Well, my library books are due and I owe a fine so I have to write about my recent reads and start with my next round of books! I also have to write a book review for Library Journal by Monday and feel that I must clear my conscience by summing up my recent reads.

In chronological order (from most recent to least):

1. Kissing the Bee by Kathe Koja (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007). This little teen romance  will fit right in with current teen life. I almost felt like I was back in High School while reading this. Nonetheless, it actually was a real page turner, in the sense of teenage strife needing a resolution, which the author honored. It’s not entirely formulaic, but follows a pattern of life that most-all teens have experienced. It’s a love triangle – 2 best friend girls, 1 boy; 1 boy loves 1 girl, then ends up loving the other girl, then 2 best friend girls are no more and other girl loves boy back. What’s interesting about this is that the author has thrown in a bit of science, about bees, and more specifically, about queen bees. Along with science is a bit of folklore and history about bees. The correlation is that one of the girls is a Queen Bee, but the other girl actually becomes a silently heroic Queen Bee to replace the other. The love story was teenager-sweet, but the writing was edgy (drinking, driving, smoking, sex, fowl language, privileged kids vs. underprivileged, etc). YA lit is very difficult to write and to read. This is truly a crossover age, where the reality of life is edgy. But how edgy should teen books be? Maybe a better question though, is how can teen lit NOT be edgy because it IS reality….sigh. Maybe the trouble is that it’s hard to read because of the reality factor, and why relive all that strife? Anyway, the book had a nice, mellow Hollywood ending where the other girl and boy graduate from school and go to live their college lives, whatever that may be.

2. All Seated on the Ground by Connie Willis (Subterranean Press, 2007). Willis is one of my favorite authors, period. Sci Fi based, Willis gives her readers much more than the typical Sci Fi story. She seems to have the perfect touch for novellas, which are a nice length for many readers. Not quite full length fiction and yet more robust than a short story, novellas are easy to undertake and all of Willis’ novellas are more than enjoyable reading! The Inside Job also by Willis is another one of my favored novellas. What I really like about Willis is that her Sci Fi is far more unique than any other Sci Fi I’ve ever read. Always well written and well researched, Willis dives into themes that will really make the reader think – about the past, present, and future. Willis writes with great finesse about time travel, one of my favorite topics of pretend and what-ifs. All Seated on The Ground would be a good one to read during the Holidays, as the story is based around Christmas. Set in Denver, on the DU campus, aliens land and stay for nearly a year. A team of wacky researchers and consultants tries everything they can to communicate with the aliens, but to no avail. In the end, one researcher, Meg, and a happenstance encounter with a CO High School choir director, Calvin Ledbetter, who eventually fall in love, discover the secret of communication with the aliens. All through Christmas Carols, the words and verses, as well as the unity of song, are palpable triggers for communication with the Altairi. With a final conclusion during the holiday All City Sing event, the Altairi show there is far more than just great harmony involved in music. It’s about humanity and showing respect and civility to one another. A fun little Sci Fi gem that will get you humming along to all your favorite holiday tunes – highly recommended even for readers who don’t normally choose Sci Fi. Enjoy!

3. Poetry by Dr. Robert King. I had the great fortune of meeting Dr. King and delighted in his poetry reading this past August at my local library. Dr. King writes very accessible poetry, and is especially essential for those of us in CO and the West. Several of his poems are about Fort Collins, when Prospect Rd. was considered “South Fort Collins” and about the Poudre River, which is a sacred river for many in Northern Colorado. Sacred in the sense of the nature that abounds upon its banks and across its waters; sacred in the sense of healing, health, rejuvenation and peace of mind; sacred in the sense of providing water for humans and for agriculture and for wildlife and for the surrounding lands; sacred in the sense of religion and philosophy in whatever you choose to believe. While those are my words, reading Dr. King’s poetry inspires me to write better, be more descriptive, and to pay attention to the details and connections all around us. Written in the form of chap books, Learning American, What It Was Like, and Old Man Laughing are quintessential collections of poems that illicit memories of days past, what it was like 20 and 30 years ago in the west, and of a deep understanding of relationships between families, romantic loves, and among perfect strangers, simply passing by on railroad cars. These are gorgeous poems to read and read again, silently and aloud. Highly recommended.

