Book recommendations – September and October 2012

I’m distracting myself from an epic sewing fail.  The Juniper pants?  Well, let’s just say that that even with the lovely photo tutorial on the Colette site I still managed to sew the fly zipper wrong… twice.  My fabric is a loose tweed, and won’t hold up to a third go around.  Can anyone recommend a good tutorial on sewing a fly?  A video would be better, as apparently I can’t learn anything from still pictures.  I’ve sewn them before, but it’s been years and apparently I no longer remember what to do!

At any rate, I’m avoiding my sewing room right now.  It seems that I have managed to catch my annual autumn sinus infection, so I don’t like to go into the attic (that’s where the dust lives!)  I’m feeling better, so hopefully I can get in some time to sew my Alma blouse this weekend.

To kill time I’ve been playing Persona 3 on my old PS2 (I am behind the times – that game came out years ago!)  I’m also working on a present for my husband and catching up on my reading.  I love to read, but don’t do it as much as I would like (be my friend on Goodreads – observe the horror of my incredibly long “to be read” list!)

I got an ipad in September, and that increased my reading a lot.  I have a Kindle touch, and I really like e-ink, but I found I didn’t carry it with me.  I always have the ipad, as it replaced my laptop, so I’m getting more read lately!  Below are my favorites.  I don’t like everything I read, but if you want to see my bad ratings you’ll have to go to Goodreads – I don’t feel like taking up the time with things I didn’t enjoy!

I try to avoid spoilers, but I do talk about the plot, so I can’t make absolute guarantees.  These aren’t exactly the same as my Goodreads reviews, as I try to leave personal details off the site.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

“Tell the Wolves I’m home” is the story of June, an awkward high school freshman caught between childhood fantasy and adult reality. Her uncle, Finn, is her best friend. He dies of AIDs and leaves June without a confidant. She is eventually contacted by his boyfriend, Toby, and the two strike up an unconventional friendship.

It’s also the story of June’s relationship with her older sister Greta – once close, the two have grown apart as they grow up. It’s the story of regrets, and the idea that you can’t really change the past, just learn to live with its consequences.

I’ll tell you straight up: I have trouble reading books about AIDs.  Working in the arts, I have lost friends over the years to the disease, and the subject matter strikes a bit too close to home.     In addition, I think it’s  a subject that it’s difficult to do well – how to write the story of a tragic disease without turning the victim into a saintly martyr?

June… June was wonderful. I related to her intensely, having been a weird teen myself. My interests were musical theater and science fiction rather than falconry and medieval times, but I understood her need to be different. Some reviewers mentioned finding her indecisiveness frustrating, but I didn’t. She seemed very real, and her actions made sense.

I gave the book 4 stars. It’s compulsively readable (I read the entire thing in one sleepless night!)  I did not cry, which was something many reviewers mentioned, but then it’s possible that I’m not terribly sentimental.   I think the last book that made me cry may have been “David Copperfield” when I was a particularly sensitive 15.  I am not kidding, seriously, I don’t get worked up about these things.

I have two criticisms of the book. The first was the imagery of the wolves which fill the book. It was a bit heavy handed, and took me out of the plot (as thought the author were saying “Let me show you my metaphor!”)

My other frustration was with the character of Greta (June’s older sister.) Throughout the book we see Greta self-destructing. It felt as though we were building to something, but her story went nowhere.

I highly recommend this book. It’s adult literature, but I think it would also appeal to teens.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

I do not, as a general rule, read much Young Adult fiction.  I know it’s a thing right now, but I haven’t thought much of the big hits of the genre (excepting Harry Potter of course!)  There is so much being published as Young Adult right now, some of which I suspect would have been labeled adult fiction if it were not for the current trends.  I’ve been trying to read more – it’s virtually impossible to avoid, and I don’t believe it can be all bad.  Ok, some of it was bad (Vampire Academy,  do not even look my direction!)  Some was merely ok, but a few have managed to surprise me.

