Thursday, October 29, 2015

Books Read in October

54. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

I took Outlander when it turned up at the Little Free Library nearest me. I'd been meaning to see why it's so popular, especially after the TV show came out. Not enough to get it until it was right in front of me, though. I haven't seen the show, and I'm not especially eager to now, but if it came on a channel I was watching, I wouldn't say no.

That's kind of how I feel about the book. It's amusing, it's engaging--I'm one of those people who finds the idea of a 1940s woman who suddenly ends up in the 1740s interesting--but it doesn't go anywhere I especially appreciate with it, on an intellectual level anyway. Outlander, in my opinion, is extremely well-done costume drama *cough* erotica *cough*. For those purposes, it serves admirably. Gabaldon creates a convincing atmosphere of 1740s Scotland and a compelling chemistry between Claire, the 1940s English nurse, and Jamie, the 1740s Scottish outlaw laird. As a cherry on top, Gabaldon's rendering of Scottish accent into dialogue is actually pretty likable. I enjoyed imagining how all those "wouldnas" and "wee lassies" would sound. But, since I'm not a member of that culture, I don't know if that would be offensive or not. Anyway, if you want to dream of hunky Scottish men in kilts, this is your book. If you have more of an interest in time travel and history--meh.

55. Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jeanine CapĆ³ Crucet

My mom and I went to hear her read at a local author event, and Mom got the book for me. I was especially excited because she read a section about writing centers, and I really enjoyed hearing about how the book came about. One of the comments she made that resonated as I was reading was how, as a college counselor, her students asked her for a novel about first generation college students. There weren't she thought, I have to write it!

This is really that book. I imagine a lot of first generation college students relate, and as someone who works with a lot of first generation college students, especially students from immigrant families, it's both familiar and informative for me. I wasn't overwhelmed by the Ariel Hernandez (read: Elian Gonzalez) subplot, but it was interesting to get a Cuban-American perspective on that. It was strange to me though that the white people in the book were all like "obviously, he should go back home!" because that's not at all what I heard from most of the white or other people around me, but interesting. Really, though, I would recommend this book to first generation college students and people who are interested in that experience.

The message of the book is a bit depressing (it's not a secret, it's in the title), but raw and honest. We're all making our homes among strangers, but I hope someday we can conceive of ourselves more as belonging in many places rather than fitting in none.

56. Blood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear

I started Elizabeth Bear with the Eternal Sky trilogy, since that came out right when I first started hearing about her. While I've read a lot about her other works, I finally dived into the Promethean Age this month.

My observations from Eternal Sky and what I've heard about her work in general rings true here: Bear just throws you right in the deep end. You will spend the first several pages desperately trying to figure out what the heck is going on. You'll pick it up, but then it will get harder from there. You won't fully ever understand what's happening, but it will start to become so immersive you won't care.

To me, Blood and Iron is not so much a book as an exquisite smorgasbord of Celtic myth, faerie tale, and dark imagination. It's like Bear mixed it all up, threw it all in, and it It's unconventional, it doesn't all make sense, but it's so lovely and (if you're like me), you're just so happy to have kelpies and Morgan le Fey and the Weyland Smith all inhabiting the same space that you'll forgive any inconsistencies and callousness. I definitely think I detect a Mists of Avalon influence, and probably lots more I'm missing. Bear must be prolifically read in Celtic myth. Tam Lin is the most overt, but, really, everything.

Recommended to the special readers who live for the deep swirly pools of fantasy.

57. Taming the Star Runner by S.E. Hinton

I picked this up at the Bookcrossing booth at the Gaithersburg Book Festival just because I saw S.E. Hinton's name. I have feverish memories of the other two books I read by S.E. Hinton: Opened The Outsiders to read the assigned first chapter, finished it by midnight; Found That Was Then, This Is Now lying around the house (turned out it was my sister's), finished it by midnight. Although I've waited a few months to tame Star Runner (sorry, couldn't resist), I opened it one morning, and you guessed it, finished by midnight.

Star Runner doesn't have the same complexity as the other two books (That Was Then, This Is Now remains my favorite), but it's got similar ingredients: a writerly bad boy MC, cursing, shenanigans, and literary references. This one throws in a horse barn in Oklahoma and lots of horse riding girls (ironically, the MC Travis refuses to put girl characters in his book), but it's a reliable fast-paced story with Hinton's unmistakable spark. Also, apparently, there's a movie.

Especially recommended to teens, but older fans of Hinton's other books will enjoy this too.

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