Friday, May 29, 2015

Spring Reading List

Mistborn (Mistborn #1) by Brandon Sanderson

Glorious and epic. Some authors exhaust their genius on a work of this caliber—but Brandon has cared to practice developing his characters first in other novels, and so this comes out in vivid Technicolor with "Mistborn"! The world of his novel is grey and ash-laden; the characters can't even imagine plants that are green, not brown. In this world, there exists a science called Allomancy, which is the ability to "burn" metals within one's digestive system, which enhances or unleashes certain abilities (pewter enhances resilience; tin super-enhances the senses, and so on).
It's a world that should be as complicated as "Dune", but Sanderson keeps it all relatively confined to one city—Luthandel—and one resistance group seeking to bring down the Lord Ruler who has set himself up as God and Chosen One. Whereas I felt like Herbert was deliberately setting up Arrakis as his land of all the anti-Protestant religions, such as Islam and Catholicism and even pantheism as a definite exclusion of said Christianity, Sanderson thought to include religion in just such a way that the resistance affirms the Lord Ruler is not the god he claims to be, and there is another character, Sazed, whom I absolutely adore, who has all of this knowledge about hundreds of different religions, and he is always recommending religions to his fellow fighters, based on their personality. There's a definite gravity and respect for religion there, not just a "grind-it-in-your-face" attitude. It's funny, but respectful.
Meanwhile, you have the one girl who is a natural Mistborn without realizing it, so the others must train her in the art of Allomancy; the Survivor who endured unspeakable torture and has the most to gain or lose depending on the outcome; and—because Sanderson is awesome—then you have Lestibournes, renamed Spook because one of the characters can't pronounce his name, who is by far the most creative, crazy character I have ever encountered in all the books I have read. It seems like Sanderson, exclusively for this character, invented the most convoluted, upside-down-and-backward way of speaking EVER. For example, the name "Lestibournes" is actually derived from the phrase "Lefting I'm born", or "I was abandoned as an infant." At another point, Spook says, "Wasing of the wishing to happen he had!" (Or something like that) meaning "He wanted this to happen!" There is even one whole conversation the others have in this crazy "street slang" that I had to read THREE TIMES and I was laughing so hard because I could not make head or tails of it! Sanderson's characters will tug at your heart and take your breath away. I highly recommend any of his books!

The Alchemyst (Nicholas Flamel #1) by Michael Scott

Not bad! Certainly not as good as some novels with teenage heroes that I have read—but then again, better than others.
Siblings Sophie and Josh are likable enough, as far as "chosen heroes" go. And the cast of immortal/mythical characters surrounding them is great. Scott sets up his series and the plot arc well enough.

It's just... Of all the quirks to give your teenage characters, you had to pick an obsession with electronic devices? To the point of said devices like cell phones and laptops being more important than one's life or, I don't know, finding out more about the mystical realm one has been transported to? If the siblings spent more time exploring and less time worrying about the total absence of cell reception and the ensuing "boredom," the story would have been a lot more fascinating. Not that it wasn't, but more like it was only 75% fascinating. And the other 25% was completely unnecessary—but still not terrible enough for me to stop reading. I only hope that this series gets better instead of worse.

Steelheart (Reckoners #1) by Brandon Sanderson

Wow! Sanderson has done it again!
Sometime in the future, Calamity (some kind of celestial entity) explodes, turning some of the human population into Epics: people with superhuman powers. One Epic in particular decides to use his elevated status and power of invincibility to set himself up as ruler of Newcago: Steelheart. He is unstoppable, incalculable, untouchable... 
Except this one time, when an innocent young boy saw him bleed as Steelheart killed his father. From that day, David devotes himself to the study of the Epics, intent on making Steelheart bleed a little more fatally this time. He crosses paths with the Reckoners, a group of resistance fighters intent on bringing down the Epics, and it looks like he might get the chance he's been waiting for.
Once again, Sanderson uses real-world concepts in astonishing new ways, populates his world with relatable, funny, intriguing characters, and imparts relevant life truths for the reader's benefit even after the book is over.
I loved reading Steelheart because of the fantastic adventure it was. The whole novel is poised with calculated artistry and the signature Sanderson Flair. Totally going to read the sequel!

Prince of Fools (Red Queen's War #1) by Mark Lawrence

Joss Whedon once said: "Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough... Then for the love of God, tell a joke!"

As a committed Whedonite (Whedonian?) it is most certainly a high compliment when I say that Lawrence has officially succeeded as "the Joss Whedon of Fantasy." The man just does NOT slow down!
Just when you might think a spin-off from a series will likely not be as good as the original—or at worst, just a copy of the other characters and plot— Lawrence gives us Jalan Kendeth: a prince of far less ambition than Jorg, which he makes up for in cowardice—but at the same time, the dry humor Jalan plies makes this book much lighter than the Thorns trilogy (I giggled quite a bit through this one!) but no less compelling, as Jalan unwittingly ends up on the business end of a curse that should have killed him, but instead ties his fate with that of a big burly Norseman named Snorri.
I loved Snorri. He balanced Jal perfectly: brave where Jal was cowardly, strong where Jal was weak, wise where Jal was foolish—and the two of them traveling together was downright funny!
The stakes are even higher on this trilogy: what is killing people to become Emperor compared to breaking a curse, finding the key to the supposed Underworld, and stopping a war?

