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October Booklist

 1.  The Magicians, Lev Grossman
 
Okay, just ... just stop hyping new books as being "Harry Potter for grownups!" or "the new Chronicals of Narnia!" THEY NEVER ARE. Yes, there's a school of magic. But it's not in an awesome castle filled with adventure and danger and quiddich games; it's full of men and women cramming for tests and angsting and sleeping with each other and drinking too much. And yes, there's a magical kingdom that waits for four humans to come be its kings and queens, and that is exactly how far that similarity goes. So this main character dude finds out magic is real. And he goes to a special secret school of magic and finds out that it's a lot of hard work and not very much glamour. And everyone gets emo and depressed and drinks and sleeps around and falls into pits of hedonism and/or general oblivion. AND THEN THERE IS THIS MAGIC WORLD THAT EVERYONE THOUGHT WAS JUST A STORY IN A BOOK. But it is REAL. Only it's a lot less storybook-ish and a lot more dangerous, and people DIE. And then they angst some more and are depressed. In short: compelling, but depressing. I didn't want to stop reading, and I’m not disputing the fact that it’s well-written, but I pretty much didn't like any of the characters, who seemed universally unhappy even after they got everything they (thought) they wanted.
 
(All the same, I’m reading the sequel right now.)
 
2.  Belle Weather: mostly sunny with a chance of scattered hissy fits, Celia Rivenbark (audio)
 
Semi-related rants on whatever pops into Rivenbark's mind, often having to do with southern culture. She's funny and sarcastic, and sometimes genuinely hilarious, but mostly just ... sarcastic. And I find that my tolerance for snark is getting lower and lower. I also think that listening to the audio for this was a mistake - her southern accent, however genuine, comes across as over-the-top and just makes every annoying thing twice as annoying.
 
3.  In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson
 
:) THIS is the Bill Bryson I love. And I think Australia is the country he genuinely loves the most, because this was by far the most pleasant and least complainy/sarcastic/negative of his travel memoirs. Sure, there's plenty of sarcasm, but it doesn't have the sharp, bitter edge I'd found in some of his other books. He really, really likes Australia: the history, the people, the geography. And it shows.
  
4.  Conquistadora, Esmeralda Santiago
 
Here's another one: "the Puerto Rican Gone with the Wind!" Um, no. I was really disappointed with this one because it showed such promise - strong female lead, interesting portion of history, a plot that could really go somewhere. And it lost itself because the characters were so unlikable, and that made it hard to care about the unrelenting tragedies that dogged them. And then too, the characters seemed left mostly two-dimensional – too bad, because it seemed that many of them could have been interesting if they had been fleshed out more.
 
5.  Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs
 
But here we start getting better. I loved so much about this. It's liberally illustrated with genuine (and genuinely creepy) vintage photos, only a few of which have been photoshopped slightly. The story incorporates all these photos in the most amazing way; I was so impressed. The main character grows up listening to his grandfather's incredible tall tales, only to discover photographs after his death that seem to suggest there was some truth to them after all: A girl hovers several inches off the ground. Another stands alone by a pond, but two girls are reflected in the water. A boy stands covered in bees.There's this wonderful subtle uneasy feeling about the whole thing - no monsters jumping out of the dark here, just a steady increase in the Something Is Not Right Here meter. And then ... THINGS HAPPEN. It's not perfect - the ending sort of falls apart, and it's left wide open for a sequel, but this is one that is wonderfully, impressively unique among a landscape of same-old-same-old books.
 
6.  Twilight, Stephanie Meyer
 
Pretty sure I don't need to review this again ... (I wanted to read certain parts of the series again before the Breaking Dawn movie comes out.)
 
7.  The Queen's Mistake, Diane Haeger
 
Apparently Haeger has written a bunch of books about Henry VII's wives? This one covers Catherine Howard and the time between her arrival at court and eventual death. It's pretty tragic reading, what with knowing her fate and all. Not sure how historically accurate it was, but it was decently written ... though I'm spoiled by Phillipa Gregory.
 
8.  The Night Circus, Erin Morganstern
 
No contest, this is my pick for best book of the month. Plot is this: two magicians challenge each other to a life-long contest. They each train an apprentice, who will battle each other with feats of magic over their lifetime. They don't know the rules, they don't know their opponent (at least for a while), they don't even know that the night circus has been created as their stage.
 
Now forget that plot, because it's honestly not even that important to what makes this book wonderful.
 
Morganstern's descriptive writing is stunning. Her imaginative circus is so beyond normal life, so magical, that I would have read the whole book if it had been nothing but the day-to-day (night-to-night?) life of the circus.
 
This circus is preceeded by no announcements. It arrives one day out of nowhere: first there was no circus, and now there is. It is only open at night, and everything in it is black and white. The carmel apples are the very essence of the best caramel apples you have ever tasted. There are an endless number of tents to explore. It is full of an array of delights that get into your blood and make you do crazy things, like spend the rest of your life following the circus wherever it goes.
 
The whole book is magic. Quiet magic - no showdowns of spell-casting, no sparks flying (well, not until the end) no dramatic battles. There is love. There is sacrifice. Things are beautiful, and often sad, and you should definitely read this.
 
9.  Itty Bitty Kitchen Handbook, Justin Spring
 
I honestly have no idea why I read this. No idea. I don't have an itty bitty kitchen. I'm not particularly likely to EVER have an itty bitty kitchen. But if you do have one, this is a great resource in how to make the most of your space/pare down your cookware/entertain in small spaces.
 
10. Maphead, Ken Jennings
 
Remember Ken Jennings, that guy who had the longest winning streak on Jeapordy? He's actually a heck of a writer. He's entertaining, funny in all the right places, and just a champ at making any subject interesting. This is all about maps: why people love them, why other people are confused by them, why Kids These Days Don't Know Much About Geography, etc. GPS, geocaching, history of mapmaking, map collecting ... step right up, get all your map-related facts right here.
 
11. Confederates in the Attic, Tony Horwitz (audio)
 
I sort of forget how it all started now - I listened to the first 1/4th of this at the beginning of the month, and only just finished it on the 31st - but Horwitz spends a lot of time investigating why people still get so caught up in the Civil War, from hardcore reinactors (SUPER hardcore, like starve-yourself-to-look-more-period-authentic hardcore) to current race relations in the deep south. It's interesting and certainly raises a lot of questions.

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Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
chestnutcurls
Nov. 3rd, 2011 03:52 pm (UTC)
I keep hearing about The Night Circus - you convinced me to put it on my list! :)
eattheolives
Nov. 4th, 2011 06:20 pm (UTC)
Yay! It's different, but I think you might like it - or at least be interested in the writing style. :)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )