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A long-time Changing Hands junkie (his first book from CHB was bought in 1974), Scott's reading tastes run the gamut from literary classics to high fantasy to Postcolonial Indian Subcontinent literature. A graduate of ASU with a degree in English Literature focusing on Medieval and Renaissance drama, he also is a die-hard Christopher Moore and Gregory Maguire fan. When he's not reading (which is a rarity) he can be found experimenting with new recipes for bread or cheesecake, or dabbling with his own creative non-fiction writing.
Dance of the Happy Shades is a shining example of the idealism that led to Alice Munro being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003. Munro has the uncanny ability to pack into a short story the character development, social commentary, and storytelling that many authors take an entire novel to develop. My particular favorite in this collection is "Boys and Girls," which deftly inspects gender roles from both internal and external points of view. Any of Alice Munro's collections will not disappoint the lover of superb storytelling, but her inaugural work is assuredly an excellent place to begin.
Politics, Partition, and ... Pickles. Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children is a romp through one of the most turbulent periods of India's history. Children born in the hour following India's independence are imbued with extraordinary powers, and Saleem Sanai is no exception. Rushdie makes little attempt to hide the parallels between the narrator's life and the evolution of India's history. An extraordinary example of magical realism, this is Rushdie at his finest.
I’m one of the original Star Wars fans. I saw the original theatrical release close to 300 times, and read the original novelization until the book literally fell apart – then taped it back together and read it some more. That being said, I loved this new approach to the story. Geared toward younger readers, it tells the same story, but from a slightly different point of view. Bracken divides the story into three major parts, each told from the point of view of Leia, Han, and Luke. She draws upon the canon created by 38 years of novels and films to create a new viewpoint of a very familiar story. Her storytelling shines, making this an exciting and enjoyable read for readers of any age.
The God of Small Things is a novel full of lavish imagery and stunning prose that disguises a dense undercurrent of commentary on the state of India in the late 1960’s. Through a series of flashbacks and flash forwards unfolds the story of Rahel’s highly fractured family who each follow different trajectories as the result of one terrible incident – or is that incident the result of the family’s complex dysfunction? Roy evidences nearly Victorian-style skill at imagery and descriptive narrative; drawing the reader into the world she creates. Be prepared for a plethora of characters, each with their own interesting and sometimes sordid story.
Cloud Atlas is a masterpiece that comets through time with the reader pulled along in its wake. David Mitchell tells five distinct stories, but forgoes the usual method of tying them together at the end, instead binding them with small details woven into each tale. Each narrator has a distinct voice and style, yet are subtly bound together by those details. Four of the narratives are divided in half, and while it is tempting to read the stories chronologically, I beg you, don’t give in to the temptation. Read them in the order presented, you won’t be sorry. My favorite facet of this novel is the distinct changes Mitchell presents in the use of language over the passage of time, deftly representing a study of sociolinguistics interwoven into a riveting and beautifully crafted story that spans centuries.
Gregory Maguire first lured us in with his re-imagining of the land of OZ, and now he goes down the rabbit hole to Wonderland. Maguire introduces us to new characters, including the protagonist, Alice's neighbor and sometimes playmate, Ada. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this book is how Maguire manages to revamp his own writing style to mimic that of Lewis Carroll's original while keeping his own voice subtly present in the background. After Alice is definitely not a retelling of Alice's story but rather a continuation of the story through new eyes.
I didn’t think Rick Riordan could come up with a character I liked more than Percy Jackson, but I was dead wrong. In his newest series that centers on the Norse gods (you know - Odin, Thor, Loki...those guys), Riordan gives us his most enthralling character to date in the form of Magnus Chase. If the name sounds familiar, it should. Fans of Percy Jackson will remember Annabeth Chase, daughter of Athena. Magnus is her cousin, and yes, she makes appearances in the story. The story is told through Magnus himself and the voice Riordan gives Magnus is far from a Percy Jackson repeat. I thoroughly enjoyed the juxtaposition of snark and humility in Magnus, and actually caught myself laughing out loud in several places. There are definite inside jokes that readers of the previous three series will appreciate, and as always, the writing makes this book nearly impossible to put down. I truly feel that this is Riordan’s best work yet and await the next installment with bated breath!
In their lives, most readers find that one book they think everyone should read at least once. This is that book for me. A complex interweaving of eight different stories that eventually are woven into an overall tapestry of family, friendship, hardship, love, and loss. Perhaps was was most moving for me was the insight into the lives of the older women before their immigration to the United States. These vignettes blatantly show that despite many cultural differences, life is life, and regardless of where life is, many of the challenges are the same. Though circumstances may change from generation to generation, things that are important are constant - love, family, and independence.
