Monthly Archives: May 2010

Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat

1994. 234 pages. Paperback.

Vintage Contemporaries.

From: The public library

Recommended by: Easmanie Michel, who commented on my review of Danticat’s Krik? Krak!

For the challenge: 2nd Reading Challenge

In a nutshell:

Sophie Caco has lived in Haiti with her aunt since she was a baby.  When her mother, who lives in New York City, sends for her, Sophie is reluctant to leave the only mother she’s had for a mother she doesn’t know, but she goes.  Indeed, the mother-daughter relationship is a tense one, as Sophie’s mother carries deep psychological pain from a violent incident in her past.  Furthermore, throughout the generations of Caco women, the mothers have – without malice – passed along what the book jacket aptly calls “a legacy of shame.”

The book follows Sophie as she herself gets married and has a daughter of her own, voyaging back to Haiti to try and figure out how to break this legacy.

Review:

I liked Krik? Krak!, Danticat’s collection of short stories, but I think the novel format of Breath, Eyes, Memory is a better showcase of her writing.  Her stories were shot through with sorrow, but here, in Sophie’s story, the sorrow of Haiti, of its women, has time to build upon itself.

I really like the simplicity of Danticat’s writing, a kind of graceful economy of words.  She is wonderful at describing Haiti.  There is a scene of a funeral that crystallizes the sense of community that has been present throughout the novel’s depiction of Sophie’s hometown in Haiti.

I don’t always like books that  hinge their characters’ motivations on past traumatic events that need closure.  If a novel gets too deep into therapist-speak, characters start becoming more like ‘cases’ and less like humans in my eyes.  To Danticat’s credit, even though there a couple of therapy sessions described in the novel, her characters did not read like exercises or petri dishes of psychological motivations.

I don’t want to scare anyone away by saying that I cried at one of the final scenes in the book, but that’s what happened.  I’ve read far more depressing books than this one, so it isn’t that the book is supremely sad.  I cried because a character finally got to express her rage at the forces that tore apart her family.

Other reviews:

Jenny’s Books

things mean a lot

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Enna Burning by Shannon Hale

2004. 317 pages. Hardcover. Bloomsbury.

From: the public library

For the challenge: 2nd Reading Challenge

In a nutshell:

This is the second of Hale’s Books of Bayern series, the first being Goose GirlGoose Girl was based on a fairytale, but Enna Burning is an original tale.  Enna was a secondary character in Goose Girl, but as the title indicates, she is the protagonist in this second book.

Set a year or so after the first book, Bayern is now under attack from the neighboring kingdom of Tira.  Enna acquires the power to create fire, but she is barely in control of her new abilities and they threaten to consume her.  She takes some risks in contributing to the Bayern war efforts and is kidnapped by Tiran forces.  A handsome Tiran captain beguiles Enna, who struggles to keep her wits about her.   Meanwhile her loyal friends, among them Isi of Goose Girl, seek to rescue her.

Review:

I read Goose Girl last autumn when I was recovering from the flu.  While reading Enna Burning, I wished that I had read Goose Girl more recently, so that the friendships from the first book were more solid in my mind.  Enna’s relationships with her friends form the emotional foundation of Enna Burning and I felt like I wasn’t getting that full effect because I had forgotten details from Goose Girl.

Still, the theme of loyalty and unconditional friendship is a strong one that appealed to me.  There’s a song lyric I know that goes: “For love is not unconditional unless conditions call upon it.”  Circumstances and Enna’s own actions test the mettle of her friendships and it’s wonderful to see them hold firm.

I liked how Hale handled the romantic elements of Enna Burning.  I don’t want to give too much away, but I liked how she addressed the attraction of the ‘dangerous’ love interest, how the power of words and the manipulation of situations can lull one into feeling desired and protected.  Underneath, however, is not real love, but possessiveness.  This is contrasted nicely with the previously mentioned loyal friendships.

