Monday, July 4, 2011

3 Book Recommendations: THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY

I hope everyone’s having a fantastic 4th. I’m about to head off to do the usual (grilling things, blowing things up, being American) but before I do, I wanted to post about three books that thrilled and delighted me while I was traveling in the last month. I would like to call them the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. 

FLYAWAY, by Lucy Christopher
This one counts as the Good in my trio. It’s by the same author who wrote STOLEN (which you’ll recall that I adored). FLYAWAY is actually her first novel, published second in the states, and it’s a middle grade novel. Basically, it’s about a girl who becomes determined to reunite a lost swan with its flock after the girl’s father has a heart attack. Anyway, here are five reasons to read it:

1. It’s soft and sweet. The image of a feather comes to mind, even though this book is about a girl coping with the idea that her father and her new friend might die.

2. The imagery is, as always in Christopher’s books, beautiful. The setting is always another character.

3. There is something about Christopher’s prose across both her novels that makes me trust her as an author. She’s in control of these stories, and if you’re feeling something, it’s because she meant you to. It means that she pretty much has a free pass with me at the moment. I will pick up anything she writes.

4. It’s got this slightest little hint of magical realism. I would’ve really loved this book as a ten year old.

5. It is precisely what it promises you. Sometimes I want to be shocked, yes, and sometimes I want twists, and sometimes I want to read about a very unexpected body in a closet. But this book promises that it is a certain sort of book on the first page, and then it gives you exactly that. Soft and sweet.

ETA: I read the UK edition, but FLYAWAY comes out in the U.S. this fall.

This one counts as the Bad part of my trio, because it’s about a rather particular Monstrumologist and his apprentice chasing headless man-eating monsters across Victorian New England. Here are five reasons why you should read it:
1. These are proper monsters. They don’t want to make out with you or play you songs on their guitar while you snuggle on the sofa. They just want to eat you, except for when they want to insert their babies in your corpse so they have something to snack on as they incubate. Okay, it’s a little gross sometimes. I ought to say that up front.

2. The voice! The voice! Apart from the first and last chapters, which are introduced in modern times (and which I don’t care for), the entire novel is told from the point of view of Will Henry, the Monstrumologist’s pint sized apprentice. He is resolute but afraid, put upon but never whiny. I love the historical aspect. It’s all very gaslight and cobblestones and black cloaks and gasping behind hands.

3. The Monstromologist! He is so high-maintenance and flawed and persnickety. Basically, he is Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle, if Howl never met Sophie. Oh, my love is undying. “WILL HENRY, SNAP TO!”

4. I wish I could just make you read this book now.

5. The beginning. Also, the middle. Also, the end. There is a character twist two thirds of the way through the book that I just did not see and I literally gasped on a plane. Then I was so delighted that a book had made me gasp on a plane that I punched Lover in the shoulder and made wild hand gestures. This book is put together like a puzzle box, and I will be taking it apart again sometime soon.

And this one counts as the Ugly part of my trio. Because even though I found this novel exceptionally well-written, it was not a pleasure to read. It’s about Lithuanians displaced to Siberian work camps during World War II. It was pretty unflinchingly brutal, but here’s why I think you ought to read it:
1. It is a side of World War II that you might not have seen before. I certainly hadn’t heard these stories of displaced Europeans, and I have to say, having been to Lithuania on tour last year, it made so much of what they said have deeper meaning. I found their fierce national pride lovely and charming when I was there; after this novel, it seems incredibly brave and honorable.

2. Mom. The mother is really the heroine of this story (and that is my one nitpick about this novel: the narrator has no arc and no agency — all of the action is carried by her mother and her sort-of-boyfriend). She has such an incredible flame and kindness in her. One of my favorite book moms.

3. Shades of gray. The title promises and the novel delivers. Characters we think are horrid actually do incredibly kind things, and character we regard as friends do awful ones.

4. If you combine 2 and 3, you get my favorite part, which is that it makes you look at people an entirely new way. I love books that stretch my brain, and this one sat with me for hours and hours.

5. Wonderful sense of place, even when the place isn’t so wonderful. Like Lucy Christopher, I trust the author to take me someplace different, and I’ll be picking up whatever she writes next.
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