“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”
“It was as deep and wide as autumn’s ending. It was heavy as a great river-smooth stone. It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.”
Before you devour “The Name of the Wind,” the first book of the KingKiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss, make sure you are truly ready. A large, steaming beverage, maybe a crackling fireplace, a blanket or two and a comfortable place to curl up for hours of uninterrupted reading – you’ll need it all because you’ll be there until the last page.
The Waystone Inn is a quiet establishment in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. A few people gather to tell stories or have a cup, but nothing really ever happens. The innkeeper Kote polishes his bar, sweeps out the dust and welcomes his few customers when he is lucky enough to have them.
Then one day, a chronicler stumbles into town and into a story – a story about the most legendary wizard who ever lived.
It is a story of demons and magic and love. It is also a story about many types of courage, even the courage to hide yourself in a little town.
Kote, who is in truth Kvothe, is known as the man who was whipped but didn’t bleed, who was admitted to Arcanum after only two days, a hero who saved the life of many and who possibly performed some of the greatest magic ever known. He exists in a million rumors, legends, myths and songs, but no one knows him in truth.
Kvothe, a man who is hiding himself and slowly fading away into the innkeeper Kote he pretends to be.
With a little encouragement, Kvothe agrees to tell the chronicler the real story of his life in three days. The first day is entitled “The Name of the Wind.”
In this first day, we learn everything from Kvothe’s childhood love of music and performance to his discovery of magic, years begging on the streets and entrance into the university.
We experience Kvothe’s first love and watch as he makes great friends and terrible enemies. Tragedies, losses and betrayals abound.
We are left with the feeling of wanting more because when Kvothe’s first day has ended, his story has only just begun.
(Originally written for Get Out)
In Santa Francesca’s lemon grove sits an old, tired vampire watching endless tourists float by in faceless droves each day. Clyde is a scared, sad creature. Children trick-or-treating with necklaces of garlic terrify him even though garlic can’t actually hurt him. He answers his door, shaking, to give them candy. “You small mortals don’t realize the power of your stories,” he thinks. Clyde is lost in a world where only incorrect myths exist to guide him. He is as unsure as the next person about his future, but his future is an eternity.
“Vampires in the Lemon Grove” by Karen Russell is an inspiring collection of riveting short stories. Russell is best known for “Swamplandia!,” which was nominated for a Pulitzer last year. Though I enjoyed “Swamplandia!,” I would recommend “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” to everyone, near and far. These stories are stunningly beautiful. They filled my mind and heart with images that I know will stay with me for years to come.
In “Reeling for the Empire,” young women of all backgrounds, whether as “graceful as calligraphy” or “crow-voiced and vulgar,” are bought from their parents to work in the Nowhere Mill for one year. The girls are given tea, which transforms them into human silk worms, the silk pooling in their stomachs and fur growing over their bodies. The silk is extracted through their fingers, glowing threads of “light gray, like my cat’s fur” and “a translucent green I swore I’d never seen anywhere in nature” by a machine.
“The Barn at the End of Our Term” introduces us to 11 stabled horses, which contain the souls of former mediocre presidents of The United States of America. Rutherford B. Hayes spends his afternoons talking to Dwight D. Eisenhower, James Buchanan, James Garfield, Warren Harding and others. They debate whether their existence – full of sweet hay, breezes and pastures – is heaven or hell.
One of my favorite pieces is “Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating.” Dougbert is a fervent supporter of Team Krill in the Food Chain Games, “a lawless bloodbath” at the South Pole. He advocates cheering for the underdog, the krill, who have lost every Food Chain Game they’ve ever competed in. He teaches us how to be a good supporter of Team Krill by practicing the correct way to swish. “Most people lead with their hips, but for me, it’s all in the ribs.”
“Vampires in the Lemon Grove” is thus far, one of the best books I’ve read this year. It is eloquent, emotional and vivid. The characters that Russell creates are engrossing and devastating in turn, inviting us into stories that are as deeply human as they are wondrous.
(Originally written for Get Out)
“Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today, I am 15. Today, I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved.”
So opens “The Death of Bees,” in the voice of Marnie, one of two quirky young girls freshly orphaned from alcoholic, drug-addicted parents who neglected and abused them.
Their father, Gene, is found dead in bed. Their mother, Izzy, hangs herself the day after.
Gene lays rotting for a while before the girls drag his swollen decaying body out to be buried under some lavender. The girls hide Izzy under the shed before burying her eventually as well. After all, these things take time.
With parents’ bodies mostly hidden, Marnie and Nelly are trying to keep everyone none the wiser. It is only one year until Marnie becomes of age and can take care of Nelly alone. They try to stay together and independent. They try to keep the neighbor’s dog from uncovering the body parts. The world has other plans.
Their neighbor, Lennie, notices that the girls’ parents are missing and takes them under his wing. He offers them food, a place to sleep and helps them with their homework. He gives them companionship, guidance and affection. Lennie is gay, his lover is dead, and he went looking for love in the wrong place. As a result, he is a man broken under societal scrutiny and hate. He is incredibly lonely.
The girls’ grandfather, Robert T. Macdonald, abandoned Izzy when she got pregnant. He turns up suddenly wanting to find Izzy and desperately tries to lure the girls from Lennie.
