Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Red Heart of Memories

I can tell you right now that this is going to be one of my favorite books of the year.  I don't know what it is about Nina Kiriki Hoffman's books that makes me adore them so much.  Part of it is the characters - they are so quirky and interesting, and I love spending time in their world.  Part of it is the magic, how it works, how it's a part of ordinary everyday life and seems so believable - but it's unusual, not the same old kind of things that are typically found in urban fantasy novels.  And part of it, most definitely, is her skillful storytelling.  I kept wondering, as with the best stories, What happens next?  And unlike so many novels, what happened next was always interesting and unexpected.

This book was written before A Stir of Bones, but it takes place after the events recounted there.  I read A Stir of Bones first, which worked out well, but any order would work.  The story centers on a a young woman named Matt, short for Matilda, who has an unusual ability to hear and communicate with man-made objects.  This ability has driven her to a marginalized place in society, in which she wanders around, homeless, but she finds a sort of peace in it, listening to objects, and sometimes helping them out.  The book opens as Matt is sitting on a bench in a cemetery when something strange happens.  A man steps out of the ivy-covered stone wall next to her.

Matt is understandably startled and a bit frightened, but she speaks with the man, shares some of her sandwich with him.  It isn't his strangeness that starts her running away; it's the fact that he is kind, and that she finds herself liking him.  She doesn't allow herself to come close to people anymore, but there's something about Edmund that gets under her skin.  When she calms down enough to spend some time with him, it seems as though they've been brought together for some kind of purpose.  They start off together on a journey full of revelation and, perhaps, the possibility of redemption.

The pace is leisurely; things reveal themselves slowly and take their own time, just as Matt's developing relationship with Edmund does.  I enjoyed that.  Breakneck roller-coaster plots are fun, but so is a delicious unveiling of a story, full of sensuous details and an offbeat, quirkiness that kept me smiling and turning the pages.  I love Matt's "dream eyes," which she uses to view the world around her and commune with objects.  As someone who secretly believes her car has a personality and thought processes of its own, I immensely enjoyed Matt's conversations with Edmund's car.  It was also delightful to return to the House from A Stir of Bones - it is definitely one of my favorite houses in literature - or should I say one of my favorite ghosts?

What a wonderful book!  I was so sorry when it was over.  There is apparently a sequel, Past the Size of Dreaming, which I received as a gift along with this book.  Sadly, my library does not own either - but I'm so glad I own them, because I already know I will be reading this again.  The world in this book is one that I look forward to returning to.  I love the poetic writing, the vivid imagery, and the way in which Hoffman manages to make the inexplicable plain and believable.  Fans of Charles de Lint would definitely enjoy this one.

A Red Heart of Memories by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Ace Books, 1999)

Source:  My own personal bookshelf

Also reviewed at:
Book Log:  "Big ole fangirl. Like it so much I can hardly talk about it."
The Good, the Bad, and the Unread"I like this kind of urban fantasy. I don’t need kick-ass chicks who fight bad guys without ruining their nail polish. I just need a quiet sense of wonder and some small, personal magic in order to make the story one I’ll enjoy."
Kristi's Cup of Tea:  "It was very real. But somehow it lost focus somewhere half way through."


  1. I'll definitely have to read this one! Like you, my car has a mind of its own. Plus rooms, plants, etc., often nag: "Clean me," "Water me," etc. Then there's the scarecrow whose clothes are so ratty that it would be time to toss him and get another, jazzier-looking one, except he's so thrilled for the months when he gets to be out in the front garden that he's like a member of the family. Guess I'm going to have to make him some new clothes instead.

  2. Willow - I think you'll get a kick out of this book, then. And I had to laugh about the scarecrow - we have a totally icky one that I can't bear to throw out for the same reason!

  3. Thanks for reminding me about this book! I had heard of it before and completely forgot about it. I've actually chosen it for my October's book club book now!

  4. Rachel - I can't wait to hear what your book club thinks about it - and you, too, of course.

  5. I actually just had to change the book this morning! It wasn't in any of the stores near where I live, and only 2 libraries had a copy. Asking each member to order them in was just too much. I did get my hands on one of the library copies though so I will be reading it on my own and reviewing!

  6. Rachel - Oh, that's too bad. I don't know why this isn't more widely available. I ended up having to buy a copy for the same reason - although I have to say I'm not sorry about that!


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