Whatcha reading? Returning to Shore by Corinne Demas

Demas's previous book, Everything I Was, featured a nearly lone main character, Irene, who finds an alternate, voluminous, all-encompassing new family up the road when her own family doesn’t seem to have much interest in her. I felt deeply for her. Here, too, the main character, Clare, finds herself shunted off so that her thrice-married mother can go on her honeymoon for three weeks. That her destination is her father’s ancestral cottage, where she has neither been nor set eyes on him in a decade, only heightens her initial misery and sense of abandonment.

My favorite parts of the book so far, hands down, are the setting and the cover. “Blackfish Island” on Cape Cod sounds like somewhere I would like to move—immediately, if possible. Demas evokes the sights and sounds and smells beautifully. Clare’s father’s quest to preserve the habitat of the native terrapin turtles holds a place in my heart and makes quick inroads into Clare’s as well. Clare herself, she embodies the teenage, only-child quandary, knowing too much and too little about most things. As for the cover, rarely does one tell nearly the whole story right there and yet draw you into the story at the same time. The front matter’s layout, dark and mysterious, enthralled me as well. Clare’s story, while small, has large ripples, just as does the turtles’ place in the evolutionary march and the food chain. I hope the best for her, and for them, as they make their way.

If you want to see my rating once I finish, you can follow me on Goodreads. I rate every book I read.



Whatcha Reading? The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

It's so easy to judge other people, isn't it? We assess all day, every day, what people say and wear and do and are, and they are doing the same to us. The culture encourages it, nudges us to rate everyone and everything, from thumbs up to thumbs down, one to ten, white to black, choose your spectrum. In The Impossible Knife of Memory, the main character and point of view, Hayley Kincain, judges simply: zombie or freak. Anyone living his or her life falls into one category or the other; Hayley is just getting by, defying either category, as she thinks everyone should.

Hayley Kincain has it rough, no doubt: her mom and then her grandma died when she was a little kid, her dad has severe PTSD from his tours in Iraq, and it's her first time in school in five years, for her senior year, in a new school. Fair enough, she should be bummed. Fair enough, she should be wary. Fair enough, she should have the reader's sympathy for the load she has to bear as a seventeen-year-old. Somehow though I don't care.

This shocks me, because I thought Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak indeed gave a powerful, searing, and memorable voice to a girl, Melinda, who couldn't or wouldn't speak for reasons I was desperate to know and hung on every word on the page until I found out, and then I rooted for her even harder as she made her way back from the brink. Here though, with Hayley in The Impossible Knife of Memory, I'm having such a hard time caring, as much as I want to care. She pushes everyone away, and that includes readers. She judges everyone, and that includes the people in her life who are nice to her, judges them so harshly that I wondered at times (many times) why they (or I) continue to bother. Why does her best friend stay with her, for nostalgia? Why is the nice hot guy interested in her, and how in the world does he continue to be? And even, most troublingly, does her father never ever call her to task, even when he is having a "good" day? I still want to find out though, so I guess The Knife has itself at my throat after all.

If you want to see my rating once I finish, you can follow me on Goodreads. I rate every book I read.

Laurie Halse Anderson http://madwomanintheforest.com/


Whatcha reading? The Star Dwellers by David Estes

The second installment of a trilogy can be tricky. The author can’t assume too much about what readers remember from the first one, but there may be readers who pick up the second one, not realizing (or remembering) that it is a sequel. That balancing act must teeter between boring old or confusing new readers. At the other end of the novel, a “middle child” can’t have a true ending either, because the third and final installment lurks right around the corner. At worst the second of three feels like nothing more than a bridge between the first and third, a necessary journey to travel to get to the real action. The best trilogies manage these challenges with style and grace, and perhaps most impressively, a truly great second act.

The Star Dwellers by David Estes takes a popular approach to the first concern and combines old and new material seamlessly in order to get the action going. Estes as usual has plenty of action. I also like his characters, even though dystopian is oddly beginning to feel a bit dated to me, despite its futuristic aims, perhaps because of its very plentitude. A quick glance at the multiplexes over the past year yields six—yes, six—dystopian film versions of dystopian novels, all trilogies. Three is indeed the magic number (unless you are The Hunger Games franchise, and then the magic number is apparently four). Back to Estes’s characters, of which of course Adele the rebel and Tristan the elite are primary, but I actually prefer the supporting cast, namely Tawni, Cole (boo hoo hoo), Roc, Elsey, and Ben. Then there are the missing mothers—three of them, no less—and I am a sucker for missing mothers. What I do like about Adele and Tristan is their literal physical bond, that electricity that we have all felt in a new relationship made actual and truly painful, like a third party in the room without the need for a love triangle.

What I think is really clever about this trilogy? Setting each book in a different realm of the Tri-Realms gives new purpose and forward momentum to each installment, plus it changes up a number of otherwise fixed elements such as locale and what and who to expect in said setting, which propels the story in addition to the action. Did I mention that there is plenty of action?

Will I read The Sun Dwellers? Absolutely.

For more on dystopian trilogies from an earlier blog entry, see here.

If you want to see my rating you can follow me on Goodreads. I’ll do each installment individually. I rate every book I read.



Whatcha reading? All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

You know how I like the adolescent point of view. In All the Light We Cannot See Anthony Doerr juxtaposes the stories of blind, inquisitive, French Marie-Laure and orphaned, analytical, German Werner at the time of the second world war; you know that they will intersect. This should feel forced and predetermined, but somehow it doesn't. Part of it is the beauty of Doerr's language, poetic yet intricately accurate at the same time. Another part of it is the intimacy of each story, the way that each young person yearns and grows and mourns what s/he cannot have right before our eyes, as a person we know well enough to touch and fear for almost immediately. The last part must simply be magic.

I have read and seen seemingly a million stories of the wars of this world, and some of them have stayed with me, and others pass away as soon as I am on to the next book or movie. A few that have embedded shards of themselves in me include: The Things They Carried, The Kite Runner, Atonement, The Remains of the Day, Life if Beautiful, The Madonnas of Leningrad, Graham Greene, John Le CarrĂ©, and The Invisible Bridge. That is not to say that others weren't better overall, because some were, but flashes of those crop up vividly for me in other contexts, some for many years now. The image of Marie-Laure touching the edges of the model houses of her neighborhood—which her father has painstakingly built for her so she can learn to navigate on her own—as the bombs fall or of Werner making the first connection in his first primitive radio and hearing a voice in a far-away land speaking of science's wonders as the Hitler youth movement rises may well join those flashes.

If you want to see my rating once I finish, you can follow me on Goodreads. I rate every book I read.



What Comes Next?

There is a game I like to play (no, nothing dirty—usually), and I call it What Comes Next. I'll read something, say a headline, or I'll observe something, say an interaction, and I'll spin it out for myself. My mind will create a mini-story or sometimes a full-blown one, based on what I "know" so far.

Here's an example:
I saw this headline, "Search for boy, missing for 38 years, resumes in Lawrence." This is where my mind went—Where has he been? Did he go willingly? Did he go alone? What brought the search back to public attention? Is he healthy? Is he sane?

Another example:
I heard this comment, "I have never been a porn guy, so for me this is a little weird." And my mind said this—What is a porn guy? Is there a good way to be one? Is "porn guy" and "a little weird" an oxymoron? What's "weird," having an in-person interaction? Did he sound embarrassed because he was "a porn guy" or because of whatever was "a little weird" or because of the look on the other person's face (which I couldn't see)?

And then I say to myself, is there more to this story? How much do I want to know? How much might readers want to know? It's all fiction, of course. (wink, wink)