Fighting against those trying to help and hinder them, are two girls with very distinct personalities. Marnie, tough as nails, is already hardened by cruel experience. She sells drugs and has adulterous sex with Gene’s ex-dealer. Nelly reacts to everything from her own unique perspective. Her speech is filled with turns of phrase such as “good ruddy riddance” and “loathsome malignant fellow.” People often don’t know how to react to her and she to them.
As the girls try to stay one step ahead of their grandfather, their friends, their school and various authorities; lies begin to unravel secret by secret.
Told in the voices of Marnie, Nelly and Lennie, “The Death of Bees” is a darkly humorous novel about three people trying to keep out the world while finding a way to take care of each other.
(Originally written for my book column in The Victoria Advocate )
Jack Reacher. Six feet, 5 inches and 220 pounds. Ex-military policeman and all-around badass. Maybe you’ve heard of him?
I was talking to my father one day and he started ranting a bit about the new “Jack Reacher” movie starring Tom Cruise. (Book-related ranting runs in the family). He talked about how the movie was based on a very extensive book series, but they had cast it all wrong.
Jack Reacher was supposed to be huge. Burly. Muscular. A giant. He stands out in a crowd, intimidates the bad guys and is able to throw down on any enemy who gets in his way. Though I am not usually one to pick up light crime-action novels, it made me curious, and I thought I’d give them a try.
“Killing Floor,” the first in the series, opens over breakfast. Reacher watches as cops burst into a diner to arrest him for a murder he didn’t commit. He is interrogated and jailed, though there is no evidence against him. Reacher becomes intrigued by the cop’s inability to realize he isn’t the murderer, but he stays out of it. It isn’t his problem.
Suddenly, it becomes personal when he finds out that the person murdered is none other than his own brother, Joe. Reacher then takes down each criminal with his military-trained efficient and smooth kick-butt abilities. Reacher not only solves the town’s problems but gains a lady friend, Roscoe, who adds a little personality and love interest to the plot.
After “Killing Floor,” I read “Die Trying.” Now, I’m currently on “Tripwire.” This stumbling-upon-a-crime scenario seems to be pretty common so far in the series. In the second book “Die Trying,” Reacher helps a woman on the street and ends up being thrown into a vehicle with her, kidnapped and held as part of a rebel militia scenario. In “Tripwire,” he is digging pools in Key West when a detective comes looking for him, is killed and then Reacher follows the detective’s trail to discover himself once again involved in something very twisted and personal.
Each book has a crime element, a love element and a lot of action. There is plenty of running, fighting, shooting and scheming to keep you turning the pages to see whose butt gets handed to them next.
Reacher, though not a deep character, is entertaining because he is so incredibly calm, cool and proper. He believes in being polite, treating women well and minding his own business. He only gets involved when a wrong needs to be righted, and then he doesn’t give a damn what is legal, only that justice be served, often in blood.
The Reacher books are quick, entertaining reads that will keep your attention on any beach, flight or rainy afternoon. I plan to continue reading and with 15 books in the series, I’ve only got 12 to go.
I chased Lincoln’s killer in “Manhunt.”
Watched Sid destroy himself from the inside out in “Half Blood Blues.”
Fell asleep under the stars with the smell of lamb wafting in the air in “Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef.”
Drank champagne with Hazel and Augustus as they fell in love under the most tragic circumstances in “The Fault in Our Stars.”
Felt the deep inevitable regret of repeating the same mistakes over and over in “This is How You Lose Her.”
Explored the cemetery of forgotten books again with Daniel Sempere in “The Prisoner of Heaven.”
Was crushed by grief and old grudges in “Tell the Wolves I’m Home.”
Listened with orphans as they were told a tale of dark vengeance in “The Fifty Year Sword.”
Then there was geekiest race in history for the ultimate prize with Wade in “Ready Player One.”
And the best kick-ass sarcasm filled magical adventure to save the world yet with Harry Dresden in “Changes.”
I watched as secrets and myths intertwined in “The Tiger’s Wife.”
Stalked Santa Claus with Flavia de Luce in “I Am Half Sick Of Shadows.”
Found family in the most unexpected places in “The Housekeeper and the Professor.”
Felt the thrill of baseball and the bitter disappointment of failure in “The Art of Fielding.”
Survived the many journeys of brides that came from Japan to America in “The Buddha in the Attic.”
Watched as Dash and Lily found each other in “Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares.”
Discovered the cruelty and beauty of time itself in “A Visit from the Goon Squad.”
Found a window into one of my favorite author’s souls with “My Reading Life.”
Laughed at Tina Fey’s ridiculousness in “Bossypants.”
Learned the love of running in “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.”
And so much more.
Hundreds of stories, adventures, losses, loves, regrets, challenges and discoveries.
It has been quite a year, this year of books.
I told a friend that she should read Wonder because 1.) it’s a great book and 2.) she’s a teacher, so I thought she would especially appreciate it. A few weeks later I received this message from her:
“I gave Wonder to Genna’s stepsister, Annika, who is 12 because she’s kind of awkward, a middle schooler and I thought she’d like it. She loves it and she took it to school where her teacher saw it and literally stole it out of Annika’s backpack when she wasn’t looking so that she could take it to the teacher’s lounge and share it with the other teachers who had heard about it but hadn’t read it. This ridiculous story of sharing a good book brought to you by you!“
I just love stories of people sharing books and the book spreads to more and more people. It makes me happy.