Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Reading List Round-Up 2012: Books 64-77

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
This book is intriguing, particularly for the homage it pays to books like Harry Potter, the Narnia series, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Grossman has an exciting concept to work with and a lot of creative inventions of his own embedded in worlds that resemble some of the greatest already built in fantasy literature.  Unfortunately, the characters he inserts into those inventions and those worlds are almost painfully dull. Certainly worth a read if you're like me and this is a genre close to your heart but if not the appeal may be lost in the shuffle.

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
This is an excellent little play for those of us who wondered what Hamlet might have looked like from a different character's viewpoint.  Stoppard plays with the source material as well as the power of words and language in a way that is witty, engaging, and oddly tragic when the title characters meet their inevitable end.

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
This one starts out vaguely interesting, as the titular event occurs within the first chapter, then the rest of the story delineates the events leading up to it, but on the whole it stretches a bit too far away from its own intriguing premise.  Too many details and sidebars crop up along the way and it feels meandering, which is probably why the Irish have taken to it so strongly.

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
This book is beautiful and haunting, much more so in light of the fact that it's based on a true story, a fictionalized account of the lives of Las Mariposas ("the Butterflies") a family of revolutionary-minded sisters living in the Dominican Republic under the horrific reign of "El Jefe" Trujillo. Alvarez weaves an engaging tale told through the memories and writings of the three sisters killed in an "accident" by the regime, with thoughtful reflections and additions by the lone surviving sister, who continues to tell her family's harrowing tale.

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man by Tamora Pierce
The third novel in Pierce's Alanna series stretches the already loose boundaries of realism within its world.  Alanna, who became an official knight in the second book, travels to a faraway village and becomes their shaman (after killing the previous shaman, naturally).  What follows is a little bit of coverage of her training her magical apprentices, but mostly a lot (a LOT) of angst surrounding her love/sex life.  

One Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathan Tropper
 Tropper's latest effort includes all of the features that have, by now, become his signature:  dysfunctional (usually Jewish) family, a pseudo love triangle, a too-smart-for-his/her-own-good kid, and of course, crippling tragedy.  The book feels just a bit lazy and formulaic at times, but as always Tropper makes up for things lacking in the prose itself with the heart behind it, and the simple capsules of wisdom and insight that take his books from the typical to works with genuine heart.

The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
My full thoughts on this one have already been expressed here.

Talk Talk by T.C. Boyle

Maybe I'm just a holdout when it comes to jumping on the TC Boyle bandwagon, but I found this one extremely underwhelming.  It touches on two topics that are in themselves intriguing (the plight of the hearing impaired and identity theft/fraud), but the characters are flat and unsympathetic, and Boyle just plain doesn't seem to be making much of a point with the story.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
This novel is beautiful, achieving scope without excessive length or verbosity, a misstep of which several of this month's other reads are guilty.  It takes place in New York City in the seventies and provide portraits of a manageable number of characters who each bring a unique perspective to the same moment in history.  In short this book is a beautiful snapshots of lives you can easily imagine being lived in reality, with just that little touch of fiction magic we all need in a good read.

I Am the Chosen King by Helen Hollick
This book is historical fiction at some of its romantic and intriguing best.  Centered around the family of Harold II, last of the English kings, this book depicts the lead-up to the Norman invasion in 1066.  This tome is a much more worthwhile read than any of the textbook entries I can recall on the material, though I'm sure some of the dramatics and specifics are to be taken with a grain of salt.

The Funny Thing Is... by Ellen Degeneres
Yet another light, quick read from everybody's favorite day time talk show host, as upbeat and uniquely humorous as we know and love her to be.  I was able to read and digest this one in just one sitting, and I can pretty much guarantee it'll leave you in a good mood whether you read an excerpt or the whole darn thing.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
This little book can most accurately be described as delightful.  It's part fantastical adventure, part fable on the importance of storytelling, and it is 100% charming.  Rushdie does here what he does slightly less well in longer works such as The Satanic Verses, which is deliver a compelling, beautifully articulated moral that is also concise.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
Green and Levithan team up to create a dual narrative that is occasionally shaky but overall possesses the same heart and humor that have become their hallmarks.  The characters of Will Grayson Will Grayson make up for in fabulousness what they perhaps lack in dimensionality, and given the target demographic of the novel, this seems to work in its favor.

I Won't Learn From You by Herbert R. Kohl
This is a book I borrowed from my teacher-in-training friend who is forever discussing issues within the educational system that sail right over my head, and therefore not my usual type of read.  However, the points brought up by Kohl surrounding creative maladjustment are interesting, particularly when contextualized with the latest data coming out of this nation's schools.  His arguments are clearly laid out and colored with personal examples, and the book on the whole makes for an excellent reference document when it comes to these issues.

Best Book:  Let the Great World Spin and I Am the Chosen King
Worst Book:  Skippy Dies
Fastest Read:  Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead
Slowest Read:  The Casual Vacancy