Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg

Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man
by Fannie Flagg

I love this book.

I first read it—well, I really can't remember. I think it may have been a gift from an aunt, but after I read it, I wondered if she knew what was in it? Who knows? Who cares? The point is, I've read it and re-read it since, and I really can't imagine my life without this book.

It's funny. Very. And not in a silly way, but in a truly witty and fun way. The book is composed entirely of journal entries written by Miss Daisy Fay Harper (stop yawning—yes, journal-entry books can be dull, but this is anything but, I promise), beginning when she is age 11 until she is age 18. Set in the 50s in Mississippi, Daisy Fay is brutally honest about the people around her (and sometimes naive), but always, always funny. Her family is a bit of a mess, and her life is a bit of a mess, but there isn't a dull sentence in this book. Frequently it is touching and sad, but always true.

I can't even give a specific example, because I don't want to spoil anything in this book. I wish I could. I wish I could say something about...I can't. I can't! I won't spoil it! But it always makes me feel much better after I've read it, and the ending is fantastic (which, of course, doesn't mean that all the stuff in the middle isn't, it's just that after everything that has happened to her, the ending is very satisfying).

Monday, April 28, 2008

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

Animal Dreams
by Barbara Kingsolver

I've read several of Kingsolver's books (who hasn't read The Poisonwood Bible?) and enjoyed them very much, but of all her books, this one is my favorite.

If you've ever read Kingsolver you'll know what a great writer she is: poignant, powerful, graceful, with marvelous characters and insight into human nature. She writes with strong overtones of the natural world, of community, and frequently, the effects of modern life on the natural world (in this book, pollution—and I know that sounds horrid, but it really isn't, let me finish).

This story is the story of Codi, a woman who feels as if she fits in nowhere, and her return to the town she grew up in. And it is a story of how she got pregnant as a teenager and lost the baby, and how that loss affected the rest of her life.

I love the story because it is a love story, and it is a story about healing, reconciliation, and learning what belonging really means. (Really. Pollution is a side-plot, really it is.)

I don't know how many times I've read this now, but I love reading it every time. I always forget just how good it is. (So why don't I own this one yet?)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Beast by Donna Jo Napoli

by Donna Jo Napoli

A retelling of Beauty and the Beast, from the Beast's point of view: who he was when he was a prince, how he got cursed in the first place, and what happened thereafter.

It is a very interesting idea (the Beast is actually a Persian prince who is changed into a lion by a vindictive spirit, and what happens to him after), but I have to confess I didn't enjoy it as much as some of her other stories. Mostly, I think, because there is so much time the prince spends in solitude, out in the wild, learning that he can't live as a lion, and he can't live as a man, so what is he to do? There is a great deal of narrative simply describing his travels and the learning process as he tries to figure out how to do lion-like things, like hunt. I can tell that Napoli loves nature and wildlife, and her accuracy in capturing the harsh reality of life in the wild is exact—but boring if, like myself, the reader is expecting a fairy tale and narration from the nature channel. (And don't get me wrong; I LOVE that kind of stuff. I drive my husband nuts every time he flips past the Discovery channel and I make him stop.)

Nevertheless, the story is written extremely well, and does get much more interesting (at least, from my point of view) when he runs into Beauty's father and strikes the deal to buy a girl for a rose. After that, I admit, I really enjoyed it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bound by Donna Jo Napoli

by Donna Jo Napoli

This is about as good as Napoli gets.

Bound is a retelling of the Cinderella story, set in China in the Ming dynasty (the earliest versions of the Cinderella story do come from China, but from a different dynasty, FYI).

The story is gracefully and beautifully written, touching, and grounded in Chinese history and tradition. It has one of my favorite elements: a strong female character who learns that destiny is in her own hands, and she need not be a victim to culture, tradition, or other people. (There isn't exactly a fairy godmother in this telling of the tale.)

Now I just have to go buy a copy of my very own...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Peeps by Scott Westerfeld

by Scott Westerfeld

Westerfeld is awesome.

