Saturday, May 23, 2015

Uprooted, by Naomi Novik. Del Ray, 2015

In a world that sounds remarkably like Eastern Europe a number of centuries ago, seventeen year old Agnieszka knows she’ll be losing her best friend, Kasia, soon. Kasia is smart, beautiful, and moves with grace. Agnieszka is clumsy, always manages to get dirty, breaks things, can’t cook or sew worth a darn, and manages to muck everything up- although she does have a knack for negotiating the forest without harm and always comes back with something, be it mushrooms, fruit, firewood, or herbs. This is the year of the Choosing, when the local wizard known as the Dragon chooses a seventeen year old girl to take to his tower. She will not be seen again for ten years. The girls, who claim he never molests them (and they are never believed), never stay in the valley after they return and do not speak of what happened to them. It’s important to keep the Dragon happy, because his magic is all that stands between the area and the Wood. Something evil and greedy lives in the forest- IS the forest- and it always seeks to expand its territory.

To her surprise, Agnieszka is picked. She goes to live in the tower- and is surprised to discover that the Dragon is trying to teach her magic. She has a unique natural talent, linked to the earth, and how it is expressed creates problems between her and the Dragon. She has reason to need this new power soon, as warring kingdoms and the Wood create havoc.

I loved this book. I really liked Agnieszka- I can very much identify with a heroine who constantly gets dirty and rips her clothing! The way her magic worked had a very authentic ring to it. The snippy, sarcastic Dragon is kind of an ass at first, but he grew on me a lot. The Wood is a unique menace and very well done; I found it quite creepy. The style is rather like that of a fairy tale- one of the darker ones. There are battles, possessions, assassinations, perilous escapes, horrors, and good things. The ending, when the Wood is revealed and dealt with, surprised me. I could not put this book down- it’s over 400 pages and I read it in two days. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for a fair review. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, Amazon will give me a few cents. 

Neither of these things influenced my review. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Guest Cat, by Takashi Hiraide. New Directions. Written 2001; translated 2008

A couple in their 30s live in a small house on the property of a larger, older house. Childless, they spend their days working from home, writing and editing, and not interacting all that much. Then one day the neighbor’s cat comes into their house like it belongs there. The next day it returns. And again after that. While she won’t let them pick her up and she won’t get in a lap, she does accept offerings of cat food and fried mackerel. She becomes what I call a time share cat. And she changes their lives. Not in any sudden, large, ways, but slowly they begin to interact and to see the beauty in the garden their house sits in. She is ephemeral in their lives but lasting in her effect on them.

It’s a precious little story (the book is quite short). The book itself seems precious; the size of an old style pocket book, albeit thinner, with a wonderful ink drawing of a cat peering over a table’s edge. It’s like a little jewel, and yet contains so much in a subtle way: aging, death, relationships, spirituality, and being in the moment. Sit in a quiet place and read this book. 

The above is an affiliate link; if you click through and buy something, Amazon will give me a few cents. This did not influence my review.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws, by Margaret Drabble. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2009

Margaret Drabble gives us the history of jigsaw puzzles in a meandering manner with lots of detours along the way. In her research (which was extensive) she found that jigsaw puzzles started out as educational toys- maps cut into countries or counties, teaching geography as they are put together. Later, picture puzzles were used as a free gift with purchase. They became immensely popular, triggering the creation of picture puzzles as things to be sold. The author relates them to the history of games in general (there have always been games), and, at the suggestion of a cab driver, to mosaics.

Drabble was introduced to jigsaw puzzles as a child by her spinster aunt Phyll, and so this memoir talks a good bit about her, and Drabble’s relationship with her- a relationship more loving –or at least friendlier-than what existed in Drabble’s own home, where the children were always being told to shut up and be quiet. It was a lifelong relationship; Drabble continued to visit her aunt until Phyll’s death in a senior home. She has also continued working jigsaw puzzles as a means of relaxation.

This is neither autobiography, family history, nor strict history of puzzles. It’s not in chronological order. It’s like sitting down with a very erudite friend and having a chat-quite possibly over one of those jigsaw puzzles- and bouncing back and forth between subjects as one does in conversation. It was a pleasant book to read, and it was very interesting to hear one of my favorite author’s personal voice as opposed to her fiction writing voice. Reading about how her research branched and led her down rabbit holes made me laugh- I know how that happens. And I found it reassuring that someone as educated and smart as herself still wastes time doing puzzles- it makes me feel less guilty about it!

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something, Amazon will give me a few cents. This in no way influenced my review.