Monday, February 16, 2009

Shorty Reviews: Origin, Samaritan, Twilight, and Finding Beauty in a Broken World

I never really settled on a good, solid, can't-get-off-the-couch book, but I have been passing the time quite pleasantly by reading several books at once. A chapter here and there, and suddenly I seem to have finished all of them! I thought I'd share my thoughts on those while they're still fresh in my mind...

Origin by Diana Abu-Jabar (fiction)
This is a CSI-type crime drama, complete with a crime-scene analysis, sexual tension between characters, and a crazy serial killer. I couldn't put it down, and by the end, I was reading it in great gulps just to find out the next piece of the puzzle. I had some initial trouble with the whole "Ape Mother" thread of the story - the narrator reveals very early on that she was raised by apes before being rescued and adopted to a family in New York. This felt out of place and a bit forced (on the part of the author) in the context of the story's unfolding mystery, but it made more sense and started feeling more natural as the story progressed. I definitely recommend this one next time you're in the mood for some good edge-of-your-seat action.

Samaritan by
 Richard Price (fiction)

This ended up being a good follow-up to Origin. It's another mystery-type novel, but this one is much more focused on the characters and their personal psychologies. It's less gripping, maybe, but more thoughtful. Ray, the main character, returns to the New Jersey projects where he grows up and winds up volunteering at his old school. As the story opens, he is in the hospital after a brutal attack but refuses to talk about who attacked him. The rest of the novel is spent figuring out how and why this has happened. The story deals with a lot of race-related issues as well as class issues, showing how fiercely knotted the two can be.  At the end, I felt less of a sense of redemption and more a sense of inevitability. Definitely worth a read.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (fiction, young-adult)

I got such a kick out of this book. Sure it's about vampires and teenage love, and at times it feels like a very thinly-veiled rip off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But's
 just a good, fun read! I felt like the writing was fairly solid - Meyer does a good job of setting the scene and really making the reader hear the hiss of the rain and feel the marble touch of Edward's hand. The plot is pretty obvious, but it engaged me and pulled me along until the end. If you're an adult thinking about reading this book, just remember that this is very much a young adult novel written for a young adult audience - while some of the subject matter might seem childish to us, it's very real and relevant to teenagers.

Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest Williams (non-fiction)

At first, Williams' use of mosaics as metaphor didn't really work for me. Her opening story about learning the art of mosaics while vacationing in Italy felt a bit self-indulgent and not entirely relevant, except in in a vague "ok, I'm with you...I think" kind of way. But give it some time (and another 50 pages) and the disparate pieces start to make some sense. Not unlike (I admit) stepping back from a mosaic to see the whole picture. 

The book takes a vignette approach with short paragraphs of prose strung together like poetry. There are no chapters or sections, but the narrative shifts from learning mosaics in Italy to a discussion about the roll of prairie dogs in North American ecology to the work of rebuilding a Rwandan village in the aftermath of genocide. The three stories feel disjointed and unrelated at the outset, but they share a common thread of violence and beauty living side by side. All in all, an interesting book and worth the read. 

I have about six books waiting for me at the library right now - all my "on-hold" books came at once! I'm looking forward to picking them up tomorrow and sinking into some new stories.

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