September 21, 2010

End of Summer Reading

Summer reading conjures lazy, balmy days where cozy concepts like 'work' and 'reality' are of no consequence or consideration. At least, this may be true for the lucky folks who had the pleasure of ample vacation time at their disposal. But for those of us not so fortunate, such as myself, there's always the travel that plunging into the pages of an engrossing read can afford; a book that renders one's mundane, every day surroundings practically nonexistent, and suddenly just like that, you're in a swish hotel in Poland before the outset of the second World War (for example). Here are a few such books I read this summer, books that had adventure and danger and magical suspension of disbelief, with a wee bit of terror thrown in for good measure, splashed on nearly every page:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Have you heard of this little book? No? Then you've been living in a cave because I may very well be one of the last people on earth to have picked it up, and like most people, I wasn't disappointed. Sure, the start was a wee slow (although it provided necessary background information), but I quickly become engrossed in the tangled, sordid saga of the Vanger family. I wasn't prepared for the most graphic and uncomfortable scene I've ever come across on the page (though the payoff in the end is sort of worth the few pages of anguish), nor how troubled and fascinating I found the female lead, Lisbeth Salander. I think it's a good thing to be taken beyond one's comfort zone every once in awhile, to new, heightened planes of drama and intrigue; it builds reading character (I think). I'm looking forward to books two and three, which I hear are even better than the first.

The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott. It recently occurred to me that I was hankering for a new young adult fantasy book series to somewhat fill the gaping hole left over from the Harry Potter books (though which, naturally, wouldn't replace the latter books in my heart of hearts. EVER). The Alchemyst has all the right elements I consider characteristic of a book of this nature: adventure, improbable use of magic and magical lore, mythical beings, historical characters that actually lived and which inject a little gravitas into the story, and a good old-fashioned moral to the tale. And yet, I can't say I was spellbound or utterly captivated by this book; on the contrary, I found myself wishing for a quicker pace and lamenting that I never at any point felt any sort of real concern for the two main characters, never felt their situation was as dire as the build-up to the story would otherwise suggest. I really wanted to love this book, but if I'm completely honest, I came away feeling somewhat entertained and a little disappointed. Having said that, I have every intention of reading the second book in the series, The Magician. Second chances and all that...

The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst. This is my first spy novel--no longer a spy novel virgin, look at me! What's so fantastic about this book is that it takes you completely out of the world from which you are familiar while also delivering pieces of factual information about a time and place that actually existed, that still feels very real to many people (particularly people like my grandmother). I can't imagine the terror of living through the years between the wars, of seeing firsthand the manic buildup to WWII. Furst makes it so easy to visualize and experience the early, turbulent days of a Europe torn apart, particularly of a country who refused to believe the danger they were all in. Furst is a master of the spy genre, and no doubt I'll be reading more of these books in future.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. I can't extol the virtues of this book series enough, I really can't. I'll spare you the sappy soliloquy I've constructed in my head, but suffice it to say that reading these books is truly one of the most memorable reading experiences this reader has ever known. Every so often I'll pick up a book in this beloved series and re-familiarize myself with this most magical of magical worlds and the epic tale of the boy wizard who lived, who must vanquish only the most sinister magical being the world has ever known (you know, no big whoop). I hadn't read Deathly Hallows since the book published three years ago, and I was amazed at how much of the story I had forgotten; it made my re-discovering it all the more special. And the second reading failed to yield fewer tears than the first because I wept and ached as much now as I did then, that's how absorbed I was in the story. Which is surely a testament to Rowling's literary prowess, to her ability to not only craft a gripping tale, but to also present us with characters with whom we identify and care about deeply, who we want to see triumph in the end. Book seven (Deathly Hallows) will be split into two separate films (thank the LORD), the first of which arrives in theaters in November. I'm thinking of dressing up as Hedwig, Harry's beloved owl, for the opening night. I'm partly joking, of course. And yes, I am that sad.

Up next: A Mad Men-inspired read and possibly anything else I fancy....

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