Friday, March 27, 2015

Winter Reading List

*Not pictured: Quickbane (The Vale Chronicles #1)
Quickbane (The Vale Chronicles #1) by Chelsea Starling

This book came recommended by Pauline Creeden during a day when it was free, so I picked it up. I read the blurb first, and there was a little part of me that worried this book would turn out to be the cheap, "fluffy", shallow variety of YA chick lit—but I trusted Pauline on account of her own writing, so I gave it the benefit of the doubt.

I am so glad I did. Jessa is the quintessential "Child of Destiny", but she spends much of the story trying to figure it out, and her fiery temper and her stubborn pride get the better of her and threaten to unleash terror on her whole community. Coupled with a trapped demon desperate for any avenue of escape, and a rite of passage that requires knowledge of the darker side of magic—
Starling creates a fascinating world reminiscent of Gaiman and Funke, and I found Quickbane to be an enchanting, enjoyable read!

I Am The Messenger by Marcus Zusak

I had never heard of Marcus Zusak till someone suggested I read The Book Thief. That book has henceforth been counted time and again in pretty much every single one of my "Books You Simply Must Read" lists, and is the pivotal book in opening my eyes to unorthodox styles of writing that stick with me and work well. So, naturally, when I saw a second book by Zusak, I had to read it.
"I Am The Messenger" doesn't quite carry the same dramatic "punch-to-the-feels" that Book Thief did, but it still carries that same thoughtful deliberation over those everyday decisions we take for granted. How often are we content to float through life without even a second thought for our neighbors, to say nothing of our community? What if you were given the chance to care enough to do something nice for a total stranger? Would you care enough to save the life of someone down the street? Ed is just an ordinary young man with a dog that is described exclusively and repeatedly in association with the foulest stenches known to man—and by some twist of chance he is thrust into the forgotten corners of his community as the Messenger—bringer of hope, of life, and of joy. Zusak's trademark careful use of language kept me attached to the book and certainly got me thinking about my own community. It does have bouts of objectionable material; not enough to make me wholly reject the book, but just barely over the "recommendable" limit.

Emperor of Thorns (Broken Empire Trilogy #3) by Mark Lawrence

And then there's Mark Lawrence. HEY GUESS WHAT? I DID IT! I FINALLY FINISHED THAT BLOODY (literally) TRILOGY!
I still remain squeamish; I still cannot stand reading books with so much darkness and such murder and depravity...
But there's just something in the way Mark writes that keeps me coming back again and again, something in that dry "guillotine humor" (makes the gallows seem tame...) and the spell-binding use of technology in this erstwhile "medieval" world that stirs me to peep between my fingers as I cover my face in horror.
And it has payed off. Now at last the enigma that is Fexler Brews is unraveled. I was disappointed to find that it had been so long since I had read King of Thorns that I had forgotten the intricate side plots and tandem storylines—but all the same, at this point all I wanted was to find out how it ended. I wasn't particularly attached to how the kid got there. (Apologies to the author, but that's how it is)
That being said, if all the final reveals over the course of the book were not enough to blow my mind as the series has done time and again... The ending blew my mind in the way it turned my expectation on its head! Even now as I recall it, I cannot figure out what in the heck I just read... If Zusak left me pensive and looking closely at my world with renewed interest, Lawrence leaves me disoriented, puzzled, and spinning through a void of a post-apocalyptic world that I thought I understood, but now cannot even fathom. Full marks for use of descriptive and poignant language... But dock one for that finish...

Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia Wrede

It's fairy tales, in Elizabethan English! I prided myself for knowing exactly what everyone was saying. Besides, only the dialogue was in the archaic vernacular, and—contrary to the metered lines of Shakespeare—it wasn't all truncated and full of the chopped-up syllables to get it to fit, which made it easier to understand. The style of the story itself was more your average modern-day fairy tale—and a beautifully-done one at that! I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

Dark Fire (The Last Dragon Chronicles #5) by Chris D'Lacey

I did it. I'm sorry. I read another "Last Dragon Chronicles," even after I told myself I didn't want to.
This one wasn't so bad. It's a lot less of the Fain/Ix/Polar bear hoodoo and a lot more confrontations... And this time there's a fully-grown dragon instead of just a sculpture of one! I think D'Lacey finally (after floundering like a beached whale for two or three books!) found out where he wanted to go with the series, and so there seems to be more of a heading toward a certain goal, instead of the neverending cycle of "Good guy tries it, bad guy stops him." As with the Broken Empire (SORRY, MARK!) I might just stick with the story till it ends, but there doesn't seem to be any of the characters I am particularly fond of. 

