1. People of the Book (audio book), by Geraldine Brooks
Dr. Hanna Heath is a passionate preserver of books. She loves to work with dusty tomes, repairing their structure so that their knowledge will carry on into the future. A new peace in Sarajevo, reveals a survivor of the chaos, a fifteenth century Jewish manuscript. The Haggadah is famous for the incredible beauty of its illuminations, and more so, because at the time it was made, the Jewish community traditionally banned such art from their works. As Hanna works on the book, she discovers small artifacts, a fragment of butterfly wing, a strand of white hair, a wine stain, which begin to unravel the mystery of the Haggadah.
Brooks weaves between Hanna's present journey's in researching and working on the book, with the historical people and settings that were involved in creating the book and keeping it safe. There's a clean lyrical quality to Brooks' writing that brings these characters, which span nations and centuries, to life. I was thrilled with this book, right up through the end, and it was definitely one of my favorite reads this year.
2. Half Life, by Roopa Farooki
"It's time to stop fighting, and go home," reads Aruna, so she walks out the front door, barely stopping to dress, put on shoes, and grab her purse. She heads immediately to the London airport and catches a flight to Singapore to face her past.
There is a simplicity to the story and the style of this book. The writing is very lyrical, but it doesn't try to hard, instead the use of metaphor pulls you down into the room to sit beside each character as you read. She handles several challenging subjects, the kind of things that could jerk you out of the story with disgust in the hands of another writer. However, Farooki manages to approach the subject with a sense of loving forgiveness for her characters. She presents a world in which life is both brutal and beautiful, and even though perfect resolution is not always found, there is hope and the possibility of joy.
3. Anacaona, Golden Flower (The Royal Diaries), by Edwidge Danticat
The Royal Diaries is a series of books presenting the imagined diaries of various princesses. In this case, it is the tale of Anacaona, a Taíno cacique (chief), who is also a warrior, a poet, a leader, and a diplomat.
While learning about this woman was certainly fascinating, the book was very tame. This is to be expected since the desired audience is younger preteen girls -- my sister was a big fan of the series when she was in Junior High -- and I probably would not have picked it up were it not written by Edwidge Danticat.
She does what she can with diary format (difficult as the Taíno had no written language). The writing was clean and precise, but unfortunately, also had that educational, now-you-are-learning-something-about-his
4. A Farewell to Arms (audio book), by Ernest Hemingway
Set in World War II, this novel centers around Lieutenant Henry, an American ambulance driver, and Catherine Barkley, a British nurse. After meeting in Italy, the two fall in love and try to assemble a relationship during war.
I was warned that Hemingway was bleak, and without giving anything away, I came to the conclusion by the end of this book, that yes, he is bleak. This book brought me to tears. However, I love Hemingway's clean, sparse writing, as well as his looping, realistic dialogue. It is vivid and moving. Both Catherine and Henry are wonderful characters, and despite the bleak nature of the book and its view of the world, I would read it again in an instant, because it was so, so beautiful.
5. The Ghost Trio (poetry), by Linda Bierds)
After my second read through of this collection of poems, I love it more than ever. Bierds weaves together lyrical tales from historical characters both real and imagined (mostly from the 1800s. Common threads include various artists and philosophers and scientists, such as Charles Darwin (Charles and his family come up often).
As example here are a few of my favorite lines from "Hunter":
...And could the uncle distinguish, his father is asking,
the drops of the storm from the drops
of the river? Just then with his face
half hidden, half blossoming?
And could Charles distinguish, there in the wing chair,
grief from the story of grief? Or fear? Or love
from the story of love? ...
6. The Restless Dead, edited by Deborah Noyes
This anthology of presents ten short stories by young adult authors, involving zombies, vampires, ghosts, and all other restless dead not so easily defined.
The collection as a whole is quite good, as the writers selected really know their craft. There are two traditional ghost stories in the book ("The House and the Locket" and "No Visible Power"), which are well written and developed, but are also rather generic and predictable for my tastes (maybe I've just grown out of ghost stories). My favorites are below.
-- I read "The Wrong Grave" in Kelly Link's collection of stories, Pretty Monsters. The tale of a boy who accidentally digs up the wrong grave was just as creepy and humorous the second time around.
-- In "Kissing Dead Boys," Annette Curtis Klause presents a story steeped in the dangerous and addictive lust of vampires.
-- "The Necromancers," by Herbie Brennan, is a darkly comic tale of two brothers who raise the dead with unexpected results.
-- As an author Libba Bray continues to surprise me, and her story "Bad Things" was gave me genuine chills. It's a terrifying and disturbing story of two brothers with images that haunt me well after the story is over.
-- Holly Black's "The Poison Eaters" is a dark fairytale of murder and political intrigue.
-- "Honey in the Wound," by Nancy Etchemendy , is a more traditional zombie tale (of the voodoo-ish variety).
