Saturday, December 31, 2005

Bartimaeus Trilogy - The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

I was going to just listen to this a bit of it to see if my son would like it for Christmas. Now that I am almost done with the second book and listening to this first one again with my son, I can say confidently - yes - he love's it, and so do I! In one sense this is like Harry Potter, because it has a complete and complex magical world that coexists with a non-magical world in London - with references to places outside England. But here the magicians rule - at least in England - and they don't seem to be ethical or benevolent. The setting is current day England, as cars, phones and computers are used, but magic is more powerful than technology. Magicians actually don't have any real powers themselves, but they can summon various levels of spirits or demons to do their bidding. So our main characters are a young magician Nathaniel, who is apprenticed to a not very effective magician Mr. Underwood. He is smart and powerful, so he takes it upon himself to learn things and summons a djinni - Bartimaeus - a 5,000 year old spirit with an attitude. Great conversations!

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

This is considered a sequel to Lowry's Newberry Award winning young adult book The Giver, but neither my son nor I can see the connection, except that it is another comunity formed in some post-nuclear world. This is a pretty nasty, primitive society where men and women are quite seperate, and kids are not reaised in a loving way. Whenever someone dies, is born not perfect, or is injured in a way that leaves them unable to be a productive part of the community, they are taken to "the field", where they are left to be devowered by the animals. Now that I think about it, there are a lot of holes in the logic of this world, but it must be hard to create a whole new social and physical structure.

Kira is the main character - though having a deformed leg, she was saved at birth by her mother and has an unusual talent in her fingers for sewing images with colored threads. When her mother dies she is taken by the council to live in an old building with indoor plumbing to work on her sewing. Shw connects with Thomas, a boy who is a skilled carver and Jo, a skilled singer. They are the ones to provide the creativity to the community in an annual ritual. But they discover there are communities outside who live differently.

Kira is a wonderful character - strong through her suffering, fascinating through her art. we watch her learn the art of dyeing threads different natural colors. (Makes me almost want to try it myself.)

As with The Giver, Lowry leaves us thinking about how we relate to each other - the division of labor, the parenting methods, the way we govern ourselves, the way we exclude some, creativity among us, how we deal with handicapped, how we deal with our dead, the rituals in our lives and much more. I knew my son would hate the ending - the future is left to your imagination. (finished listening 12/22 and 12/28)

Red Lily by Nora Roberts

Red Lily, the last in her Garden trilogy (Blue Dahlia & Black Rose), looks at three women in different phases of their lives who find love and solve an old family mystery - finally putting to rest a ghost that has been haunting Harper House for generations. This time it is Haley, the distant relative who arrives in Harper House pregnant and is taken in and given a job in the garden center. In the earlier books we saw her give birth to Lily with Roz's oldest son Harper being present. So, there is no surprise in who is going to hook up in this last book. They both feel the other is off limits and feel weird developing this relationship under the eyes and roof of Roz, but they find it is OK to love each other and as they deal with the nasty ghost, their relationshipp solidifies.

One of these times I will stop apologizing for reading this fluff, but I still think Roberts does a better job at fluff than most. Again, I learned something more about the gardening business, an important piece of this trilogy. This time it was about Harper's job propogating plants and developing hybrids. What a painstaking process! I continued to like the geneological research done on the ghost, though I thought - wouldn't it be nice to always have a ghost around to tell you what really happened. The part that really drew me to this particular book was Haley's story of how she got pregnant - in grief over the loss of her father she turned to a friend. When he went off to college she realized she was pregnant and for various reasons chose not to tell him about the pregnancy. I am glad Roberts describes this variation of single motherhood. Of course the patness of it all sometimes drives me nuts, the perfectness of the relationships - how all three couples and their kids get along so smoothly, and they all get married within a year's time. But the rest keeps me reading Roberts.

Pompeii by Robert Harris

I had listened to this last year, but this was to be the book for our library discussion, so I thought I should reread it. A wonderful historical novel about the last few days of Pompeii. The main character is an aqueduct engineer. The whole Roman aqueduct system is fascinating - such precise engineering, and what seems to me advanced materials used - a cement that sets while under water, etc. Much of the social system was also shown - as the love interest of the engineer is a rich man's daughter. Pliny, an actual historical character is in the novel and it appears that much of his writings survived over the centuries. A possible avenue for future exploration.

Holly by Jude Deveraux

I thought this was one of the tolerable romance writers, but this wasn't much. Holly is an architect into restoring old homes. She gets her parents to purchase one in North Carolina and has fantasies from childhood about a historic estate and its owner, but Nick gets in the way, etc. Some interesting facts about old houses and their restoration, but the plot left much to be desired.