Wednesday, April 01, 2009

March 2009 Book List

By some coincidence, a lot of the books I read last month had the word 'Rose' in the title. Here's a rundown:

1. The Seduction of the Crimson Rose (Laura Willig)
Fourth of the Pink Carnation series. While I am usually drawn to the dark, cruel men of bodice-rippers, I wasn't fully able to enjoy this particular title because of the heroine. We've met Mary Allsworthy previously, and while a closer scrutiny of the earlier books gave yielded no mention that she was a vapid bachelorette, I still cannot see how she suddenly becomes the sharp-witted wonder of this fourth book. What, suddenly she's the only woman worthy of intellectual battle against Lord Vaughn? Oh, I tried to like this book for its own sake but Mary ruined it all. I'm hoping that the next book in the series isn't as character-challenged as this one felt to me.

2. Malinche (Laura Esquivel)
La Malinche played a pivotal role in Mexican history as the interpreter and mistress of Cortes. I only read up about her when I was finished with Ms. Esquivel's novel, never suspecting during the first pages that I was reading something based on historical facts. Because of her role in the conquest, her name has become synonymous to disloyalty. What Ms. Esquivel does is present La Malinche's story from her own point of view, and by reminding the reader how religion permeated every aspect of this earlier culture, she manages to build a case for La Malinche. Still with me? Good. While I applaud the effort and the method to bring that about, I have a lot of difficulty with the actual writing. I found the pace awkward at best. There is a slight imbalance for me as I end up reading a mere paragraph about a particularly horrible, historic raid while an entire chapter is devoted to Malinche and Cortes in a bathhouse. I like my historical fiction with a good dose of history (which felt sorely missing in this book as it tended to gloss over certain things -- sometimes I even thought these events happened all in her head, the way they were so quickly introduced and dropped!) or with a particularly compelling story (which, by virtue of its weird pacing, I didn't get either). I am glad that the novel prompted me to read more on the Spanish conquest, and just hope that the next novel of Ms. Esquivel that I read will be a better one.

3. Getting to Know You (David Marusek)
I think I would have liked David Marusek's collection of short stories more if I didn't get the impression that he was a little self-indulgent. It's like getting introduced to someone new at work; over the course of one day, you begin to see that there's nothing wrong with this guy, but somehow you can't shake the negative first impression you have of him. So that's what it's like for me and Mr. Marusek. Or most authors who write their own introductions to their story collections. Hahaha. Anyway, that aside, I have to give credit where it's due and Mr. Marusek certainly knows how to turn his sci-fi stories into stories I can care about. His first story, 'The Wedding Album', is filled with a unique sense of sorrow. His 'We Were Out of Our Minds with Joy' is just beautiful. His 'Yurek Rutz, Yurek Rutz, Yurek Rutz' is my favorite, I think -- an amusing contrast in a collection that takes very human emotions and places them in a very technological (post-human?) future.

4. The Stone Rose (Jacqueline Rayner)
An audio book version, really, but I sat down and spent an afternoon listening to it, so it should count! This is originally a Doctor Who paperback that David Tennant reads with admirable skill, convincing me that I was being treated to a full-cast performance instead of just a one man show. While I had some characterization issues with it, it still proved to be a relatively fun adventure with enough twists and turns to keep me glued to my coffee shop chair.

5. Winter Rose (Patricia A. McKillip)
Patricia McKillip commands such lyrical prose that makes the Winter Rose seem like something from a fever dream. The story is simple enough -- the only heir of village's rich but eccentric family returns and suddenly the lives of Rois and her soon-to-be-married sister are thrown into a turmoil. There is a richness to the story that extends beyond the thin plot, one that is anchored firmly in the way Ms. McKillip explores her characters and their motivations. It really does feel like a fever dream: a mishmash of elements that somehow make sense under her pen.

6. The Man of My Dreams (Curtis Sittenfeld)
I'm too much of a romantic, and I suppose it shows in my choice of books. I'd rarely pick up a 'realistic' portrayal of love, opting instead for more of the escapist fare. But Curtis Stittenfeld made this read definitely worthwhile, as she chronicles Hannah's understanding of love from childhood to adulthood, picking stereotypes and turning them into somewhat believable versions of their selves: the One Who Loves You Too Much, the One Who Doesn't Love You At All, the One Who Got Away. Ms. Sittenfeld creates room for self-discovery and self-awareness through Hannah's journey, making me appreciate this novel's solid, little triumphs.

7. Silent on the Moor (Deanna Raybourn)
I'm not sure if Deanna Raybourn will have more Lady Julia Grey novels after this, but I thought that this was a great end to her mystery-romance series. I usually bemoan how stories like this have a tendency to try to be both and end up being neither, but in this case, I was willing to forgive the fact that the main mystery was too predictable if only for the way every Nicholas Brisbane loose end was neatly resolved.

8. Eat Pray Love (Elizabeth Gilbert)
Finally! I borrowed this from one of the bosses at work but only finished it while I was convalescing. The book took me from Italy to India to Indonesia, a journey worth savoring not only because of the Ms. Gilbert's intimate observations of these places but also for her realizations on discovery, acceptance, forgiveness and love. I usually just read a bit of it at a time; I don't think it's the kind of book you rush to finish. I'm glad I read it when I needed to read it.

On the shelf: Lankhmar, Tintin and the Secret of Literature, Proust and the Squid, and Kissed by an Angel (my attempt at another Twilight fix). And the Robin Hobb books which are long overdue! I hate it how hating a character can ruin a good reading stride.