Saturday, May 16, 2015

April Reading

 April was a busy month.   Here's what I was reading.

In the King's Service by Katherine KurtzThis article caused me to remember how I had enjoyed Katherine Kurtz when I was young.  I looked her up and realized that I had never read the last three books she published.   Kurtz is a fantasy writer who began writing back in the late 60s/early 70s.  She created a world of historical fantasy loosely based on medieval England, including a strong pre-reformation Catholic Church.  The fantasy involves a group of people with the ability to read minds and do some magic, called The Deryni.  I remember loving the world that she built.  Back in those days people didn't write fantasy novels that were 1000 pages long (a la George R. R. Martin) so, instead, she wrote in trilogies.  Each trilogy totaled about 1000 pages.  Each trilogy takes place in the world she created but often at different time periods.  It has been years since I read them and maybe that's why I found many of the "family trees" hard to follow in the first part of this novel.  But eventually I got into it and am ready to move on to the other two books.  The article compared her to Dorothy Dunnett but I don't really see it.  Her style and language is much simpler and, in fact, sometimes too simple; her characters are interesting but the side characters are not as deeply developed as Dunnetts' and her plots are not nearly as complicated.   And she tends to "tell" and not "show.   But I do love the world she created and am happy to go back to it. 

How to be Both by Ali Smith.   This Booker Prize longlisted novel has a gimmick.   The dual story of a teenage girl in the 21st Century and a yo;postID=4052206831820001768;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=0;src=postnameung female artist in the Rennaissance, half of the book is told from the point of view of one character and half the book is told from the point of view of the other character.  That isn't really the gimmick.  The gimmick is that in some editions of the novel, one story is first and in other editions the other story is first.  I read it in the NOOK version so I was asked to pick which half I wanted to read first.  I ended up with the renaissance character first.   Since that character is a dead consciousness come back to life in the 21st Century, the first 20-30 pages are a little confusing; not to mention that you don't know that the character is female.  And the "ghost" thinks that she's following a boy, but she's really following George, the girl from the other part of the novel.  But once I caught on to what was happening, it worked fine for me.  A meditation on how the past is always with us, there was a lot to think about in this novel.

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley.   The sixth Flavia de Luce novel.   Turns out I wasn't quite right in my guess about Flavia's mother's demise but I was close.   Some loose ends were tied up, but not all.   Flavia's sisters are getting much more human and Flavia has grown slightly less annoying in her ways.  When Alan Bradley began the series he clearly did not intend to be writing a series.   He's done a good job of opening up the characters little by little, while still keeping them the stereotypes that girls of Flavia's age think people are.  Again, the mysteries are really beside the point.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.   An unexpected delight chosen by my reading group.  Eleanor is the new girl at school and Park is the only Asian American boy.  Both ride the bus and eventually become friends and then more than friends.  Rowell's depiction of the slow way in which people get to know each other was spot on.   The two studiously ignore each other on the bus until Park realizes that Eleanor is reading along with him as he reads his comic books.  Even then the conversations are limited as they very slowly get to know each other; each holding back from the other the harder aspects of his or her life.   Rowell does not tie up the ending with a bow, which seemed appropriate. 

Aimless Love by Billy Collins.   I received this collection of poems by the former US Poet Laureate for Christmas and I read it very slowly - one poem a day.   It is not, technically, a completely new book as two-thirds of the poems were previously published.   Collins is known as our "accessible" poet and he certainly is.  But his poems are humorous and sometimes poignant and often don't end where you think they are leading.   It seems that he can turn anything into a poem and, apparently, people are always pointing this out to him: 

In the afternoon a woman I barely knew
said you could write a poem about that,
pointing to a dirigible that was passing overhead.

West of the Revolution:  An Uncommon History of 1776 by Claudio Saunt.   In our Anglo-centric view of American history we focus on what the British and their colonists on the east coast of the North American continent were doing in the 1770's.   In Alaska, the Inuit were dealing with abusive Russian fisherman; in California the Spanish were moving up the coast to found San Franciso as a result of the threat that Russia would move down the west coast of North America.  In the north, British traders were exploring the vast Canadian wilderness in search of trade.  And in the south, the Creeks were seeking help from Spain to fight the English.   This relatively short book (about 200 pages before the end notes) gives a good overview of what the rest of the North American continent  was dealing with in 1776.   And what is clear is that they weren't at all concerned about the civil war that was going on in the East between the British.