Friday, August 15, 2014

Books I've been Reading This Summer

I've been having some fun with my summer reading this year. A number of the books I've read aren't things I can actually recommend, per se, but they've been interesting reads.

At an imp's recommendation, I read The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Wow! Talk about a fascinating tale and told with such a unique voice and approach! Yes, it's a vampire novel. And it's like no vampire novel you have ever read! Well, I suppose it's somewhat similar to Dracula. Classically vampiric, if you will. I enjoyed Dracula when I read it a few years ago, but it definitely left me feeling a bit woozy. Blood always makes me light-headed, and you can't have a proper vampire novel without plenty of blood. Just a fact.

This book harkened back to Dracula, sometimes overtly. And it was a wonderful read as a result! No romantic-anti-hero-tortured love-interest vampires to be found in these pages. Absolutely not! (I feel about my vampires much the way I feel about my dragons--I find them more interesting when they're evil.)

I also read Beauty, by Sheri S. Tepper. Another one I am NOT recommending, at least not to younger, teenage readers. Some of you older readers might find it a compelling read, however. This author is truly talented and took me on a readerly ride such as I have never before experienced. Beauty is a retelling of many different fairy tales, but her handling of those tales was so unique and well-crafted, I can honestly say I've never encountered anything quite like it before. Some of her philosophy was inspiring, some of it truly heartbreaking (but then you're unlikely to agree with any author about everything, so I'm not complaining). But whether or not I agreed with the author, I found her intelligent, thoughtful, and engaging. I expect to read this book again.

Both of these books were first person, which is unusual for me. My favorite narrative voice is the omniscient narrative, and I tend to gravitate that direction for my pleasure reading. Not that I have anything against first person or first person present tense or third person, etc. They're just not my preference. But both of these were first person, and I very much enjoyed them.

Currently I am reading Jonathan Stroud's Buried Fire out loud to my Rohan. I had read it myself last spring and loved it, and it's just as good the second time around. It may be technically a children's book . . . but really, it's not. I would have been TERRIFIED by this book as a child! Also, there is a rather shocking amount of language, particularly in a book marketed for children. Nevertheless, it's a great read for YA . . . and for my husband and me. Stroud's take on dragons is totally unique.

I had read Stroud's Bartimaeous Trilogy several years ago . . . or rather the first book and a half in the Bartimaeous Trilogy. But I really wasn't a fan and thought, therefore, that I wasn't a Stroud fan. Turns out I was wrong. Not long ago I read Stroud's Heroes of the Valley, and it was SO GOOD. Probably my favorite of Stroud's work, and a book I do actually recommend to you. This one and Buried Fire are both omniscient narrative, and Stroud handles that narrative so beautifully! He really is a delight to read.

The Curse of Chalion is another book I have recently devoured . . . and another one, sadly, which I cannot officially recommend here, at least not to younger readers. Older (as in my age and up) women and men, however, might find it quite a fascinating read. My best friend recommend it to me, and while I wasn't certain I would like it based on the back cover write-up, I should not have doubted Erin. And, believe it or not, it's a third person narrative! I honestly do not tend to like the third person narrative and will often avoid a book written in that voice. (Again, nothing against it . . . just not suited to my palette.) But this one . . . well, I had read some Bujold before, and I knew she was good. I just hadn't realized how good until this book. Brilliant. I went out at once and bought my own copy, along with the sequel, Paladin of Souls (which is also a great read but not as great, in my opinion).

Would you believe that I write dragon books and yet I had, until recently, never read any Anne McCaffrey? Doesn't seem possible, does it? But my sister-in-law, Kristen, took that problem in hand and sent me her copy of Dragonsong, book 1 in the Harper Hall Trilogy. And I had to ask myself . . . why did it take me so long to get around to reading this??? It's a quick read, but full of dense and elegant world-building and a delightful take on dragons. Definitely a story I recommend to all of you, a timeless tale of young woman coming of age. Not an action-packed sort of story . . . but compelling in its own way. I think you all might really enjoy it.

Currently on my bedside table is an old, battered, paperback copy of The Fellowship of the Ring. I haven't read The Lord of the Rings since high school, and it has been quite an experience going back to it now--four years of English lit studies and seven novels later. My perspective on Tolkien and his work is very different from what it was at sixteen and seventeen. I think I was more awed by him then. I think I might appreciate him more now.

