Monday, September 1, 2014

Monthly Reading List: August

*Not pictured: J is for Judgment and The Good, The Bad, and The Mediochre

Magyk (Septimus Heap #1) Angie Sage
Rather pleasant little book. Very light reading, but not super-annoying characters.
The last time I picked up a series that looked intriguing after seeing it repeatedly on school library shelves (The Last Dragon Chronicles) it ended up very very badly. The series completely lost its head after two books, and I finally had to give up instead of risking yet even more mess. (though, now that I'm looking back, it might have been warranted, but premature... we'll see if I end up revisiting that series...)
This one caught my eye because of the neat cover design. (Always a plus!) I felt that the adventure started out well enough, and if I am reading the reviews aright, it sounds like Sage keeps it light and fun. The things most people find annoying aren't that much of a bother to me, and there are plenty of entertaining characters. 
Here's to a great series!

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike #2) Robert Galbraith (aka J. K. Rowling)
Severe disappointment on many counts after the ravishing color of the first one!
Cormoran Strike is back in action. Since the Lula Landry case, he has been mucking his way through infidelity confirmations, both imagined and real. Robin, his "temporary assistant" has kept on with him so faithfully that her boyfriend Matt is getting jealous.
Their next case seems like a simple one: a prolific author has disappeared. His wife is convinced he has just run off and needs to be brought home. Then he is found murdered in a truly sadistic fashion. Then Strike finds out that the manuscript he supposedly took with him contained scathing caricatures of pretty much everyone in his life—presenting him with a hefty list of suspects who would certainly have motive to not only want him dead, but the gumption to do it.
Anybody who is expecting a nice, delightful romp through the psyche of a writer (as told by a writer) should just forgo this book and stick with the first one. Sure, the character development between Cormoran and Robin is a thing of beauty—dear Ms. Rowling certainly hasn't lost her touch in that respect—but these scenes are far overshadowed by the grisly, crass, graphic, vulgar nature if the case. It is seriously the worst thing I think I have read (in content, NOT quality.) I only kept at it because I wanted to see how in the world such a wonderful author could feasibly finish such a tale of total depravity and despicable imagery—and even then, I was a little bit disappointed with the ending, which did not justify the disturbances of everything preceding it in the least. The thing is, it was well-written, I heartily acknowledge that, and this unfortunate installment in no way lessens my respect for her... But I am sad that so much of the book is so completely the opposite of my tastes so as to render this book un-commendable.

The Target (Will Robie #3) David Baldacci
Interesting finish to an exciting series, finding out a lot of past to a very intriguing character.
In the last book, Robie and Reel went from enemies to tentative allies. Now they're together again, and the CIA wants them because something went rotten in the White House, and who better than the very best to rectify the situation? 
As usual, Baldacci's treatment of his characters is marvelous. A bit light on "Super Agent Nicole Vance" this time, but Julie Getty returns for her moment to shine, and we get to find out more about the elusive Jessica Reel.
Where this book kind of falters is in the nature of the "foreign policy" side of the story: the things that are going on in places outside the US. I felt like the things that happened on "home soil" were a lot better paced, more exciting, and a lot more simplified like his usual style. While the "foreign" stuff I realize was necessary, I confess I found the other parts (like the numerous connections and reveals of Jessica's past as it catches up with her in the middle of all this mess) a lot more interesting. The banter was witty as ever, and the whole thing highly entertaining.

Cinder (Lunar Chronicles #1) Marissa Meyer
Wow! I read this book in a single day because I couldn't get enough of it! Kiera Cass should have known about Cinder when she went and invented America, The Vapid. 
Just when you thought all YA adaptions of fairy tales were shallow drivel laced with love triangles, steamy make-out scenes (and fantasies-of-making-out scenes) and docile, innocent white girls... When a certain "fairy tale-ISH" series has you mistrusting any author with the last name "Meyer" or any variant thereof...
I finally broke down and placed a hold on Cinder just because I'd been seeing the third book, Cress, on the shelf repeatedly and was extremely curious what it would be about. I checked it out with the intention of confirming or dispelling my suspicions. It could be another "Selection"... But then again, it could not be. I determined that if I detected even a smacking of America Singer I would return it immediately.

I couldn't be more delighted to be proven so very wrong.

