Fiction Read in January:
Someone by Alice McDermott:
Told in beautiful, somewhat spare prose, this is the story of an ordinary life, made extraordinary only in the telling. McDermott captures the feel of a small Irish Catholic Brooklyn neighborhood as we follow one woman, Marie, through her childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips
Fictionalized story of a serial killer in 1930s West Virginia. I did not enjoy this book although I do typically enjoy true crime or mystery novels. Phillips tells the story through the perspective of a woman reporter following the trial of the murderer. Most of the story is about the reporter (a purely fictional character) and a romantic relationship she has with a married man. The romance is written in a way that we are obviously supposed to be sympathetic to (the man’s wife suffers from some kind of dementia and doesn’t know him) and repeatedly we are urged to find that the “goodness” of their happiness somehow outweighs the “badness” of the murders. I don’t require that all characters in novels act in ways that I find morally and ethically correct. But, this one really bothered me. I think because it so completely buys into the “whatever makes you happy is good” ethic of our modern culture. Instead of arguing that there are shades of gray in morality, Phillips seems to want us to believe that the illicit relationship isn’t gray at all but pure white, purely good. She also chooses to have the story partly told through the perspective of the ghost of one of the victims, who exists in one of those weird limbo type of afterlife that make me think that if that is really all there is after death, I’d prefer to just stay dead, thank you.
Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George
Sigh. I used to be a huge Elizabeth George fan, but I haven’t really loved any of her books in a while. I keep reading them because I’ve read them all and I keep hoping to love one again. As I read this one, I realized that what bothers me about George more and more is that she is really good at seeing and exploring the dark side of humanity but really bad at seeing the good side. I’m at the point where none of the characters are really anyone I want to root for or care about. I can appreciate that people are complex, and that characters that are “good” can act bad but in George’s world EVERYONE (and I do mean everyone ) is hiding some kind of dark secret or nasty habit or great inner conflict/character flaw. If you live in the world of Elizabeth George you cannot be happy. Period. Added to that is that her books are getting longer and longer. There was so much in this one that could have been edited out, in particular details about the dark secrets of minor characters. One of the things she excels at is characterization but she seems to have lost the ability to focus on the main plot thread, which is really essential to enjoyment of a mystery.
Joshua Dread: Nameless Hero by Lee Bacon
Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
As I mentioned before, I didn’t like this one very much. The Newbery committee disagreed with me. I will say that I can see why this one won. It’s award-worthy, it just wasn’t my particular cup of tea.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
A re-read for the 5th (?) time. I read this one in preparation to lead a co-op class discussion. The experience of preparing for the discussion reminded me how much more we learn when we have to teach.
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher
A Cybils young adult speculative fiction finalist. Fabulous fun and really well done. Check out the blurb on the Cybils site for a more full review.
Sidekicked by John David Anderson
A Cybils middle grade speculative fiction finalist. I saw this one on the shortlist and got it for John who quickly read it and really liked it. I also really liked it. It has a fun main plot of a thirteen year old with superpowers who is training to be a sidekick and trying to figure out how to learn to use his powers while navigating middle school. There is also the big theme of good and evil (and what those really mean). There were some twists and turns in this one that surprised me, not just because they were clever but because they involved a deeper level of nuance than I expected.
Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War by Helen Frost
A novel told in verse about a friendship between two boys: one a Native American and the other a white settler at the time of the War of 1812.
Non-Fiction Read in January:
The Riddle of the Labyrinth by Margalit Fox
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright
Mind-blowing. Partially because of the sheer weirdness but more because of the unbelievably sad accounts of abuse within the church. I’m fairly sure that this one will end up on my “best of” list at the end of 2014.
With the kids:
Betsy-Tacy-Tib by Maud Hart Lovelace
It has been sheer joy sharing the first two Betsy-Tacy books with Ruth.
Knight’s Castle by Edgar Eager
I love Eager’s magic books. This is my third (at least) time through this one and again it makes me think I need to read the real Ivanhoe. Maybe this time, I’ll actually do it.
Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
As a Christmas present, I gave the boys tickets to see this Peter Pan prequel in the theater. We’re going in a few weeks and trying to finish the book first. John and I have read it before, but David hasn’t.
The Moffat Museum by Eleanor Estes
It took us way too long to get through this last of the Moffat series. I really do love these books as read-alouds but I think we’re all ready for something new at lunchtime.
The Rescuers by Margery Sharp
Listening to the audiobook in the car.