7. The Haunted House (poetry), by Marissa Crawford
Marissa Crawford presents a collection of prose poems deeply imbued with adolescent girlhood. There's a the same sense mixed of delight and unease and wonder when reading the women of Marissa's poetry, as there would be in encountering a ghost for the first time. Pop culture slips into the poetry as easily as references to Emily Dickenson, who is really a pop culture princess and awkward adolescent herself.
I was continually surprised reading through these poems, first picking them at random, and then starting from the beginning and reading through to the end. The poetry here incorporates simple sentences piled on top of one another into a complex web, which shows how nothing ever goes away, but continues to haunt us. I really, really love this book, and love that I own it and can return to it again and again.
As a final note, I should point out that I am potentially biased here, because I know Marissa personally. We used to work together. Though I'm not prone to raving about something just because my friend did it, I'm mentioning it nevertheless. So, if you don't trust my opinion, you can always read
this review over at the Examiner.com - San Francisco.
8. Cures Include Travel (poetry), by Susan Rich
As I was looking through the poetry section of the library, I couldn't help but pick up Susan Rich's collection of travel poems. I love this book, which tales from her travels both of the physical world and of the heart. At times she her writing is humorous or moving or sexy, and at times all three at once. Coming back to these poems was like coming back to an old friend.
9. Moonheart, by Charles De Lint
When Sara Kendal and her uncle Jamie find a medicine bag full of an odd assortment of trinkets, including a bone disk, a gold ring, and other oddities, they find themselves being drawn into a a strange other world. They soon learn that there are dangers along with the wonder, including an ancient evil. Along with a litany of fascinating characters, including a an ex-biker, a folk singing magician, a anchient druid, a straight-laced cop, they fight for their lives.
My write up sounds uber-dramatic, but that's only because its difficult to encompass a book like there, which has a multitude of complex characters, each with their own desires whose goals criss-cross and interlace with all the others. I only felt lost a couple of times in the beginning as De Lint shifts between multiple points of view, and I had to remember who was who doing what. But as I settled into this epic story of love and magic and old evils, all that smoothed out and I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's an excellent example of why De Lint is fast becoming one of my favorite authors.
10. Eating in the Underworld (poetry), by Rachel Zucker
The story of Persephone is retold in this collection of poems. Instead of being kidnapped and dragged down the underworld by Hades, Persephone makes the conscious choice to make the journey, a kind of coming of age rebellion, as a daughter goes forth to claim and shape her own life as a woman and as Queen of the underworld.
Each poem is a snippet from a diary or note and letter in deceptively simple lines, revealing the struggle when a mother tried to possess her daughter, the sensual mysteries of falling in love, and the eerie beauty of the underworld.
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And because I'm crazy about lists and (pointless) record keeping, I'm going to start jotting down the new movies (by which I mean those I've never seen before) that I watched over the month. This list will probably be a bit long, because I can't remember where the line is in terms of what I watched this month or in the last.
1. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
Loved this movie. The animation is fantastic. I really enjoyed how they managed to accurately show the awkwardness that can happen when a parent and child just don't get each other at all. And I really, really, really want my own pet dragon.
2. Kick-Ass (2010)
3. Iron Man 2 (2010)
An thoroughly enjoyable sequel. There was plenty of action and comedy, our hero was as appropriately egotistical and self destructive as ever, and I really do love Robert Downy Jr.
4. Robin Hood (2010)
This was an interesting take on the Robin Hood mythology. I think they do a rather good job of bringing the storyline to a "real world" context (though it can't be confused as such). There's no green tights and Robin is more serious than in previous versions. I do love the "merry men" side characters, because even though they are not described as such, they are certainly lovers of life and fit the description of merry in my opinion. Lovers of the swashbuchkling, lighthearted Errol Flynn style of Robin Hood might not like this one.
5. Ergo Proxy, episodes 1-8 (2006)
I was initially bored by the first episode, but have become rapidly more fascinated by the series as it's gone on. I'm beginning to be afraid that it will be one of those anime series which just builds mystery upon mystery without really ever giving any sense of what's really going on, but the animation is stark and beautiful and at this point I really don't mind.
6. I Sell the Dead (2008)
A very odd take on the zombie flick. Dominique Monaghan stars as a grave digger about to be hanged for his crimes. As he relates his life story to a priest, he reveals that some of the dead are more lively than others. Purposefully tongue-in-cheek, it came off as more odd than enjoyable, but it was still entertaining enough to watch again.
7. Away We Go (2009)
Charming and insightful story about a couple who goes on a road trip to see what city they want to make their home. They meet a collection of oddball characters along the way, but each character is played so straight that you feel like you could meet them when walking down the street. It manages to be real without falling into the trap of being devastating. I would definitely buy this one to watch again.