Monday, October 04, 2010

September Book Report

And another month flies by. Here's what I read:

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann, was an interesting look at a British explorer named Percy Fawcett who made extensive trips mapping the Amazon of South America. Fawcett was a colorful character, and at the age of 57 -- a bit old for the physical hardships of trekking into the jungle in 1925 -- he began what would be his last expedition: a search for a lost city of gold that he was convinced lay hidden in the rainforest. Fawcett sent bulletins updating his family (and the public) on his progress, but then one day, the bulletins stopped coming. Fawcett was such a larger-than-life figure and had survived many dangerous treks before, so it was some time before his family and friends began to truly worry. He was never seen again, and exactly what happened to him remained a mystery.

Fawcett's disappearance led many subsequent explorers to attempt to follow his trail and either "rescue" him or discover exactly what happened to his expedition. None were successful, and over time, many others disappeared too. "The Lost City of X" is the attempt by the author, a New Yorker writer, to follow in Fawcett's footsteps and conclusively answer the questions surrounding Fawcett's disappearance.

I enjoyed reading this book, not the least because I knew nothing about Fawcett, and am completely ignorant about trekking through the Amazon. Grann alternates in the book between telling Fawcett's story and telling of Grann's own journey in Fawcett's footsteps. An interesting read, especially if you are interested in explorers, the Amazon, or man-against-nature struggles in general.

A few weeks ago, my oldest kid was looking for some new books to read. He was flying through the Lemony Snicket series and wanted some other books to intersperse with the various books in the Snicket series. He'd read many of the books I remembered loving as a kid, although some of them were less appealing to him since they featured girl protagonists ("Anne of Green Gables"?). So I started looking around for more recent preteen and young adult books that he might like. One of the books that kept coming up again and again was Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. I love reading and rereading children's books and had never read any of this series, so I decided to give it a go. "Inkheart" tells the story of a book repairer who is able to read books to life. By reading a book aloud, a character in the book may appear in the real world, or an inanimate object from the story may appear. The book repairer and his daughter embark on a series of adventurers when a villain from a book who has been released into the world seeks out the book repairer, wanting him to call forth riches and other powerful things by reading them out of books. I really enjoyed the book, and am giving it to my kid for his to-read list; in the meantime, I'll probably tackle the sequel (Inkspell) at some point soon.

An Impartial Witness by Charles Todd. Regular readers know that I've read pretty much every book in Charles Todd's Ian Rutledge series of mystery novels, set in post-WWI England. Todd has begun a second series featuring a woman detective named Bess Crawford. I scored a free review copy of this book from Amazon Vine, and very much enjoyed this police procedural. Bess Crawford is a nurse on the front lines of France in WWI; while on leave, she sees a woman involved in an emotional scene at a train station. A week later, she sees the woman's photo in the newspaper; the woman has been murdered. It turns out that Bess has a more personal connection to the victim; Bess nursed the victim's husband on the battlefield, where he clutched a photo of his wife while in hospital. A quick read and although maybe not quite as intense as the Rutledge series, it was nice to enjoy a somewhat less angst-y read (although given the WWI setting, it isn't exactly Carnivale).

Charmed by "The Graveyard Book," I decided to read another Neil Gaiman book, and chose Neverwhere. This is a fascinating read, full of colorful characters with a real breadth of imagination. Gaiman creates a parallel world that exists in the underground of London -- the underground meaning "under the ground," in tunnels and sewers, but also in the London Underground as in the subway. Once again, I heartily enjoyed the book. Gaiman has amazing creativity in creating this underground world; I loved the numerous puns he created from various Tube station names, as well as his very direct and engaging style of writing.

Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout, won the Pultizer Prize for fiction, and I know Ms. Bridget Clancy enjoyed reading it a while back. This is another book that bridges the novel form with short stories, but it does so beautifully. Each story focuses on a different period of time, in which the main character, Olive Kitteridge, appears, either as a main character or occasionally as a minor character. Either way, we see a new side of Olive and learn more about what makes her tick. At the beginning of the book, I wasn't sure I liked Olive very much, but the book was so well-written that it kept drawing me back to read another chapter. By the end, I'd found that Olive had grown on me. Definitely worth checking out.

My kid's language arts class began their fall reading with The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Oddly, I'd never read the book, so I decided to give it a go and read it along with my kid's class. I dutifully read the first few chapters in tandem with him, but got quickly sucked into the story and ended up finishing the rest of it all in one night. The book is about a group of "greasers" in the 1960s who are picked on by the "socs" (the preppy rich kids), but it really touches on a lot of things -- adolescent yearning, family ties, bullying, social class, appearances vs. substance, what is heroism, the essential unfairness of life -- and I was shocked to learn that the author was only around sixteen years old when she wrote it. While the slang and certain aspects of the book feel a little dated (had to explain to my kid what a drive-in movie was!), the book still manages to have a lot to say.

An Advancement of Learning by Reginald Hill, is the second Dalziel and Pascoe mystery in the venerable British police procedural series. Again, I liked the book but didn't love it; I suspect the series will continue to grow on me and since it's so well-regarded, I'm going to continue on as soon as I can find No. 3. This particular murder mystery takes place at a college in England. When a statue is dug up to be moved as part of a construction project, the old corpse of a former headmistress is discovered underneath it. The book was written in the early 70s and does feel a bit dated with its look at the 70s counterculture.

So that's what I read this month; you know the drill: tell me what you thought of these books, or recommend some to me, or tell me what you've been reading lately.


Tabitha said...

I'm glad your still giving Reginald Hill's books a try, I do think they will grow on you. Has the young mister read the Aretmis Fowl books? How about the Phillip Pullman series? Roald Dahl is always good fun. Captains Courageous or Kim? EB White? RL Stevenson? The Red Pony? The Borrowers? I could go on all day.

Carol said...

He's read lots of Roald Dahl, and the Borrowers, and E B White. I think Artemis Fowl and Lightning Thief are on his list, but maybe some of the classic stuff like Kipling & Stevenson should be on there too. Thanks!!

Angie K said...

My almost 13 year old loved the Vampire's Assistant books. There are 12 in the series and he read them in a couple months last school year. They are a little gorey and there is some swearing--mostly hells and damns--but they are pretty well written and go fast. Not sure whether Oldest Son is into that kind of thing but thought I would throw it out. Another series mine liked was the Hunger Games trilogy.

SparkCrafted said...

I really enjoyed Olive Kitteridge, too. Strout's been one of my more recent favorite authors, though Abide By Me was a little unenjoyable (mostly because of the religious subject matter). I really enjoyed Amy and Isabelle - that was the first book of Strout's I read. It's definitely more in line with my preferences, too.

I should post book reviews, too. I enjoy reading yours and I think you'd enjoy reading mine!

purlewe said...

Young adult books for books that I recommend: Larklight series by Reeve, Leviathan series by Westerfeld, Underland Chronicles by Collins, Summerland by Chabon (especially if he likes baseball), I see Lightening Thief was already recommended.

I just finished The Help, and while I recognize the inherent problems with it, I will admit it was an entertaining read.

Anonymous said...

for adult reading, not particularly unsuitable for teens just most likely uninteresting to them, have you tried any Phil Rickman? His series about The Rev. Merrily Watkins is great. I am addicted to the other woman priest books by Julia Spencer Fleming, courtesy of one of your reviews a few years ago. Thanks so much for that!!