sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

October 31, 2007

into the stacks 15
posted by soe 11:17 pm

I know, I know. This September reading report is long overdue. The books have been sitting on my desk for weeks waiting for me to get around to writing them up. Credit the library with getting me off my butt, as they’ve refused to let me renew some books again and would like them back yesterday, thank you very much.

So in honor of Halloween, I offer you demigods, ghosts, and a trio of witches, as well as several other casts of characters:

The Sea of Monsters, by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson & The Olympians series: Book Two)

From the jacket: “Percy Jackson’s seventh-grade year has been surprisingly quiet. not a single monster has set foot on his New York prep-school campus. but when an innocent game of dodgeball among Percy and his classmates turns into a death match against an ugly gang of cannibal giants, this get … well, ugly. And the unexpected arrival of Percy’s friend Annabeth brings more bad news: the magical borders that protect Camp Half-Blood have been poisoned by a mysterious enemy, and unless a cure is found, the only safe haven for demigods will be destroyed.”

Why this book? I loved the first book in the series, The Lightning Thief, naming it my best book of 2006. I’ve been on the waiting list for this book for a while and it finally came up.

My take: I’d like to start out by saying that I really liked this book. That said, it’s got to be really, really hard to write the second book in a highly successful and inventive series. For the first book, there are no expectations, particularly if you’re a first-time author. No one knows your stuff. You can spend half the book setting the scene. But once you’ve done that in the first book, it’s hard to do that again in the second book. Instead, people already know all the places and the key players and want just to dive into the action. And really that’s an entirely different kind of book than the first one.

Rick Riordan does a fine job with his second book in his Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. He brings back the characters we love (and loathe) from the first book and sends them almost immediately out on a quest to save the place where they all feel most at home.

In addition to the great characters returning from the first book, add to that a couple of cyclops, a pissy goddess residing in the Bermuda Triangle, and a beloved centaur’s hard-partying extended Florida family. There’s a twist at the ending that you might be expecting as you read along, but it does set up the third book to be a must-read.

Pages: 279

The Camel Bookmobile, by Masha Hamilton

From the jacket: “When Fiona Sweeney tells her family that she wants to do something that matters, they do not expect her to go to Africa to help start a traveling library. … Though her motives are good, Fi doesn’t understand the people she seeks to help. Encumbered by her Western values, she finds herself in the midst of several struggles within the community of Mididima. There the bookmobile’s presence sparks a feud between those who favor modernization and those who fear the loss of the traditional way of life in the African bush.”

Why this book? Okay, this will sound silly, but in addition to having heard good things about the book, I was drawn to the title. My college mascot was a camel and I love books. Totally superficial for picking out a novel, but it paid off.

My take: Despite the insignificant reasons for choosing the book originally, I found this a really compelling read. The book alternates between characters’ points of view — Fiona, the citified Kenyan librarian, the educated teacher who has returned to the village, the young wife, the teenagers struggling to find their path to the future. Because of the alternating takes on the story, you really get how there is an untenable position here between embracing custom and tradition in a struggling community or pursuing modernity at the price of losing your self-identity. And how to cope if you are a marginal member of society? I found myself thinking about this book in a way that I don’t often with casual fiction picks; it really got under my skin. Probably because I identified with do-gooder Fi so much, it was really hard for me to reconcile the idea that good intentions really could do so much harm — and at their core are designed to destroy a way of life. I should encourage my Peace Corps friend to read this book and see if she has any insights.

I’ve used the term over and over in the review, I see, but the book really is about reconciliation (and maybe a bit about resignation). I think this one will make the year’s top ten list.

Pages: 308

Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild

From the jacket: “Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil were not really sisters. They were the adopted daughters of Great-Uncle Matthew, a famous and eccentric fossil hunter. He often left the girls in the care of his housekeepers, Sylvia and Nana, and would take off on voyages. On his last voyage he disappeared. When money grew short, it was decided that the girls would study for stage careers. In London, a child of twelve could obtain a license to work in the theatre. The girls were sent to The Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training.”

Why this book? I was having a crabby, mopey evening and decided a trip down nostalgia lane would be a good remedy. It was.