I’m a huge fan of Christopher Moore. He’s yet to write a book I don’t like. Moore’s novels are populated by such memorable characters as Roberto the Fruit Bat, Molly Michon, and Minty Fresh. None of these compares to Pocket, the star of Fool. I’m a Shakespeare scholar through and through, and Moore quite literally butchers the Bard’s work in this parody but it had me rolling with laughter page after page. Moore’s incredible characterizations and vivid descriptions make the novel play like a film in the mind while you read it. Moore says it best in the warning at the beginning of the book: “This is a bawdy tale. Herein you will find gratuitous shagging, murder, spanking, maiming, treason, and heretofore unexplored heights of vulgarity and profanity, as well as nontraditional grammar, split infinitives, and the odd wank . . . If that's the sort of thing you think you might enjoy, then you have happened upon the perfect story!"
“Seems," madam? Nay, it is; I know not "seems." In this brief quote from Act One, Scene Two of Hamlet, Shakespeare gives up what I feel is the central theme of the entire play. Yes, there is a revenge plot, a murder cover-up, a play within a play, but everything comes back to seeming. In what is one of the great works of drama, the Bard hides much in layers of seeming. I have read this play several times, and each time I find yet another way of looking at something that adds yet another layer of meaning to the words on the page. This is one of Shakespeare’s most complex works because everything has multiple layers of meaning. If you only read one Shakespeare play (and that would be a travesty) make it this one.
Often proclaimed to be Shakespeare's first play, Titus Andronicus is often overshadowed by Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and that Scottish play. While it does not have the complexity of later his later works, the crafting of the villain, Aaron, is nothing short of genius. There is plenty of death, dismemberment, and revenge to go around. You'll never look at meat pies the same way after this.
Margaret Atwood has so many books that are moving, poignant, and relevant, it’s hard to point at one and say “that one is her best.” This is not one of her works of fiction, but is every bit as entertaining and riveting as anything else she has ever written. It’s more than just an overview of the history of Canadian authorship; it delves into the reasons why Canadian authors write as they do. Atwood’s humor it at its finest in this book, so much so I often found myself laughing out loud more times than I can count. She answers her own question from the preface “What’s so Canadian about Canadian literature, and why should we be bothered?” Be bothered, over and over. This book is simply a must for anyone who enjoys that brand of literature that is so uniquely Canadian.
Revenge is a dish best served cold…and on the finest silver money can buy. My first exposure to this novel was in high school (never mind how long ago that was) and it has been my favorite book ever since. Alexandre Dumas blends adventure and romance with Paris society and tosses in a healthy helping of revenge. The multiple subplots and twists and turns in the novel keep me on my toes every time I read it – the Game of Thrones for the 1800s! In step with the other writers of his time, Dumas’ descriptions are lavish and vivid, assaulting the mind’s eye with a tidal wave of imagery. This is definitely a heavy book, not one for the light or casual reader, but the time invested in reading the novel will be richly rewarded by Dumas’ beautiful prose. Many versions of this world literature classic have been produced, but my vote will always go for an unabridged translation from the original French.
The first time I read this book, it was in the original US format, with only the illustrations by Mary GrandPré. Of course Rowling’s beautiful storytelling enabled me to build a visual in my mind so vivid, I didn’t think anyone would ever be able to capture it. Artist Jim Kay didn’t just illustrate Harry Potter, he brought him to life. Study each of the over 100 illustrations closely and you will find they are as full of hidden imagery as Rowling’s prose. Kay modeled each central character after actual models – some family, some friends, some folks he met on the Underground in London. This is truly one of the most beautiful books I have ever had the pleasure of holding in my hands.
To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my favorite books of all time, so naturally I was interested in reading a biographical work about Nell Harper Lee. The highly reclusive Lee rarely grants interviews, and certainly never glimpses of her personal life. Journalist Marja Mills was able to get into Lee’s personal life – and by invitation of Lee herself. This beautifully written book intermingles snapshots of Lee’s past and present with the profound effect her first novel had on her hometown and those that were close to her. I found this to be a truly riveting read, and think any fan of Harper Lee will find it equally fascinating.
I expected The Testing to be a sort of Divergent/Hunger Games Lite, and it is to a point – it’s a dystopian story set in the United States. It has groups of young adults facing challenges to survive in a society very different from our own. There the similarities end. The circumstances however are very different. Charbonneau develops her characters so well that I felt everything with them. The story goes far beyond the formulaic dystopian struggle novel and the twists and turns are shocking and unexpected. For those that might have felt The Hunger Games or Divergent were too violent or had themes too adult, The Testing is an excellent alternative. While there is definitely some violence, the humanity of the characters balances out those few instances.
I admit that this book came to me following my viewing of the film of the same name. While both in both mediums, the story gives poignant examples of the transformative power of love and the disfiguring effect of cruelty - the novel by far explores both much more deeply. Walker also skims the surface of social issues such as class, race, religion, and of course, family. The story is both beautiful and horrible, heart-warming and heart-wrenching. If you liked the film, you'll love the book. If you didn't like the film, read the book anyway.