As of last month, the first book in my report is the book I read with my Dad this month, the second is from my To Read List, and the third is with Bridget. (I didn't read the third one with Bridget this time. Already off course. Bother.) Also, I added a tab to my blog with all the book titles I've reviewed here. If anyone wants to be really thorough in their search for the next book they read. :)
A Parchment of Leaves by Silas House
Before reading this book, I knew nothing about the author and nothing about the story. I read the prologue and didn’t care. Then, I got to the last sentence of the first paragraph of chapter one. “One thing I knowed I could do was charm a man until he couldn’t hardly stand it.” And, I was hooked. The prologue and epilogue are written the way normal folks might do it, with proper sentence structure and all. But the 31 chapters in between are written in this hill-country language – in the mind of a woman narrator – that charmed me until I could hardly stand it.
For the first 20 chapters, I didn’t really care what was going on. The story line didn’t matter. Well, maybe it did a little bit. I just couldn’t get enough of the style. Silas House has created a master piece – a book that begs to be read over and over again. The first reading will be for the beauty of the words and the eventual intensity of the story line. The second reading will be for the folksy philosophy of Vine, the woman who is the main character – a Cherokee woman who marries a white man in World War I Kentucky.
Here are some examples: “The more you put cast iron in the oven, the blacker and tougher it gets.” “You’ve got to train a man to the way you want him.” “Take this moment. Memorize it, tuck it into that place that is made for such things. Put it there so that you might be able to pull it back someday and run your fingers over it.”
Every page seems to breathe with folksy wisdom. Every page has some metaphor you just want to savor till you die. “The lantern bobbed toward me like it was floating on the air, held high by a ghost that would not make itself seen.” “Heat bugs sang from daylight to dark and the tin roof on our house cracked and popped like it would pull free of its nails and fly away at any minute.”
We watch the departing and returning of Vine’s husband. The parting and returning of Vine’s brother-in-law, Aaron. The departure of Vine’s people as they are driven off land they had lived on for years. And, we watch the shattering of lives with a banjo accompaniment. And, above it all, we watch a soul descend into the pit of hell, to the depths of despair and hopelessness. Mercifully, the author does not leave her there. As much as anything, it is a story about God -- His presence and His absence -- from the perspective of one who believes because that's the way she was brought up, but has her doubts.
This is a book to read and reflect upon for ages – a story that makes you ponder racism, war, and prejudice from a perspective that you’ve never considered before. And, it does all these things in an atmosphere of color and smells and textures that, while existing only in the mind, come to life in a way that you think you can actually see and sniff and feel things that are tangible. It is a book that, once read and fully appreciated, makes you say, “I will never be the same again.”
I've read a few books in this genre and this one was somewhere in the middle of that pack for me. There were some really wonderful moments, language-wise, but the turns in the plot took a predictable route. Vine's immediate and extended family are driven off the land that they were driven to generations back and I wanted to feel that more. It seemed like we stayed on the surface of that topic instead of really getting into the anguish that would be involved in a move like that.
House has a real gift for metaphors. He took such time and care in the beginning describing the landscape and the homes of the principle characters. Beautiful! I would have chosen the same quotes that Dad chose as examples. Everything from the work that was done every day to the smells from the earth and the kitchen were fantastic. When one of the characters leaves her home, Vine takes note of how quickly the home looks and feels neglected.
Once the inevitable Awful Thing happens (this is Lifetime Movie and Oprah's Book Club pick territory) to Vine, I thought House got away from the thing he was doing so well. There is a World War happening in the background, there are Cherokees being driven off their land still, there is a really unique and wonderful love story between Vine and her husband, and yet the focus is domestic violence. I didn't think the book needed that element to be compelling. It didn't ruin it for me, but kind of cheapened it.
More Than This by Patrick Ness
The very first chapter of this book is a detailed description of a teenage boy drowning - from the boy's perspective. It was pretty intense and interesting. He "wakes up" on the sidewalk outside the home of his early childhood in England all bandaged up and totally alone. Details come out that he and his family moved from England to Washington state after something really awful happened to the drowning boy's brother.
Some chapters were the boy, Seth, wandering around the small English town trying to find food and water. No one is around and the whole town appears to have been abandoned for a long time. Seth decides he's in hell. Ohhhh! Interesting! Other chapters are memories Seth has when he falls asleep. Memories from his real life before his death.
I got to about the halfway point of this book and I started losing interest. The reason for the move from England hadn't been explained. The brother was still alive but mentally handicapped now, with no explanation. The memories aren't exactly revelatory. I got tired of Seth trying to find food. THEN, there is a chapter about him and one of his high school buddies (a boy) making out because Seth feels so bad about whatever happened to his little brother. Rubbish. Even if the make-out was with a girl, it would have been rubbish. Shocking doesn't always equal interesting.
Since I no longer cared what happened and I didn't want to risk having to read about teenage boys making out, I stopped reading. (More Than This is in the Young Adult section on every website. Just so's you know.)
3. Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee
I think Bridget would have liked this. (We're reading a different book together at the moment and I needed something short and interesting - like me - to finish out the month.) It's a re-telling of the Snow Queen ("Frozen" Bandwagon, all aboard). The Snow Queen is EVIL and she steals souls and she's beautiful. The Marvelous Boy was chosen by the wizards (along with One Other) to defeat her with a magical sword. He has more than 300 years to do it, but it comes down to the last day.
Ophelia, her sister Alice, and her father are staying in a wintery city somewhere while her father, a sword expert, is helping with a sword exhibition at a wonderful museum. Their mother and wife isn't there because she died of cancer three months before. Ophelia makes a sweet, unlikely hero with her glasses and braids and asthma. The Marvelous Boy is a fun character, too. Probably because I'm an adult, I saw every reveal coming a mile away. It was beautifully told, and like I said, I think Bridget would really like it.