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.



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16 responses to "Books I’ve devoured". Comments are closed for this post.
  • katie b says:

    The first one looks terrifying… but intriguing… you may have sparked my interest. I’ll let you know how it goes after i’m finished with this class.

  • Mike says:

    Fun book reviews! I want to read them all! I will have to add to my list when I have a moment.

  • NOnna says:

    I have read the Sue Grafton. Daddy and Peter have read the Ender even though I checked it out, they claimed it. I’ll have to think about the first one. Do you have Night Circus on your list?

    • Jenny says:

      Oops, I forgot to add it to my list. Going now… Skip the first book, Mom. You wouldn’t like it that much, I would venture.

  • Andre says:

    I was worried this blog was slowly dying. Thanks for the book CPR and the recommendations.

    • Andrew says:

      I’m apparently “Andre” now.

      Either my fingers are lazy or I’m a wrestler-gone-actor giant. And I don’t even exercise.

      • Jenny says:

        That made me want to say, “Anybody want a peanut?”

        I might be the only one who is giggling over the movie reference.

  • Rachel K says:

    I know that funk. I know it well.

    Interesting fact: David Copperfield pulled me out of a funk. But I know what you’re talking about, with the long books you’re not really enjoying. It feels like you’re never going to make it out alive. I felt that way about The Lord of the Rings. I kept screaming at it, “JUST STOP WALKING AND RECITING TREE POETRY!!! I DON’T WANT THIS TO BE THE LAST BOOK I EVER READ!!!”

    • Jenny says:

      Yeah, I kept saying to the book, “But I like Dickens! I do! I will like this book! I WILL MAKE MYSELF LIKE THIS BOOK.” It didn’t work.

  • Rachel says:

    Hooray for new books to read! I haven’t read anything but Great Expectations in the Dickens collection, but I know what you mean about the book funk, too. I’ve gotten stuck on a few books that way. After “Ender’s Gift”, I lost faith in Card, so I’m glad he wrote another Shadow book. I liked those even more than the Ender series. Except Ender’s Game, of course. I think Bean is a very compelling character. So I’m going to be buying Shadows in Flight. I’ve only read the first Sue Grafton book, but I’ve been meaning to read more of them. I know what you mean about the language. Oy. But I liked the first one so much I just have to keep going. The first book you mentioned sounds super duper creepy. But I want to read it. It sounds fascinating. If I get too scared I’ll just pull out Pride and Prejudice on DVD and watch it until I fall asleep. Thanks for posting. I’ve been waiting.

  • Caren says:

    I’m glad you finally posted some of what you’ve been reading because I have read a lot of great ones and just haven’t taken the time to review about them. In fact, I seem to remember some talk about doing a Best and Worst list for last year…..

    So here’s my deal with Dickens. Besides incredibly long run-on sentences and fairly depressing story lines, his moralizing drives me crazy. Not just because it’s heavy-handed, but because he was such a hypocrite. I watched a documentary about him a few years ago and have lost all respect for him since. My impression of him now is that he was a cruel and selfish adulterer who cared more about public opinion than the people who were closest to him. His wife and children suffered so much for his ego, and what really kills me is that so much of his status was built around this idea of him being this great moralist. Gag. I felt very disillusioned and it has soured me on his writing since. I don’t expect writers to be saints, but if they build their career on having a squeaky clean reputation then they’d darn well better not be narcissistic scumbags behind closed doors.

    • Jenny says:

      Shoot, I didn’t know all that about Dickens. Dangit. There was a streaming bio of Dickens on Netflix that I never got around to watching. Sounds like I was better off!

  • Joan says:

    Love the reviews. I’m intrigued by “Peculiar Children” and want to add that to my list. Never read Sue Grafton, but voraciously devour everything Card writes! I got emotional in this latest Bean book, too. I love Ender and Bean! Something you might like is “The Night Circus”, which is a debut novel and I loved it! Our town bookclub is doing that in a couple of weeks and I can’t wait to talk about it. Caren’s already read it and another daughter just finished it last night. Oh so much juicy stuff to discuss! Thanks for keeping up on this.

  • Karen R says:

    Jenny, I keep checking for new ideas. I haven’t found anything exciting to read this summer. I’m halfway through “Katherine” by Anya Seton, a 700 page historical novel about English royalty in 1363 -. Seton’s excellent writing and amazing descriptions of the period keeps me going. Just wanted to tell you how I look forward to your ideas, but I want something fun and uplifting. Just checked out Moon Over Manifest (which I loved) to read with grandkids who are coming in a couple of days.

    And as to getting through Dickens, wait till your kids are gone and your house is empty and listen to him on CD. I did that recently with Great Expectations (which I enjoyed reading when I was 17) and you get so involved with all the characters, you miss them when it’s over.

    • Jenny says:

      I’m so glad you keep checking, Karen! I promise we’re still reading like crazy but life is being too crazy to write it all down! I might get to do a summary of some recent wonderful reads this summer, I hope.

      Thanks for the Dickens suggestion!

  • Andrew says:

    Listening to “Miss Peregrine’s” right now and I thought I’d reread your review just for kicks. I have to say I was a bit disappointed to learn there are cool photos in the book. Little audio fail right there. It’s a fun read (uh..listen) though!