19 July 2014

Vacation Reading in Anguilla

To say that I enjoy reading when I'm on vacation would be to engage in the most careless of understatement. I've gotten in the habit in recent years of test-driving all of the books that go with me by reading their first 50 pages, just to make sure that they've earned a space in my luggage.  I also fill my Kobo e-reader with digital advance reader's copies to make sure that I never run out of things to read, and this year, my preparations really paid off.  Not a bad book among 'em, though some certainly resonated more than others.

They range wildly, from sci-fi thrillers to traditional literary novels, to the most perfect collection of short stories I've ever read. Here are a few of the books:

David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks was like nothing I've ever read before.  I'd never read David Mitchell (who gained some amount of fame as the author of The Cloud Atlas) so this was quite eye-opening.  This behemoth weighs in at over 600 pages, and for much of the reading I didn't know whether to scratch my watch or wind my butt.  I can't promise that I completely understood this one, but it was fascinating and complicated and weird.  And a little frustrating, too.  You don't learn until the very end just what the heck these titular bone clocks are, but it's too much of a spoiler to say here what it means. Suffice it it to say that the phrase is one of the most poetic ways of referring to XXXXX as I've ever encountered.  I'm told that if you loved Cloud Atlas, then there's an excellent chance that you'll love this one, too. The character of Holly Sykes is one of the great females of 21st century literature so far. NB: This book will be published in September.

Jennifer E. Smith's debut novel, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, is a sweet YA book that, despite it's improbable premise, offers some worthwhile lessons. It's the story of seventeen year old Hadley Sullivan and how four minutes changed everything in her life.  She's supposed to be on a plane to London where her father is getting remarried to a woman she's never met, but instead she gets into a fight with her mom and is running late by just four minutes--just enough time to miss her plane. She's put on the next flight, seated next to sweetly funny Oliver, and what starts off as the worst day of her life turns out to be, well, surprisingly awesome.  After their plane lands in London, Oliver and Hadley are just smitten enough with each other and know just enough personal information to be able to track each other down later in the day, with surprising results.

Hadley starts off as a typical teen, self-absorbed and unable (or maybe just unwilling) to see her parents as anything other than their relationship to her, but by the end of the novel (which takes place in just 24 hours) she's able to see them as adults who have lives and interests and priorities beyond being her Mom and Dad.  And she realizes that while she may not have a say in their life choices (much less like them), she *can* choose how to react to their decisions, and that maybe forgiveness is a good place to start, both with herself and her new family.

While I am not what you might call Christopher Moore's biggest fan, and while I didn't actually love this book, there is much to be said in praise of Lamb and his books in general.  For starters, Christopher Moore is one smart man, and a funny one to book, and he brings these dual talents to bear in all of his books (or at least the ones that I've read). Here he tells about the missing years in the life of Jesus, those years between being a teenager and when he emerged as the miracle-performing Christ, all told through the eyes of his best friend, Levi, aka Biff.  It's irreverent and inventive (Jesus and Biff travel the world in pursuit of the wisdom of the Magi, taking them all the way to India and then China), and I think it could have benefitted from a reduction of at least 50 pages to keep the story tight, but it was fun and light-hearted.  If you're not familiar with the mythology of Christ and his miracles and his radical philosophies, and his subsequent sacrifice as the Son of God, then I suspect that much of this novel will have little impact on you. But if, like me, you were raised with these stories (or are at least familiar with them), you'll probably get a kick out of this book.  I think I only laughed out loud once while reading this book, but I did have quite a few inward chuckles.  Think of this book as Monty Python meets Jesus Christ, Superstar and you'll have the right idea.

Full disclosure: this book is the debut novel from my co-worker.  But even if I didn't work with Chrysler, I would have thought that The Hawley Book of the Dead was fun from start to finish.  The same part of me that loves good tv like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and bad tv like The Secret Circle (gah--canceled after just one season!) would have been drawn to this book, too.  When somebody frames Reve for murdering her husband during the finale of their Las Vegas magic show, it sets in motion a series of events, both past and present, that lead her to her birthright: the grimoire that has graced generations of Hawley women.  Filled with 'real magicalism,' including a mysterious falconer, a prognosticating length of twine, and names brimming with double entendre, this debut novel is an uncanny blend of 'The Night Circus' meets 'The Crucible.'  Szarlan weaves a tale that is fun, fast paced, and eerily atmospheric. If you're a fan of Deborah Harkness's books, or if you enjoy tales that are equal parts illusion and suspense, this might be the book for you.  I read it in a day and had a great time doing it. NB: This book will be published in September.

I suspect that four mini-reviews are enough to be getting on with for now.  I'll be back (eventually) with some of the other books I read on vacation.

NB: I received advance reading copies of The Bone Clocks and The Hawley Book of the Dead from the publishers. I received a free e-book of the Jennifer E Smith book and I purchased my own physical copy of the Christopher Moore book.


  1. I have had Lamb for a while now and I STILL NEED TO READ IT. Quick question though: Is there anyone who isn't familiar with Jesus and all his business? Cause I am the least religious ever and I still know allllll that stuff (well, probably not all of it. But still, a lot).

    Either way, it's good to know that I'll get Lamb when I finally read it. Which could be any time, really.

    1. I think it depends on how you grew up. When I lived in the American South, it's such a predominantly Christian and church-going culture that nearly every reader down there that they would know the references. Now that I live in New England, however, where hardly anybody I know attends church or self-identifies as Christian? Nope. Most of my grandchildren would look at you blankly if you referred to the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, Lazarus, the Last Supper, the wedding at Cana, etc.

      But yeah, you should be in good shape then!

  2. I've only watched Cloud Atlas, and though it was bizarre, I appreciated the intelligent plot. I'm looking forward to reading David Mitchell's books and though I'm sorely tempted to google "bone clock" to find out what that means, I'll hold off so I can understand the reference and/or spoiler when I read the book!

    By the way, I laughed when I read your post because I love that you hold auditions for the precious space in your luggage, hahaha!

    1. Well, it won't give a ton away if you want to google it. and it might not make sense until you've read a third of the book anyway, so maybe wait til you've got a couple hundred pages read and then google it.

      i've not read or seen Cloud Atlas but now that I've got this book under my belt, I really want to,

  3. Your vacation photos from the other post are gorgeous but I had to comment on this one because I have Bone Clocks as well and am just itching to dive in!

    I'll be back to see what you think and am completely jealous of your vacation!

    1. Yay for the Bone Clocks! Hope you enjoy it. Not sure I really understood the whole book--I felt like the author was constantly pulling the rug out from under his readers. But I really, really liked it.


Please, sir, may I have some more? (Comments, that is!)