The book is a slow-burner and I remember that Goose Girl was like that too.  I found that the book became most interesting after Enna is kidnapped.  Even though she is in a state of confusion during her captivity, I liked seeing her spirit rebel against her forced helplessness.

The plot becomes rather convoluted when Enna must try to find a way to survive the fire’s control over her.  Although, looking back, Hale did plant some seeds throughout the book to hint at the solution, it still came across as too convenient.  (A little like the wand-thing in the last Harry Potter book, if you know what I mean.)

My favorite part of the book was seeing Enna come into her own when she confronts her enemy for the last time.  Hale knows how to create intense scenes and this one is definitely a winner.

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Mouse Guard Fall 1152 by David Petersen

2007. 192 pages. Hardcover. Archaia Studios Press.

From: the public library

Recommendation from: Tales of Capricious Reader

In a nutshell:

In Petersen’s world, mice live in a collection of communities scattered throughout a region.  Guard mice are responsible for keeping travelers and traders safe as they journey from community to community.  This graphic novel follows three guard mice, Lieam, Kenzie, Saxon, as they try to track a traitor.

Review:

The book is geared toward a younger audience, and the story is interesting, but not novel.  The setting and characters remind me a bit of Brian Jacques’ Redwall books that I read growing up.  But the main reason I picked up this graphic novel is because I saw the drawings from another blogger’s review and the mice were so cute!  They are fierce and wield swords and yet you still want to pet them on the head.

The book resolved the main storyline but definitely set the reader up for the sequel graphic novels, which I will probably read.

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The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

2005. 369 pages. Hardcover. HarperTempest.

From: public library

Recommendation from: The Bluestocking Society

For the challenge: The Colorful Reading Challenge

In a nutshell:

Fourteen year old Sym does not have a life or mind like that of her schoolmates.  Raised on stories of Antarctic exploration by her uncle Victor (not actually her relative but a friend of her father’s), Sym is enamored of the doomed explorer Titus Oates.  Oates lives in her head as her almost constant companion.  When Victor takes her on a trip to Antarctica, Sym is excited at first.  But when their fellow travelers start falling ill and Sym finds herself on a dangerous trip into the continent’s interior, Sym must question everything that she has believed is true.

Review:

I almost called it quits on The White Darkness about 40 pages in.  Though the writing was strong, I found the protagonist to be off-putting and frustratingly clueless.  Her mental conversations with Titus Oates felt like a stunt, and I was having trouble buying into any of it.  A review by a Stephanie on goodreads.com encouraged me to continue when she said that she didn’t get into it until page 70 or so.  And I’m very glad that I kept reading, because once I got adjusted to Sym’s mind and once she made it to Antarctica, I was hooked.

The White Darkness is both an adventure story and a psychological thriller and the Antarctic is a fantastic setting for both aspects.  Antartica’s wild and changeable nature tests the mental and physical mettle of those who dare venture into it.

Sym’s conversations with Titus Oates at first seem to represent an escape from reality but as the story progresses, he comes to represent all that is sane.  His is the voice of reason that helps Sym gain clarity.  He also gets some of the best lines.  At one point, Sym is thinking about her desire to see some of the historical sites in Antartica, including the the spot where Titus died.

“I won’t come on that one, if it’s all the same to you,” said Titus with Sunday-school politeness.  “I went once before and I didn’t enjoy it.” (p. 127)

Additionally, the writing seems to get warmer as the setting gets colder and colder.  I started off at a distance from Sym but came to like and root for her as she encounters danger after danger.

The book is classified as young adult but I think I enjoyed it more as an adult than I would have as a teenager.  From reviews I’ve read, The White Darkness seems to provoked mixed reactions, so it’s not for everyone.  However, I recommend giving it until about page 100 before making a decision.  It’s one that may need time to grow on you.

Other reviews:

Becky’s Book Reviews

Bending Bookshelf

books i done read

bookshelves of doom

The Bluestocking Society (see link above)

Hope is the Word

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