My take: Streatfeild wrote a whole series of shoe books, but I believe this was the first one and I think it’s the best. This book, which takes place in London between the two wars, focuses on a family of three orphan girls being raised by the niece of the man who collected them. As the story begins, money has become more and more of an issue because the family is without a steady income. Garnie (aka Sylvia) takes in several borders, who all come to find themselves involved in the girls’ upbringing. One of them, a dance instructor, suggests that the girls could be trained for the stage in order to become contributing members of the household, and thus the adventures begin. Two of the girls find this a wonderful arrangement: Pauline is a skilled actress and an above-average dancer and Posy is a ballet genius with a gift for mimicry. But middle child Petrova, whose talents lie more in the mechanical realm, would give it up in a second if she could only find a way to help the family without having to dance.

I was pleased to find that this book held up well to the passage of time.

Pages: 294

Aunt Dimity Beats the Devil, by Nancy Atherton

From the jacket: “Lori Shepherd is on her way to Wyrdhurst Hall to evaluate its owners’ rare book collection. The grim, neo-Gothic castle, the books, and the journey to this remote and misty corner of Northumberland are full of surprises — some pleasant and some not. One pleasant surprise is meeting Adam Chase, a handsome, charming stranger. Lori falls under Wyrdhurst’s spell — and Adam’s — when she unearths a cache of World War I letters that tell of doomed love and hint at a treasure hidden in the hall. It will take all of Dimity’s supernatural skills to help Lori solve the puzzle and restore peace to a family haunted by its tragic past.”

Why this book? Gramma recommended this series to me back when I was still in Connecticut and I’ve never managed to find the first book in the series to start it. Finally deciding it was okay to jump into them in the middle, I picked this one up in the charity shop earlier this fall.

My take: The problem with starting a series like this in the middle is that you miss some key set up. Aunt Dimity seems to be a ghost embodied by a book. And I find that sort of far-fetched. But aside from that weirdness (which is, I’m sure, explained in an earlier novel in the series), I have to say I enjoyed the book. The setting — an isolated castle along the Scottish border — is Gothically thrilling and totally fits a ghost story. The characters — both antiquarian book specialist Lori and the secondary characters, who include a military officer, an author, and a child-like bride — were three dimensional and interesting. And the plot? It starts with a mudslide, explores a hidden tunnel, and finishes with a near shoot-out. And in between there is a haunting/possession that demands bookbound Aunt Dimity hitch a ride north to explain and advise on the situation.

Sure, I had pretty much guessed the plot twist, but I had not guessed two other aspects of the story, so I’d enjoy reading another book in the series to see if I can make heads or tails of this advice-giving supernatural book.

Pages: 245

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle

From the jacket: “It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger. ‘Wild nights are my glory,’ the unearthly stranger told them. ‘I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me sit down for a moment, and then I’ll be on my way. Speaking of way, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.”

Why this book? I’d already pulled it out to reread when I heard that Madeleine L’Engle had died. That vaulted it to the top of the pile.

My take: This is another story that stands up to the test of years.

Misfits Meg and Charles Wallace don’t know where their father is or when (or if) he’s coming home. But when a stranger shows up in the middle of the night during a storm and alludes to tesseracts, their mother’s reaction tells them something is afoot. When popular neighbor Calvin O’Keefe happens upon them in the woods the next evening, all three kids are suddenly jerked into an intergalactic/interdimensional rescue mission where all that’s at risk, in addition to Mr. Murry’s safety, is all the goodness and light in the world.

Add in a healthy dose of science and faith (I’ll argue here that it’s faith and not religion), and you’ve got a quick, intellectually challenging book that leaves you satisfied in the end.

I’d like to read the rest of the original trilogy as well as a couple of the other L’Engle titles I loved as a child to see if they’re equally satisfying as re-reads.

Pages: 211

Total pages read in September: 1,337

Category: books. There is/are 1 Comment.

My reading has consisted of:

First Among Sequels, by Jasper Fforde. An infinitely more satisfying installment to the Thursday Next series than The Great Samuel Pepys Fiasco.

The Scrivener Bees, by J.T. Petty. The first Clemency Pogue book was fresh and wonderful, and a self-contained story. The sequel established that this is going to be an ongoing story in the established universe, but did leave a little bit of shock. This third book gave up all pretenses of being a stand-alone, but feels more like some middle chapters between book two and the book four to come.

I finished the Dresden Files up through the last that has come out in paperback. I like the series more (am become more disappointed with the TV series based on it) with each installment. Went straight from Dead Beat to Proven Guilty because the friend I’ve been loaning them to caught up to me, leaving me no time to switch to something else between.

Comment by Grey Kitten 11.01.07 @ 11:59 am