Monday, March 19, 2012

"Shen of the Sea" by Arthur Bowie Chriman

"Shen of the Sea" was the 1926 recipient of the Newbery Medal.  I was afraid of this book because the 1925 Newbery winner, "Tales from Silver Lands" was a collection of short stories from South America, and it bored the socks off me.  I didn't complete it.  Imagine how thrilled I was to find the next Newbery book to be a collection of Chinese short stories for children.  But I enjoyed it immensely better--I mean, I finished it!  Woohoo!  I don't know if I could exactly pin-point the reason I enjoyed "Shen" when "Tales" was unbearable.  Simple things as the brevity of the short stories, a less florid yet quicker-paced telling.  And the stories were humorous and I think children would be able to grasp the irony of humanity in them.  I have absolutely no idea of any of these stories are genuine to Chinese culture, but the author supposedly spent a great deal of time studying Chinese and Indian cultures, I suspect if he did fabricate them it wasn't without a solid base of knowledge.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"The Whistling Season" by Ivan Doig

This is the book we'll discuss at next Tuesday's book group meeting.  I wasn't thrilled with when I first saw it.  Just a one-room school house on the cover and a postage-stamp sized picture of the author on the back, and old man with prominent cheekbones.  So, judging this book by the cover, I wasn't thrilled.  I let myself polish off a few other books before I got to it last week.  But once I got started, I had a hard time resisting.

Right off the bat I aligned the book with "Sara, Plain and Tall" and "Cold Sassy Tree" and "Growing Up." If you've read any of these books, alone or in combination, you might have an inkling what "The Whistling Season" is all about.  I thoroughly enjoyed Doig's writing style.  The words and imaged flowed as if I were reading my own memories, seeing my own home-movies.  I wouldn't call it a comical book but there were some genuine parts of humor. 

The story carried on pleasantly enough, but I knew some sort of scandal had to happen at the end.  I was starting to get nervous about 50 pages from the end and no scandal had surfaced.  But I was surprised and caught off guard at the nature of said scandal. 

I wish I could say more about the content of these books.  I do my best to write my feelings and impressions about what I read without spoiler warnings, just in the off-chance anyone else reads this.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

"The Distant Hours" by Kate Morton

If you haven't noticed, I'm a big fan of this author.  I would love to meet her in person.  I just thought to google her and was ecstatic to find her site.  I can't wait to dive into it.

I loved this story!  Of her three novels I've read this one was by far the creepiest.  I don't usually get psyched out by a story (what I love about reading is you can make a story as frightening or as safe as you want it, it depends on your imagination and desire to be frightened) but this book creeped me out.  And I loved it.  The Mud Man and Juniper and the castle itself all came together and wove a fantastic mystery and a shocking ending that made my jaw drop.

What I adore about Morton's writing are the similarities of themes that are consistant in her books but each story is vivid and alive in its own account.  It's like the periodic table of elements.  There are a finite number of elements the universe is allowed to work within, but look at the countless ways you combine them to make different substances.  (I'm not a science person, so if there's a gaping flaw in this logic I apologize.)  Distanced mothers, absent mothers.  The old woman and the young woman.  Ghosts.  Mysterious, decrepit buildings.  All these elements repeat themselves in her stories but they play a unique role in each tale so that a completely different experience is born.