April 11, 2016

Recent Reads

26. A Burnable Book (John Gower #1)
I'd been saving this one, sure that I would love it. And you know what? If it were not for the fact that I listened to the audiobook, superbly narrated by Simon Vance, this would have ended up in my DNF pile.

This is a historical mystery of sorts, set in London, circa 1385. I really liked the gritty atmosphere the author captures, but I was bored with the overall story. I'm not sure I've read Chaucer, or if I did in school, it's lost to the mists of time. Maybe if I was a Chaucer aficionado this would have worked better for me, but alas I am not. The story starts with a bang - a murder, a book, a mystery - but then seems to plod about trying to find it's way home. I absolutely loved the maudlyns and their part in this story, but could have cared less about much of the rest of it. It does pick up a bit towards the last several chapters, but I have little doubt that if I had read this in print form, I would have bailed about 50 pages in. So I'd give it 2.5 stars, and will round up to 3 because I so loved having Simon Vance read me a story again. Rating: 3 stars.

27. The Sandman: Overture
I am a huge Sandman fangirl, so I'm not even going to pretend to be objective about this book. It's a prequel to the Sandman graphic novel series, and if you have yet to read those, stop reading this review, turn off all screens, and go start now. I loved that series, so was delighted that Neil Gaiman decided to go back to that well again. And for those skeptics who say you can never go home again, you are wrong. This one is fantastic on every level. I loved the creativeness of the story, and the art - holy mother - the art is a thing of beauty. Am I the only one who noticed how much Morpheus looks like Neil Gaiman in this volume? There is nothing coherent I can say, other than I loved everything about this one, and took my time in reading it so as to make it last longer.

If you a Sandman virgin, I would not recommend starting here however. I'd suggest starting with the original series, and after you have read them all, read this one. Speaking of which, it might be time to revisit the original series myself. Rating: 5 stars.

28. Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, Volume 6
I continue to really enjoy this manga series set in 17th century Japan, where the Shogun is a woman, and the harem is filled with beautiful boys. There are so many characters in this series, that I sometimes have to remind myself who is who, and what would really help is a family/character tree in the appendix of each book, along with the excellent footnotes. The drama, intrigue, and scheming continue unabated in this volume, with some murder added in for extra flavoring. The art and story continue to be excellent, the old English continues to annoy forsooth, and I cannot wait to see where this series goes next. Rating: 4 stars.

29. Go Set a Watchman
This one was my book club selection for the month, and given that Harper Lee died a couple of days ago, it seemed a very appropriate time to meet and talk about it.

At the time the book was released I read a bit about all the hoopla, but I decided to ignore all of that and see what I thought of it. Well, color me delighted. I'll admit that for the first bit of the book, I was disappointed. Not because the writing is bad, but because I loved Scout as a kid, and was unhappy that she had turned out to be this whiny woman. I realized that my attachment to Scout was adversely coloring my reading of the book, so decided to uncouple this one from Mockingbird, and read it as a completely new book with characters with the same names. No prequel/first draft/ sequel hullabaloo, and low and behold, the magic and mastery of Harper Lee shines through.

There are so many themes explored in this one, but at the heart of it, it is really a coming of age story for our girl, Scout. The novel is filled with scenarios of us/them: men/women, white/black, quality/white trash, North/South, rich/poor, and how Ms. Lee gives us so much to chew on with so few pages is something I still do not understand. I loved the flashback stories, and can see how Mockingbird is the gem that it is, but I also really liked the exploration of how one becomes an adult. When is that exactly? When we understand that things are not black or white, but that there are shades of grey. When we decide that our values are not necessarily those of our parents, or community. When we realize that life and love is complicated. When you realize that parent you idolized as a kid has feet of clay. That scene between Scout and Atticus after she confronts him had me sobbing over my breakfast omelet.

Half of my book club did not like the book, so it clearly resonated for me in ways that it did not for them. The only reason this is not a 5 star read is that it does need some editing and feels unfinished, but holy smokes, I hope there are other first drafts that Ms. Lee left lying around for us to delight in.

A note on the audiobook. This book was narrated by Reese Witherspoon, and at first, I was not sure that her twangy voice would work for me, but it turns out that she was a great choice for this story. Rating: 4 stars.

30. The Bird King: An Artist's Notebook
Everything about this little book makes me happy. I love the author's art, and work, and was delighted to get my hands on this collection of art from unfinished projects, finished work, and sketchbooks. I really enjoyed getting a glimpse into the mind and creative process of this artist/author, and flipping through this book is like exploring a delightfully curated art installation. Rating: 4 stars.

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