Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Monthly Reading List: June

*Listed in the order pictured

The Storyteller's Daughter (Cameron Dokey)

Amazing. The story drew me in and captivated me from the very start.
Whereas the tale on which this story is based, Arabian Nights, found me skimming through most of the stories as each lead from one to the other to the other and seemed to have little to do with one another and made me forget that there was actually someone telling the story, and all these connected tales were part of a larger frame--The Storyteller's Daughter kept the focus on the characters at hand, and furthermore expands upon the reason that a Sultan would be killing off the beautiful virgins of his realm, instead of just stating it so matter-of-factly, as if this wanton serial murder is both regular and expected of such a one.
Sheherazad is the daughter of a famed storyteller--one who supposedly possessed strips of fabric on which are printed stories designed for a specific circumstance to impart wisdom to a specific supplicant. This skill cost her sight and people took her for a witch, but the story—narrated by Scheherazad herself—brings us through the enchantment of storytelling, and moreover telling a story with careful attention to the audience. She tells her story to a prince who has not only been jilted by an unfaithful woman himself, but witnessed the same thing happen to his brother. His response was to seal himself away with the stipulation that only someone who loved him for his heart and not his kingdom could live to face the new day. Scheherazad is hard pressed to find the stories that will speak to the distant heart—and there are those who would undermine her efforts to turn the heart of the prince by making her out to be nothing more than a flattering enchantress. Can Scheherazad succeed in saving not only her own life, but the town as well, from those who would take advantage of the prince's absence? Fall in love with storytelling all over again as you read this book.

Prince of Thorns (Mark Lawrence)

Bizarrely captivating in an oddly chilling sort of way.
Yet another book that I probably wouldn't have picked if it hadn't been recommended to me... and as somebody squeamish, I freely confess I did not like some of the images it brought to my brain... but...
Ohhhhh boy!
The main character of this book is neither heroic nor in any way noble... in fact, he is an antihero, bent on revenge and obsessed with murder. Yet Lawrence presents his whole cast of thieving, murderous characters like a collector of venomous snakes displaying his array of vile creatures: carefully, in a way that demands respect, and with such thrilling ease that one cannot turn away. The loyalty these vagrants have to the Prince as the true heir and their leader is certainly worth noting, and the thirteen-year-old's mastery of battle strategy and princely protocol is not something to be taken lightly. It is a very bloody book (almost like a YA "Game of Thrones", perhaps) and yet there are several things—the unique setting, for one, and the character development, for another—that compel me to see this series through.

The Bestseller Job (Leverage TV-Based Novels #3) (Greg Cox)

This book was fairly decent, as far as TV-show-based novels go. The girlfriend of one of Elliot's war buddies is getting screwed over by his estranged brother concerning the rights and royalties of a posthumous spy novel written by the deceased which might have also been based on his wartime experiences and divulging some sensitive back-room government tactics and secrets. The Leverage crew takes the job, and it's cons within cons, cons without cons, book fairs, zombie walks, and high-jinks galore! Just when you think the job has been finished and the adventure is coming to a close--a near-kidnapping, a mysterious stalker, and a nefarious villain emerge and the team must go another round (or five or six!) before they can call it quits.
As far as writing goes, the whole thing felt very solid, more along the lines of the Richard Castle novels and less like the drawn out, back-countryish "Murder, She Wrote" novels. It was nice to revisit the old characters in something that is both fresh and new, yet so much of the good-old sameness.

The Innocent, (Will Robie #1) (David Baldacci)

This book left me breathless all the way through.  Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down. "Covert government hit man who crosses paths with a runaway teen" might sound cliche, but under the skillful direction of the Thriller Master, this adventure is anything but.
Will Robie has been a hitman for so long that his system is automatic: the orders come in, he makes the hit, he leaves the area. Then one day an order comes in that he can't follow--but the powers-that-be enact a contingency plan that leaves him "holding the smoking gun," as it were, turning him from employee to fugitive in a matter of hours. Throw in a chance encounter with a teenage girl who apparently has skilled assassins on her trail, and Robie is in for the mission of his life!
As with every other Baldacci novel I have ever read to date, I positively adored every single character in this whole story. He does a stellar job of writing the reaction first, then the cause: the person makes a noise, and only after the other character's reaction does he reveal what the first character had been doing. This technique, in addition to being very realistic (how many of us catch a reaction first, and only later piece together the cause of that reaction?) gives the reader a heightened sense of reflex befitting a trained marksman, as the characters are. The steady flow of small clues and red herrings keeps the story going with a momentum and a pacing that thrills and chills. I can't wait to get my hands on the next installment!
Bound By Guilt (C. J. Darlington)

