Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

Near the beginning of The Children’s Book there is a magical dinner party and the feeling evoked at that party is the feeling of the entire book. The party takes place in the English countryside where there is a sprawling cottage nestled amidst a garden with a wild wood surrounding it. The light seems to hover at the point of dusk, casting an orange glow through ancient orchard trees. There are children playing in and out of the party, always children running around on adventures. The hostess, the main character, writes faerie stories for children and I had the feeling that faeries, and other creatures of her imagination, might appear at any moment. The guests are intellectuals and artists, political activists and refugees. As the evening continues - the lanterns are lit in the trees, the champagne is poured – some of the guests turn out to be fools and philanderers, some have had too much too drink and are making bad decisions, but the story flits from group to group following the conversations and intrigues, never staying too long or leaving too soon. And when I had to close the pages of The Children’s Book, like the characters when the night is over and they had to go home, I was so sad to see it end.
This is one of my favorite books of the year.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

A brother looking for his missing twin, a teacher and student who decide to take their romance on the road, and a young man coming to terms with secrets about his past – these are the main characters of Dan Chaon’s fascinating new novel. Their stories all take place separately from each other, but they are joined by loneliness, isolation, and a search (a desperate search at times) for their identities. Chaon manages to turn that almost clich├ęd pursuit (aren't most novels about identity in some way or another?) into something unique and very contemporary. You’ll probably want to check your credit report before you even finish the book.
The world of Await Your Reply, like the one of Chaon’s wonderful first novel, You Remind Me of Me, might have seemed overly dark, if it hadn't seemed so real. Yes, someone has lost a hand on page one. There are Russian mobsters and a dusty, depressing old magic shop, too. But there are also moments when the clarity of Chaon’s writing gave me the chills.
As the threads of the different characters began to come together, I was completely unable to put it down. I can’t say more, just read it, and then tell me what you think.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

My Swordhand is Singing by Marcus Sedgwick

In a deep forest, in some vague agrarian time period of horse carts and superstition, Peter and his father, Tomas, are woodcutters in a new town. Their simple lives are interrupted both by a series of strange deaths and by a group of gypsies who know something about Tomas’ past.
This slim novel, aimed at Young Adults, is the best vampire book I've read. It’s completely different from those other teen vampire books that are really more about identity, romance, and belonging. This feels like a folk tale that might have been passed around small communities in Central Europe. Based on research and imagination it feels almost like a companion to The Historian. It gave me goose bumps.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Hunger by Michael Grant

Michael Grant is back with the next installment in the Gone series. It is equally violent, but darker and (thanks to fewer talking coyotes) even better than the first. The title tells you what is occupying the minds of the kids left in San Perdido. They're starving. It's not just that they don't have adults around to go to the grocery store; they're cut off from the means of distribution that we are all so used. The kids may be savvy enough to think of alternative options, but let's just say that the other strangeness (it has a name, but I don't want to give too much away) of the FAYZ makes those options not so easy.
There's more than just hunger going on in this book, though. The politics of the FAYZ aren't quite working out. It's an interesting lesson these kids need to learn. I think the teens I know (mostly customers here at the store) would have figured out how to make this work before the characters in the book, but where would the fun be in peaceful conversation?