10 July 2008

June Book Report

June was a great month for reading! Three excellent books, all different and all interesting.

The first was Prophet Annie, by Ellen Recknor, winner of the 2000 Spur Award, and my final selection for the Book Awards Reading Challenge. The book begins with a letter dated 1943 from Annie herself to a publisher in New York, which accompanies the manuscript she has written about her life, hoping that it will be published "to set the record straight." She mentions various things that have been written about her that are not true, and sees her telling of the story as the definitive version.

The story begins around the time of the California Gold Rush. Through a series of involved events, Annie learns upon her mother's death that she has been promised in marriage to an old family friend. (Old in both the literal and figurative sense.) Despite her disappointment and misgivings, she leaves Iowa, where she grew up, and heads to The Arizona Territory, to marry a man who is much older. On their wedding night he collapses and dies, leaving Annie to care for the house he built for her, his business dealings, and two elderly sisters, who more or less think she killed him somehow on purpose.

Things seem to be headed downhill pretty quickly, except for one thing - Annie notices that her dead husband is talking through her! As you go on reading, you learn that he is in "the white room" (through a clerical error!), and is in more or less a holding pattern with the great minds of the past and the future! So not only does he speak through her, but he predicts the future. At first, she is really angry, and of course, people are suspicious. But she decides when the money is low that she will join a traveling circus, as "Prophet Annie," predictor of the future.

I had a hard time getting into this book, but at a certain point, it just clicked, and I really enjoyed reading it. Annie is an interesting character, and so are her compatriots, as well as the people she meets and befriends through her life. At one point, she leaves the circus she started out with, and starts to work for P.T. Barnum. The descriptions of the various characters she meets and the places she travels over time are well-written, and though the whole thing seems improbable, it also seems like she is telling the truth. As I read the last pages, I thought to myself how much I had enjoyed spending time in Annie's world.

This book was a good end to this challenge for me. I had purposely chosen books that I may have never heard of, or thought of reading, to broaden my reading experiences, and this one did just that. I would not have ever likely picked it up on my own, and prior to signing up for this challenge, had never even heard of the Spur Award.

Next, I read my first novella, for The Novella Challenge. The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros, is a series of vignettes, written as observations of a young Hispanic girl, Esperanza, who longs to live on a nicer street. Her descriptions of her family, the neighbors, and the life of her neighborhood in Chicago are at times funny or sad, but always interesting. They read like a conversation, as if Esperanza is sitting there with you, describing individuals and giving you their stories.

I had heard of this book when it was first published, and though I had not purposely avoided reading it, I had no real desire to read it either, so had never even given it much thought. But now I'm so glad that I had it on my list of choices. Cisneros manages to make Esperanza's voice true as that of a young girl, who is sometimes embarrassed by her family and where she lives, but also realizes the importance of those things to making her what she is. The book never seems forced, and there are no false notes. I think it was an excellent introduction to the genre of the novella.

The final book was actually an audiobook - Break No Bones, by Kathy Reichs, read by Barbara Rosenblat. I saw it at the library, and decided since I am enjoying my MP3 player, I'd see how I liked listening to a book. This is one of the Temperance Brennan stories, on which the TV series "Bones" is based. I enjoy that show, so I thought I would give it a try.

Two things struck me right away. First, the character of Temperance Brennan was quite different than the character on the TV show. Sure, the basics were the same, but she had quite a different type of personality, and a very different lifestyle. Since I haven't read any of the previous books, I don't know if this is something that has evolved, or if the TV series and the books are purposely different. In any event, neither was ruined for me.

Second, if you ever see a book you are interested in listening to, and it is read by Barbara Rosenblat - get it! She is incredible, and managed to make every single character a different, unique person.

Anyway, the story begins when Temperance is supervising some college students at an archaelogical dig near Charleston, South Carolina, on some land that is being developed for condominiums. On the second to last day of the dig, they find a shallow grave, indicating a recent burial. This mysterious death/murder begins a series of events and poses questions that become more and more puzzling as the story continues. Another aspect of the story is Tempe's soon-to-be-ex-husband's investigation of a local evangelical group with health clinics in the area.

The story is interesting, and there are enough twists and turns to keep you reading. At first it was hard for me to keep all of the characters straight, but like when I read a book, it soon became clear to me who I really needed to remember. The writing is particularly sardonic in places, and Rosenblat's delivery made it even better. It was an excellent choice for someone like me who was new to audiobooks. I thought it was fun, and a good summer reading choice.

And I must admit to something that will probably amuse you. As you may or may not remember, I received my MP3 player as a Christmas gift. Not being too much of a gadget person, some of the - shall we say - "nuances" of setting things up were not evident to me. When I first started listening to the book, I was really getting confused, as the story seemed terribly disjointed. Then The Tim asked me if I had checked to see if it was on the "Shuffle" setting ... funny how once I took it off that setting, it made much more sense!


Knitterary said...

I think Sandra Cisneros is a wonderful author! Glad you enjoyed her novella.

Anonymous said...

you earn a "corky" for that one irish...;)

Mr Puffy's Knitting Blog: said...

I always enjoy your book reports. The first book sounds the most interesting to me as I particularly like that period of our history.

I'm a fan of books on tape - they are great to take on long car trips.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the shuffling story. It made me laugh.

And I love Sandra Cisneros. I don't think you can go wrong by reading anything she's written.

teabird said...

Prophet Annie sounds like my kind of book - thanks! It's now on my queue...

Anonymous said...

You listened to it on Shuffle! LOL! Prophet Annie sounds interesting.

I'd read a few of Kathy Reich's books before seeing the series - oh wow. I still can't watch the first season. Luckily they've gotten the cast & characters gelled more thoroughly now.

On purpose. Temperance Brennan of the books was a wee to old. I do like the way TB of the series writes books about Kathy Reichs.

trish said...

I'm glad you're enjoying the Novella Challenge! I've heard great things about House on Mango Street. :-)

Mistrmi said...

Every now and again, a man will make himself fairly useful, won't he??