foreboding Heathcliff) are played up, but still. One gets the feeling that if they just left their house, went to a ball or something, a lot of the drama could be avoided. I won’t even talk about it being a love story, unless by love you mean creepy stalker man who needs to crush any spirit in his object of devotion and bring you home trussed and gagged like a pheasant killed on the ever present moors.

The one aspect I did find interesting though, was Brontë’s complete refusal to make any of her characters good. They were all deeply flawed, imperfect. The women in Wuthering Heights gave as much as they were given, were just as full of vindictiveness and anger as the men. No demure damsels for Miss Brontë, no sirree. In all a perplexing, but worthwhile read, if only to try and understand what aspect of the book as captured the imagination of a good part of the reading population for over a 150 years.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

 Now for something completely different! Have you been to the dentist lately? Had a cleaning? Perhaps need to get a cavity filled? Or even a root canal? Did you complain about it?

Well, after reading this book, you will never complain about your paltry visits to the dentist again.

Here is the product description:
Eleven-year-old Raina just wants to be a normal sixth grader. But one night after a trip-and-fall mishap, she injures her two front teeth, and what follows is a long and frustrating journey with on-again, off-again braces, corrective surgery, embarrassing headgear, and even a retainer with fake teeth attached. And on top of all that, there’s still more to deal with: a major earthquake, boy confusion, and friends who turn out to be not so friendly. This coming-of-age true story is sure to resonate with anyone who has ever been in middle school, and especially those who have had a bit of their own dental drama.

I bought this one for my brand, spanking new graphic novel collection in my library and brought it home to my daughters, who both love the format. It wa my oldest who recommended I read it, so there for I did.

It is a pretty straightforward coming of age story about a girl who suffers a major dental mishap right at the beginning of puberty. I could feel her pain as she tried to hide her screwed up teeth from her not-so sympathetic friends. The best part for me was when she finally decides to leave those so-called friends that had been making her the butt of their nasty comments since kindergarten, for some good ones, who supported her and helped her re-gain the self-confidence that had been whittled away for so many years. The art is simple, colour glossy, very appealing to the younger set. Recommended for anyone girl going through puberty, about to go through puberty or has gone through it and wants to score one with their kid.

Perseus by Geraldine McGaughrean

I love this lady’s stuff, I really do.  I discovered her when I bought a book of Fairy tales for my daughter’s birthday a few years back.  Her writing is a delight to read aloud, not to mention just read for yourself. She’s re-told many of the old classics and won awards for her original stories.

This re-telling of the story of Perseus is a slim volume, perfect for those kids who have discovered the Greek myths through Rick Riordan and want the true story.

The Wave by Todd Strasser

I’m not sure if it as because it was written 30 years ago, or if it just a case where the author was interested only in the story he had to tell and not very much in the craft of the telling, but this book is atrociously written. It is based on a true story of a history class experiment in a California High School in 1969. Learning about WWII and the Nazis, the students can’t understand how all of Germany let the genocide happen.

Intrigued by this question, the teacher begins his own movement in his classroom, beginning with a couple of mottos. The students learn how it feels to be a part of a single unit, the power of the group. They take The Wave, the name they have given their movement,  outside the class and soon the whole school is feeling the impact of the Wave. People who do not want to join are harrassed. Others are afraid to say anything against it. Soon, the atmosphere in the school is just like that of Nazi Germany.

As an experiment, it is intriguing and horrifying. As a novel, it sucks. I just read on Wikipedia that it is based on an essay written by the teacher in question, Ron Jones. Better to read the essay me thinks…

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Winner of the 2010  Michael Printz Award for Young Adult Literature, Ship Breaker is a straight up, post-apocalyptic, dystopia. Nailer, the main protagonist, is a ship breaker, one of the poorest of the poor who lives in the beach shanty towns off the coast of Louisiana and Mississippi. The ice caps have presumably melted and New Orleans has been rebuilt at least three times (I think. Can’t remember.) The Ship breakers job is to salvage all the usable parts of the big boats that have run aground by their beach. Nailer is still small enough to be useful on light crew, the kids responsible for shimmying through the narrow passages of the ships and ripping out of the copper wire. When a huge storm hits, Nailer and  his friend find rich ship that crashed in the storm. There is a young girl on it still alive that changes Nailer’s life forever.

