Friday, August 9, 2013

Friday Reads: Summer Reviews by Christine Locke

First I must take a moment to absorb the oddity of the mixture of books I'm reviewing for you today.
Ok, done with that.  And, no, I'm not going to force some connection between them and foist it upon you as if I had some magic theme in mind.

I just love to read.  I love stories.  I love to write them, read them, and talk to people about them--mostly because in talking about them I end up hearing a new story: the story of why someone else liked/hated the narrative, too.

So, here you go, three more books for my end-of-summer reading.  If you loved them, too, comment!  If not, comment!  The discussions that stem from reading stories are the most interesting stories of all.

Joyland by Stephen King

I've got a soft spot for stories in which a middle aged or older character writes about what it is to be young.  I don't know why.  I just do.  I've also just finished writing one (sort of), so that's part of it.  But when you take a writer who does character so beautifully, and you get a reminiscence novel from them, well, that's a special thing indeed.
Also, I don't know if it's just practice, or that brush with death (ok, it was more than a "brush," much more), or what.  I used to love Stephen King's novels and characters, but I hated his endings.  I just hated them.  Either I saw them coming (The Shining) or they just made no stupid sense to me (It).  But something has changed.  I watched "Bag of Bones" thinking I'd love the characters and hate the ending: wrong.  I read 11/22/63 expecting same: wrong.  So I started Joyland without expectations.  I don't know how to say this about a "hard case" crime/horror novel, but, geez, this book is beautiful.  The story inspires love and longing of all the best kinds.  And I didn't see the ending coming until very late in the book and then I wasn't sure and I didn't WANT to see it coming because, like the young man our narrator once was, I had grown to love the characters.  How did he DO that?

Illuminations by Mary Sharratt
My dear friend and mentor of spirit, Deshae Lott, Ph.D., first introduced me to Hildegard's writings when we were in grad school together.  That was almost twenty years ago.  Unlike my friend, I never became a Hildegard expert.  I recently watched a non-English movie about Hildegard in which her life events were quite different from those portrayed in Sharratt's novel.  I don't know enough about the famous mystic to assert who was right or wrong.  But here's what I can tell you: this book is elegantly written.  I first found Sharratt while researching modern magic realism authors; she was one someone's list.  And I smiled when I saw Sharratt had written a book about Hildegard.  Christian mysticism could fit quite nicely into the magic realism genre, I realized, and I wondered how I'd never really thought of that before.  
Here's a taste of what I mean by elegant writing: 

"...a wild mourning dove flew down to peck the morsels from my hand, her feathers fanning my wrists.  Part of me flew with her as she winged away into the forest."
"Someone must guide them, protect them, mother them, save them from despair and the specter of Jutta's long and languorous dance with her true bridegroom, who was not Christ but Death.  The tears spilling from my eyes blinded me to my brother's imploring...."
The story is a good, one, yes, but I'm most compelled by the representation of faith and purpose in what first seems pointless, the freedom in the "magic" of Hildegard's visions despite a very cruel, dark, limited existence. Hildegard's faith in her inner voice, her courage to write down what she knew to be Truth even though it could have cost her life: the beauty of Sharrat's representations will make you weep.  In a good way.

"Sweet Torture," by Kira Saito

When I find a writer I love, it's fun to go back and see what they wrote in the past.  It gives me a sense of how they became the writer they are.  It fascinates me that the writer often wrote something completely different from what I've come to expect.  And, yet, there will be fun-to-spot similarities to their more recent work.
I've blogged about Saito's Southern gothic work, and I've reviewed a couple of her books. "Sweet Torture," unlike her Arelia LaRue series, is not southern, not gothic, not about magic or witches.  Well, there's a little magic and a voodoo queen, 'cause, you know, Saito, BUT the queen's a side character who basically teaches the MC the power of positive thinking--and helps her get a little revenge while she's at it.
In the end, it's a teen revenge story, love story, self-awareness story.  But the character development has the same sparse effectiveness of Saito's novels, and that's fun to see in any genre.  Give it a read: it's quick, it's fun, it's got CHOCOLATE!

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