Rohan is reading The Two Towers. We decided to revisit Tolkien's work kind-of-together so we can talk about it along the way. He also hasn't read The Lord of the Rings since high school, and I can tell he is enjoying it tremendously! Last night we were discussing how every few pages the characters have to stop and sing a song or recite a poem. Rohan thought he might add some lines of his own . . . and this is what he invented on the spot:

There was a young man from Bath
Who strayed from the Mirkwood Path
He fell in with a spider
and attempted to fight her
But ended wrapped up in her wrath.

Probably not something Aragorn would quote. But Sam or Pippin might enjoy it! Either way, I think my husband is monstrously clever.

There have been other books this summer, but these were the fictional highlights . . . so far. We'll see what the rest of the summer might bring!


Unknown said...

Cool! The only one I've read of those is Dragonsong. I avoided it for years because I didn't get a part when the local youth theatre dramatized it, but once I got over my vendetta, I loved it! Although I still wish the ending had been a bit more... explosive.

I'm glad I read this post right before leaving for the library!

Meredith said...

I like the premises of these books and will definitely check them out. Enjoyed Dracula, which I read in high school but need to read again. Like that vampires are being shown in their badness since I disliked the Twilight novels. I read them so I'd know what students were referring too but definitely not ones I enjoyed.

Thanks again for the suggestions. Am always looking for new material. This summer, I read some more Regina Doman books, (another author you recommended). Love how well she combines fairy tales with mysteries. My favorite was Black as Night. I read Jane Yolen's excellent Snow in Summer: The Fairest of them All, which is a Snow White tale set in West Virginia. Also read The Fault in Our Stars. Actually read Robin McKinley's Beauty for the first time. I know, probably everyone else has read this book, but I'm always behind. Outstanding retelling by the way! Now I plan to read Rose Daughter, (her other Beauty and the Beast retelling). Also read The Round House, by Louise Erdrich, which is a sad but thought-provoking coming-of-age novel by a Native American author. It deals with a dark theme, so caution should be taken, but the author really makes you ponder justice as it relates to the way Native Americans are regarded by the legal system. I'd definitely recommend that book.

Have a terrific weekend.

Hannah said...

Great! I haven't read of any of these, but Dragonsong looks interesting!

One of my favorite reads of this summer is Wildwood Dancing, one I really, really think you would like. The Faerie world is so familiar (thank you for acquainting me with Faerie law) and the vampires are certainly evil! Plus, the writing is lovely.

Rohan's rhyme is genius. But we really aren't surprised by that. :)

Anne Elisabeth Stengl said...

Meredith, I'm so delighted you've discovered Robin McKinley's BEAUTY. It's such a wonderful book! I like ROSE DAUGHTER about as well, but they are VERY different from each other, so you have to be prepared for the differences.

Hannah, you know I actually own a beautiful hardbound copy of WILDWOOD DANCING. But when I started reading it years ago, I didn't much care for it. I've held onto it since then, suspecting I just wasn't in the mood for it when I tried it. Maybe I'll have a look at it again . . .

Hannah said...

I would definitely give it another shot. If you thought it was going to have a sappy vampire/maid romance in it (which certainly seems to be the case at first) don't be fooled. There is much more to be revealed. :D

Meagan @ Blooming with Books said...

Hmmm, need to check-out some new, old books. :) I have a fondness for dragons so thanks!

Meredith said...

Yes, from the little I've read so far, Rose Daughter is definitely a different style, but I think I'll like it. So neat that one of the sisters is named Lionheart! I have to be in the mood for Robin McKinley for some reason. I can't just read one book by her and then immediately read another. Enjoyed The Hero and the Crown, which I read several years ago and Deerskin even though it was disturbing. So was the original tale. Didn't care for Spindle's End, but I plan to try it again sometime. I loved the simplicity and descriptions in Beauty. It was a very straightforward retelling but so skillfully conveyed. So different from everything else I've read by her. Hope you enjoyed those Belgian waffles!

Anonymous said...

I love the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I like Rohan's song. Does he have some riders too? My favorite songs in the Lord of the Rings are Tom Bobadill's