Books I’ve devoured
I spent most of the last few months of 2011 in a book funk, which carried over into 2012 for the month of January. I just couldn’t seem to find anything to catch my interest for longer than a few minutes at a time. Ideally, a book should be so good that I can’t fall asleep at night or I sneak it into my lap while helping my kids practice the piano. During a period I’ve decided to call The Great David Copperfield Disaster, I was trying to plod through Charles Dickens’ famously autobiographical novel for my book group, only to feel like I was trying to eat a plate full of steamed spinach every day that had long grown cold. I love Dickens, but I was having a terrible time with David Copperfield. It took away my appetite for other books too, which was sad. As soon as book group was over and my shame of never finishing the book wore off, I was ready for something delicious, and I found it. These books I devoured in quick succession, happy to have an exuse to stay up late reading and ignoring my children.
From my local library, I requested Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs so many months before I actually received the book that I completely forgot why I requested it in the first place. It’s fun when that happens because then the book is completely unknown to me. It sat on my nightstand for a week before I picked it up because, well, it looked weird. Take a look at that cover. Weird, right? When I finally opened it up, it caught me in the first few paragraphs and didn’t let go. I was consumed by this book. The narrator, sixteen-year-old Jacob Portman, has been traumatized by the gruesome death of his grandfather. He was close to his grandpa, remembering stories he told to him of peculiar children on an island near Ireland, where he had been sent to during WWII to escape internment camps. Jacob spends months in therapy, trying to deal with the trauma he underwent the night of his grandfather’s death, when his therapist suggests that he go to the island he’s been hearing stories about his entire life and see if that doesn’t help his fears. When Jacob and his father arrive on the island, things do get better, but because Jacob finds out that all the stories are true.
You know that phrase, “spine tingling”? It describes this book fairly well. The story by itself was creepy, suspenseful and borderline terrifying, but then it was interspersed with photographs that only made it even more intense. I’m sure Riggs wrote his story around these rare and bizarre photographs, but instead it feels like he had photographic evidence that these peculiar children existed. Ooh, there goes my spine again. The peculiar children aren’t even the scary part, either. Categorized as a young adult novel, I would venture to say that it’s more like 15 and up, if your particular young adult isn’t going to end up with nightmares.
Right off the bat, I need to tell you that if you haven’t read a single book in the Ender series by Orson Scott Card, this whole paragraph will be meaningless. Feel free to skip down. Shadows in Flight is the latest installment of this epic saga, specifically the Shadow side story that has nearly outpaced the originally four books in scope. Bean and his three children afflicted with his mutant gene have taken to space, letting relativity take its course and allowing advances in science to speed by while zero gravity allows Bean to outlast his giantism and impending death. His children, Ender, Carlotta and Cinncinatus (nicknamed Sergeant) are just as brilliant and precocious as Bean was at the age of six, making a name for himself at Battle School and becoming Ender’s (the original) right hand man, er, boy. Each of the children’s unique skills are needed when they come across an alien ship, orbiting a planet that is a likely candidate for colonization.
This was an emotional book for me to read. I feel like I know Bean so well that I was invested in his children finding a cure that would save their lives, even if it was too late for Bean. His inward pain at having to prepare his kids for their uncertain future made my mothering tear ducts well up. Card uses his standard quick-witted repartee and gunfire quick dialog to propel the story on and I found myself reading faster and faster because I could feel that sense of urgency his characters were feeling, desperate to find a cure. And the ending of this book. Oh my. I can’t talk about it. I’m overwhelmed.
Every time I start to think that Card is just pumping a dry well for more stories and bigger paydays, I am proven wrong. It isn’t that he is writing more books about Ender and Bean’s universe just because people buy the books, though I’m sure that is nice, but because there are just so many stories that need to be told. It’s like saying that you only need two or three books about the Civil War. There are thousands of stories that need to be told about the Civil War, including fictional ones. The universe that Card created with Ender’s Game and tangentially with Ender’s Shadow have so many stories that need to be told and I’m more than happy to read them.
Speaking of book series that go on for decades, Sue Grafton’s alphabetical mystery novels recently got a new addition with V is for Vengeance. It’s a hokey idea, this alphabet business, one that I’m sure Grafton didn’t take too seriously when she started out. Now that Kinsey Millhone, private investigaor, is this fully fleshed character, it seems cheap that she has to star in books with gimmicky titles. Too late to change it now. Kinsey starts her story with talking about her broken nose and necessary plastic surgery, which of course we don’t find out about until the end of the book, but it’s an opener that kept me interested. This time organized crime is at the core and the story itself is a page-turner, but what I’ve been enjoying is Grafton’s shift from first person of Kinsey, to third person with other characters. She only started doing this in the last few books and it really changes the story. At first I thought it would mean that I’d figure out the mystery faster, but in V is for Vengeance, Grafton laid enough traps and held back just enough details that when the curtain was lifted, I was left speechless. I love when that happens.
Here’s the deal with Grafton’s books: I never remember how graphic they can be. It’s like my brain erases it after the fact because I love the story so much and just can’t get enough of Kinsey Millhone. She is so complicated, such a contrast of tough, nervy, and stubborn and yet fragile and tender. But man, the language. Ugh, the bedroom scenes. It’s too much, even though it’s really not that much. My tolerance level is very low, though. Be forewarned, is what I’m saying here.
It feels so nice to have good books to write about! When I was stuck in the midst of David Copperfield, I was worried I’d never see the other side. I think I’ll stick with his books that are under 1000 pages.