Friday, November 27, 2015

Fall Reading List

Left Stack: Dragonfly in Amber [unread], Well of Ascension [unread], Only Time Will Tell, You're Never Weird On the Internet (Almost), DodgerRight Stack: Fairest, Physik, The Fate of Ten, Raven Boys, Uprooted
Dodger by Terry Pratchett
This was my first experience of Terry Pratchett. He’s famous for his rambunctious style, he’s quoted all over any writing group anywhere… And after reading Dodger, I wonder why I didn't get into him sooner.
A young boy grows up in the gutters and sewers of London, having run away from the workhouse where he had done a lot of growing up, and he’s a “tosher” known as Dodger, he lives with a grubby Jew named Solomon… And one stormy night, he happens to encounter a botched abduction and a journalist named Charlie Dickens who seems very protective of young Jack. This story was sheer delight from start to finish. From facing off with Sweeny Todd to navigating British politics with Benjamin Disraeli, Pratchett delivers a pleasant, entertaining adventure! A thrilling mystery, action-packed scenes, and hilarious dialogue comprise a perfect combination from a master storyteller. 

Only Time Will Tell (Clifton Chronicles #1) by Jeffrey Archer
My grandma who reads a lot recommended Jeffrey Archer to me, and though I don't much go for historical fiction, I was encouraged by Pratchett and the recommendation.
What I got was a whole lot of cliche, slow plot. There wasn't a character I found particularly interesting, there was a whole lot of “Noble Poor Boy Befriends Lonely Rich Boy And Everybody Takes Advantage Of Him.” Coupled with the “Parents of Two Random Schoolmates Have A Secret Past That Is Dramatically Revealed When One Is In Peril” cliche. All action was centered around the singular hero, and all events directly affected his life. Situations became predictable, and even though there was a valiant effort at a “game-changing plot twist” at the end… to be honest, I never really found anything compelling enough in the story, and by that point, I didn’t really care what would happen to the hero. So if you enjoy good historical fiction and don’t mind uninteresting characters, then you just might enjoy this book, but I have to admit, I didn’t.

You're Never Weird On The Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day
Jumping jiminy, this book wins everything. It’s the second memoir I’ve read this year, and the first non-fiction book I’ve actually purchased since graduating college. Getting to meet Felicia Day, though, and have her sign my book… now that was bonus material! Though I can’t say I’ve been a “longtime” fan of Felicia, having only discovered her when I started watching Eureka back three years ago or so, I was immediately smitten with her acting caliber and I couldn’t help noticing that every time she guest starred on a show I was watching, her character was always instantly my favorite. I started following the community based on the business she started, Geek & Sundry, and so when I heard she was producing a book and she would be coming to Portland on tour, I instantly wanted that book, and I wanted to meet her. I was acquainted with some of her TV work (actually, not “The Guild,” which was essentially her show; but she was the main reason I started watching Supernatural…) but the thing that always impressed me most was the way she presented and carried herself around others, even in non-scripted, “reality TV” settings. She’s a born-and-raised homeschooler (like me) and a total introverted nerd about her obsessions/interests (mine is books, hers is gaming) and I observe her really treating her fans and other professionals she works with in the same congenial, cordial way. Her memoir is awesome, it’s funny, it’s poignant, it’s raw, it’s witty--for those of us who can relate to having a lot of “friends” whom we would have never met or stayed in touch with if it weren’t for the Internet… Felicia is our spirit animal, our comrade-at-arms in the stuff of life, and you should read her book.
*Unread: Dragonfly in Amber and The Well of Ascension
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
I’d seen it “trending” on Goodreads and it got fairly high ratings, so when it showed up at the library, I decided to give it a chance. Boy, am I glad I did! After the loveliness of Cameron Dokey and the splendid “storyweaving” of Marissa Burt, I had been left wondering if there would be anybody coming up with something new in the field of fantasy. Friends, readers, fellow lovers-of-fantasy, rejoice! Naomi Novik delivers a stunning masterpiece that is part Rapunzel-in-the-tower, part Beauty-and-the-Beast, part Eastern-European-Folk-Tale, and every bit as awesome as the classic tales of early cultures! A magic-wielding wizard known as The Dragon comes to choose the maiden who will be forced to spend a year with him, as payment for the fact that his magic is all that is keeping the haunted Wood from overwhelming their village. This time, he chooses Agnieszka, the narrator of the story. Turns out, she has a spark of magic in her too, and she dares to challenge the dark magic of the wood, dares to defy his assumed mastery over her--and from there springs a whole new brand of peril such as the land had never seen before. It’s beautiful, enthralling, and majestic in its execution. I loved this book.

