Saturday, April 19, 2014

Looking for Jake (Fantasy, Short Fiction)

Almost all the stories in Looking for Jake by China Miѐvelle are disturbing. While I enjoy Miѐvelle’s craftsmanship as a storyteller, I feel unsettled by the content of these stories. He is able to begin with what appears to be a relatively benign setting and add layer upon layer until the reader finds herself in the middle of a horror story. The horror is mostly physiological, with a minimum amount of gore. One story involves installing a vintage mirror, another involves a children’s play area in a furniture store—what could be more benign?— This is definitely not your “fairies going on a quest” type of fantasy. This is the type of fantasy that you don’t want to read before going to bed for fear of the nightmares you will have.

Looking for Jake drove me to reading romance novel to try to clear the images out my head. That said, I admire Miѐvelle’s ability to create something fresh, to weave a story, to invoke feelings in the reader, to build unique and convincing worlds. While I have little urge to read more by Miѐvelle’s, I feel intellectually enriched by what I read.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Blossom Street Brides (Romance Novel)

It is good to be back on Blossom Street, but not great to be back. While I enjoyed catching up with Lydia, the owner of the yarn shop on Blossom Street, Blossom Street Brides by Debbie Macomber is a bit too much of a romance novel for my tastes. Remember, I am not a great fan of romances.

The main story in the novel focuses on Lauren, who has just learned that her sister is pregnant. Lauren yearns for a family of her own but is dating a man who refuses to commit. Finally, Lauren decides to end the relationship. Almost immediately she meets Rooster, the business partner of Bethanne’s husband, Max. Is Lauren truly in love or is she merely on the rebound?

Blossom Street Brides has two subplots that involve conflict between mothers and daughters. Bethanne’s daughter Annie still has visions of a reunion between her mother and father, despite Bethanne’s marriage to Max. Must Bethanne choice between her daughter and husband? Elisa finds out that her nineteen year old daughter, Katie, is pregnant. Can Elisa prevent a repeat of her own, young marriage? Lydia’s adopted daughter, Casey, is having intense nightmares. What can Lauren do to help her daughter?

Lastly, Blossom Street Brides contains a small mystery. Someone is leaving baskets of yarn and knitting needles around town with instructions to spend a few moments knitting a few rows of a scarf that will be given to the homeless. The knitter can bring the completed scarf to Lydia’s yarn shop. The yarn definitely came from her store, but Lydia is not responsible for these mystery baskets. Who is leaving them?

While I enjoyed the subplots in Blossom Street Brides involving Lydia,  I missed the feeling of women’s knitting community that was present in some of the earlier novels. I liked the novel enough to continue to read the series, but not enough to try some of Macomber’s other series.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Rose Harbor in Bloom (Romance Novel)

I am not a fan of romance novels. I just don’t enjoy them. They bore me, and I find them trivial. I make an exception for some of Debbie Macomber’s series. While they seem a bit simplistic to me, they touch my heart and offer insights into the emotional struggles that we all face.

Rose Harbor in Bloom is the second book in the Rose Harbor Series, which centers on Jo Marie and her bed and breakfast. In this novel, she struggles with the possibility of finally knowing whether her husband, whose helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan, is dead. Her friendship with Mark, the handyman, continues on its rocky path. Jo Marie also has guests this weekend. Mary is struggling with cancer and with some decisions that she made in the past. Annie wants to give her grandparents the perfect 50th wedding anniversary celebration, while struggling with her own love life.

