Considering the fact that we are a full week into September, a discussion of the books I consumed during the month of August is well past due. It will become apparent momentarily that there was no rhyme or reason to my choices last month. I can offer no explanation other than my reading preferences seem to be rather eclectic and haphazard lately. Dragon’s Lair and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter were library finds. Artemis Fowl and out of my mind were recommended by my kids. My sister-in-law thought I needed to read The Same Kind of Different as Me (she was right) and loaned me her copy.
It was a good month. I spent some time in the Middle Ages, one of my favorite historical periods. I enjoyed an indirect peek into the brains of Ace and Lovey by reading the books they love. A candid non-fiction account enlightened me and inspired me. And I am still pondering The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, even though I finished it a few weeks ago. Yes, August was definitely a good month for reading.
Dragon’s Lair by Sharon Kay Penman. As a lover of historical fiction, I’d heard many good things about Sharon Kay Penman but had never gotten around to reading any of her books. When I saw Dragon’s Lair at the library, I scooped it up not realizing it was the third book in a series of mysteries. My enjoyment or understanding of this book was not hindered in the least by my lack of background knowledge. It only whetted my appetite for more of Miss Kay’s writing.
The historical setting for this mystery is England and Wales in 1193. Richard the Lionheart is held captive in a German prison and his only chance of freedom is dependent upon the acquisition of a hefty ransom. To free her son, Queen Eleanor is gathering the ransom payment from every corner of her kingdom. Prince John, on the other hand, is scheming to make sure Richard never returns to England. A large allotment for the ransom is supposedly stolen in Wales and the queen sends her man, John de Quincy to find out what happened to it. What unfolds is a very well written piece of historical fiction with fascinating characters, a detailed setting, and a rather complicated mystery that was an easy and pleasurable read. I’m looking forward to more! (4/5 stars)
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. What a fun, action-packed book! I completely understand why Ace would love this book and the series that follows it. Artemis Fowl is a wealthy twelve-year-old criminal master-mind. At his side is a deadly bodyguard named Butler, a huge man who carries a Sig Sauer and knows how to dish out a big helping of pain. In this first book, Artemis schemes to kidnap a fairy (or leprechaun) to gain the ransom of gold at the end of the rainbow and to demand the granting of a very special wish. The fairy they finally trap, Holly Short, is no ordinary sparkly wish-granter. She’s part of LEPrecon, a special force of highly trained fairy police. Artemis has his hands full trying to out-maneuver her combat-trained comrades with their special combination of technology and magic. The book is filled with high-tech crime-fighting fairies, a dirt-eating dwarf, a fierce troll, and – I can’t believe I am saying this about a kid’s book – violence (although I grudgingly admit it is appropriate to the story). Artemis Fowl is non-stop action and loaded with enough weaponry and explosions to satisfy any boy (and more than enough to satisfy his mom). (4/5 stars)
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. Preface: I’m afraid I’m not going to do this book justice, mainly because I’m still trying decide what I think of it. I’m not even sure whose story Miss McCullers is telling. The fact that she wrote such a complicated, layered novel in her early twenties simply blows my mind.
The story takes place in a Georgia mill town in the 1930’s and revolves around a deaf-mute named John Singer and the people who use him as a confidante. Some of the best qualities of the book are the unflinching portrayal of the almost universal poverty of that place and time, the blatant prejudice, discrimination, and abuse of the African-American population in the south, and the deep, deep need for humans to be heard, understood, and accepted. If I had to choose a main character, I would pick Mick Kelly, a teenage girl growing up in a dirt poor family that owns a boarding home. In a sense, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, is a coming of age tale that follows Mick’s transformation from skinny girl with big dreams of making her own music to a young woman of fifteen who drops out of school to work at Woolworth’s because her family desperately needs the money.
To say The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is just a tale of growing up is selling the author and the story short. I think Carson McCullers gives an intimate portrayal of small town life in the South in the 1930’s, of the striving, limited opportunities, and disappointments of that life, of the racially unequal culture, and perhaps of the hopelessness and loneliness felt by many who cannot escape. Although the book is well-written and thought-provoking, it often seems to meander through somewhat unrelated scenes and dramas. Also, the ending is flat and left me questioning, “If that is all, what was the point?” And yet, here I sit, still thinking about it. (3.75/5 stars)
Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent. This non-fiction account of the development of an unlikely friendship between a wealthy art dealer and an illiterate homeless man was an unexpected blessing for me. Ron and Denver take turns narrating chapters, sharing their story with candor and authenticity. Even though much of the book focuses on difficult circumstances, a feeling of hope and the very real presence of God emanate from the pages. This is not an emotionally easy book to read. Living conditions of poor African-Americans in the south in the mid 20th century, the homeless culture, and a heart-wrenching battle with cancer make the material difficult but very worthwhile. I was reminded that we often most fully experience God when we honestly reach out and love others, and that beautiful things can grow from searing pain and loss. (4/5 stars)
out of my mind by Sharon Draper. The main character of this middle grade/ teen fiction selection is Melody, a brilliant fifth grade girl with a photographic memory. Because she also has cerebral palsy, which confines her to a wheel chair and robs her of the ability to speak, very few people recognize her gifts. Even when Melody finally acquires a computerized speaking device which enables her to communicate effectively, she still faces the obstacles of ignorance and prejudice. The author does an excellent job of portraying what life is like for someone with a significant disability, both for the individual and her family members and caretakers. She also effectively illustrates the frustrating situation of a fully functioning mind trapped inside a severely disabled body. out of my mind was an easy and satisfying read and I’m glad Lovey, (my 15-year-old daughter) recommended it to me. (4/5 stars)
In an ideal world, I would be celebrating the accomplishment of thirty-two books read by the end of August. In my real world, I’m celebrating thirty books, which is still a good place to be. I have time to make up the difference before the end of the year. The book borrowing I did in August did nothing to reduce the stack of to-be-read books in my closet that Mr. Whimsey keeps knocking over while he’s getting ready for work. The goal for September should be to take a chunk out of that pile. What I really want to do, however, is devour several recently purchased books on my Nook and read Life of Pi and Ender’s Game before the movies are released. I suppose Mr. Whimsey is just going to have to fight with that mountain of anticipated reading bliss a little while longer.