Again, vampires aren't really my thing, but this book is pretty cool. Westerfeld takes the idea of vampires from an evolutional standpoint: if vampires were truly real, how would evolution have created them? For what purpose? How would they be possible?

He starts with questions like these and comes up with a brilliant and exciting story, and typical Westerfeld edge-or-your-seat kind of story. It reminds me a bit of an X-files episode: there is mystery, conspiracy, and heavy in funky biology and parasitology. (And there's a warning for you: if you don't like learning a bit about parasites, this may not be the book for you. The book is stiff with them because they are essential to the story and background of the story. Me, I love biology and the freaky little bugs that surround us in this world.)

Anyway, it's an incredibly fun book, wonderfully original, and a great read. And I just found out that there is a sequel to this that came out not too long ago, so now I have to go look for it...

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

by Robin McKinley

I'm not really big on vampires. I'm really not. Even though plenty of them seem to be cropping up in recent reads—and books that I have really, really liked—I'm really not into the dark blood-and-gore type of novel. Sigh. And this one had blood, and gore, and vampires, and I still liked it, very much. Oh well.

The first time I picked this book up, I only picked it up because it was a new book from Robin McKinley. I had no idea what it was about. I figured it was another fairy tale (I mean, c'mon, that what she does, right?). And then I found out it was a vampire story. Really? From McKinley? Fairy tale queen? WITH CHEESE?!?*

So, this book was a departure from her into new territory. At least, as far as genre is concerned (this book really isn't YA, as most of her stuff usually is: there is more violence, more sex, more swearing, and, er, stuff; and the main character isn't a teenager *gasp of shock.* Also, it has a far different setting than what she usually writes. It isn't the world of fairy tale and princesses and that sort of thing. It's actually a modern-day world in which magic is a reality). But it still has the general McKinley feel of characterization, themes, and magic. Of course.

The basic rundown of the story is what happens when Sunshine, a young baker who works at a family coffee shop, tangles with some vampires and discovers some of her own latent powers that have been lying dormant since her childhood, and the internal conflict the discovery causes her.

One of the themes McKinley revisits in this one is duality: Sunshine is caught between forces within herself of light and dark, and she worries that she is some kind of monster—though the solution to her worries is simply to accept who and what she is. (There is some of this in The Hero and The Crown, and it reminds me a bit of Ged's acceptance of his own shadow at the end of A Wizard of Earthsea by Le Guin.)

There are many things in the story that are left completely unresolved. It screams for a sequel, though I don't know if McKinley will ever bother. That doesn't seem to be her style. And yet—there are so many things left open, and so many plot points seem as if they are being set up for a much larger conflict. But will there be another book?

Anyway. Interesting book, and an enjoyable read.

*If "with cheese" makes no sense, that's okay. It is an expression of shocked disbelief, carrying nearly the same connotation as "WTF," and yet, is G-rated.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Breath by Donna Jo Napoli

by Donna Jo Napoli

Beautifully researched as always (I'm always learning something new every time I pick up a book by Napoli; in this case, a lot about cystic fibrosis, medieval customs and beliefs in Germany, the Crusades, and early accidental experimentation with LSD (ergot poisoning)), and wonderfully adapted, as always. (Meaning, of course, that this is yet another adaptation from a fairy tale: this is not the story of the Pied Piper, but the story of the crippled boy who got left behind when he led the children away.)

And the emotional atmosphere she sets: the struggle for life, love, sanity for individual characters—I can't think of a word strong enough to describe the bright emotional pain she captures so well.... This one is painful, though. The ending is open: at the end, the reader only knows that Salz has been left behind, and what he is planning to do next, but not what actually happens to him, and imagination can't help but to take the reader to the next plausible step for him—which may be very bleak if you tend toward realistic endings—or mildly hopeful if you are optimistic. But no matter what, it's a sad story. And a beautiful one. And well worth the read.