Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow

sun and moon

Guess what? I finally made it to book club!

July’s book had to be a little shorter and easier to read than usual, since we only had a few weeks to read it. We decided to read a fairy tale retelling: Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, by Jessica Day George.

I’ve never read George’s books before, but she does a good job of keeping a story rolling. There’s a few tedious parts in there, but it’s still fun to read, and I enjoyed the retelling of one of my favorite fairy tales, “East of the Sun and West of the Moon.” I was actually very impressed at how many small details she included from the fairy tale; I don’t think she threw anything out from the original story, just expanded it. I was also impressed that she made a fairy tale so short and nonsensical into a novel that made sense. I mean, it’s still fantasy—but she found reasonable explanations for even some of the stranger parts of the story.

The book is about a 17-year-old girl who has no name (because her mother had wanted a boy and refused to give her baby a name. I have some choice words for this mother, for quite a few reasons.) Anyways, “the lass” agrees to spend a year and a day in a palace with a polar bear, because he says he needs her to, and can’t explain why. She feels like it’s destiny. Also, the polar bear offers to make her family rich, which makes the worthless mother happy to no end.

As the lass wanders through the castle, she starts decoding the secret history behind the place, and the more questions she asks, the more nervous the servants get. And then the servants start disappearing. And also, someone’s sleeping with her at night. (Not sleeping with her, just sleeping in the same bed. Clarification.)

Having already read the fairy tale, I had some spoilers. But without having read the fairy tale, it would have been quite a mystery. And as it was, George adds quite a bit to the story, anyway.

Things I didn’t like: the main character’s mother. But you’re not supposed to, so there’s that. Having said that, I didn’t like the main character, and that was a problem. She’s supposed to be curious and bold and intelligent and all that, but I got a real whiny aftertaste from her. Also, pretty selfish. Like, ‘I think the reason the servants keep going missing is because I’m asking too many questions, so I’d better keep asking questions and endangering all the servants’ kind of selfish. Curiosity to a fault. Anyways. I really liked the story, I didn’t like the lass.

Still, I would recommend this book to anyone who’s read the fairy tale and liked it, or to anyone who hasn’t read the fairy tale, and loves a good fairy tale. ♦

Advertisements

No One Writes Back

 

No One Writes Back

No One Writes Back is a novel by South Korean author Eun-Jin Jang. The book is fairly short, and covers the travels of a young man traveling with his mp3 player and his dog. More comfortable with numbers than names, he gives each of the people he meets a number, then asks them to give him their address so he can write them a letter. He calls his old neighbor from time to time, asking about the mail. As the title suggests, no one ever writes back.

The story seems a little aimless, but the narration is still engaging enough to make up for it. And along the way, our hero (unnamed) meets a woman (whom he names 751) and strikes up an accidental platonic relationship with her. Against his will. She’s persistent.

The only caution I would give about this book is that, since the main character spends a lot of time at motels, there is a fair amount of sex mentioned. Not graphically, nor involving him, but still not something I would recommend for a kid.

This is a wonderful book, with a beautiful twist ending. (I did not cry. I’m kind of proud of myself.) I highly recommend it. ♥

Say You’re One of Them

say you're one of them

Say You’re One of Them, by Uwem Akpan, is going to be hard to review properly. Because it hurts to think about. But in a good way.

I picked up Say You’re One of Them in a thrift store. It had Oprah’s sticker on it. She has good taste in books, right? Also, it was written by a Nigerian, and I’m trying to expand my worldview. It had beautiful cover art. And it was only 25 cents. Worst possible scenario: waste of 25 cents. Easy decision.

This is a beautiful, awful book. It’s a collection of short stories about awful things happening to children in Africa. Each story is set in a different country, involving different children, and different problems. A Kenyan slum. An Ethiopian child who isn’t allowed to play with her Muslim friend anymore. A Muslim teenager on a bus full of angry Christians. The Rwandan genocide through the eyes of a little girl.

These stories are beautifully written, haunting, and surprisingly not as depressing as you would think from the topic material. Akpan openly acknowledges the ugliest parts of African history, politics, and culture—from the perspective of someone who has lived to see many of them—yet he brings a soft note of hope by choosing children as protagonists. He also doesn’t shy away from the difficulties caused by religion, even though he himself is a Jesuit priest. His stories don’t propose a solution, but they give you a better perspective, and something of a call to action.

