Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Gift of Reading

What did you get for Christmas?

I got the gift of reading--a shelf-full of books, currently stored on the living room floor against a wall. And, since it was Christmas, and my husband was on vacation, I took a vacation from book reviewing and read some of those Christmas gifts. I have to say, my friends and family have excellent taste when it comes to choosing books for me! Pull up a chair, grab a coffee, and see what takes your fancy from this fine collection.

The Time Keeper, by Mitch Albom, is a beautiful modern fable which takes our numbered days and asks what we might do with them. A dying old man wants to live forever. A lonely girl just wants to be loved, today. And Old Father Time wants a chance to spend those last few moments somewhere else. In a very pleasing way, they all get what they want, and what they need, and I got a good read--best enjoyed with an elegant, complex 4star cup of coffee.

The Book of the Dead, by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson is more fact than fable, but the facts are so intriguingly told, it might as well be both. Do you know where the word "vaccination" comes from? Or who St. Cuthbert was? Or which famous people kept monkeys? Enjoy this book with a lively easy-drinking 2star coffee, and be prepared to laugh (and read) out loud.

The dead in Kate Atkinson's Case Histories are equally fascinating, but the recovery of the living is the focus of this novel--a set of intertwining mysteries where people matter more than the cases, and history is a prelude to the future. The Cambridge setting is so evocatively recreated I could almost believe I was back walking in summer to Grantchester (meanwhile the cold winds of winter blew outside). And the characters are so deeply fascinating and real I simply couldn't put the book down. More drama than mystery, this is one to enjoy with rich, elegant, complex cups of coffee--highly recommended.

Opal, the Journal of an Understanding Heart, by Opal Whiteley, adapted by Jane Boulton, offers the diary of a six-year-old Oregon girl, adapted from a torn up original, and retold in the light of a woman who later claimed to be France's last royal child. Read without the baggage of "history" it's a sweet tale of innocent misunderstandings, beautifully portraying a small child's point of view, as little Opal speaks to animals, wishes they wouldn't die, and wonders where babies come from. The background story is nicely researched in The Fantastic Tale of Opal Whiteley, by Steve McQuiddy. But, if you're reading both, I strongly recommend you read Opal's own book first. Historian McQuiddy leaves readers with plenty to think about and no certain conclusions because, after all, without evidence, what can we know of the dead? Enjoy Opal's easy-reading book with a lively easy-drinking 2star coffee, then drink a more complex 4star cup with The Fantastic Tale.

A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness, takes me to an Oxford, just as evocatively described as Kate Atkinson's Cambridge. But there are strange secrets behind these gleaming spires, and Deborah Harkness introduces them seamlessly into reality, adding witches, vampires and daemons to the graduate hoards. She adds her mythology with consummate skill, making every revelation feel both fresh and natural. Her vampires are neither old-fashioned nor new, but feel vividly real, like an original archetype from which fiction is derived. And her central mystery is hides hauntinglyin the shadows of library stacks. It's a wonderful tale, with a delightfully grown-up Harry Potter feel--I can hardly wait to read book two. Enjoy it with some rich, elegant, complex and delicious 4star coffee.

Eden Unger Bowditch's Atomic Weight of Secrets, or the Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black, has a similar sense of Harry Potter wonder, this time for younger children, with hints of C.S. Lewis' Narnia books in a 1900s setting. Steampunk, fantasy, plenty of science, it's nicely logical, mysteriously fascinating, and built on very believable characters and dialog. It's also elegant and complex, so a 4star coffee should go well with it.

And finally, an excellent science fiction book for adults, Hull Zero Three, by Greg Bear, is genuinely mysterious, hard science with a powerful feel of weightlessness and fear on an abandoned spaceship. But where is the ship going? How did it get there? And what is the meaning of life in this strange place? It's one of those books that convinces you there really will be answers, then comes through on its promise, leaving readers intrigued and satisfied. Thoroughly enjoyable, elegant and complex, well-deserving a 4star coffee.

Thank you friends and family for a wonderful Christmas of reading!

1 comment:

Malcolm Campbell said...

Nice reading material on your list. Books always please me when they show up under the tree.