Monday, March 31, 2014

Monthly Reading List: March

And so ends another month of great reading!

Halt's Peril (#9, Ranger's Apprentice Series, John Flanagan)

Ranger's Apprentice! How could I forget the Ranger's Apprentice series that I have yet to finish??
Halt's Peril delivers. One might think that the story might begin with Halt getting shot (as the jacket blurb spoils for us) and spend the whole time focusing on Will and how he would manage without his mentor.

But no. Halt doesn't get shot till around chapter eight or so. Which gives Mr. Flanagan ample time to do what he does best: establish his cast of colorful characters so vividly you can almost smell them.
This book feels almost like a culmination of the story arc that started in Book 5 with the Sorcerer of the North and was briefly interrupted in Book 7 with Erak's Ransom. We see familiar characters from the last 3 books, namely Tennyson, the unscrupulous "prophet of Alseiass" whom we met in "Clonmel", and the healer Malcom from "Sorcerer" and "Macindaw." Horace joins the Rangers in their quest to discredit Tennyson once and for all, after all the grief he's caused. The bonds of friendship are sound, and the theme of sacrifice and true strength and courage rings throughout. I laughed, I held my breath—and I can't believe it's ending soon.

Along Came A Spider (#1, Alex Cross series, James Patterson)
I decided to start yet another thriller writer who I've seen over and over again, James Patterson. I started at the very beginning of his two most famous series.
Along Came A Spider introduces us to Alex Cross, a psychiatric doctor often called to help on cases where the criminal is obviously troubled. And boy, does this dude have a problem! His style of kidnapping is to bury his victims—young children—alive in a remote location where there's not much hope that they'll be found before they're dead. It's up to Alex to get inside the kidnapper's head to first figure out his identity, and then where he has taken the children of some prominent government officials, and why.
That being said, I didn't much appreciate the intensity of said psychopath. I felt disturbed more often than intrigued, and the compulsion to finish was driven more by frantic desperation for a resolution than actual interest in the story. Alex himself did not much strike me as a very strong character. I don't think I will be pursuing this series any further.

1st to Die (#1 Women's Murder Club series, James Patterson)
What part of "a lady detective, a medical examiner, and a persistent reporter decide to form a Murder Club" isn't intriguing?
This book had so much going for it—and yet from the first crime scenario, I discovered it was a serial killer whose preferred MO involved mutilating the bodies in ways I never thought possible—which Mr. Patterson seemed to enjoy describing in minute, graphic detail.
The characters happened to be marginally interesting (at least enough for me to actually want them to catch this sicko) which is why I kept reading it—but every time the killer struck, I skimmed pages while my stomach turned.
I'm giving the sequel one more chance, in the hopes that it was sheerly the nature of the crime chosen for the first book that made it so revolting. We'll see if the characters get any more interesting—or maybe I discover an author who just plain can't write female characters.

G is for Gumshoe (#7, ABC Mysteries, Sue Grafton)
Grafton does it again with a rousing mystery full of bizarre circumstances and outlandish perils to entertain the mind.
In this mystery, Kinsey receives two messages in a single day. The first is an elderly client asking her to investigate the whereabouts of her own mother, whom she hasn't heard from in a long while. Kinsey knows it will be simple; for a PI who is a pro at sniffing out paper trails and false identities to find people who want to hide, how hard could it be to find a near-senile old lady?
The next call she gets informs her that a mobster she helped incarcerate a few years prior has put a hit out on her—several dangerous killers are out for her blood. Hence, her friend in the police department has issued her a bodyguard to follow her 24/7 and approve activities outside her house—something that severely cramps Kinsey's mode of operation! How can she hunt down leads when she can't investigate by herself? Will the Irish mob get her before she can solve the case?
A cast of colorful characters, an intriguing mystery, and a rather entertaining literary reference—There were one or two cringe-worthy scenes that contributed little to either Kinsey's character or her case, but barring that, a delightful read!

Council of Mirrors (#9, Sisters Grimm series, Michael Buckley)
Finally! The last book in the Sisters Grimm series! Not in the sense that I've been waiting for a very
long time—rather, I am glad that I can now quit that series with impunity.
Granted, this series had its warm-fuzzy moments, however rare or brief they were. But I never really quite got into the story, nor did I feel any sort of support or attachment to any of the characters.
Council of Mirrors was an ending that never rose above the level of the rest of the series. I am only grateful to be done with it. For once, I've read a series that might actually be entertaining only to ages 8-10. And even then... There are more worthwhile things to read at that age.

The Sixth Man (#5 King & Maxwell series, David Baldacci)
It wasn't till I checked it out and brought it home that I realized "Wait... Edgar... That's the guy from the TV series!"
Sure enough, this book was the one on which the pilot for TNT's short-lived series, "King & Maxwell" was based. Reading the novel as part of a series, instead of the beginning, provided an interesting new perspective on the two characters. Not only that, but it quickly became evident which parts of the original novel were changed for the TV series—and upon reflection I may have figured out a likely explanation as to why that would be.
The mystery was tight, complex, and very intriguing, but Baldacci infuses his characters with plenty of heart. The relationship between half-siblings Kelly and Edgar is heartwarming and tender. The fact that Edgar doesn't say a word until something like Chapter 40 is a unique way of presenting a character. We get inside his head before we "hear" what he has to say. A great book, and a great author. I can't wait to read the next one!

Allegiant (#3 Divergent Trilogy, Veronica Roth)
At long last, I found a copy of the last book in the Divergent series! I had read the first six chapters at an airport bookstore during a layover a few months back, but Allegiant didn't hit library shelves till recently.

The thing I find most intriguing about a book is when the title adequately describes the focus and theme of the novel. In Divergent, we find out about the class called "Divergent" that are outside the faction boundaries and therefore not as easily manipulated or controlled. Insurgent centered on the group that arose, committed to overthrowing the faction system and instituting a system akin to total anarchy, as a reaction to the stern regulation of the factions.
Allegiant deals with the fallout from the rebellion, and a group that calls themselves the Allegiant, who know the truth about the society that once lived by faction: they were part of a genetic experiment, collected into a single US city and closely monitored by the Council, whose job it was to discover whether genes could be used to correct "damaged" personalities. Those with more damage are more suceptible to chemical alterations. The "genetically pure" do not have the discrepancies that would make them vulnerable. It is the "damaged" ones that are viewed as the inferior race—and also the members of the Allegiant, whose aim is to strike back against the Council and prove themselves "worthy" of respect.
But does violence truly warrant respect? If you do as I say because otherwise I will kill you, is that actually respect or is it fear and coercion?
The book closes with the quote: "We are all damaged, every one.... But we can mend. We mend each other."
I love this series; I love the way it made me think, I love the continuous message of hope, I love the characters. It was awesome.

Once Upon A Time Fairytales (Cameron Dokey)

Have I mentioned how much I love fairytales? Especially ones that are well-done and take themselves seriously. From the original Grimms' Fairytales to Regina Doman's Fairy Tales, Re-Told and Marissa Burt's wonderful adventures in Storybound, fairy-tales to me are pretty things, like a soft-colored, peaceful painting, or a sun-catcher made of wire and strung with glass beads: delicate and awe-inspiring in a quiet sort of way.
Cameron Dokey's Once Upon A Time Fairytales are no exception. She has taken the stories we all grew up hearing and expanded them, adding new and unexpected insights and fresh perspectives that rejuvenate the old stories into a new timeless tale. And just like the old tales, there is a valuable lesson for each character to learn.
The two I read this month were for the stories of Beauty and the Beast and for Jack and the Beanstalk. They were both delightful stories (a bit girl-powered, but oh well). In the first, Belle is the youngest of three sisters who are far more beautiful than she is, and she takes her father's place to stay with the Beast because she is the only one who can free him from the enchantment in a way one would never expect. In the next story, Jack has a twin sister who is the level-head to his impulsiveness, and they find out that their mother is royalty from the World Above and must brave many dangers (the least of which, interestingly enough, are actually the giants) to reclaim their inheritance from the man who stole it and killed their father. I enjoyed every minute spent reading these, and I will certainly be on the lookout for more!

So how about you? What amazing reads did you discover in the month of March? Leave a recommendation in the comments!