Set in a future where humans own android servants, Cinder, as a cyborg, is definitely a second-class citizen. Her "stepmother" is the wife of the man who adopted her and died soon after, leaving this shallow, materialistic woman with two daughters and a cyborg.
The winks and nods to the original fairy tale fit wonderfully into this new setting (like the "pumpkin coach" is an "ancient" orange-colored Volkswagen Beetle that she fixes up to drive herself to the ball) and the twists and new sides of the story are both intriguing and amusing. I am excited to see what she has done with other tales as I continue through the series!

The Giver Lois Lowry
Very good story, poignant and simple.
I remember reading the story "Number the Stars" and enjoying it very much growing up. I don't know why I didn't read the book sooner. Maybe the title gave very little indication what the book could actually be about; I don't know why, but I would constantly get this title mixed up with the Shel Silverstein story, "The Giving Tree." Maybe the gnarled tree and the gnarled old man on the front always misled me as to what it might be about.
Lesson learned: don't judge a book by its cover. 
The Giver turned out to be nothing like I expected. The story was simple, straightforward, concise, and yet extremely poignant. Lowry seems to almost mimic her own world in the style of her writing: stark yet teeming with life, each word weighed and measured and laid down with such deliberation that she gets her point across in far less time than most YA authors today. I very much enjoyed this book.

The Good, The Bad, and The Mediochre Calum P. Cameron
Ridiculously fun read! The funniest book I've read since... oh, I don't know, Grave Beginnings? (and definitely a lot cleaner, language-wise, since it's a kids' book!)

I probably would have never even considered a book like this had not one writing buddy shared it with another on Facebook. It was free that day, so I thought I'd just sample it and see whether I might like to download it myself.
I got about five pages in and knew it had to be so. The author writes in a voice similar to Doug Adams, with characterizations worthy of Eoin Colfer, and a fantastically unique approach to the whole business of the "magic realm within the real world" trope that had me giggling long after I finished the book. 
The spelling was a bit off, the lack of chapter divisions made reading the book feel like trying to keep track of the errant clauses in a run-on sentence—but the story was so incredibly delightful that my inner child trounced my inner Grammar Police. This book was a wonderfully eclectic homage to some of YA's most entertaining sci-fi/fantasy authors—replete with judicious nods and references that outdid each other in gregariousness. If you adore fantasy and humor and are looking for some light, fun reading, I would definitely recommend this book!

J is for Judgment (Kinsey Millhone #10) Sue Grafton
Interesting mystery, but can't say it was ever very exciting at all.

Grafton has done a fairly decent job in her series, so "sloughs" like this are not as much of a problem to me. (It's the tenth book, for crying out loud! The woman deserves a medal for creating a series of mysteries for every letter of the alphabet! How many authors do you know have created a series longer than fifteen books and still maintains such a fresh and promising voice?) 

This book starts with a decent premise: the Insurance agency Kinsey works with has only just paid a client's life insurance policy, when the deceased is spotted at a resort in Mexico. Kinsey is sent to investigate, and this puts her squarely at the center of a mystery that struts its way through all the cliches: the man runs before Kinsey can catch him, after his son was arrested as an accomplice to murder; before she can find him, he's broken his son out of jail. Meanwhile, he had remarried under the new identity so his wife never knew he was alive, and this woman is under a false name as well, and things just get really confusing. There are some attempts at humor and awkward situations (that I did not find all that entertaining) and news that Henry's brother married the crotchety Rosie (which I found VERY entertaining!), but on the whole this was just an unsatisfactory "filler chapter" in an otherwise entertaining "book."

The Book of Three (Chronicles of Prydain #1) Lloyd Alexander
Finally, I'm reading the book everybody's referencing all the time. Yay me! It was pretty good, for a classic. It's been a long time since I've read a classic. What can I say about it? Classics are good for idyllic landscapes and moral guides for stalwart children through a treacherous land of enchantment and inhuman characters. I had seen Disney's "Black Cauldron" a few years back, so reading it through brought back flashes of memory, and I am definitely going to continue this famous series, but yeah, classics are very different. They certainly don't write them like they used to!
Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper loses the most special pig in the lot, the "oracular" (whatever that means) Hen Wen, and so chases after her. His journey takes him all over the place and turns his simple lifestyle on its head as he discovers unrest between kingdoms, a plot by one to overthrow the rest, a deposed Prince, a kidnapped, feisty princess, and a strange creature named (or called) Gurgi. It's fascinating and at the same time teaches a lot about character and good and evil and whatnot.