Friday, July 15, 2011

Mid-July Round Up


I've finally hit my summer reading grove. I realized I'd better post a mid-month round up so as to not overwhelm you at the end of the month. Also, I've been writing a little after finishing each book, whereas before I had been waiting until the end. I apologize now if these are too long! Amazing how much more detail there is when it's all fresh.

Succubus Shadows
This one might be one of my favorites so far. I enjoyed the glimpses of her past and the revelations of her regrets. I thought this book’s plot—trapped by the evil dream-making monsters---was a smart solution to provide more of her backstory.

However, there was one thing that really bugged me. She’s owed a favor by Jerome, and there’s this long, lingering confusion over the validity of her “contract” with Hell. So rather than deploy her wish to figure out what’s going on with her contract, she wishes to be magically transported to Seth for 3 days? Is it just me, or is that a really stupid move? And then after she’s basically ruined Seth’s life, she’s annoyed that he’s bitter and angry and selfish. I didn’t really like her too much at the end, there. But I guess if I’d been trapped in torture dreams, I’d be a litte emo, too.

Ack. I’m such an idiot. I love series with repeating characters, but at some point, I get frustrated when the plot just endlessly circles the drain. It really makes a series of books so much better when they build to a rousing conclusion and finale! Hm. That makes me sort of want to reread the Harry Potter series.

This was one of the Tournament books that I never got around to reading. As I was packing for NYC, I grabbed it. I love to “read locally” and this novel is set in New York in 1999. This was an interesting little book. The main character is Karim Isser, a computer programmer in New York from Qatar to work on the impending Y2K problem. In the course of his work, he invents a program called Kapitoil that makes huge profits for his firm. He gets embroiled with the CEO, who wants to steal Karim’s intellectual property; worries about his sister and controlling father back in Qatar; and enters into a romantic relationship with a co-worker, Rebecca.

The novel is written in the form of Karim’s diary. He’s a very linear thinker, almost autistic-like in some ways, and the combination of that with the fact that he’s not a native speaker makes for a distinctive “voice.” He misunderstands much of the idiomatic language others use with him. The end of every entry is a list of words and phrases that he learns in his conversations with others.

I liked this book! It was a fun and fast read and reading it while in New York really added to the strong sense of place in the novel.

The Church of Dead Girls
I have TBR book stashed all over my house. This one was by my bedside table and closest to the back porch. Darius was outside playing; I got bored and grabbed this book. I got it from one of the Upper School English teachers who was thinking of using it for a course called Monster Lit.

The story starts with a prologue describing “The Church of Dead Girls.” 3 teenage girls have been kidnapped, killed, and tied to chairs in an attic. The book then starts by going back and explaining the whole course of events and all the things that happen in the small town as the people become more and more frightened. It’s basically a novel about the power of suspicion. People start to suspect each other, even though they have known each other their whole lives. As their fear escalates, so are the boundaries on what is seen as appropriate behavior. There is no more “privacy” if everyone in town is a suspect. Honestly, I assumed it was some sort of metaphor for fearmongering, post-9/11 America, but then I saw that the copyright date was 1997. Guess some fears have been around a long time and we just fix them to whatever political event seems most relevant.

I don’t know if I’d recommend it. It was slow and boring at parts as the narrator described every minute detail of life in the town. I guess the first person narrator in is a brilliant choice for this particular theme: I was both skeptical of the narrator (I was sure that he would end up being the killer!) and also more sensitive to the heightened fear that people faced (each person is now under a cloud of suspicion). In that way, the reader functions as one of the townspeople. Everyone is suspect, I didn’t know who could be trusted.

Unfortunately, it had the first-person narrator problem that I really fucking hate: somehow the narrator knows everything that everyone is thinking and saying to each other. Authors can’t have it both ways. By choosing a first person narrator, one must necessarily limit that narrator. Dobyns tries to get around this by occasionally throwing in a “this person told me” as a way of explaining, but it doesn’t work. Instead, I kept wondering how the narrator knew what everyone else was thinking all the time. I guess I will say this: I was determined to find out who the murderer was and that suspense kept me reading. But at the same time, I read as fast as I could because I just wanted to get finished. I even considered skipping ahead and just reading the end. How’s that for a mixed review?

Harry Potter the Prisoner of Azkaban
We watched the first 2 movies with Darius this weekend, and then he bailed when this one got too scary for him. It inspired me to pick up the books and start reading. Prisoner of Azkaban has always been one of my favorites. I think this is where the series starts to pick up moral complexity and interest. I'm never that interested in reading the first 2, although I hope to read them TO Darius at some point!

I still love the character of Sirius Black, and the idea that Harry could have some family that wasn't the stinking rotten Dursley clan. But I forgot how much fun and whimsey are in these books: the Firebolt, Honeydukes sweets shop, the Maurauder's Map! At the same time, Harry, Ron, and Hermoine are coming into their own, as individuals and as a threesome. It's been a long time since I've reread them all, and I think I might make my way through them again. As for the movie, we're slated for HP7.2 on Sunday evening. I can't wait.

Silver Sparrow
Have you heard about my great reading quest? It seems so simple, yet it is so difficult to find: books with black characters that aren’t impoverished, imprisoned, or enslaved. You know, a book about a regular, middle-class black family. This is a huge problem in YA books especially---I mean, it would be almost comical if it wasn’t so damn depressing. So far, the grand total of books I’ve found that fit the bill is ONE: Eighth Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich.

Anyhoo, my colleagues at work all know about my quest, so my friend Sarah brought Silver Sparrow back from a conference and passed it along to me. It’s a great book (sadly inappropriate for middle schoolers) set in Atlanta during the 80s. James Witherspoon is a bigamist. He has 2 wives and 2 daughters, only a few months apart in age. Lavender is his wife, and Chaurisse is his legitimate daughter. Gwen is his second “wife” and Dana is his secret, one that he successfully keeps hidden from his first family for almost 20 years.

This book is told through the eyes of the daughters. Dana is the first narrator, and she has known all along that she is second best. Gwen is both resigned and angry, and she and Dana spy on James’ other family, simmering with resentment that they are not treated the same way. The second section is narrated by Chaurisse. She and her Mother have no idea that James has been betraying them for 20 years, and her section tells the story of how the secret finally comes to light.

Jones’ writing isn’t fancy and frothy, but it packs an emotional punch. She’s very precise with her descriptions. When Dana traps her father in a lie, she thinks, “It’s funny how three or four notes of anger can be struck at once, creating the perfect chord of fury” (45). The author makes every female character sympathetic, which is no small feat when you consider the subject matter. It was definitely a good choice to start the narration with Dana, who gives her mother’s life dignity and purpose. When the narration switches to Chaurisse, I was primed not to like her, but then I realized how innocent she was of the whole situation. In many ways, her life is more difficult than Dana’s. She considers herself plain (a sparrow), while Dana is beautiful and smart (a silver girl).

This is really a book about strong women. James and his brother (he’s complicit in keeping the secret for so long) are there, but it’s watching the women deal with their lives that is the focus of the novel. Most poignant are the words of advice that the different generations of women tell each other about how to survive, about what is worth fighting for. Dana's mother tells her, "Love is a maze. Once you get in it, you're pretty much trapped. Maybe you mange to claw your way out, but then what have you accomplished?" (116). In this world, being hurt by a man is both inevitable and unavoidable. Near the end of the novel, Chaurisse goes to her Uncle looking for an explanation and says, “nice guys break your heart but manage to make you feel like they’re the ones who have been done wrong” (324). I loved this book. I can’t recommend it highly enough.


1 comment:

  1. I barely remember this Succubus installment -- thanks for the re-cap! I remember feeling... vaguely annoyed about some of the things you mentioned here. But I'm still hooked! (I have a high tolerance for drain-circling, I think.)

    Kapitoil sounds interesting. I love the idea of "reading locally." I'm going to NYC next week, but I don't think this will be my book of choice. I'll probably just keep on truckin' with The Master and Margarita. ;)

    Re-reading HP sounds great. I frickin' love those books. Cannot wait to see the movie... hrm. Need to make a date for that.

    I feel like... I have read a book in the past few years that can contribute to your quest... but... oof. I cannot remember what it was! (You know I struggle to remember books...) I will work very hard to try to recall what it was and I'll post it here. Meanwhile, Silver Sparrow sounds great!