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broodings from the burrow

June 11, 2018

into the stacks 2018: february
posted by soe 1:15 am

Here are the four books I read back in February:

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor works in an office where she does her job diligently, if unimaginatively, says the wrong things (which are exactly what she’s thinking), doesn’t go out at night or on the weekend, and doesn’t have friends. Until one night when she wins tickets to a concert at the office and, fearing someone will ask her how it was, she goes and sees the man of her dreams. She understands, then, that it was destiny that brought her there and that she must apply herself to meeting the man (the singer of the local warm-up band) and to explaining they are meant for one another. (Her mother has long declared that Eleanor must wait until she finds a man of refinement worthy of their attention, and she’s eager to connive her way into this relationship through their weekly torturous phone calls.) This unlikely event kicks off a journey of self-improvement and self-discovery for Eleanor, opening her up to the possibilities that come from awkward interactions with the kindly new IT guy, Raymond, whom she’s walking next to on the way to the bus when they see a man pass out in the street.

The story, told partially through email, texts, and other ephemera, is set at a deliberate pace, but is ultimately full of heart. The first part of the book irritated me with its slowness, but I came to appreciate it as time went on and as I gained more insight into Eleanor’s character. After all, plot and character growth in our own lives is also uneven, with setbacks countering progress and days of wheel-spinning interspersed among steps toward full self-realization. Highly recommended.

Pages: 327. Library copy.

Wonder Woman: Warbringer, by Leigh Bardugo

In this young adult take on the story of how Diana, princess of the Amazons, becomes Wonder Woman, hero of the Western world, Diana sees a boat explode off the coast of Themyscira and sees a young woman struggling to survive. She rescues her to find she is a teenager, like herself, but she is far from home (New York) and there is a penalty among Diana’s people for bringing humans into her world. Before Diana can decide how to proceed, her fellow Amazons start falling ill and Diana learns from the island’s Muse that the girl, Alia Keralis, is responsible, being a descendent of Helen of Troy and, thus, destined to bring war, turmoil, and death in her wake. The Muse suggests that Diana should let the girl die to right the situation among the Amazons, but Diana decides there must be another way. There is, but it won’t be easy and it will involve a surprise trip to New York City and some new friends along the way.

I thought this was a well-told, multi-layered story with developed characters and a fast plot, particularly in the latter half. When I got to the end, I was glad I owned it because I felt I’d missed a lot of the background, particularly with regards to Greek mythology and that a re-read would earn me additional information. This is the first of the D.C. Icons series, each of which is written by a different author and which reveal the teen versions of D.C. Comics’ most beloved superheroes.

Pages: 364. Personal copy.

Magpie Murders, by Anthony Horowitz

Editor Susan Ryeland has her weekend planned: she’s got her favorite reading snacks and drinks, a weekend away from her boyfriend, and the latest manuscript of her most famous author, mystery novelist Alan Conway. But this is no relating of a delightful weekend, because Susan warns us at the outset that reading this manuscript brought her nothing but woe and changed her life forever. And with that, we are deposited into the story, what is meant to be the final book in the series about a detective, Atticus Pünd, who bears a close resemblance to Hercules Poirot. In that story, the aging detective is brought to a small English village to solve the death of a young woman’s soon-to-be mother-in-law. Characters are introduced, the plot is twisted, other deaths occur. And, because we all understand how English mysteries work, we wait for the famous detective to explain to the otherwise competent police inspector the who’s and why’s. Except … that doesn’t happen.

It turns out that the final few chapters of the manuscript are missing. Susan goes into the office on Monday expecting to find there’s been a copying mix-up, but soon learns that’s not the case. Oh, and to make it worse, Alan Conway has killed himself over the weekend.

Susan is nothing if not meticulous, though, and will act as her own sort of detective to track down the end of her writer’s final work. The pages must be somewhere, after all… But where?

I liked this book, which I listened to (and which had different readers for Conway’s novel and Susan’s story), well enough, but it was clear that Horowitz thought himself cleverer than I did. The book kept referencing the tv show Midsomer Murder, which Horowitz wrote scripts for, which seemed particularly gauche. I’d guessed the ending of Susan’s story, but not the reasoning and found the book’s motives were less compelling than the ones I’d expected. (Lest you think I’m tooting my own horn, my mother and I compared notes and we’d both expected the same plot. Plot twists are certainly in keeping with mysteries, but you’re supposed to feel that the author has given superlative hints all along that after the twist is revealed make you think how clever they are to have done so, not to think, “Really?! That’s what you’re going with?!”

That said, the story was certainly compelling and lots of people really liked it. I just would have liked my version better.

Pages: 502. Library (audiobook via Overdrive).

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, by Sun-mi Hwang (Translated by Chi-Young Kim)

After seeing a chicken in the yard with chicks, Sprout the laying hen loses interest in her primary function — and in life in general. If she cannot raise a chick from one of her eggs, what point is there to going on? She tries to escape (assuming freedom from her coop is all that’s missing from her path to motherhood), is rescued from a weasel by a lame mallard duck and her own will to live, and ultimately takes on the role of foster mother to a duck whose own mother was killed by the weasel. The book raises questions of individuality vs. group expectations, personal freedom, motherhood, sacrifice, and, ultimately, following your dream.

I’ve seen this South Korean fable (which I picked up to read during the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang) compared to Charlotte’s Web in a variety of places, and the D.C. Library has catalogued it as a children’s book. However, I’d argue the better comparison is to Animal Farm, since both are short novellas with adult themes. A child could read The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly, but then I read Animal Farm when I was in elementary school. I understood the basic themes, but probably missed some of the nuance and I assume the same would be true here.

Apparently there’s an anime version of the book. I found the book rather grim, but some people like that, preferring their reading to follow the contours of real life. I’m just not one of them.

Pages: 134. Library.

Total Pages: 1327

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