Nailer’s world is harsh. Work is scarce, and people betray each other all the time. His father, a brutish addict, goes beyond scary into the world of terrifying. Nailer has to decide between doing the right thing and doing the smart thing.

Unflinching in its portrayal of poverty, the relationship between Nailer and the girl (for he does end up doing the right thing and not the smart thing) puts the spotlight on the evergrowing gap between rich and poor. Although I enjoyed the story and, having just been to that coast last summer, was particularly interested in the setting of the novel as it was one of the few post-apocalyptic novels that felt like it could happen sooner, rather than later, I can’t say it sung for me. I am not sure why that is. The story moved along at a good pace, the writing was good, the setting and characters interesting. It just didn’t have that magic dust that makes the book unputdownable.

That said, I would recommend it to people who liked the Hunger Games and The Knife of Never Letting Go.

 Looking for Alaska by John Green

John Green has a recipe, I’ve discovered. I am in the middle of reading his third book, Paper Towns right now and the main ingredients are becoming increasingly clear. The main ingredients are a slightly geeky, smart, witty male narrator and his foil, a beautiful, smart, cooler but way complicated girl. Add a dash of mischievous pranking, an overarching concept such as grief (in the case of Looking for Alaska) and you gots yourself a novel.

Not that there is anything wrong with that recipe. John green certainly makes his cakes rich and moist but not too sweet. But a recipe it is, nonetheless.

Looking for Alaska surprised me. Once again, it won the Michael Printz Award (I’m not doing this on purpose, I swear. I just happened to have read two Printz award winners in a row. If we can’t blame coincidence, who can we blame?) The main character, Miles Halter, yes, a slightly geeky, smart but harmless boy who likes to memorize people’s last words, decides to leave his non-eventful life and go to boarding school in search of “The Great perhaps”. There he becomes good friends with his roommate, a poor Texan scholarship student named Chip and the enigmatic, beautiful, sometimes bitchy moody Alaska. They smoke, they drink, they pull some pranks until something happens that devastates them all. (I can’t go in to more without completely spoiling the plot).

I have to say, I had tears on this one. John Green does a masterful job at dealing with the loss of loved one and the feelings of guilt and blame and grief that come with it. Add to that a smart, funny narrator, a few choice last words and once again you have a perfectly baked cake.

Rough Magic by Carol Cude Mullen

Rough Magic is the story of the island in the Tempest. Caliban is the main character with Miranda and Prospero being side notes. It meanders through three generations of powerful witches, the first being Sycorax who makes an inexplicable decision to kill her first husband, leaver her daughter and run off with the king of an invading army (a choice that isn’t very well justified or explained and comes out of nowhere) instead of protecting her realm. This eventually leads to her being exiled to the waste of an island by the same king. She is pregnant and mad. She has Caliban on the island, which turns out ot be full of magic. needing more power, she steals the magic from the island releasing a chain of events that would affect the next couple of generations.

Although some sections of the book sing, it is an uneven, patchy song. Her description of the relationship between Caliban and Miranda’s daughter, Chiara is beautiful. Prospero is well portrayed, becoming a stubborn, not unkind but petulant alchemist. The story belongs mainly to Chiara and to Caliban, but too much time is spent on Sycorax’s past and at the end, an important character is suddenly introduced. The relevance of the first part of Sycorax is not made clear until quite a ways in the book. Characters suddenly appear and then suddenly disappear without much explanation. Choices are not well explained, but seem more like whims. I think this might be Mullen’s first novel. Although it is uneven, I am curious to see her more seasoned writing, as the parts in the middle, with Caliban and Chiara were well worth the read.

Audio Book: Vol. 1 of the Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock. What to say, what to say. Formulaic? Hell yes. Manipulative? Yep. Fun as all get out? You bet your patootie. Although sometimes I get a little irritated by the denseness of everyone who is not Mr. Holmes.

Still, am trudging along in Volume 2….

This concludes my marathon books post.

Preview of books in February: Papertowns by John Green (the last one, I swear), Palimpsest by Catherine Valente and…well I havent decided yet. We will just have to wait and see.

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