Monday, February 13, 2012

Still Reading.

So here I am, reviewing books again.
It's been two and a half years, which probably means over 500 missed titles while I've been gone, some good, some bad, some forgettable.

Actually, looking through some of my old posts I'm surprised at myself - how some of the ones I seem to have loved the most have faded from memory while some of the stinkers are still in my head, taking up space. Interesting how that works out.

I cannot remember a single day of my adult life that I did not read. At the very least, it's how each day ends: whatever book is on my night stand gets as many pages read as possible before my eyes start to flutter. Books are also my companion in my almost-daily baths, a quiet time of luxury and escape into a world of words that I can never get enough of.

I find that I have missed having a record of what I've read, and also missed being able to share the truly good ones with people who might appreciate them. Even more, I've missed my fellow readers helping to shape my shopping list, and passing me THEIR stellar recommendations. There aren't enough book lovers in my circle of friends, there aren't enough in the world, and I suppose I crave having this little niche available to me when I need to rave or rant about something I've lovingly placed on my shelf, or angrily thrown out the window.

The Night Circus

Quickie Recap: A mysterious circus that opens only at night enraptures its audience wherever it goes, but for all the amazing acts and sights to see in the circus, it's the people who run the show who are of most interest. As the book unravels, we begin to understand that two powerful and rivalling magicians are pulling more strings than we know, and less than they'd like.

Quickie Review: This is another book I walked by a few times before I finally picked it up. I suppose it reminded me a little of Water for Elephants and since I loved that book, I didn't want some pale comparison mucking it all up for me. But while yes, they are both circus-y, they are different books, and now I could not say which I preferred because this one was definitely the best thing I've read this year, and my favourite thing I've read in quite some time. It's her first novel, which astounds me, because it felt really rich and layered and well-developed. It's the kind of book that leaves you with really strong pictures in your head, and while at times it feels as if the author just has yet another really cool idea and is trying hard to finagle it into the book, I can almost forgive it of her because it IS a cool idea, and it adds to this magical universe she's created where maybe not everything is plot-centric, but rather floats around creating this overall impression. At this point, I'd say Morgenstern was more magic than craft, but for this novel it really worked, it was a wonder, and I look forward to reading more from her.

Quickie Recommendation: Without reservation.

The Art of Racing in the Rain

Quickie Recap: This story is recounted by a dog named Enzo who watches enough television to have formed the belief that when a dog dies, if he is lucky, he will come back as a human in his next life. Enzo wants this very, very much. Of course, this becomes primarily the story of the family that Enzo lives with, and he tells it the way a dog would: with more compassion than is probably deserved, and abounding love and faith and loyalty.

Quickie Review: I remember seeing this book in an airport some time ago and I gave it a miss. It looked a bit silly. But then I read all the other books in the book store (okay, maybe not all, but enough that I could give this book a second look) and so I picked this up, and started reading right in the parking lot and didn't put it down until I was done, about 4 hours later. I was crying on page 5. Okay, so I'm a sap who happens to be lucky enough to have not one but three of the world's most awesome dogs living in my house (and cuddled around me as I read this). So maybe I was predisposed to love this. Whatever the case, I did. It was sweet, but not cloying. It is a bit silly, a bit simple. It's what a dog's book should be. It doesn't feel gimmicky or particularly childish. It's a bit of a reach, I'm not going to lie. The end is a bit cheesy-movie contrived. But on a snowy afternoon, cuddled in front of the fire, it was perfect.

Quickie Recommendation: I'm going to say yes. I'm not sure about the author, he was a little uneven, but he hit on a great little story here and it warmed me right up.

The Cat's Table

by Michael Ondaatje

Quickie Recap: In the 1950s a little boy gets on a big boat destined for England. He makes 3 same-aged friends, and together they come across a whole cast of characters, varying from the benignly mysterious to the criminally dangerous. Now a grown man, Michael looks back to this voyage as a seminal influence that began an even bigger journey.

Quickie Review: First, let me point out that this is perhaps Ondaatje's most readable novel to date. So that's a surprising bonus. While reading it, someone asked me to name the best thing I'd read recently and I really searched my memory before coming up blank. I could name over a dozen titles I'd read in 2012, but none really stood out. This one certainly doesn't. I'm the first to admit I'm just not a huge Ondaatje fan, but always feel compelled to pick up his books because he's one of those Canadian writers that one should read. But they end up feeling like a chore. And this felt kind of meh to me. It goes down easier compared to say, The English Patient, and there are passages that are truly beautiful, almost worth the read. There were some really vibrant characters, and these sketches make Ondaatje's skill strikingly evident. But it wasn't enough. I felt ... unfulfilled, uninspired, and a little bored.

Quickie Recommendation: Not quite.