Monday, May 5, 2014

Monthly Reading List: April

The Winner, by David Baldacci
Checked out this book on a recommendation from a friend. It was my first non-"King & Maxwell" Baldacci novel, and...

It was still amazing.

It starts innocently enough: a con-man with spectacular costuming and makeup skills sails into a small Georgia town and offers a poverty-stricken single mother the chance to guarantee her win of the hundred-million dollar national lottery. Her drug-dealing boyfriend gets killed over drug money, so she has plenty of motivation to want to leave her old life behind like this man wants her to... she wins, and goes on the run with the man who's supposed to protect her and make sure her cover stays in place...
Ten years later, the case is drug up by an ambitious journalist, and old secrets come to light... loyalties tested... but how can the Feds find a man whose real face no one has ever seen?

It was a very intense read, one that kept me tearing through the chapters and wondering what was going to happen next. Baldacci still crafts an amazing cast of characters and a driving mystery with twists and reveals saved all the way to the very end!

Second Foundation, (Foundation #3) by Isaac Asimov
Initial reaction: Wow. Just Wow. Isaac Asimov can ramble on, stringing complicated terms and syllables together and sound totally convincing.

About a year ago, I was on a big Isaac Asimov kick, and I decided to read his famous Foundation Trilogy. I made it through the first two books in about a month an a half and had to return it before I could read the last one.
Note to self: When reading Asimov, one should not leave too much time between reading consecutive books in a series, particularly sociologically-heavy books like the Foundation Trilogy. I admit I spent most of this book very lost, but I am still very attracted to Asimov's style and method of writing, and the colorful dialogue between diverse characters. The young girl Arcadia who serves as the catalyst and the central driving force of the novel is a very intriguing and entertaining character, well placed. Not sure how I feel about the ending... but it was a twist I never expected, so hats off to Asimov!

Kingdom Keepers: Disney After Dark (Kingdom Keepers #1), by Ridley Pearson
Initial reaction: Lame as heck. 
 I admit the premise was a little kooky (four teenagers hired as models for Disney World's "Holographic Tour Guides" suddenly find that their consciousnesses are being randomly accessed by the computer program projecting the holograms while they're asleep, and characters like Maleficent are trying to use this, coupled with a little magic, to find a certain artifact of Walt Disney's and attain ultimate power) but there was a little-girl part of me (the part that never fails to be fascinated by everything those theme park designers dream up) that hoped the story could at least be somewhat interesting.


There was only the merest bit of actual Disney World trivia involved in the book, and the rest was just an adult's opinion on how stupid a buch of teenagers can actually be (including one character whose personality is steeped in the "girls-gots-cooties" stereotype) The book was as ridiculous as a pilot episode of a Nickelodeon show of the early 90's.
I was not even all that impressed with the level of conflict. His parents are clueless and foils for awkward situations which I do not find entertaining, and just how much can a person really do against a character with magic at her disposal? The revelations were not as shocking as character reactions would make them seem, and frankly, I finished this book and could not care less what happens in the rest of the series. Bad form, Mr. Pearson!

Bound By Guilt, by C. J. Darlington
Managed to get through half of the book in amidst all the others I was reading this month. It was a
gift from my sister on my last birthday, so I have prioritized reading the library books first. This time, though, I added it to the list.
I have to say, it's better than the average Christian fiction novel. There hasn't really been the preachy "spiritual moment" or the "Little-House-on-the-Prairie-esque" kind of faith demonstrated. A girl bounced around the foster system landed with a mother and son who are "career" book thieves, stealing antique books from small bookstores and selling them on the black market. They get caught at one of the stores and the son ends up shooting the manager, which prompts the girl to run away from them. Also explored is the story of the manager's sister (who's a cop) and girlfriend/fiancee (who worked at the bookstore and hoped to manage it someday) and his father, who is considering selling the business... the sister is the token Christian character so far, not counting a random trucker the runaway hitches a ride with who "looks like Mr. T" but gives her a Bible and some money. The narrative has begun strongly enough, and I'm still interested to find out how things develop from here.