In Rose Harbor in Bloom, Macomber looks at what makes for a strong relationship between two people. She looks at healing past wrongs and hurts. She also looks at letting go and starting a new life. Rose Harbor in Bloom definitely won’t convert me to being a romance novel reader, but I do look forward to the next novel in the series.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Forever Girl (Novel)

The Forever Girl by Alexander McCall Smith is a story about love. There is no sex. There are no overt mysteries. There are no characters that one follows from one novel to another. There is a gentle book about love: falling out of love, struggling with unrequited love, trying to understand what love really means, and loving one’s children. Part of the story takes place in the Cayman Islands. Alexander McCall Smith brings them to life the same way he brings Botswana to life in the #1 Ladies Detective Series. In the beginning of the novel Amanda realizes that she has fallen out of love with her husband. She briefly entertains the idea of having an affair with a man to whom she is attracted. This brief non-affair has some unexpected consequences for Amanda and her family. Amanda’s daughter, Clover, realizes that she is in love with her best friend, James. Is it true that each of us has only one soulmate? Is love different for men than it is for women? Is friendship and kindness enough if there is no love in the relationship? As much as I enjoy Alexander McCall Smith various series, I am glad that he has been writing some stand alone novels lately. The Forever Girl allows him to focus on just one idea, the human heart. I admit that I got a little weepy at the end. The last paragraph is perfect, totally perfect.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

In the Forest of Serre (Fantasy Novel)

In the Forest of Serre by Patricia A. McKillip is, more or less, a fairy tale. It has wizards, kings and queens, a princess, a prince, a witch, and a beautiful mystical creature. Yet, the novel also contains a mystery that tugs at the back of the reader’s mind as the plot unfolds. Lastly, it has a sprinkling of metaphor.

To prevent war on Dacia, the king agrees to give his daughter, Sidone, in marriage to the prince of Serre, Ronan. The wizard of Dacia, Unciel, is very, very ill. Instead of accompanying Sidone to Serre himself, he sends another wizard, Gyre. But they discover that a witch has cast a spell on the prince.  Furthermore, Gyre proves to be a questionable choice to accompany the princess. Why did Unciel choose him? What caused Unceil’s illness? How can Prince Ronan be returned to his previous self?

Part of what makes In the Forest of Serre more than just another fairytale is the character of the scribe Euan. He has been asked to copy Unciel’s papers into a legible form. As Euan writes the words, he awakens memories in Unciel. Euan’s devotion and humility add a special touch to the story.

In the Forest of Serre also has a metaphoric level. What happens when someone gives their heart away? What are we worth to ourselves? How can we break the spell that has been cast on us?

I started reading In the Forest of Serre by accident, mistakenly believing it was a series of short stories. I am glad that I was treated to this pleasant story.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

In the Forest of Serre (Quotes)

The following quotes from In the Forest of Serre by Patricia A. McKillip are definitely ponderable:

You have opened your heart, the book said. Now what will you do?

 …how do I know what I’m worth to me? What would you be worth to you?

Some days you battle yourself and other monsters. Some days you just make soup.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Best of Connie Willis (Quotes)

Over the years books have helped me in so many, many ways, but for the most part I have felt alone in my reading life. So often when I have wanted to talk about something from a book that has moved me, I have been shushed or worse – I have a friend that believes that reading science fiction is a sign of mental illness – Alexander McCall Smith, Debbie Macomber (Blossom Street Series), and Connie Willis are among authors who have repeatedly touched my heart. Near the back of The Best of Connie Willis is a “bonus section”-- which to me is worth more than the price of the book—that contains her Worldcom Guest of Honor Speech and an undelivered Grand Master Backup Speech. These two selections say so much that is in my own heart about books and make me feel that there is at least one other person out there who has a similar experience. I would love to see a slightly edited version of the speeches made into an illustrated book, which those of us who have been saved by books can read over and over again. Below are some brief excerpts:

[Books] saved my life. I know what you’re thinking, that the books provided an escape for me. And it’s certainly true books can offer refuge from worries and despair. …. But it wasn’t escape I need when my mother died. It was the truth. And I couldn’t get anyone to tell it to me…. I found what I was looking for, what I needed, what I wanted, what I loved in books. 

Characters in stories grow up and go off on quests ….. and in the process they tell us about ourselves. They show us what matters and what doesn’t. They teach us how to be human. And tell us how our own stories might turn out.

Books can reach across space and time …. and speak to someone they have never met, to someone who hasn’t even been born when they were written and give them help and advice and companionship and consolation. 

I encourage anyone who loves books to read the speeches in their entirety.