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Joyful Girl

Andrea Blythe's blog about writing, reading, and everything else


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Books Read in October
andrea reading
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1. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin
2. Sweetly, by Jackson Pearce
3. Push of the Sky, by Camille Alexa
4. A Room with a View (audio book), by E.M. Forster
5. By Grit and Grace: Eleven Women Who Shaped the American West, edited by Glenda Riley and Richard W. Etulain
6. Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom, written by Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez
7. Paper Covers Rock and Triplicity: Poems in Threes (poetry), by Chella Courington and Kristen McHenry
8. The Canterbury Tales (graphic novel), by Seymour Chwas
9. Deadline, by Mira Grant


REVIEWS:

1. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Shevek grew up in a society of anarchists, a near utopian society on the moon of Urras in which everyone is equal, there is no monetary system, and all goods are shared equally and fairly. However, it is also a society that has begun to reject new principles and ideas, making life difficult for Shevek, who wishes to explore the new boundaries of physics.

In order to follow the path of physics, Shevek has to turn away from his home to Urras, the planet the anarchist society abandoned hundreds of years before so that they could have their freedom. Urras is a world upon divided by cultures and countries, many at war with each other. Capitalism is king there, where there are drastic differences between the classes and just about anything is for sale.

One might think the focus of this novel is politics, from sexual politics to economic politics, -- and that would be true. Politics, philosophy, and and physics all play large roles here and are the subject of much discussion between the characters, each who have very strong points of view. Nothing is simple, however, and Sevek learns that his anarchist society is not as perfect as he believed, nor is the capitalistic society of Urras nearly as wicked as he imagined. There is good and evil in everything.

But even more story, this is a novel about a man who is lost, who is looking for a place to belong. His deep, deep loneliness and feelings of being disconnected from either world are very true and moving. Without this connection to Shevek, the story would be too tangled in philosophy and politics. Shevek's journey -- physical, intellectual, and emotion -- is really what makes this story come alive.


2. Sweetly, by Jackson Pearce
Sweetly is a companion novel to Sisters Red and a retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story. In this version, Gretchen has a twin sister. As children, Hansel, Gretchen, and the sister go exploring and "witch hunting" in the woods. The game ends when they find the yellow-eyed witch. They flee for their lives, but when they reach home, the twin is gone. No one believes it was the witch.

In order to escape the continued guilt and blame of that event they travel east. Their car breaks down in Live Oak, South Carolina, a small town that seems to be withering away. The siblings agree to work for Sophia Kelly at her candy store in the woods in order to raise the funds to get their car towed and repaired. However, Sophia has secrets and the something in the woods is hunting the girls of Live Oak.

More than anything else, this book is about finding forgiveness and making peace with being the survivor of a horrible event. Especially as loosing her twin, loosing her other half, Gretchen has had a hard time to come to terms with her loss. She's an interesting character that manages to not be whiny. In fact, she's rather matter of fact about her realities and accepting of her sorrow. She learns to trust in her own strength and that's really powerful.

I wasn't as interested in Hansel. He didn't seem to have as much dimension as Gretchen did, but then, he had come to terms with the loss of his sister long before she did.

Sophia, however, was definitely fascinating. You can tell immediately that she's keeping secrets, but it's hard to tell why that is until the pieces little by little begin to unfold. She's a complicated character, one you both love and fear all at once.

The emotional experience envelopes the adventure and suspense of the story, giving it meaning and depth.


3. Push of the Sky, by Camille Alexa
Camille Alex presents a wide range of imaginative and well-wrought tales in this collection. The few poems included in the collection are not nearly as strong as the stories. They don't quite have the same punch as the stories. But the awesome of the stories far outweighs the mediocrity of the poems.

I was especially fond of "The Clone Wrangler's Bride" and its sequel "Droidtown Blues," which are space western stories about a girl and her mandroid. The girl is spunky and awesome. I loved her quite a bit.

"The Butterfly Assassins" was a beautiful murder mystery. In it a young prince loves to create clockwork creatures, a talent that is looked down upon because the arts of alchemy are more highly prized within the kingdom.

"Shades of White and Road" was a lovely little tale about a girl who runs away from home and travels a spiraling road. Along the way she meets and assortment of stray furniture and objects, who pester her and wish to become her friends.

A story about the last surviving dragon in the world is contained in "Paperheart" and an plaster figurine shares his wit in “Observations of a Dimestore Figurine.”

There are many other stories in this collection that are also powerful and moving, sometimes funny and sometimes horrifying, but always beautifully told.


4. A Room with a View (audio book), by E.M. Forster
While traveling in Italy, a young Victorian woman Lucy Honeychurch hopes to explore and learn about the artwork and architecture of the area. Instead she has a brush with violence that leads her into a an intrigue with a young man. She flees her passion, traveling from Italy back to England, where she must learn to listen to her own heart.