Don’t read this unless you’re willing to wade through some pretty deep crap. But when you’re ready, read it. It’s a masterpiece. ♦

A Man Called Ove

man called ove

How do I say enough about this book?

A Man Called Ove was another book club book that I read just in time not to go to book club. Oops. But I will still be eternally grateful that I finished the thing, because it’s incredible. Fredrik Backman is incredible.

A Man Called Ove is a Swedish book, about a lonely old curmudgeon who just wants to die. That’s all he wants to do. And people just keep getting in his way. His neighbors get in his way. His old friends get in his way. The stupid stray cat who froze itself half to death out by the tool shed keeps getting in his way. And over time, he starts to make friends (against his will, largely) with the new, quirky neighbors and their kids. He takes in a gay man (against his will) whose father has disowned him. He saves the stupid cat (against his will) from freezing to death. And he wages absolute war against the government agency in charge of taking his old friend away from his family.

He also hits a clown.

This book is hilarious and heartwarming. Please go read it. ♥

The Tiger Rising

the-tiger-rising

Remember The Mailbox? I loved it, except that the dialog seemed a little forced and awkward. The Tiger Rising, by Kate DiCamillo, solves that problem. It’s even better than The Mailbox in nearly every way, and addresses a lot of the same themes.

The Tiger Rising is a story about a boy named Rob, who finds a tiger in the woods. Well, sort of. He finds a tiger in a cage in the woods. And while he and his new friend try to figure out what to do with it, they have to face their own inner demons and learn to deal with grief and betrayal like (or better than) adults.

It’s a short book, but it’s beautifully written, and I think everyone should read it. DiCamillo has an incredible gift for pointing out truths that should have been obvious, and painting them in brilliant colors. If you haven’t read it, you should. ♦

Magic or Madness

magic-or-madness

I picked up a copy of Magic or Madness, by Justine Larbalestier, while I was in high school. I think I probably just liked the cover art at the time, but it turned out to be a good read. Having just re-read it, I still think it’s a good read.

Magic or Madness is a story about an Australian girl named Reason, so named because her grandma believed so fervently in magic that she did terrible things. Reason’s mother, Serafina, ran away and became a firm defender of all things logic and no things magic. Magic isn’t real, she taught Reason, but evil Grandma Esmeralda thinks it is—so we need to stay away from her.

Long and short of it is, magic is real. And once Reason figures that out, she has to figure out just how crazy each member of her family is. Grandma Esmeralda is certainly not trustworthy. But maybe a little more trustworthy than Serafina made her out to be. But, of course, Serafina can’t be trusted either, because she doesn’t realize that magic is a real thing. Also because she’s in a loony bin. There’s that, too.

Complicating things, Reason goes out the back door in Sydney, Australia one day and finds herself smack-dab in the middle of New York City, freezing her butt off, with no way home. And someone’s following her.

The only complaint I have about this book is that I don’t own the sequel yet. And I need to get a few more books off my TBR shelf before I dare make that purchase. But if you like fantasy, or just want to learn a little more about Australia or America (depending where you live currently), pick it up. It’s great reading. ♦

Something Wicked This Way Comes

something-wicked-this-way-comes

Ray Bradbury is a freaking genius.

Most people know Bradbury through Fahrenheit 451, which is well-known because it’s required reading for a lot of high school classes. For good reason, of course—it’s well written, it makes a very good point, and the point it makes is for literature and against censorship; it’s popular among English teachers.

But let me be honest: Fahrenheit 451 is my least favorite of anything I’ve ever read by Bradbury. It’s not a bad book, by any means. It’s a great book. The problem is that I had already read Bradbury’s portrayals of Halloween before I read it. And if Bradbury is good at writing, he is amazing at Halloween.

I mean, the storyline is good. But when Ray Bradbury tells you it was October, he doesn’t just tell you the month. He tells you what the leaves smell like, what color the dirt on your shoelaces is, and the sound of your mother calling you home for dinner while you race your friend to the front porch. He’s a poet—he just writes it in prose. And when someone that good at writing decides to write horror, it’s amazing and terrifying all at once.

Something Wicked This Way Comes is a story about two 13-year-old boys, a middle-aged man, and an evil carnival. That’s basically it; it’s a classic good-versus-evil story. But the real difference is that Bradbury makes the story about humanity, youth, fear, growing old, and breathing just for the joy of filling your lungs. He doesn’t tell you that the good guys win; he tells you why light is stronger than dark.

This is literally the best book I have ever read. If you haven’t read it yet this October, get out there and buy a copy. ♦