4. Forget Me Not by Jennifer Lowe-Anker (The Mountaineers Books, 2008). This is an unforgettable memoir about the lives of the late famed climber and mountaineer Alex Lowe, his widow Jennifer Lowe-Anker and her relationship in moving on with Conrad Anker, another famed climber, mountaineer, explorer, and writer. This was a touching story about the intriguing life of Alex Lowe and how he lived and ultimately died for the mountains. Highly recommended whether and outdoors person or not. Demonstrating unselfish love, freedom within relationships, and utter devotion, Jennifer Lowe-Anker writes with painful beauty, wonderful analogies, and filled with elements of the natural world that was so much a part of both of their lives. The title is based on the alpine forget me not flower which is an amazing sight at 10,000 feet. The alpine forget me not has beauty that goes beyond its vivid and vibrant color, its stoutness, and all its strength. Perhaps living at that altitude, facing and bracing against the harsh and beautiful extremes of snow, wind and intense sunlight, makes this little plant stand out in many minds within the high altitude experience.  This gem of a memoir made me cry, made me laugh, made me full of astonishment, made me dream, and made me become one degree more independent and free and recognize that desire for all humans and in all relationships. One of my favorite parts of this book was that each chapter started off with a poignant or telling quote. Very well written with well formed thoughts, emotions and construction, this creative memoir leaves the reader wanting to know even more about the lives of Alex, Jennifer and Conrad. And makes the reader wonder what elements of these people are in our own selves. Highly recommended.

5. Unaccustomed Earth (Alfred A. Knoph, 2008) and The Namesake (A Mariner Book, 2003) by Jhumpa Lahiri. A new author to me, although The Namesake was critically acclaimed in 2003, Lahiri writes with a lilting melancholic prose. I started with Unaccustomed Earth in the audiobook format and really just dove in. I didn’t even read the back cover to know that I was to read a collection of short stories by this Indian-American author. I listened to that first story, titled “Unaccustomed Earth” and was startled by the reality of the story. I thought, this could be me, this could be my life, even though the story was from the viewpoint of an Indian-American woman, searching for answers in her new life in a new state. After the first story, any reader would want to stay with the book and these fine short stories. Words that describe Lahiri’s stories:  Stark, Dark, Elegiac, Stunning, Soberly Thoughtful, Somber, and Pensive.  With the foundation of the famed and doomed Russian writer Nikolai Gogol (master of short stories, “The Nose” and “The Overcoat”), The Namesake was such a unique reading experience. This was one I couldn’t put down, except that I was disappointed with the ending. The story is based on another fictional Indian-American family, the glimpses of life portrayed by this displaced-by-choice Calcutta family reveal the duality of natures caused by immigration. With children raised in both a Calcutta tradition, and yet a distinctly east coast American lifestyle, proved to be troublesome for main character of the story whose name is Gogol.  With a name like Gogol, this character is destined for challenges growing up in mainstream America. When Gogol comes of age, he tries to shed, or rather mask, his baleful identity, although the reader can identify that Gogol really does not have such a wretched existence but its mostly in his mind. The story demonstrates how much of our own existence is based in our own mind and how we individually view our own lives and destiny whether correctly or incorrectly, or based on reality or from the dungeons of our own minds. For topics of immigration, the American experience, coming of age, identity, family values, and mixed race relationships, The Namesake is a book of choice that will no doubt leave the reader in utter curiosity about our own lives and the interrelationships that come and go, and touch, impress, or flutter about our minds and hearts. Both are recommended with the caution that readers will be left with some mental impression after reader Lahiri.

6. The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry (Self published, 2006; HarperCollins, 2008). This book was one of the highlights of my summer! I couldn’t stop talking about it and telling friends and family to read this literary and creative novel. This novel will probably end up on my top 10 list of reads for 2008! I literally couldn’t put it down and read from start to finish in a few days. The creativity of this new author surprised me, and really read more like an advanced writer. With mystery and romance, a great plot and suspense, and well developed characters filled with unique entanglements, this is a story that all can appreciate. Based on the mysterious form of reading ones fortune through Ipswich lace patterns, the lives of several entwined characters were revealed at once in this dual sided psychological thriller. Not expecting the twist at the end, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment and drama. Brunonia Barry does a wonderful job in entertaining her readers, as well as teaching about the history and familial importance of creating Ipswich lace. Highly recommended for pure pleasure and reading enjoyment!

Well, that’s it for now folks….. I have several more books going right now and  look forward to recounting them here at GreyCatBlog. Happy Reading!