Monday, August 13, 2012

weekend reading

It was a sweet, lazy weekend with plenty of Berowne-time and plenty of quiet me-time, and recovering from a mild summer cold with lots of tea and rationalizing that I can't possibly work on the yard while feeling slightly under the weather.

I started my reading with A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray. It looked floof-tastic, which is what my latest library pile was all about, and indeed the opening, which features our nineteenth-century teenage heroine growing up in India and being too tall and too red-headed, was all kinds of cliché. Odds on a gangly redhead blossoming into someone whose beauty makes men walk into doorways? Depends on if you've ever read a book before, I guess.

However, I was very soon captivated by the realism of the adolescence. The first chapter is pretty much just Gemma (our heroine) arguing with her mother, and the argument is spot-on. The book is in first person, from Gemma's point of view, and that voice is also spot-on sixteen: half the time she doesn't know why she's being so bitchy, but can't help it. And when Gemma goes off to boarding school in England, the girls surrounding her, and the horrible dynamics, are also painfully realistic. The girl you think is going to be her rebellious friend turns out to be willing to do anything to be popular, and the evil popular girl has more depth than you expect, though she's never nice and the reader never trusts her friendship with Gemma.

The main plot, of course, is that Gemma is destined to be a member of the Order, which is an ancient society of magic women. And of course Gemma has more magic than anyone ever and is the Chosen One who can defeat the Big Evil, and so on. Like I said, not original, and the descriptions of the magic and what the girls do with it are hilariously reminiscent of "The Craft". And I was also deeply troubled by the love interest, given that he's physically overpowering Gemma (at one point twisting her wrist almost to breaking point) all the time and, look, authors, you have to stop doing that with characters you want me to find sexy. Maybe Bray's going to surprise me in the sequels and have him not be the love interest after all, but I'm afraid that it's going to be a matter of the old, "I was trying to save you from yourself!" crap. Trying to save a lass from herself, gentlemen? Use your words.

But I'm absolutely reading those sequels. The narrative voice is just so clear and believable. When I hated Gemma, I hated her because she was behaving like a sixteen-year-old girl. And the story, while silly, was engrossing. A perfect afternoon-with-tea, slightly-stuffy-headed, book.

Also perfect for that mood was The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection, by Alexander McCall Smith. It's the latest in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, and is filled with an odd amount of background story, as if he wrote it for people who hadn't read any of the others. So it started slowly, and had a rather melancholy tone throughout, but remained comforting as they all are.

More challenging was People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks. In this, Hanna, a book restorer, goes to Sarajevo to examine and restore a five-hundred-year-old haggadah. It's based on the real-life Sarajevo Haggadah, though Brooks emphasizes that her book is a work of fiction. She imagines a history for the manuscript, and alternates chapters narrated by the book restorer with chapters describing said history. Brooks is kind of an amazing writer, though I always find flaws with her story choices (magical black person in March; aggressively and tediously perfect character as Most Lovable Person Ever in Year of Wonders). In this book I didn't see the point of Hanna's dysfunctional relationship with her neurosurgeon mother, and I HATED that Hanna had to learn to love people and not just manuscripts, and by "people" I mean "one dude who does something that I consider unforgivable", and she must learn to love him because her (explicitly described as such) "male" behavior of sex-without-emotional-attachment is unacceptable. Ugh.

But it was still very well-written and enjoyable to read. Unlike the next book I tried: The Glass Is Always Greener, by Tamar Myers. A while back I received a book by Myers through the Libarything Early Reviewers program, and liked it, so I decided to check out her mystery series. This was unreadable. Nothing but "eccentric" characters who are about six levels past unbelievable, to the point of being both boring and offensive. There weren't even any pangs of conscience when I tossed this aside, which tells you how bad it was.

Now I am reading Dava Sobel's Longitude, which is absolutely fascinating, although thanks to Kate Beaton I cannot read the name "Tycho Brahe" without thinking a very rude question (I'm just sayin', I'm right).

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