So many Christian teen novels get so campy about bringing the teen to tent meetings and church services to get their "holy moments" that they feel contrived and anything worthwhile they have to say just sails right over the reader's head and becomes the very reason why Christian literature remains stuck in its own market and cannot make headway in secular circles.
Bound By Guilt defies all that. Now that I think of it, I don't even recall one church scene. Now at last we have a book that speaks of what a Christian looks like outside the church, exemplifying how a Christian will behave in the normal everyday stuff of life. The central character, young Roxie, encounters a dog that someone threw out (resonating with the way she felt "cast out" by her own family) and a small-town ranching couple who agree to take her in. Meanwhile, her attempts at getting rid if those elements of her past she wants to leave behind end up unwittingly drawing both the detective on her trail and her guilty foster family out to this same area, where she must face and deal with her guilt or be forever bound by it... 
Definitely recommended, if not for its strong writing, then for the strong message it so ably communicates!
The Lost Stories (Ranger's Apprentice #11) (John Flanagan)

This book is a treasured gift from the author to his readers. Flanagan is not so focused on moving his characters along the story arc; now he is filling in the gaps at the requests of his readers, in a book designed specifically for them. From stories about what happened to Gilan when the company split up and the series focused on Halt and Will, through Will's heartwarming struggles to pen the perfect wedding speech, to a simple tale detailing what happens when a Ranger's horse gets old, Flanagan proves he can pay just as much attention to his readers as his characters. This book was a really fun anthology, and the short stories felt like vignettes into the lives of some of the lesser-known characters, such as Jenny or even Halt. Familiar characters make appearances throughout, and Flanagan cleverly hints at other stories which have not been written, whetting the reader's appetite for just one more book in the series that has captivated audiences the world over!

Map of The Sky (Trilogia Victoriana #2) (Felix Palma)

What a relief to be able to say this sequel is far and away better than its predecessor!
I realize there was a lot of negativity after The Map of Time. I don't rescind a word of it; this novel doesn't make that one any better; rather, it only proves that "the fault, dear Brutus, is not it ourselves, but in the plot."
The smuttiness of the first book is all but forgotten in light of a new sort of threat that arises in conjunction with the success of yet another Wells book, the War of The Worlds. Wells may have thought that his was speculative fiction, but Palma carefully sets the mirror on its edge and lets us see what the world would be like if aliens really did infiltrate the human race, taking the forms of humans drawn from their DNA, so that one might have been neighbors with a "Martian" (called that, it seems, because of the misnomer in Wells' book; but they are not actually from Mars) without even realizing it. Then comes the process of forming a resistance and seeking to overthrow the alien oppression, a brief bit of time travel, the strangest bit of foreshadowing I have ever seen that is nonetheless effective—and this book actually succeeds. In addition to the story, Palma takes the time to ponder over the concept of storytelling and other deep concepts that set the wheels in my head turning in a way that Map of Time never really did. It's almost as if the first book merely introduced the characters and provided the setting for the movement of Map of The Sky, which the latter could then dispense with in favor of developing the characters and the conflict extremely well. I admit I actually did enjoy this book.
Little Women Letters (Gabrielle Donnelly)

This pleasant little book had me grinning as I read it all the way through.
This delightful story was recommended to me by a friend, and I couldn't be more grateful. I am an avid fan of Alcott any day of the week, and this book was 11 hearty chapters of "I'm with you there, sister; weren't the Marches just awesome?"
The Atwaters were every bit as dimensional and fascinating as the March girls, their fictional ancestors, and for the first time ever reading a book I had the distinct impression of reading a character that could have been inspired by key characteristics in my own life, in the middle Atwater daughter, Lulu.
The book spanned a year, just like the original novel, and focused on the escapades of three sisters: Emma--whose name is actually Josephine, as the tradition has been for the oldest girl in the family to be named thus, yet she goes by her middle name; Lulu--the one who majored in biochemistry because it was an interesting field, but not one with very much of a career, so she is working at a small bookstore and still trying to find her niche; and Sophie--the baby, the dramatist, the actress who's hungry for her next big break. Their parents, Fee and David, are loving and supportive of their girls. Also living at the house is "The American Lodger", a mysterious man named Tom whom we don't see much of for most of the book. In and out of the lively British home are friends of the family: Charlie, the exotic Irish-Italian heiress who shared a flat with Lulu; Matthew, Emma's fiance; and Jamie, Sophie's oft-ignored boyfriend.
The book was well-paced, the characters every bit as dear as one could wish, and I can honestly say that this was one of the few books I've ever read that I actually enjoyed the activity of reading itself!

Wild Storm (Storm #2) (Richard Castle)

Oh my gosh, just a heck of an adventure with shameless name-dropping all the way!
I don't know who really writes these novels, but they do a bang-up job! From "Javier Rodriguez" and "Kevin Bryan" to "Pi the Fruitarian" and Storm's father who "looked like James Brolin" (the actor who played Castle's dad on the show) the Storm novels delve into the fandom deeper than most fanfiction writers would dare to go! It's so shameless that one can dismiss it and enjoy the story itself, full of explosions and espionage and expensive tech and dastardly criminals that make this a perfect summer read and a great way to pass the time while waiting for the next season!