The Raven Boys (Raven Boys #1) by Maggie Stiefvater
This book was recommended to me by a friend while we were waiting to meet Felicia Day. I made the decision to start reading it… and right away, I received assurances from several other friends that “Everything Maggie Stiefvater writes is magic!” To be honest, I spent the first ten or so chapters thoroughly confused about what exactly  was going on. Blue and her family are all pagans who interact with spirits and do fortune tellings and whatnot, and there were these boys supposedly trying to find ley lines and their search had to do with a king who died several centuries prior.... But then the two groups crossed paths--and Ms. Stiefvater cast her spell, plied her trade and OH HEAVENLY FREAKING PLOT TWIST. I am totally, 100%, irrevocably hooked. I found it amusing that Barnes & Noble shelves it under “Teen Romance”... but this is not your ordinary Twilight novel. Her characters are vivid and her prose is engaging. Romance novels have this stigma (at least to me) that makes it seem like the author wants the reader to start fantasizing over one or the other of the characters, but I found the unfolding relationship between the main character Blue and the titular Raven Boys to be highly entertaining from an observer’s standpoint, not as a participant. It’s wonderful, and I am totally reading the sequel; not because I want more romance, but because the adventure they’re on is so darn compelling that I need to know what happens next! 

The Fate of Ten (Lorien Legacies #5) by Pittacus Lore
Speaking of compelling story arcs… 
In 2011, a movie-based-on-a-book was released… but the premise was completely unique, and--as with, say, the Alex Rider series--we had not known of the book till the release of the movie. (Incidentally, the same actor starred in both Alex Rider and I Am Number Four) The movie turned out rather mediocre, but I started reading the book and found it compelling, thorough, and very well-done as an adventure. Best of all, the series kept going. The Fall of Five, The Rise of Nine, The Revenge of Seven… I didn’t even know what title to expect next till I saw “The Fate of Ten” on the bookstore shelf. Of course I read it. The plot arc that was set up in the first book had been twisted and complicated and extended and threatened over the next three, that I was sure I had finally made it to the resolution of the matter. *SPOILER ALERT*: IT AIN’T OVER YET! I don’t know whether to cheer or cry, but I am DEFINITELY hoping that the next book will be the last, or, yes, I just might cry. It is teetering on the brink of insanity, the way the action in this series just keeps piling up. It’s fantastic, it’s innovative, it’s definitely far from “overdoing” anything. The authors under the pseudonym “Pittacus Lore” (of course it’s a pseudonym! Pittacus is a character in the book, a historian) have spread across five (going on six) books a plot arc that a beginner writer would have probably compressed and truncated into just two volumes, but I have always felt the forward momentum in each book, and at no time does it feel like the authors are rehashing any previous scenarios just to fill the space. I just hope I don't have to wait too long for the next one… But that will probably be the case, since this one was fairly new-released. It’s good, it’s really good paranormal sci-fi.

Physik (Septimus Heap #3) by Angie Sage
As if I hadn't read enough this season already… Yes, I am still following the Septimus Heap series. It’s fascinating stuff, for a middle-grade novel! Each book deals with Septimus acquiring the titular charm (Magyk, Flyte, Physik, etc.) and learning how to use it, in his quest to fulfill his destiny and become an ExtraOrdinary wizard. Sage doesn't use authentic-sounding Latin phrases or special names for her charms and spells; the spoken magics are cast with rhyming couplets, and the names are denoted with the archaic spelling and a distinct typeface. The entertainment value is solely in the quality of characters and plot she designs. And that quality is pretty high! She’s no J.K. Rowling, but Sage gives us a group of heroes worth rooting for, and a world with values we can believe in. Still worth the time it takes to read! Perfect for your voracious young fantasy-loving reader!

Fairest by Gail Carson Levine
I had always known in the back of my mind that Gail Carson Levine was the author of Ella Enchanted--but I had only seen the film adaptation of that book, because when a movie is starring Anne Hathaway, Hugh Dancy, Cary Elwes, and Minnie Driver, you do not turn it down! So naturally, when I was browsing the shelves and I happened on at least this book by her, I decided to give it a shot. “Fairest” is a sort of a retelling of a little bit Snow White and a little bit of different popular fairy tale tropes, along the vein of “you may think you know the story, but this is what really happened.” It is a potentially unique premise that simply tries too hard to “stand out”, while at the same time using a blend of rehashed material, so that the effect is rather “slightly-above-average.” It was neat, but she’s no Shannon Hale.

Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike #3) by Robert Galbraith
Methinks Jo Rowling is having far “too much” fun in her Robert Galbraith persona. 
After the devastation of “The Silkworm,” I admit, I was a bit taken aback (both positive and negative) when I suddenly saw a third novel when I least expected it. Apprehension ran high as I peeked at the first chapter… 
To my relief, this third one, while grisly and disturbing in its villain, ended up more along the lines of the first one, Cuckoo’s Calling, as opposed to the outright vulgar subject material of The Silkworm. The respective personal lives of Cormoran and Robin have progressed and developed further, based on events in the last books. Plenty of continuity adds a sense of familiarity, allowing the reader to really get to know these constant characters that we’ve been following since the beginning of the series on a much deeper level than just a name on a page. Rowling shows the same care in developing her characters as she learned to do over the course of the Harry Potter series, and she is still pulling out of her “infinite handbag” of surprising revelations and pertinent information from their pasts that has largely shaped them into the sort of strangers they were when we first met them. Three hefty books, and there is still so much we don’t know about Cormoran and Robin, as sympathetic as we are to their plight. “Career of Evil” is definitely a dark, twisted book, and should not be undertaken by the squeamish or faint of heart. But if you enjoy a good thriller, and you enjoy “Galbraith’s” style, then it’s definitely a sequel worth reading.

*Not Pictured:
Sevara: Dawn of Hope by Damien Wampler
If an ebook is free I will very likely download it. Bonus points if I actually enjoy it. This one was free one day, and I really liked what I read in the sample, so I got it. Verdict: Poor life decision. Don't get me wrong, it was a highly-inventive world and the premise was awesome… Then any moral sensibility in the book or its characters fizzles, and the main character dies. This isn't a spoiler because it’s only the “first act” of the book, and I feel like the only reason she would have died was for dramatic effect gone very wrong… Certainly it detracted from the story more than it added. After that it dragged on, getting progressively darker, more “social activist propaganda,” and more angsty, till it finally came to a not-quite-ending. Devastating failure. So much promise, trifled by a book that ended up pulled in far too many directions that had to keep killing off and resurrecting characters to keep itself going.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfield
I have decided that I don’t really like Scott Westerfield. I wasn’t all that impressed with Uglies, in spite of how much others seemed to like it, but I felt sure that maybe this one would be different, since a lot of people had said that “Leviathan” was the book that introduced them to the steampunk genre, which I have read several other books and enjoyed immensely. I tried it… and didn’t like it very much. Don’t get me wrong, the idea that there were those who believed that inventing machines was better, and those that chose to “evolve” animals to suit their needs was reasonable enough… if only they didn’t call each other such obviously suggestive names like “Darwinists” and “monkey Luddites.” I just couldn’t get past the novel feeling like the inventive circumstances were being purposely used to push an agenda, rather than simply telling a worthwhile story. And the fact that nobody seems to realize that this amazingly impressive, smart, lithe, brand-new recruit is in fact a girl trying to pass herself off as a boy, because apparently, even in a society where artificial evolution and biological manufacturing is alive and well, sexism is still a thing and “girls can’t be soldiers”... but at the same time, there was a lady scientist who was super-special because she was the granddaughter of Charles Darwin himself... so what the heck, Westerfield??? Did not appreciate the overriding agenda. Fail.

Storm Front (Dresden Files #1) by Jim Butcher
So last year, I read an indie novel that ended up being my absolute favorite book-of-the-year, and apparently the author was hugely inspired by Jim Butcher and the Harry Dresden novels. Having never read them, I couldn’t compare very much, but finally, I decided to pick up the first Dresden novel and see how much they were actually alike. Verdict: I am sold. And if you’re already a fan of Butcher, follow the link at the beginning of this review for my review and a link to that book that I loved so much! Lesser fanboys may run up a novel that reads more like an overly-devoted fanfiction, but I can assure you that the above rendition is completely unique and highly entertaining! (and best of all, a sequel is forthcoming!) 
Anyway, back to Butcher. Harry Dresden is a wizard, and very casual about it. He’s sarcastic and witty by turns, the NYPD uses him on some of their more obviously-magic-induced cases, and he is desperate for income and doesn’t take kindly to amateurs misusing magic because they don’t consider the residual effects beyond what they want to happen. Plus, a malevolent entity is using the cover of the “wizard wannabe” to specifically target Dresden. I really liked the characters, intriguing plot, and it’s a series I could really get into!

Reader's Note: Yes, there were two books I had planned to read, but I haven't finished them yet, so I pushed them off to next season. The reason that they're still in the pictures is because by the time I realized I wouldn't be able to finish them, I'd long since returned that first "bevy" of books, so I couldn't retake the photos. Forgive me if I'm a little too optimistic about my reading abilities... and that's all the more reason to keep an eye out for the next Reading List!