Books read in November 2011

Aside from the book group selection, I only read YA (aka “teen”) books this month. For those of you looking to boost your book-reading bragging rights, YA books are good for that. They don’t tend to take a lot of time to read, and some are very well written like this month’s selection, A Monster Calls.

A Place on Earth
Wendall Berry
Read for Kenton Book Club
Ah! After slogging grumpily through last month’s selection, this was a breath of fresh air. It was hard to get into at first as I spent a lot of time thinking, “now who is this character again?” But that eventually resolved itself and the characters became known and the writing was just lovely. I hadn’t read Wendall Berry before, but I’ll seek him out again.
Anne’s House of Dreams
L.M. Montgomery
After the scattershot nature of the previous “Anne” book, this was a welcome relief. This time, there was a narrative structure which vaulted this book in to the category of “my favorite book of the series so far.” The cast of characters was varied and interesting and even characters from other books came to visit now and then. There was a very nice narrative arc, unseen in any of the other books. And I greatly enjoyed Anne and Gilbert as young marrieds, though Gilbert at times seems to just fill the “husband” character and not show much of his own character.
Jasper Jones
Craig Silvey
Read for Mock Printz
Of the grim/tense category that all these Mock Printz books seem to be, this falls into “tense.” I found the writing for this novel very uneven. For example, the story goes along and I’m populating the pictures in my head based on the book and then suddenly it seems that it’s the 1960s. Insert record needle scratching off record. What? Really? Huh. This happened several times: the mother seemed to be a normal book mother and then suddenly she wasn’t, the love interest had a too-convenient part to play. Also, this book takes place in Australia, which normally is a fun thing, but this book had a lot of Australian things that it didn’t bother to translate into American. And there was A LOT of cricket.
So I never really took to this book. But I did like the following passage:
“I take a small incendiary pull. Of course, it attacks my mouth and burns down the length of my throat. I gag immediately, wiping my lips, trying to keep my lungs at bay. I slant my head and pretend to read a label that isn’t there through my clouding eyes. This shit is poison. And I realize I’ve been betrayed by the two vices that fiction promised me I’d adore. Sal Paradise held up bottles of booze like a housewife in a detergent commercial. Holden Caulfield reached for his cigarettes like an act of faith. Even Huckleberry Finn tapped on his pipe with relief and satisfaction. I can’t trust anything. If sex turns out to be this bad, I’m never reading again. At this rate, it will probably burn my dick and I’ll end up with lesions.”
Imaginary Girls
Nova Ren Suma
Read for Mock Printz
Another of the “tense” YA books for Mock Printz reading. I hope all these adolescents are learning to breathe in yoga classes, or they are going to be incredibly tightly wound. This was nicely written and I spent the book engaged with puzzling through it, trying to figure out just what was up. I think it will inspire lively discussion when we get to discuss it. But I didn’t like it. The main character’s sister was quite unlikable and she was the book, so I spent a lot of time in puzzling dislike. “What’s her deal?” I kept wondering. I’m interested to see what others think.
A Monster Calls
Patrick Ness, Siobhan Dowd
Read for Mock Printz.
Seemingly all ten of our mock Printz books this year are either grim or tense and this one falls into the grim category, what with a thirteen year old’s mother very sick with cancer and his father living across the Atlantic with a new family and him not getting along with his grandmother and all. But despite it being grim, it was a fabulous story and my favorite Mock Printz book so far. It’s short and there are wonderful illustrations and I highly recommend it for anyone going through a situation that involves loss. Even if loss isn’t currently a part of your life, this book is worth reading for its very moving story.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Laini Taylor
Read for Mock Printz
“This book is awesome! I’m totally giving it five stars!” was something I thought repeatedly as I gobbled up this book, right up until the last page when the author actually used the words “to be continued.” Invoking the “to be continued” phrase automatically breaks my “series rule” which is as follows: The first book in a series must be a complete story on its own; the second book should be a happy surprise, not a given.” Authors that can’t be bothered to come to a clear break in their plot are, in my opinion, lazy and should be rewriting a bit more before publishing.
So, the ending was disappointing, but until then I couldn’t get enough of this book what with the kick ass female character (“This should be a movie!” I thought several times before I remembered how well Hollywood manages to diminish strong women literary characters) wonderful fantastical elements and a very interesting puzzle to unravel. Highly recommended, even with the disappointing ending.
Harlan Coben
Recommended by my friend Maureen with the caveat that this book breaks the “series rule” (The first book in a series must be a complete story on its own; the second book should be a happy surprise, not a given) I read this in a day. Despite my compulsitivity, this book was awful. The writing was bad (though did not approach Twilight-esqe levels) and I feel like Coben’s approach to writing a “teen” book was to read about seven of them and then take every cliche possible and shove it in his book. Let’s count them up. We have: 1)The essentially orphaned, and mostly unsupervised main character, 2)The loud, eccentric best friend who might as well be wearing a jester hat, lest you not get that he’s supposed to be the comic relief 3)The prickly fat girl who wears a defensive shell a mile thick, but is hiding a heart of gold and has a secret 4)much plot development action involving cell phones and 5)a large population of adults who “just don’t get it” 6)Teachers who are all apparently very angry former drill sargents.
You know what else this book set in the present day had? Nazis. Really? Yes really! Because there is no better antagonist than WWII era Germany. But wait, there’s more! A Strip Club. Prostitution. Mysterious White Van. Strange Tattoos. Stranger Tattoo Artists. Thinking over all of these elements put together I feel a building rage at the pure stupidity of this book. One or two of these elements in the hands of someone who can write would have resulted in something worth my time. But at this point, all I can do is warn you away. Go ask a librarian for a good YA book and leave Harlan Coben to the airport-novel-reading adults.
Also? Incredibly dumb character name. Mickey Bolitar! He was born in the mid-90s, for god’s sake, not the mid-50s. In fact, I just checked Wolfram Alpha and the graph of the Mickey distribution shows a dip down to pretty much zero in the mid-90s when this character would have been born. It’s rank is beyond 1000 currently. Mickey Boliter! Stay away! Far away.
Started and did not finish–None

2 thoughts on “Books read in November 2011”

  1. Yay for Anne!

    A Monster Calls is on everyone's (at least all of my YA book bloggers) top 5 list for possible Newbery Award winners. I've determined from their posts that I will choose to avoid it – too sad/disturbing. I read YA for escapism and fun, not for sad/downers! 🙂 So well done you. I will be interesting to see if it wins!

    Online for me is now off….

    Hoping to be in email land a bit more this 2012!

  2. Well, despite your resolution not to read it, I still HIGHLY recommend it. It's not so much a sad/downer as incredibly cathartic and I think it's a great allegory of stages of grief. It's a good sad, not a bad one.

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