Thursday, August 7, 2014

Reading Roundup: The End of Summer Reading*, Part 1

It has happened—after a nice seven month vacation, I've gone back to work with the new school year. I can't even describe how full my head is with new tasks and to-do lists. In an effort to whittle my "to-post-about" queue down before the chaos really begins, I'm going to be quick in talking about what I've read as my vacation neared its end.

I took a picture of Deborah Challinor's Tamar on a "New Zealand Authors" shelf back when we were in New Zealand, and I was looking forward to reading it when we got home. A trilogy of historical fiction sounded right up my alley. And because my public library didn't have it, nor would they get it through Inter-library Loan, it became my inaugural eBook purchase as well.

Tamar chronicles the journey of the eponymous main character, a young woman who emigrates from England to New Zealand near the end of the 19th century. Initially seeming rather meek and naive, Tamar surprises the reader as her strength and resilience are revealed during a long, arduous journey across oceans and as she navigates her way through a rough new home. An unconventional friendship is what gives Tamar much of her strength—on the passage from England she befriends Myrna MacTaggart who is moving to Auckland to establish the finest brothel in New Zealand. Myrna provides comfort and guidance to Tamar as she finds herself a place to live and work, settles into a new homeland, and eventually escapes from a disastrous marriage.

So, I was really looking forward to this sweeping trilogy of historical fiction on a place I recently visited. But truth be told, it was so much more ROMANCE-Y than I had expected. Like, I sort of felt duped. If we're classifying by genre, this is definitely Romance and definitely not Historical Fiction. Tamar is a sympathetic character, and the plot of this is definitely detailed enough to provide some level of substance. Overall, though, I was expecting and hoping to read a series that was dependent on its physical and historical setting, and this ended up being much more about characters who could've existed anywhere. I'm not criticizing the book itself, and I would recommend it to a reader that seems interested, but it disappointed me based on my own expectations.

Ok, I won't lie. I put Tom Drury's Pacific on my 'to-read' list because I really just liked the cover and title. Simple. Brief. It gave me a good vibe. And overall, I can't totally contradict that, though my final opinion is a little lacking.

The story follows (somewhat) a 14-year-old named Micah who is moving across the country to Los Angeles to live with his long-absent mother. But the narrative doesn't just focus on Micah. In fact, it doesn't actually focus on him more than any other character. Instead, it gives brief snippets on all these other people connected to Micah—his impetuous actress mother; his petty thief of a father back home; his half-sister; an ex-con antique salesman; a troubled mystic; and the retired sheriff turned detective. Their stories barely overlap, yet they're all still connected and they all exist; Drury has fleshed them each out with enough of a life that the reader can imagine how they will each proceed. They're a rather pathetic lot with their own flaws, but they all have hope of something good coming down the road towards them.

Drury's writing is solid—descriptive, engaging, succinct. The characters are all interesting, and I was invested in them. But ultimately, this is a snapshot of lives and...that's it; they fade after your encounter with this book, because you didn't know enough or see enough about each of them to really remember them. It's a brief collection of unique lives, brief encounters with people you'll never hear about again. Though I was invested while reading, for a reader like me that wants a deeper connection, it ultimately felt incomplete.

* Just because my summer vacation is over doesn't actually mean it's the end of summer. We've still got plenty of days of heat and sun, and I've still got plenty of Pilcher to get me through days by the pool!

No comments: