Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Reading Lists 2016: Ranked Reading List 5

Here we are at the fifth and (probably) final Ranked Reading List of 2016! Have you enjoyed having the books ranked like this? Would you like to see them like this next year, or more like I've done it in years past--Monthly lists, Seasonal lists... How frequently would you like to see the lists? Let me know in the comments! Meanwhile... On with the show!

#10. Ancillary Justice 
Ann Leckie

I had been looking to pick up this book since a friend recommended it to me on Goodreads. I had also seen it in the runnings for a Summer Indie Book Award competition a few months earlier, so I figured I would give it a go and see how it would fare. The blurb looked fascinating, so I started reading. Bottom line: I was confused by the time I started the second chapter. It starts out innocently enough: the narrator, a girl, finds a body frozen in the snow on a wintery planet. From there it goes to a flashback where I slowly began to realize that the “girl” was actually multiple people—multiple consciousnesses, each doing “her” own thing at any given moment. Additionally, the body—to which “she” had referred in feminine pronouns, was identified by another character as actually a “he”—but the more I read, the more this multi-personified narrator constantly used feminine pronouns for everyone, which made it hard for me to keep track of who precisely was speaking, as they didn’t really have a “voice” when I couldn’t figure out the difference of gender! I would have to say that this was the most distracting thing about the book, and it really kept me from enjoying an otherwise rich, deep, and intriguingly twisted plot. Not that I have anything against an author choosing to remove genders as a factor—but, as with Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan, the fact that the author chose to make such a big deal out of it, and constantly reiterate it over and over again, kind of made it hard to immerse myself in the story.

#9. The Maze Runner
James Dashner

This was one of several books on this list that I chose to read because of the movie—but in this particular case, I actually saw the movie first (the other two are recently-released movies, so of course I haven’t seen them yet.) I rather liked it, actually. I will say that the casting was very well done—I could easily imagine each actor in the roles from the book. It’s amazing how, actually, races are never really described in the book (since the narrator, Thomas, has little to no memory, and thus no basis to identify other nationalities), but it was the particular way each character spoke that makes the reader go “Ah, this is the country of origin for the character.” This information, then, must have played a part in the casting choices, which is why they fit so well with the accents they chose. (Of all the non-American actors, only one—the obviously-British character in the book—got to use his natural accent) As for the story, however… Meh. It was okay, it just kind of ruins the suspense, I guess, seeing the movie first, because I already know how it all turns out—and while normally, spoilers don’t bother me, I really can’t seem to shake the disappointment over the outcome of the series. Hence, it really lessened the propensity for sympathizing with the characters the book really wants the reader to sympathize with. Bummer.

#8. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children 
Ransom Riggs

For as much as I’m looking forward to the film, it’s really a surprise how low on the list this one ended up. It has all the hallmarks of a great adventure: the fact that Riggs took actual photos and crafted such a fantastic story around them kind of reminds me of my own endeavors in doing the exact same thing—but at the same time, it was also kind of a little bit less impactful than the others. No less enjoyable, and I’ll probably (most likely) end up reading more of the series—but it’s Number 8 so that’s a thing. I love the creativity, there were some very endearing character moments, and good development.

#7. Dream A Little Dream  (Silver Trilogy #1)
Kerstin Gier

I admit I was very surprised to find this one! I had no idea that she had other books besides the Ruby Red Trilogy (which I loved so much I bought the boxed set!) but there it was! And, despite being seventh on the list—don’t get me wrong, I really loved it! The characters were wonderful and flawed without making a too-huge deal about their flaws. The theme of “dreams” echoed throughout the entire narrative. Oh, and she also has a dog that was originally named Dr. Watson (good choice!) until they found out it was a girl, and so they changed the name to Princess Buttercup. (another excellent choice!) Now that I think about it, this story is kind of like an easy-read version of Raven Boys: not so dark, steeped in heady lore, and running with adult themes, but still: young girl has a remarkable ability she’s not sure of, but this ability unwittingly throws her in with the most popular and notorious boys in the school—and at once, the whole group is plunged into peril that none of them see coming. Well-played, intriguing, and funny by turns, this was a wonderful find, and I can’t wait to read the next one! (Apparently it still has to be translated, I think; at any rate, I could only find the original German version on Goodreads… so you can BET I went and entered the whole thing on Google Translate to find out what it’s going to be about!)

#6. The Girl on The Train 
Paula Hawkins

Yet another book I picked up because I saw the trailer for the film adaptation and was very intrigued by the premise. My feelings now that I’ve read it? Holy buckets, I don’t know whether I should be excited to see Emily Blunt do an amazing job at portraying the lead character… or terrified to actually see such a chilling book brought to vivid life. I think it might have been worse to see the film without having read the book… maybe I can actually enjoy the film now that I know the outcome… but, considering that the central characters are all very messed-up individuals, like the manipulative pathological liar, the alcohol addict, the floozy, the abusive husband… should I enjoy a film like that? Who knows? But the book was absolutely great and all the twists just kept coming at me with no warning. Definitely a mind-trip!

#5. The Whole Truth (A. Shaw #1) 
David Baldacci

On the one hand, I enjoy that Baldacci is so prolific, because I really enjoy his style and I love discovering his new characters. On the other hand—a prolific author means that the library closest to my house doesn’t always reliably have the first book in a series, and those who know me know that I always like to start a series on Book 1! But finally, I found at least one “series starter” that I hadn’t read yet—and man! It was a doozy! And, considering the State of the Union right now, very timely. The main protagonist is a contract hitman who is trying to grow a conscience and actually managed to find someone who makes surviving his suicide missions worthwhile—but his boss won’t let him quit. For the “antagonist” side of this story, Baldacci chose to delve into the concept of “perception management”—the “spin doctors” hired by politicians and government agencies to blow events out of proportion and control media attention, putting visuals and “virals” into place, to make the general public believe and “see” a certain way—when in fact the truth is that the whole thing is a sham, a hollow display of smoke and mirrors, a “public outcry” with no substance, a “protest” of a “tragedy” that never actually happened, though there are people in place who will swear up and down that it did—and most people would rather follow a new hashtagging trend or a blog post with a sensational headline than actually bother fact-checking just what the hashtag or blog is really saying. Sound familiar? Yeah, anyway, that’s all I will say on that. The book was really good and I really liked Shaw as a character, and YAY, I have a new Baldacci series to follow!

#4. Sabriel (Abhorsen Trilogy #1) 
Garth Nix

Another recommendation from a friend—and this one was quite the winner! Garth Nix is kind of like a combination of Gaiman (like Stardust, there is a magic realm, and a not-so-magic realm, separated by a capital-W Wall) and Sanderson (like Mistborn, a young girl inherits a terrible duty from her father, and she must see it through, even if it kills her). Since I really liked both of those concepts from those stories, I was already most of the way to liking this book as soon as I started—and Nix delivered a sound and wonderful story on every level. The “Charter” magic is more of the traditional sense, where the users are tracing symbols in the air and speaking words of power (kind of like the variety Doctor Strange uses) and it’s Sabriel’s job, as “the Abhorsen”, to not only find her father who has been wrongfully drawn into Death, but also find out who has been breaking the Charters and allowing the Dead to pass into Life. An intriguing mission that rings consistent throughout, and very much interesting all the way to a spectacular end. Definitely going to read the rest of this series!

#3. The Raven King (The Raven Boys Cycle #4) 
Maggie Stiefvater

For all the series I am starting in this batch, I also happen to be finishing one as well. And what a finish! Holy mackerel. From the very beginning, the narration (by Blue) has reminded us time and again about how kissing would result in death, so she’s always been afraid of falling in love (because falling in love means kissing, duh)…. But then she meets the Raven Boys and sparks fly so neatly, and then there’s also the Hunt for Glendower that kind of comes along and overtakes the whole objective of the story—and through it all, the reader becomes so closely acquainted with each and every one of these characters that we are invested in their lives… even though there hasn’t been much in the way of actual backstory until this, the final book. All I can say is: if this was a typical YA series, you would expect everything to begin and end with (of course) Blue and (of course) Gansey/Adam… BUT it’s Ronan. From beginning to end, it’s Ronan. And kisses are definitely things to treasure, and not to trifle with. And this series wrecked my feels again.

#2. The Last Dragonslayer  (Chronicles of Kazam #1)
Jasper Fforde

Okay, so this one wasn’t exactly recommended, but I have a few friends whom I saw reading Fforde’s books on Goodreads, and besides—there were dragons, and if I’m not gonna get anymore Mediochre Q. Seth (BOOHOO!!) by golly, I need to get my dragon-fix somewhere! So, the Chronicles of Kazam, it is! Jennifer Strange (HA!) is a foundling who runs an employment agency for magicians, but in a world where magic is rather a mundane thing, like a handyman skill more than a “mystical and awful art.” Plus, the agency is not doing so well currently because magic is actually fading away—and what is a magician without magic? The famed Last Dragon is the only beacon of hope for magic-users of the world—but at the same time, the Last Dragon is predicted to die at the hands of a Dragonslayer, and rumors are flying about some kind of Big Magic coming, but what it is and what it does is still unclear. All Jennifer cares about is keeping her job and keeping the magicians gainfully employed… Whose idea was it to add “Become a Dragonslayer and Slay The Dragon To Fulfill The Prophecy” on top of all that? It’s fun, it’s hilarious, it’s British, there’s dragons… I loved it! 

#1. The Last Mile (Amos Decker #2) 
David Baldacci

For how many books he already has out, I’m surprised (and pleased) Baldacci is still churning new ones out at this rate! It seems less than a year ago I saw Memory Man (the first Amos Decker book) hit the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble… and now here’s the second book already at my library! (For as long as I sometimes have to wait for a Mark Lawrence book… Oh well, I guess the library staff has different priorities! At least I haven’t missed a book!) And of course, for as many Baldacci books as I have read… one of them was bound to nab the Number 1 spot on a Ranked Reading List at some point, and this one definitely takes the cake! I really love Amos Decker as a character—he’s “cursed” with hyperthymesia, which means he can’t forget, and also synesthesia, which means sensory cues are associated with other senses, like emotions having a certain colored aura, or certain sounds or smells being associated with numbers. The “Last Mile” refers to an inmate on death row taking the last walk to the lethal injection—and in this case, Amos happens to believe that the inmate is innocent, because the “confession” is remarkably similar to the canned confession of the initial suspect in the murder of his family in the first book. But some very powerful people desperately want this conviction to go through—so Amos and his friends in the FBI need to work together to make sure that the right perpetrator receives the punishment. It was a very deep and moving narrative, with glimpses into Amos’ back-story with glimpses into his relationship with his own family. Like him, the convict is a football player—but the loving family this young man always thought he had may not have been as caring and honest as they appeared. I really loved it, and definitely this was my favorite out of these ten I read!

On to the next stack of books!

Previous Ranked Lists:
List #1
List #2