Day of the Predator (TimeRiders #2) by Alex Scarrow

CAN SOMEBODY PLEASE TELL ME WHAT THE HECK I JUST READ??
Time travel over "millions of years" to the time of dinosaurs, throw in a new "organic AI" that was a guy in the first book and now is a girl... Recipe for a YA treatise on the evolutionary theory, right?
Thankfully, Scarrow has yet to lose track of bringing his characters through an actual story in the midst of all this crazy time-hopping. He's not trying to make a point, the environment is still the medium for his characters, not the message for his readers. So I can worry less about whether he's trying to convince me of gender fluidity and just enjoy the fact that Bob and Becks, while "based" on the same AI program, are still very separate and distinct entities. And the connections between the team members are getting stronger and deeper, and they're learning not just about themselves but also about the dangers and mysteries of time travel and what all that entails. And then...

THAT ENDING THOUGH!!!! 

Here I was, just beginning to relax, getting ready to put the book down with a smile after that great escapade that turned out all right in the end...

AND SCARROW THROWS IN THE MOTHER OF ALL PLOT TWISTS IN THE VERY LAST SENTENCE AND NOW I CAN'T EVEN!!!

Must finish this series or I just might explode.

L is for Lawless (ABC Mysteries #12) by Sue Grafton

Another mystery, another chance for Kinsey Millhone to screw things up and get herself into impossibly uncomfortable and pretty-near life-threatening situations. It's pretty sad when the most entertaining part of the book is the secondary character who only shows up every so often. That being said, I love Grafton for inventing the Pitts family: four geriatric siblings (the youngest is I think eighty-five) and one of them is marrying a garrulous Ukranian named Rosie. Actually I found the undercover work Kinsey does this time around to be mildly entertaining. But the nature of the crime, the "mystery", and the "periods of peril" involved with this installment left quite a bit to be desired, compared to some of the earlier books in the series. "L" is for "Lackluster."

Death Comes To Pemberley by P. D. James

Jane Austen and a murder mystery? Yes please! James slides her "fanfiction" seamlessly into Austen's most famous work, plunging Pemberley into the dark embroils of murder, centering around—who else—one George Wickham. 
As Darcy muses to himself, "Am I never to be rid of that man?"
The mystery itself, as with the outcomes of most of Austen's novels, is clear right from the beginning, although the exact conclusion is affected by some twist that only happens just before the denouement. But as far as language (my fetish) is concerned, James does ample justice to her source, even getting derailed in a treatise on the politics and practices of the day, which I skim-read in the middle. 
Couple that with watching the BBC series on Netflix at the same time (why, yes, I did in fact finish the adaptation before I finished the book; what of it?) I must say I rather enjoyed myself during this one, and would recommend it to any Austen fan!

Emerald Green (Precious Stone Trilogy #3) by Kerstin Gier

Augh!! After seeing this book on the library shelf for SO LONG I finally start the series and I FINALLY reach this, the last book in the trilogy.
I have only this to say: IT WAS EVERYTHING I COULD HAVE HOPED IT TO BE!! Gier keeps the tension and the mind-blowing ingenuity right to the last sentence, and even with all the time-hopping, she (like Scarrow) manages not to get her timelines knotted. So much so that, with what I know now, I very much want to go back and read the whole series over again! It was a lovely time with fantastic characters and wonderful intrigue, and I loved the entire series!!! 
*UPDATE: SAKES ALIVE I JUST FOUND OUT THAT THE FIRST TWO BOOKS WERE MADE INTO MOVIES.... IN GERMAN, BUT WHATEVER! I AM SURE THERE'S AN ENGLISH DUB VERSION OUT THERE!!

The Cardinal at the Kremlin (Jack Ryan #4) by Tom Clancy

All right, so this was my first time choosing a Jack Ryan book that I didn't know the title, and apparently I didn't choose very well. Now I know... But it was fun seeing Ramius from Red October again! I remember thinking that I didn't expect it to be such a very long book... And really, I skimmed a lot of it in the middle there... Even now, a few of the plot points I am thinking, "Why is that even part of the story??" I did find some parts fascinating, though. The more I read Jack Ryan's character, the more I envision him as portrayed by Harrison Ford... Not Ben Affleck, Chris Pine, or Alec Baldwin! 
On the whole, it did not turn out to be as "bone dry" as a friend warned me it would be; however, that might be because I was skim-reading to finish the darn thing. The parts I read, though, were entertaining, and the characters were very intriguing.