"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Reading Recap + Cheese

The past couple of months have been very book-filled, and you guys, they are all SO GOOD! I don't have time to give each one it's own review so here instead is a sampling of my thoughts about all of them. Think of it like a cheese tasting (I like cheese, okay?) ...but in book form!

Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand

If this book were a type of cheese, it would be smoked gouda. Smooth, sophisticated, with an aged, smoky feel and each bite (chapter) is full of surprises. This is a non-fiction book that reads like a novel. From the very first page you are completely immersed in the world of horse racing in the 1930's. If that doesn't peak your interest, know that I was somewhat skeptical myself, especially since I'd already seen the movie, and therefore pretty much knew the story to begin with. What I didn't expect was that I could fall in love with these characters (who were also, like, real people) all over again. The racing scenes in this book are so suspenseful that I found myself wanting to jump up and down from excitement, and the parts that weren't edge-of-your-seat exciting were fascinating and filled with things I never would have known otherwise. There is at least a decade of research in this book, but it is all seamlessly woven into the narrative. If you have even a passing interest in history, or want to learn about a time that is at once completely different and markedly similar to our own, pick up this book. You won't regret it.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

This book is like brie. It's melty and warm and light and soft. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake tells the story of a young girl who discovers that she can taste other people's emotions in food. This causes a lot of problems when she discovers that her mother is not as happy as she'd always assumed, and that her brother is even less so. This book is beautiful and sad and lovely all at the same time. The subtle magic of this story is that the presence of the impossible brings about very real emotions and makes the portrait of this family seem so real that it is as if you have lived with them your entire life. My favorite character by far is George. It takes a lot to make me swoon over a book character, but George is definitely swoon-worthy, right up there with Wes from The Truth About Forever and Geric from The Goose Girl. I guess what I love about this book is that despite the magical elements, the emotions, relationships, and actions ring true. My only gripe with this book is that there were a couple places where the author dropped pretty important story threads, and didn't exactly tie them up in the end. Still the absolutely beautiful descriptions of food and emotions, and the very real way in which the characters think and act, make this one of my favorite reads of 2013. (A million thanks to my friend Indigo, who recommended it!)

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

If you've read my Letters to October, you may have seen an e-mail I sent to my friend about this book right after finishing it. Truthfully, I still don't exactly know what to make of it, which is why I'm calling this one bleu cheese: surprising, sometimes delicious, sometimes not, and it usually depends on the context (salad? sandwich? pizza?). The first thing that you should know about this book, as that you NEVER know what is real and what isn't. Mara wakes up in the hospital after an accident that kills her two best friends, and things just get crazier from there, with hallucinations and deaths and ghosts. I read most of this book in one sitting, eyes glued to the page, physically unable to put it down because I had to know if what was happening was...actually happening. And then THE ENDING. OH GOD.
Truthfully, my opinion of this book has cooled significantly since I finished reading it. Now that I've given it some space, I see the problems with it: the cliche bad-boy love interest, and the narrator who is not quite as deep or interesting as I first thought she was. But there is still that nagging voice in the back of my head. The one that whispers, "But, Laura, don't you want to know what happens next?" And if I'm honest with myself, I know I do. I might have to pick up the sequel to this one, if only to calm my insatiable curiosity.

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

And here, finally, is a book that I can't possibly assign a food to, no matter how strange or delicious. First let me say that I had very high expectations for this one. I've been following this author's blog  for some time and looking for this book ever since. It is REALLY hard to find. But, low and behold, the Cedar Rapids Public Library had it, so of course I had to check it out.
The main character, Chloe, has a bond with her older sister Ruby that goes beyond normal sisterhood. During a night out at the mysterious reservoir (which, according to Ruby, contains the remnants of a flooded town), Chloe stumbles across a dead body floating in its middle. This becomes a catalyst for a number of strange events that point towards a not-so-pleasant truth about Chloe's sister. If that sounds like a vague synopsis, that's because this book is not easy to explain. It is told entirely from Chloe's perspective, who lives her life, if not in the shadow of her sister, then at least orbiting her, taking every cue and impulse from Ruby. It becomes apparent, too, that Chloe is the closest anyone has ever gotten to Ruby. I really enjoyed Chloe as a narrator, and I thought that there was something unique and ephemeral about Suma's prose style. Reading this book is like stepping into a dark, beautiful dream, in which everything, as ordinary as it may first appear, has the potential to morph into something much more sinister. I love the way the creepy moments in this book (and there are quite a few of them), are countered by the seemingly benign: teenagers riding in cars, having lime popsicles for dinner, buying a new pair of sunglasses. In the end, I'm still not really sure what to think of this book. I am still vaguely confused about some aspects of the plot, and there are some supernatural elements that weren't fully explained. All I know is that Imaginary Girls is unlike anything I've ever read, and only time will tell if it ends up staying that way.

So these are the books I've been devoting my time to. I hope you enjoyed this sampling, and I will be sure to keep you up-to-date on the other books on my list. As much I enjoyed writing this post, I still enjoy doing full length reviews of books, and will probably not do many more book-to-cheese comparisons in the future. But for now, the all important question: What books have you been reading lately?

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