Sunday, March 6, 2011

Recent Reads

Good morning, readers. Our weather is bipolar. Saturday: fifty degrees, rain and green grass. Sunday: back to snow. This is the third such turnaround in the past month. Spring's here! No, it's not. Spring's here! No, it's not. What-ever.

Here's some of the excellent things I've read while the weather goes through its repeated identity crises. Each tale deals with loss, be it of family, home, rights, or civilization as we know it.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

If you had to read this in high school, like me, then maybe you remember the bizarre sexual practice of pairing young fertile women with old, politically powerful men with the geezer's wife present and holding the handmaid's hands during the act! If you're a writer, read it again for the language. More than pure poetry, how Atwood plays with words--damn, all I can say is BRAVO!

If you enjoy her vision of a dark future, don't miss The Year of the Flood and Oryx and Crake. Yes, I'm talking to you, fans of King's The Stand. You'll love all three.

Chris Clive's Incendiary

Proceed only if you have a strong stomach and can handle works inspired by 9/11. A wife and mother loses her family in a fictional terrorist attack by Osama Bin Laden. The novel is composed as a letter to Osama, creating a work both gut-wrenching (as expected) and hilarious (bizarrely unexpected). While Little Bee is better, this one is well worth the journey. The main character is far from perfect and the twist at the end is too awful to contemplate (because it's all too believeable).

A movie exists starring Michelle Williams. I can't wait to find a copy.

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

I read this right after Incendiary and between the two, I'm not sure which one was more painful. Sounds like a criticism, but no. Both of these books hurt me, but the sorrow was sweet. They made me ache for people that don't exist. They made me want to do a better job evoking reader's emotions with my characters.

Durrow's beautifully crafted novel is told from several points of view, each voice full and genuine. Rachel--half black, half Danish--moves in with her black grandmother after losing her family--a gruesome event in which she is the only survivor.

I hung onto every word of Rachel's struggle with racial identity because my kids are mixed. Seeing their preference for lighter-skinned dolls at age four is frightening. I worry how they'll be viewed by their peers and how they'll view themselves.

Like Incendiary, the twist at the end is beyond belief.

Requiem by Fire by Wayne Caldwell

This is Wayne Caldwell's sequel to Catalootchee. I read these for a couple of reasons. My parent's have lived in the Asheville, NC area for over twenty years and it is surreal to read of familiar places as they were a hundred years ago. Caldwell incorporates his historical research into the story with grace--something I want to emulate in my next manuscript. While Catalootchee gets wrapped up in the characters and setting to the point of sacrificing plot, Requiem keeps things moving. The chapters on firebug Willie McPeters puts this character on par with King's Trashcan Man.

Hmmm . . . I wonder if I could relate all these books to The Stand--some kind of six-degrees of separation deal. Nah, I'll leave that as an exercise for you.

And last, but not least, Jodie Picoult's Sing You Home.

This is the first book I've gotten that comes with its own CD soundtrack. I haven't listened to the songs yet, but I like how she substitutes 'Track' for 'Chapter'.

Is it just me, or do several of Picoult's books feature obstetrians, midwives, or something else related to childbirth? Not that there's anything wrong with that. I've decided each of my novels will feature a cat.

Feline book mark
Image courtesy of Strep72

Anyhoo, she creates a fascinating conundrum for her characters. Zoe, having lost her baby late into the pregnancy, also loses her husband to divorce when he decides he can't handle another fruitless attempt at IVF. She finds new love--with a woman--remarries and decides to give motherhood one last shot by placing her frozen embryos in her partner's healthy uterus.

But not so fast! Zoe's ex-husband has given up alcohol for Jesus and can't stand the thought of his children being raised by two women bound for hell. So he sues for the right to give the embryos to his equally evangelically-minded brother and wife who are also struggling with infertility issues.

This book does a great job at showing the difficulties same-sex partners face. It would have been easy to make the religious side completely evil, but Picoult doesn't do that. Somehow, she makes you root for characters on both sides.

What wonderful books have you read lately?


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