Sunday, January 26, 2014

January Book Reviews, Part Two by Christine Locke

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K.Rowling
It's the first, and it's almost the best.

It's not the best because the last one is the best and will always hold a special place on my mental "favorite books" shelf.
Having said that, I reread this novel because my eight-year-old is reading the books this year.  I did not suggest it; I thought he might be a little young.  But my teen daughter suggested it and even loaned the little guy her prized volumes.  Off he has gone to Hogwarts with Harry.
Here's what strikes me on my most recent reading: this book manages the most perfect balance between compelling plot pacing and intricate, engaging fantasy detail.  Hagrid shows up and we're like, "Whoa!" but then he fiddles with a fussy umbrella and Dudley gets a could you ever stop reading?  I never get lost in the intricacies of Quidditch or grossed out by details that don't seem to make sense (fingernails on a tray in Knockturn Alley in book two...huh?); in fact, I get why my young son read this book in less than a week (he's at about a month on Chamber of Secrets).  Even though I already know what happens, I didn't want to put it down.  And I won't get sidetracked by the fingernails or overwhelmed by the sporting rules when I get to them later in the series because I'm already hooked.  In The Sorcerer's Stone, I fell in love with Harry all over again--after all this time, and for always.

Garden Spells, by Sarah Addison Allen
A Very Dark Book?  Hmm.  Not at all.

I read this book on New Year's Eve while I had the flu, and it not only held my attention, but it made me feel better.
I read somewhere that after Allen wrote this book, she thought she had a very dark story on her hands.  Hmm.  This is not a dark book.  It's a beautiful one, a magical realism example, but not in the same way as Jason Mott's The Returned.  Garden Spells is more of a crossover between supernatural and magical realism.  Actually, this book reminds me a lot of the movie version of "Practical Magic."  And, if you've ever peeked at my blog on gothic stuff, Meanwhile Back at the Mansion, you know that consider that a good thing.  A very good thing.
There are two sisters, one more of a homebody and one an adventurer with consequences chasing her back home.  The sisters will have to learn to love each other and learn to love and trust others, as well, but there's a unique twist to Garden Spells that I enjoyed, and that's in the nature of their home's magic.  The sisters own a magic tree that inhabits the space of a character in this novel, not unlike the mansion central to a gothic story.
But despite the struggle to love and the troubles haunting these sisters, the novel is not dark at all.  I almost would not have minded if Allen would have lingered in the sisters' dark spaces a little longer, but her descriptions of how these  women find their way from darkness into the light of love makes for a beautiful tale.  If you haven't read it yet and you wish you could watch "Practical Magic" again for the first time, you will enjoy Garden Spells.  I did, and I plan to read another book by Allen.

The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunionby Fannie Flagg
Rolicking fun with crisis at its heart, as usual.

Remember last week when I told you that Jason Mott's The Returned should have had more laughs, not despite the seriousness of the subject, but because of it?  Flagg's Southern writing is a great example of what I meant by that.  Her characters feel loss with undeniable authenticity, and yet they always laugh, often at their very experience of grief, the laughter that comes through tears.
I love the historical fiction aspect of this book.  I told my husband about the women army pilots of WWII (who were not formally recognized as members of the American Army at the time), and he was amazed that he had never heard of them.  I had had the same reaction, and I'm so glad Flagg worked this significant piece of our history into such an achingly beautiful tale.
I've always been fond of Flagg's propensity to write about what happens when we must face newly-discovered information about ourselves, who we thought we were being redefined by who we now know ourselves to be (the relevant question being, of course, what is it, really, to know yourself?).  Sookie's character drove me crazy at first as Type B characters sometimes do, but as the story unfolds the reader comes to understand her seemingly nonsensical behavior.  In fact, in the end, all the oddities of Sookie's personality come together in a way that's perfectly sensible after all.
That might be my only gripe with the story, other than that the read was too fast--as always with Flagg, I think she could have written a much longer book and kept me just as spellbound.  The wrap-up is a little too neat, Sookie just a little too...I don't know, perfect, in the end.  I thought she ought to be a lot more pissed off.  But, then, that might be the difference between Sookie's personality and mine irritating me again.
It's a fun book containing important historical information about American women in World War II that you might not have ever heard.  Give The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion a read; you won't regret it.

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