I was impressed with Forster's take on his characters, making them complicated and interesting and often funny. I especially enjoyed his portrayal of Lucy, who's independent spirit is hidden deep down beneath her layers of appropriate behavior. Forster treated her as a person and even advocates a level of equality between a man and a woman, especially in romantic relationships, hinting that the kind of man as protector role which puts women down is a backwards kind of ideology.

Forster is compassionate about his characters, showing depth of soul and potential for redemption even in the antagonists whom other writers might villainize.

On top of that Forster's writing style is gorgeous with crisp clean prose. He weaves in metaphor beautifully without resorting to the kind of over the top sentence construction that can be confusing and is often seen in older works. The simplicity of style makes for a smooth and easy read.

I loved it. More Forster, please!


5. By Grit and Grace: Eleven Women Who Shaped the American West, edited by Glenda Riley and Richard W. Etulain
Just as the title implies, this collection of biographical essays relates the lives and adventures of eleven women who had a significant impact on the American West or helped to shape the mythology of the Wild West. Both Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane are included, as well as many other amazing women with a variety of nationalities and cultural backgrounds.

It's a good set of essays, though it tends to be very dry. What it lacks in easy reading entertainment it makes up for with the attempt to be historically accurate. The essays represent good introductions to these women and their lives and each directs the reader to biographies and other further reading, noting those works that are based on the most factual sources, for anyone inspired to learn more.



6. Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom, written by Joe Hill, art by Gabriel Rodriguez
Without getting into the plot -- you really should read this series starting from book one -- I'll just say that the story and art continue to be awesome with an ending to this volume that has me begging to read the next one.


7. Paper Covers Rock and Triplicity: Poems in Threes (poetry), by Chella Courington and Kristen McHenry
I always find it difficult to formulate my thoughts on why I love a certain collection of poetry, and this book contains two such collections by two fabulous writers. Both these women write about the pain and awkwardness of female adolescence straying into adulthood. Though they are very different writers with very different takes on the world, both writers provide readable and textural poems with darkly playful relevance and depth. They were a good, cohesive pair to put side-by-side.


8. The Canterbury Tales (graphic novel), by Seymour Chwas
Seymour Chwast takes Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and edits them into a playful and fun graphic novel with all the raunchy humor the tales deserve. The book is illustrated with mostly black-and white art is loose and playful and matches well with this revision of the classic poetry.

Let me first say that I have only read The Canterbury Tales in part. The poetry is funny and beautiful all at once, but it's also a very dense and difficult read as well.

So, with that said, I enjoyed Chwast's version and I think it's a good book to read as an introduction before launching into the more difficult task of launching into the original. The simplified versions presented here give a good and amusing overview of what happens in the stories.

My one complaint is that the stories are perhaps too simplified, narrowed down to the most basic outlines of events, which is fine, especially since the illustrations fill in a lot of the details the text leave out. However, the text itself loosed nearly all of its poetry, and I would have liked it more if Chwast had preserved some more of the rhythm of the words.



9. Deadline, by Mira Grant
Book two of the Newsflesh Trilogy continues where Feed ends, leaving Shaun Mason to face the aftermath of the Ryman presidential campaign. Shaun is rather lost in this book with one foot inside the madhouse. The conspiracy that was uncovered in the first book now takes on new meaning and direction when Dr. Kelly Connolly from the CDC shows up on his doorstep with a horde of zombies following closely behind.

There's a considerable amount of exposition in this book, which recaps events from the first book. This is good for readers who may have picked up the books out of sequence (but why would they when Feed is so awesome?!). However, it was sometimes annoying for me, as I have read Feed and because the exposition is reiterated occasionally and sometimes unnecessarily at different points in the story. But this was an easily ignored flaw for me as the story was thrilling enough to keep me going.

One of the great things about the first book was Grant's (the pen name for Seanan McGuire) love and exploration of virology. The science comes through making the disease of the undead seem logical and possible. Top that off with a set of cool characters who you want to root for, and you've got a great book.
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I read THE DISPOSSESSED a while ago and mostly enjoyed it. I remember there being too many long monologues, but Shevek was a great character, and the societies on the utopian moon and the capitalist planet were fascinating.

I enjoyed FEED, and I liked DEADLINE even better until the story kind of lost me near the end. Grant has a problem with repetition in general, which is too bad because it bogs down an otherwise exciting story. I'm eagerly awaiting the conclusion.

Yeah. There is a definite problem with repetition in the Newsflesh books, but the story is good enough to keep me moving past it. The conclusion should be veeeeery interesting. :)

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