The Diviners is set in New York City during the 1920s.  I have recently developed an interest in silent films (I even saw the Phantom of the Opera with live organ at Halloween!) and have been devouring everything I can find on the subject.  Along with that comes an interest in the 1920s in general, an era on which I was sadly illiterate.  Our main character is Evie, a rebellious teen who is sent to New York City to live with her uncle.  Her Uncle happens to be the owner of the Museum of Folklore, Superstition and the Cult.  It turns out that Evie is a bit supernatural herself (not a spoiler, as we find it out in the introduction.)  She has the ability to read objects – to see something about the owner from touching a personal item.

The story has complexity and the characters have depth – no Mary Sues here!  Evie, the main character isn’t, let’s face it, very nice.  She’s selfish and impulsive, and I suspect this may turn some readers against her.  Me?  I loved her because she seemed like a real person.  She uses a lot of 1920s slang, which was jarring at first, but I eventually got used to the language.  It’s obvious that the author is having fun with the period and dialogue, and I think that made me accepting of quirks that might otherwise have annoyed me. It also helps that the book had a 3rd person POV. I greatly prefer this – I can’t think of the last time I read a really great 1st person.  This perspective allows other characters to take POV turns as well. Some are clearly going to be used more in later books of the series, as their stories feel a bit unresolved.

There is a little romance, but it’s not a focus of the book. Don’t get me wrong, I love romance, but too many books consist of a heroine mooning over which of her love interests to mack on while the world falls apart outside.

There is a mystery to be solved, an an overarching story that will carry on to later books in the series.  There are some genuinely scary moments, but nothing that made me lose sleep (this is a plus for me, as I am a giant wuss.)

I would recommend this book to fans of the Maisie Dobb mysteries.  They have a similar feel, though this book is perhaps a bit darker.  I would recommend it to older teens, but I honestly think it reads fine as an adult novel.  At 600 pages it’s longer than your average YA story, but not so long as to be daunting.  I read it on my e-reader in three or four evenings.

Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz

I’m from the south.  Well… sort of.  I never really know how to answer that question.  To Northerners, Louisville is unquestionably part of the south (and a source of endless mocking in college!) To Southerners we are basically glorified Yankees, separated from the north by the thin border of the Ohio river.  Even our own state spends its time disavowing knowledge of our existence (I can recall a memorable argument I had once with a gentleman from London, Kentucky, who was pretty clear and colorful in his views that we should give up and join Indiana.)

I like to tell visitors that we are southern for two weeks out of the year.  The Derby is an illusion.  Kentucky, after all, never joined the Confederacy.  Louisville itself was an important base for Union forces, with its strategic location on the Ohio river.  We didn’t suffer during post civil war reconstruction.  We remain, however, a fairly segregated city.  I live in a neighborhood that counts as among the most diverse, and I have had otherwise reasonable seeming people tell me, in all seriousness, that they couldn’t live in my neighborhood with all the thugs (hint: they mean African Americans.)     We have a confederate war memorial that stands on the campus of the University of Louisville (right by my high school, and I did wonder about it then!)

I was forced to think about all these things when I read Confederates in the Attic.  Author Tony Horwitz, set out to retrace the path of the war one summer, and along the way he was confronted with the views of modern citizens, many of whom view the Confederacy with great romanticism.  The book was written in the late 1990s, but I don’t think it’s so out of place in the America of today.  He visits meetings of the Daughters and Sons of the Confederacy.  He talks about the vast difference in the way the war is viewed.  He meets up (in the most amusing bit) with some hardcore civil war reenactors, who don’t seem to care about the outcome so much as making sure their socks are the authentic level of smelly.

Horwitz doesn’t talk down to the people he meets.  He presents their stories in a realistic fashion, so that you understand how they ended up in this place.  That makes the book much more fascinating to me than if he had merely presented the southerners as awful – it’s easy to stereotype, but perhaps a bit more difficult to see them as real people.  Reading this in the last days of this year’s election cycle was particularly interesting – the journalistic style was a marked contrast to most of what I saw.

I highly recommend this book.  It does not look down on the south, but it also doesn’t excuse it’s problems.  Horwitz merely presents them to the reader, who is left to draw his own conclusions.