Quick! Name 10 books….

….that will stick with you forever.  Don’t think too hard about it – they aren’t necessarily the best books but the ones that you never forget.   Here are mine:

1. Life of Pi
2. City of Thieves
3. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
4. Follow the River
5. Little House on the Prairie
6. Catcher in the Rye
7. A Sudden Country
8. The Mirror
9. Doomsday Book
10. Jane-Emily

Wow that is quite an odd assortment.  I bet I could do it again tomorrow and 10 different ones would pop into my head!

The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia A. McKillip

I believe this is the most recent book by Patricia McKillip (published in late 2008) and it is my third McKillip book.  While I did enjoy it for the most part, it was the least satisfying McKillip book to date for me.

The story centers around a crumbling manor house in the small town of Sealey Head, perched on the cliffs above the sea.  To all outward appearances, not much happens at Aislinn House where Lady Eglantyne lies on her deathbed.  The only sign that things are not as they seem is the mournful tolling of a bell as the sun goes down each day.  No one knows where the bell is or what it signifies.  It has been a part of the lives of the residents of Sealey Head for so many years that many don’t even notice it any more.

It soon becomes apparent that there is another side to Aislinn House which only a select few people know about.  Emma, the housemaid, sometimes opens what seems to be a closet door or a door to an unused bedroom and finds instead a parallel world of princesses and knights entangled in some sort of bizarre ritualistic existence unchanged for year upon year.

The entire idea of the story is fascinating and as I said before I did enjoy the book, but the ending was a bit of a letdown with many questions left unanswered (for me at least).  The mystery is wrapped up rather quickly and anticlimactically (is that a word?).  Of the three McKillip books I’ve read, this one seemed to have the least of the enchanting and poetic language that initially drew me to her work when I read In the Forests of Serre

Still, I would recommend this one to McKillip fans and those who have not discovered McKillip yet and enjoy “world within a world” fantasies.  As always, the artwork on the cover by Kinuko Y. Craft is extraordinary as well.

My Rating: 

Winter Rose by Patricia A. McKillip

Having greatly enjoyed my first McKillip book, In the Forests of Serre, I moved immediately to Winter Rose with great anticipation.   Rois and Laurel are two sisters, opposites in every way.  Laurel is calm, serene and happily making beautiful lacey things  for her upcoming wedding to Perrin.  Rois prefers losing herself in the woods, wandering barefoot collecting flowers and herbs.  One day handsome Corbet Lynn shows up at crumbling Lynn Hall intent on rebuilding his family home, stirring up gossip and talk in the village of the murder that took place years before and the curse on the Lynn family.

At this point I was enjoying the “gentle elegance” of McKillip’s style (as described by Library Journal), but scratching my head thinking that this story was shaping up as a typical historical romance.  Around about Chapter 7 I began to realize that things weren’t quite what they seemed.  That charming spring in the woods reflected more than just the bramble roses hiding it, and Rois was hearing more than just the wind in the trees.  Not to mention that odd look in Corbet’s eye. 

McKillip weaves a tale as intricate as that tangle of bramble roses, drawing us into her fantasy world (or should I say worlds?) and holding us there with beautiful, evocative language.  I’ve already started my third McKillip book of the summer,The Bell at Sealey Head, and it’s only May.

My Rating: 

A.D. 62: Pompeii by Rebecca East

It’s no secret that I like time travel themes (see my reviews of Mary Modern and The Mirror).  This one sends bookish Harvard grad Miranda back to the first century Roman empire, and lands her in the ocean near the doomed city of  Pompeii.  Caught in a fishing net, she is soon sold to a wealthy slave owner, Marcus Tullius, and is put to work as a house slave.  At first Miranda is unworried, confident that she can return to her world at the touch of the transmitter implanted in her arm.  Unfortunately, something goes awry with the transmitter and Miranda finds herself stranded in ancient Rome.

Apparently Rebecca East is the pen name of a university professor.  I would venture to guess that her area of expertise is history or archeology, rather than english or literature.  The historical descriptions are detailed and interesting, if a bit reminiscent of a tour book one would purchase at a kiosk when visiting Pompeii.  The characters are rather thinly sketched, and what starts out a detailed historical overview eventually loses steam and degenerates into a typical Master/slave romance.  Even the impending explosion of Vesuvius is barely acknowledged in the end. 

This book had promise, but could have benefited enormously from a good editor.  There was much repetition of thoughts and ideas, and also more than one misspelled word.  Still, it wasn’t so bad that I gave up on it.  I bravely saw it through to the last page.

My Rating: 

College Girl by Patricia Weitz

Shy and awkward Natalie Bloom arrives at UConn, her dream school, as a junior after attending community college for two years.  The youngest of seven children, Natalie is the first in her family to seek a higher education.  Majoring in Russian history, Natalie spends literally all of her time in class or in the library studying, and just as studiously avoiding social contact with her fellow students.

One day she meets tall, handsome Patrick in the library (where else??) and soon she’s on her way to her first romance.  If you can call it that.  Patrick is interested in Natalie at first, but soon it becomes obvious that he is using her for sex and is really quite contemptuous of her modest circumstances and her blue collar upbringing.  Natalie remains awkward and uncertain, and it’s literally uncomfortable watching her spiral downward as she gets wrapped up in Patrick and loses her focus on school.

If you’ve ever been the one at school that hangs around on the periphery and never quite feels like you fit in, then you may well relate to Natalie.  I think her character was believeable to anyone who has been to college and struggled to find their way.  The other characters in the book were fairly one-dimensional and interchangeable and I never really understood why Natalie’s family, especially her six older brothers, treated her so badly.  A subplot focusing on the suicide of one of Natalie’s brothers when she was a child and how it affected her later wasn’t really fleshed out as well as it might have been either.

My Rating: 

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Miranda is a typical teenager, worried about homework and boys, until the day the meteor smashes into the moon and knocks it closer to the earth, setting off a chain reaction of tsunamis, climate change and even volcanoes that shroud the earth in ash.  Miranda and her mother and two brothers must go into survival mode, hoarding food, scavenging for firewood and living in their boarded up house, fearful of looters. 

The book is written in Miranda’s own words, in the form of a journal.  Unfortunately,  it just didn’t ring all that true for me.  The day after the meteor,  after gathering around the television and learning that most of the east coast is submerged and there are hundreds of thousands of casualties, all Miranda’s mother can say is  “We’re fine.  We’re well inland.  I’ll keep the radio on, so if there’s any call for evacuation I’ll hear it, but I don’t think there will be.  And yes, Jonny, you have to go to school tomorrow.”

On a side note,  I loved the cover art on this book.  The huge moon looming over the small house evoked the fear that Miranda and her family felt.  As Miranda said,  “It was tilted and wrong . . . it was still our moon and it was still just a big dead rock in the sky, but it wasn’t benign anymore.  It was terrifying, and you could feel the panic swell all around us.”

My Rating: