KJ (owlmoose) wrote,

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Herding Cats Challenge: Two Book Reviews

So technically the rule in the tl;dr rec list challenge is to choose and read three books, but there are so many interesting titles on that list that there's no reason not to just keep going. I recently finished two books off the list, and I'm sure there will be more, but let me just start with these.

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly -- rec'd by Mrs. S, Melody, and Michelle; also the April "selection" for notabookclub.
I actually was the one who picked this for notabookclub*, before I saw it on the tl;dr challenge list, based on a recommendation from animecrush. (So perhaps including it in the challenge is cheating, but since I expect to read far more than three books from the list, I intend to get away with it.) There are a few book descriptions that act as a siren call to me, and one of those is "modern retellings of fairy tales". (Hence by love for Charles de Lint, and Tam Lin. So I was entirely powerless to resist this book, and as far as the fairy tale aspects went, I was well rewarded. Connolly reworked several traditional stories (Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, and many others) in ways that both satisfied and served the overall story he was telling. David, the main character, is a real 12-year-old boy in all the ways that matter, but he also matured into a hero in ways I believed.

I did find the end somewhat jarring, but I'm not sure that's entirely fair, because the edition I bought had over 100 pages of appendices about the history of the fairy tales and other stories that Connolly brought into the book (including the traditional stories in their entirety), so I was expecting 100 more pages of story when it ended. So I had a hard time believing that the hero's victory was a real victory. I think the book could have benefited from a table of contents, or some other warning that the end was much nearer than one would think from the number of pages remaining.

Still, I liked this book quite a bit -- I found myself absorbed into the world, and engaged by the question of what familiar-but-not-quite fairy story would appear on the next page. So I do recommend it.

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult -- rec'd by Mrs. S.
I had somehow completely missed Jodi Picoult. Then amybang brought her up in conversation one day, and suddenly I see her everywhere. So naturally I had to pick one up. From reading reviews and back covers, my impression is that she tends to write books that take big social issues and then narrow her focus into on how they affect individual people on a small scale. Nineteen Minute is no exception -- the social issue is school violence and the people are the victims, and perpetrator, of a high-school shooting incident. One thing I appreciated about this book is that it didn't pull any punches, and rarely took the easy way out (with one glaring exception, but that's a pretty major spoiler so I won't go into details here). The story is told through a multitude of viewpoints, including that of the shooter and both of his parents, and though sometimes I find that stories with a thousand narrators lack focus, in this case it served the story well, because we're forced to hear the voices of characters we wouldn't normally want to empathize with. The story is also told in varying timelines, another device I found effective. Maybe that means I'm falling for a lot of writerly tricks, but I don't mind writerly tricks when they work with the storytelling.

My only real complaint with this story was that Picoult brought in two characters from other books. I didn't mind that in and of itself, but she dropped asides about those characters' backstories and then never expanded on them. I found this particularly annoying because of the way the story moved back in time -- when the tidbits first came up, I assumed they'd be explained in the historic timelines, but they never were. It bothers me when writers assume that every reader has read all of their work. It's one thing when a book is a direct sequel, but that clearly wasn't the case here.

A minor quibble, though. I found this book to be quite un-putdownable, and I will certainly check out more of Picoult's many works. In fact, I have two in my stack already.

*PS to notabookclubbers -- I haven't forgotten about you, I promise. Hopefully a discussion post will be up tomorrow!
Tags: books, herdingcats

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