Sunday, January 18, 2009

Book Review: 2 for 1

First, a disclaimer: I'm not the best reviewer...because I tend to find a way to like just about every book I read, every movie I see, etc. I suspect it's something linked to my personality trait of finding the best in everyone I meet - that agreeable-ness that pervades everything I do. I swear I do have an opinion, though - honest!

I'm doing a 2-for-1 deal here because I've finished two books this week, and I'd like to review them both.

First up: Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

For me, this was a really fun book to read. It is billed as a "progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable." In fact, this is the book's subtitle, and a quite effective summation of the tale. A lipogrammatic tale is one that is told while omitting certain letters of the alphabet. This book, while not strictly lipogrammatic, is mostly so, and that is, in fact, the gist of the whole book. It is told in the form of letters written back and forth between the main characters. At first I was wary of a book written in this manner, and whether it would effectively convey the story and be able to hold my attention, but it most definitely did both. The book tells the story of the island of Nollop, named after the typesetter who came up with the sentence "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog" - which uses each letter of the alphabet, in a sentence of only 35 letters. Nollop is ervered on the island, and in fact, a statue of him, with the sentence on tiles below, stands proudly in the center of the island's main town. The problem arises when the tiles begin to fall off. The High Council which runs the island take this as a sign from Nollop himself (long since deceased) and decide that these letters which fall off are no longer to be written or spoken by the islanders. As more and more tiles fall off, life on the island becomes quite difficult. The themes of totalitarianism (the absolute rule of the Council) and freedom of speech play major roles throughout the book. I won't give away the ending, but it is quite clever. I definitely had one of those head-smacking "Why didn't I think of that?!" moments. All in all, I quite enjoyed this book. It was a fairly quick read and I enjoyed the message behind it. Definitely recommended.

Book #2: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Another entertaining read, this book was quite a surprise for me. I picked it up not quite knowing what to expect. All I'd gathered from the friend who recommended it to me (Smash) was that it was about a young girl going off to boarding school in England. Boy, is there more to it than that! If you're planning on reading it, stop now - I don't want to give anything away, because it's just more fun if you don't know what you're getting yourself into. For those continuing to read: fantasy, hidden worlds, a bit of the occult, all occuring in the frame of late 19th century England, with all of its social and behavioral restrictions. It's amazing, first off, to see how far we've come in the last 100-and-change years. I loved how Ms. Bray combined the every day trials and tribulations of getting along at boarding school with the more fantastical elements of this book, and it didn't seem odd at all. I know there are other tales of Gemma Doyle, and I look forward to following along on her journey to see where she's headed from here.

I leave you all with a parting picture. I've had requests for a picture of little Taryn Elizabeth, who was born on Wednesday the 14th. Here she is at just one day old, cradled in my arms:


Smash said...

Great Reviews!! I'm glad you had so much fun with AGTB! (I hope it dried alright!) I can't wait to get to Ella Minnow Pea so we can discuss.

I'm starting Rebel Angels (Gemma Doyle Book 2) tonight, and this just made me even more excited. :o)

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