Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Books I've Been Reading

I've been reading quite a bit this summer, but I haven't had time to write long reviews. Instead, I've decided to write a few words about each book. Each one is a great read, but in a very different way. 

1. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

As I mentioned in my review of her Doomsday Book, I've been re-discovering what a brilliant science fiction writer Connie Willis is. To Say Nothing of the Dog, while set in the same world as Doomsday Book, is a completely different style of book. It's a wild, hilarious ride with the manic energy of a Monty Python movie crossed with a George Bernard Shaw comedy of manners. And science fiction! I loved this book and can't recommend it enough. Besides, Princess Arjumand is now one of my new favorite literary cats.

2. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

I've been trying to read books outside my comfort zone. Besides, as a writer, I'm fascinated by what makes a writer like Gillian Flynn so successful. Thrillers aren't usually my cup of tea, but I decided to try reading "Sharp Objects." I certainly got caught up in the book--I read it in a couple of days. The story is compelling, and the main character is tough and vulnerable. I can't say this is my favorite book--it's extremely dark, and the ending felt unsatisfying. But it did keep me on the edge of my seat.

3. The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I love this movie so much, and I'd always wondered what the book was like. It has the zany energy and and high romance of the movie, but with some great funny moments and backstory that didn't make it into the film. The framing story, including information about the fictional country of Florin and the fictional author S. Morgenstern, is slightly different than in the movie, but still funny. I loved the idea that the author loved Morgenstern's imaginary classic because his father only read him the "good bits." I'd recommend this book to anyone who has a soft spot for the movie and likes their fantasy with a dose of comedy.

4. Burned Alive by Souad

I got this book as research for a fantasy novel I've been working on that's set in ancient Lebanon. Souad's story is a haunting portrayal of life in a tiny rural village where women have less value than goats or sheep. To some extant, her disfiguring burns are only a small part of her story--the final climatic attack on her after a lifetime of regular beatings and working like a slave. Souad's scattered memories paint a vivid picture of her village--one that's all the more haunting for the holes and gaps in her knowledge. If you're interested in understanding the Middle East or like reading dark non-fiction, this is a good book to read.  

5. Blackout by Connie Willis

Another book by Connie Willis! I can't stop reading her novels, because they're so good. This one has one of the most haunting portrayals of WWII that I've ever read. It captures the bravery and heroism of ordinary people in Great Britain at the start of the war, from the elderly sea-boat captain who pilots his battered old fishing vessel to rescue soldiers at Dunkirk, to the ordinary citizens of London who support each other during the Blitz. Willis' main characters, Oxford historians from future who become stuck in the war, show pluck and courage, as well as deep kindness for the people they encounter. Time-travelling historians aren't supposed to change the past, but have they?

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