Atlantia by Ally Condie
I admit, I was kind of hoping for something more than Matched. But no.
People have lived in Atlantia for at least two generations: it's an underwater environment in supposed harmony with those who chose to remain on the surface during the "Great Divide." There's a coming-of-age ceremony in which teens decide whether to go Above or remain Below; if one goes Above, the other must remain, or they can both choose Below. There are two sisters who lost their mother a couple years back, and though one has "always dreamed of living Above", her sister begs her to stay... Only to commit to going Above when the choice comes!
But wait, the other sister also has a secret ability that makes it dangerous for her down Below: she's a Siren. 
I picked up this book hoping that, because it was fresh and new, Rio would have more personality and dimensionality than Cassia did. I distinctly remember enjoying Matched at first... Till I realized Condie kind of had a "flat static" style and tone to her writing. By "Reached", the trilogy smacked of "sameness," and here again, we find a plot too similar to that trilogy to have come from any other author. I guess that makes her plagiarism-proof... but it also makes for a boring story. Boo.

Virals (Virals #1) by Kathy and Brendan Reichs

Oh my stars what did I just read? It's like a Goonies revival set on a little island off the coast of Charleston, with some Crichton-esque biological experimentation conspiracy mixed in!
The main character of this series is Tori Brennan, the great-niece of renown Temperance Brennan, the inspiration for the star of the show "Bones." Having only watched the pilot of "Bones", I admit I was not wholly familiar with the franchise, so I merely judged this book based on the writing—which was great!
It's a unique premise: five friends, and one of them is the daughter of a research scientist on a small island off the coast of North Carolina. One of the scientists also working at the facility has been conducting illicit experiments with animals—experiments that inadvertently affect the lives of Tori and her four friends. 
"Virals" scores big in the area of characters. The plot takes a while to get off the ground, but that's understandable seeing as this is the first novel in the series and this has the most groundwork to do. I will definitely be reading the other books in the series, though, now that I know the fourth book is done so well, compared to the first!

Absolute Power by David Baldacci

Oh dang... Shades of "Disclosure", but Baldacci definitely beats Crichton in the thriller department!
A seasoned cat burglar breaks into a house to lift a few things and disappear without a trace... Only to be caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar by the arrival of the lady of the house in a violently passionate affair with the President of the United States. Love turns deadly, and this burglar is witness to a murder, witnessing the Secret Service's attempt at cleanup and even absconding with the murder weapon—but how can he accuse the man with absolute power?
The ordeal with the affair makes for more than usual of those scenes, which I write off as "gross"... But in spite of it, Baldacci gives plenty of personality to his characters, and, just when I was beginning to feel like the book was dragging on toward what I suspected would be an unsatisfactory ending...

The last five chapters literally took my breath away. I will never doubt Baldacci again.
Exposure (Virals #4) by Kathy and Brendan Reichs

I know; there oughta be some kind of rule against reading books 1 and 4 consecutively... But what the heck, I did it anyway!
Here is somebody who really can write a bunch of teenagers! Tori Brennan is the niece (or great-niece) of Temperance "Bones" Brennan... The one on the show based on the other series that Kathy Reichs wrote. If that sounds a bit Mary-Sue-ish... Yeah, it sort of is glorified fanfiction... But, as with the Richard Castle novels, Reichs strives to do justice by her own characters. Certainly, out of all the books I've read with teenage main characters (especially if it's a girl in the midst of boys) this one ranks near the top in style.
There's a good chunk of the adventure I missed, I know. At this point, Chase has been investigating the Virals and is getting closer, they've caught some big baddie that was doing horrible things I know not of, and the use of their special abilities is starting to unravel. 
Still, the interactions between the characters is not as cheap as some others I've read (see Atlantia or The Alchemyst above) and the mystery is energetic enough to keep me reading. Nicely done!

N is for Noose (ABC Mystery #14) by Sue Grafton

Kinsey getting herself in trouble. Go figure... At least this one is interesting because the case comes post-mortem! A woman comes to her after her detective husband has died, wanting Kinsey to find out what had troubled him so badly in the week before his apparent heart attack. So our intrepid heroine goes out to a podunk little town where everybody knows everybody and everybody's business is keeping tabs on everybody else's business... Rumors start flying, Kinsey has to figure out what people aren't saying about the deceased and his issues... Book 14, folks! Grafton is still on a roll.