What are we reading? Staff recommended reads for April

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Here’s what some of Milne’s Staff is reading!

Are you looking for a good book to read?  Hundreds of thousands of books are published each year, so how does one choose?  Milne Library staff  have selected a few choice ones to highlight for the month of April.

If you are a fan of more traditional fantasy fare, Reference & Instruction Librarian Sherry Rhodes recommends the The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix:

Last summer my teenaged daughter picked up a book called Sabriel from her favorite bookstore. I took a look at the back cover and found the description to be interesting, and decided to read it. I sure am glad I did!

I really enjoy fantasy, but it’s got to be well done. Too much of what is published as fantasy are ill-disguised reworkings of previously published books. Sabriel, and its two sequels, Lirael  and Abhorsen, are set in a completely unique world, with completely unique characters and plots.

sabrielSabriel is finishing school when her father, known as The Abhorsen and a gifted necromancer, goes missing. She journeys home, to the Old Kingdom, where magic is alive and well—and the dead are alive as well. With the help—and hindrance—of a cat who is not just a cat, and a long-imprisoned mage she rescues, Sabriel uses the skills her father has taught her to journey into Death to attempt to rescue him, and in the process battle the forces of evil necromancers determined to escape Death and return to the land of the living.

liraelLirael, on the other hand, has spent her entire life in the Old Kingdom. She is a daughter of the Clayr, women who have the ability to see the future. Fourteen when the book begins, Lirael is painfully aware that she is the only Clayr who has not received the Sight by her age. She also has no family, with the exception of the aunt who runs the Clayr settlement and who has little time for her. Feeling alienated from her surroundings, Lirael seeks isolation in the enormous library and is apprenticed as a Third Assistant Librarian. Over the months she works there, her curiosity enables her to learn how to battle hideous creatures lurking in the library’s depths, as well as how to construct a magical dog who becomes her loyal companion. Events reveal that Lirael’s destiny is not confined to the home of the Clayr, and actually is closely intertwined with the ruling family of the Old Kingdom. The end of the book leaves readers with few answers, setting up the plot for Abhorsen and the convergence of the main characters from the previous books and the resolution of the various plotlines.

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I especially enjoyed the character development present in all three novels. Sabriel, Lirael, Sameth, and Nick are all believable teens, growing more mature and confident in themselves as the books progress and they age. The Disreputable Dog and Mogget the Cat exhibit typical characteristics of their respective species, but are far more than just a dog and a cat. Their often humorous and sometimes caustic interchanges reveal more about the Old Kingdom and Charter Magic—and conceal far more. Nick and the other ordinary humans live in a kingdom reminiscent of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy, flavored with a strong strain of Victorian/Edwardian steampunk. And Nix’s descriptions of the various levels of death, its denizens, and the dangers that are encountered there by the living are creepy and nerve-wracking.
If you’re looking for a really original fantasy series with appealing characters, Garth Nix’s The Abhorsen Trilogy is one to read.
Another favorite set of fantasy books is the comic fantasy series of  Thursday Next novels by Jasper Fforde, highly recommended by Electronic Resources & Digital Scholarship Joe Easterly:
fforde booksThe Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde are wonderful British novels which blend comic fantasy, detective fiction and literary wit. Set in a parallel universe where classic literature is revered above all, and criminal masterminds steal manuscripts and murder literary characters, literary detective Thursday Next is part of a specialized police force charged with protecting Britain’s literary heritage. As this fast-paced, endlessly imaginative series progresses, Thursday moves from one unusual situation to the next, such as running anger management classes for the cast of Wuthering Heights, to standing trial (set in Kafka’s book, of course) for changing the ending of Jane Eyre, and encountering fan-fiction versions of herself and Harry Potter. Start reading the series with the first book — The Eyre Affair. However, the third (The Well of Lost Plots) and the fifth (First Among Sequels) books are particularly good as well.
How about contemporary fiction?  Librarian Kate Pitcher recommends the recent publication of the novel, The Dinner, by Dutch writer Herman Koch and translated into English by Sam Garrett:
The Dinner is a contemporary book, set in present-day Amsterdam, although a specific day and time is never mentioned in the course of the novel’s events. The setting is dinner at an upscale restaurant in the heart of urban Amsterdam. Dinner is also the framework of the novel; chapters are nestled within sections of the book indicating which course is being served (“Aperitif” being the first, followed by “Appetizer” and so on ).
kochOur main characters are two couples, brothers and their wives. Narrated  by one brother, Paul, the other brother is Serge Lohman, an up-and-coming Dutch politician. The reader soon learns of the presumable reason the couples are meeting for their dinner – a horrible crime committed by the two brothers’ children. At the same time, we figure out Paul is an unreliable narrator; as the story moves on, not only do we learn more details of the sons’ horrible crime, but also the reason why Paul has lost his job as a history teacher. The reader is also continually struck by Paul’s anger and bitterness towards his brother, his sister-in-law Babette and their adopted son. As the novel progresses, the dinner itself feels surreal, the couples dancing around the decisions that must be made about their children and the impact it will have, not only on Serge’s career, but on all their lives.
A bestseller in his native Netherlands, The Dinner is an uncomfortable and disturbing story of how far people are willing to go to protect their family. It has surprises, and although the children’s’ crime is unforgivably brutal, it isn’t their crime that is the most horrible, but rather their parents’ reaction and response to it which moves this novel in so tragic a direction.  As The New York Times stated in its book review, the author  “…[he] has created a clever, dark confection, like some elegant dessert fashioned out of entrails. “The Dinner,” absorbing and highly readable, proves in the end strangely shallow, and this may be the most unsettling thing about it..”
Recommended and hard to put down, so save the reading for a day when you have a few hours to absorb yourself completely.

Have you read any good books lately? Are you willing to share a review? Let us know – submit your review to Kate Pitcher at [email protected] for a future post.

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