2nd Chance, (Women's Murder Club #2) by James Patterson
Initial reaction: Slight improvement. More mystery this time, but still a high body count and not very strong main characters.
Somebody shoots up a church and miraculously, the only victim is a young girl. More deaths happen, but the pattern doesn't become evident till the third victim, and then it's a mad race to discover who will be next.... punctuated by extended scenes of horrified and deeply emotional reactions as the victims become those closer and closer to our main female characters. The trouble is, Patterson never really let the readers get that close to any of the characters, and not even Lindsay herself, so that we can neither sympathize nor empathize with her portrayed feelings. The whole response carries all the compulsion of a stage direction printed on a page "for dramatic effect."

I still don't like Lindsay Boxer or any of her "posse." It was an interesting twist to have her estranged father show up, and it definitely played into the theme of "second chances", but it still did not give the realism or dimension that should have been there from the get-go. I guess after the life-shattering scare from the last book, Lieutenant Boxer can return to her mundane, adamantly single life.

King And Maxwell, (King & Maxwell #6) by David Baldacci
A rousing mystery from start to finish!
King and Maxwell are at it again, with an intriguing story that quite literally crosses their path one stormy night. Running up against conspiracy buried under conspiracy, the two agents face stonewalls at every turn as they attempt to answer the one question posed by their unexpected teenage client: "Is my dad dead like the military says he is, or not?"
I have loved King and Maxwell as a highly inventive series and as unique characters from start to finish. Baldacci gives them life and lets them balance each other and play off each other through all six books, and it is wonderfully satisfying. Having simultaneously experienced at least two other "thriller" authors who feature female main characters, Michelle is a refreshing mix of equal parts tough and sensitive; Baldacci carries more insight into a tomboyish only-girl-in-a-cop-family than Patterson and his gaggle of "lady crimestoppers." You'll find yourself as much attracted to her wit and logic as you might be repulsed by the legendary landfill-of-a-truck she drives. If you like mystery, intrigue, writing that feels well-researched and plenty of characters presented with such depth one can almost picture them as unique individuals instead of celebrity portrayals, King and Maxwell is for you!

Crossed (Matched #2) by Ally Condie
A reasonable continuation of Matched. Cassia and Ky learning in their separate ways how to live in the forgotten wasteland outside the Society's reach.

Ky is convinced that venturing out further to find and help the Resistance is the only way to end the Society's rule. Cassia at first is all worried about finding Ky, and then when they finally reconnect, her next order of business is figuring out what happened to Xander. All along the way, even out here, little bits of the Society's methods of rote data collection and rigorous monitoring pop up periodically.
I am having a hard time with Cassia. She's stronger than the average girl-trapped-between-two-guys (here's looking at you, Bella Swann!) but then again, she keeps choosing the guy she isn't with. When she's alone she can't stop thinking about Ky, when she's with Ky she's thinking about Xander.
The one thing that keeps me coming back is the realization that the books are color-coded along with the three types of pills every Society member carries with them. The first book was green, and we learned the effect of the green "calming" pill. This book was blue, and we learned the truth behind the blue "survival" pill: it doesn't make one stronger, it weakens you so the dreaded, controlling authorities can find you without resistance. This last book is red, which by now we know is the "reset" pill, to erase memories. Is a strong ending too much to ask from a mediocre series?

Map of Time, by Felix J. Palma
A serious disappointment from start to finish. I found it on the "Staff Picks" shelf of the local library and thought the premise sounded like an expanded, steampunk Sherlock-goes-Doctor-Who kind of thing.
What I got was a man who falls "in love" with a prostitute, who ends up marrying another guy but continuing the affair until she's killed by Jack the Ripper.
And no, that wasn't a spoiler. That's just the first five chapters.
The other thirty-odd chapters were spent hunting out H. G. Wells, H. G. Wells staging a random room in Whitechapel to look like the room from the man's past so he can have the release of thinking he traveled back in time to kill his love's murderer before he could kill her, and then H. G. Wells encountering a man who pretends to travel through time into the future (which, in true Victorian fashion, is an Industrialist Dystopia where the last humans are battling an army of self-replicating robots), and chuck into all that an actor who convinces a young woman that he is the hero captain from the future battle just so she would sleep with him and convince herself that she must be in love with him because they are lovers in the future, he says.
Sheer idiocy all the way through... Unless you are the type that likes smut. It's a very smutty book. That's about it's only quality.