Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen

When a scientifically precocious 12-year-old accidentally wins a fellowship from the Smithsonian, he decides that maybe nobody will notice if he runs away from home, goes to Washington D.C., and takes the job. You know - in the logical manner common to 12 year old boys.

This unusual book is highly illustrated with T.S.'s doodles, diagrams, and annotations. They're an integral part of how we come to understand the story of this unusual boy and his astounding gifts.

T.S.'s hitchhike across the country is a wild ride full of history, thoughtfulness, avoidance of the truth, and daring. And the reaction he gets in the capitol city is a brisk adventure too. But where this book failed me a bit is in the ending - too pat, and unbelieveable (because the rest was totally true? not.). I'm willing though to give the last 3 pages a pass because I loved the rest so much.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

One day recent retiree Harold Fry walks down to the mailbox to post a letter. The walk feels so good he decides to wait 'til he reaches the next letter box - then the next, and the next. Suddenly, the letter he was going to send seems insubstantial; his message requires more. Next thing you know, Harold has decided to walk the length of England. Immediately. With no planning. In yachting shoes.

The book follow's Harold's walk and his mindframe; the time alone and the exertion on his unprepared body wreak havoc with his mental state. Will he make it? Why in the heck is he doing this? And why can't he and Maureen just TALK to one another!?

It's a lovely book full of ups, downs, and good intentions. Harold may be a little loony, but his heart is in the right place. You'll want to find out how this walk ends.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond

One day on the beach in San Francisco, a six-year-old child disappears. Her watcher, the father's fiance and our narrator, looks away from Emma for a moment, and the girl simply vanishes.

Abby spends every moment of the next months trying to remember, trying to find a clue, and trying to find Emma. When hope is lost, Abby soldiers on. When Jake gives up and holds a funeral, Abby attends but then continues looking. But in constantly searching for Emma is Abby losing herself?

This book is agonizing at times - Abby really does lose it for a while. Her continual looping of the city, the count of days missing, the fliers and the questions all wear you down as a reader until it's easy to see the claustrophobic emotions of losing a child.

I listened to the audiobook version read by Carrington MacDuffie, and I sometimes found it hard to listen to - it's a heartbreaking scenario. But I also understand that dragging you through Abby's hell (and every parent's nightmare) makes the emotional journey more real to us as readers.

In the end, I enjoyed the book, which was recommended to me by members of our book discussion. They each raved about the writing and the story. And you do certainly learn a bit about memory, photography, and surfing through Abby's quest!

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

Family doesn't have to be inherited - sometimes you piece and patch together a family of people you love and who love you. In this emotional literary novel, when two bedraggled and practically feral preteen girls - both pregnant - appear in the orchard of a solitary farming man, he chooses to act from his heart and help the girls.

Talmadge is an isolated farmer, tending his fruit trees alone in the mountains of Washington. His family is gone, and his few friends are enough. But the girls need help, and he can help them; it's just that simple. And while their relationship isn't ordinary, they form a family of sorts over time.

There's a lot unsaid in this book - every character is a still pool of dark water. I'd expected a straight-forward historical novel (this book was chosen by our book discussion group at the library), but I was pleasantly surprised almost from the start by the complex characters and drama that takes place.

I enjoyed the casual unspooling of time across the story - weeks pass slowly as the story unfolds, then it accelerates and several years pass in a heartbeat. A large part of the book takes place in a single year, then a decade zooms past. It's unsettling, but also feels right for the story.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Penny Dreadful by Laurel Snyder

Penelope Grey is a rather lonely child. She lives in a mansion, has a cook and private tutor, and has two parents who love her. But at 10 years old, she's learned all the adventure in books isn't enough to fill the only-child, bored hole in Penelope.

But after throwing a wish in a well, thing change - they get exciting, frightening, and all together less boring. Her father quits his job, a long-lost relative leaves them an inheritance, and they pickup and move halfway across the country.

It's Penelope's chance to change her name, make friends, try out the fun things she's only read about, and learn about community.  And things don't go exactly like the plan - because real life is messier and less tied-up in the end than a book would be.

It's a cute book, and the story moves quickly. There is a mystical element (real, or imagined?) and as a reader you don't know if this will be a straight-ahead real life book or a fantasy where there's Action! Drama! Bad Guys! etc. It keeps you guessing, which is a fun way to read.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

A girl is born into a world of hurt and hunger. Shortly, she is strong enough to heal and hunt. But who is she, and where is she? She has no memory - and yet, she seems to know how to survive. She finds a savior in an adult man named Wright and together they attempt to puzzle together her story.

In this fantasy fiction novel, Shori is a creature similar to vampires yet wholly different. She is Ina, a race of blood-drinking creatures who form close-knit communities with their human "symbionts." Her amnesia is a result of a major head injury - Ina heal from injury quickly, but complex brain regeneration can't restore lost memories.

This is a slightly different kind of vampire story with a whole new cosmology, and Shori's total amnesia allows the author leeway to have characters do a lot of lecturing on history and tradition. But the book's not without suspense and action - somebody's out to get Shori, and her amnesia makes it impossible to know who to trust.

And the culture of Ina and of their symbiots leads to a different kind of vampire philosophy - where typically there is an underlying theme of existential angst about God, death, and immortality, in this story characters spend more time pondering connections, family, and kin.

I enjoyed the book, and found it refreshing to see a unique twist on the vampire legend.