Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Books Read in September

47. Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire

Finally finished the Wicked Years. Out of Oz finishes the story in some ways, and just leaves it open again. Oh well. I don't know how much closure I expected. Still best read for the dark and amusing riffs on the land of Oz.

48. The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory (audiobook)

One of my favorite of Gregory's, and I've read nearly everything by her. Katherine Parr is, in my opinion, the most interesting of Henry VIII's wives, both because she survived and because she was one of the first women to publish in English. Also, I wasn't aware of the relationship between her and Anne Askew, a contemporary female preacher, a relationship which is central to Gregory's novel. As usual, Gregory takes an inventive approach to history, creating the highest possible stakes drama (as if the Tudors weren't dramatic enough!). I've also felt that Gregory's later books, like this one, and The White Princess, feel more fiercely feminist in nature than some of her earlier works. Henry VIII, despite being central to the plot, is a somewhat enigmatic character in, for example, The Other Boleyn Girl--even when he does terrible things, the crux of her interpretation of his character has remained elusive. Here, she finally comes out and makes it clear what kind of a monster he has become.

49. Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster

I read this twice in less than a month, so it's obvious that I highly recommend it. It's pitched as a modern-day Greek tragedy, a woman at the top who had it coming, and hilariously chronicles her fall. However, although Jennifer makes a joke of her two years of unemployment, it's no laughing matter for those of us who came of age during the recession. Though I don't have her penchant for high-end retail or cosmetics (there's a hilarious yet poignant scene where she tallies, for example, how much insurance her bottles of half-empty nail polish could have covered), it's definitely a story that hit that "there but for the grace of G-d go I" note. Also, this was her first memoir, but she apparently has others that I must read post-haste.

50. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Extremely funny, dry, and droll--read my thoughts here.

51. Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

I finally finished the Inheritance quartet! I'm glad I did. I had many frustrations with the series, mostly that it was overwritten and did too much "telling" instead of showing. However, Eragon, his dragon Saphira (some of the best writing is from Saphira's POV, imo), his cousin Roran, and his friend Arya, to name a few, are memorable characters that represent interesting variations on familiar fantasy tropes. The plot, while predictable, also had some interesting twists and turns. I think Paolini's greatest strength was his ability to play on those tropes to create a believable fantasy world with strong female leaders, new and more nuanced interpretations of "enemy" races, and a strong core of ancient history and magic. The story meets a full heroic arc in the end, and Paolini makes some strong atypical choices there as well. On the whole, it's a valuable addition to high fantasy, and I would recommend it especially to young fans of the genre.

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