Spring Reading

For March, April, and May. This is a long one…

You know how you get in the mood for a book with a particular atmosphere or setting, so when you find one, you grab it even though it doesn’t look like something you’ll like? That’s how I ended up reading The Warrior by Kinley MacGregor. It’s set in Scotland near the time of one of the Crusades and is about a distressed damsel who doesn’t want to be rescued, but finds herself being rescued anyway. I do enjoy historical romance, but this particular brand of them has never appealed to me, and The Warrior was no exception. It did satisfy my Scotland craving, though.

The last time I read The Eye of Tthe World by Robert Jordan, I was in high school. I lost interest around book 5 or 6, but with Brandon Sanderson finishing the series, I wanted to give them another try. An ordinary farm boy who finds himself on the run from dark, mythical forces and surrounded by magic–a classic fantasy plot. Robert Jordan does a lot with this plot, but honestly, I found bits of it rather boring, which is why I stopped reading it in the first place. Before I started this second reading, I explained to an old high school friend that I thought maybe I’d changed enough since high school to get more out of these books. To the idea that I’ve matured since high school, he snorted and said no. I guess he was right.

Then there were the Twilight books, which I talked about a couple posts back.

More magic and mayhem ensure in Con and Conjure, Lisa Shearin’s fifth Raine Benares book. This time, racist elves and goblins intend to start a war with each other, and each wants to use the evil rock of power which has attached itself to an unwilling Raine. A good book like all the others, but not quite as gripping. I think it’s because a major source of tension is missing: in the previous book, Raine made her Mychael vs. Tam decision, and that question no longer hangs in the balance. Having Raine’s ex-fiancee show up at the start of her new romance helps up the tension on that front, but it doesn’t quite reach the previous level of nail-biting suspense.

And then I found a YA historical fantasy series. (Between this and the Twilight books, I was all about the YA this spring, apparently.) A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels by Libba Bray are the first two books in a Victorian fantasy trilogy. I really wanted to like these books, but unfortunately, I thought the main character was a selfish brat and did not find the magic system to be well defined or to make much sense. The only up sides to the books were the well-drawn Victorian setting and Kartik, the Indian young man who helps the snotty protagonist and seems to like her for some reason.

I also read the YA fantasy Graceling by Kristin Cashore. In Cashore’s world, people born with special talents called Graces are feared and ostricized, and none moreso than the girl Graced with killing. This book contained some interesting magical elements and an ending that took me by surprise, but I couldn’t really get into it. Did you ever feel like all the protagonists in a genre of books all start to sound the same after a while? I’m feeling that way with YA. Though to be fair, that might just be because I read so many YA books in a row.

Earlier this year, I read The Orchid Affair by Lauren Wilig. I love all the Pink Carnation books, and while The Orchid Affiar wasn’t my favorite in the series, one of the things I loved about it was the way tension just smolders between the hero and heroine without either of them having to touch the other or say anything that could be construed as seductive. There are just sparks all over the place. It’s a dynamic I want to create between two characters in my time travel novel, so I reread The Orchid Affair to get a feel for how it’s done. I have concluded taht it’s all about creating a sense of awareness. In Willig’s book, Laura and Andre don’t need to touch, not at first. They are just in a constant state of sensitivity to what the other one is doing. It’s a very, very difficult thing to pull off, and she does this so well.

Brandon Sanderson is without a doubt my favorite writer working in the epic fantasy tradition today. I finally got around to reading his standalone novel Warbreaker, which features a host of intricate, fascinating characters and a magic system based on color, of all things. Like all of Sanderson’s books, the magic in Warbreaker takes a few chapters to get used to, but that’s one of the things I love about his work. He challenges your mind and entertains all at the same time, and creates noble and flawed people you can’t help but admire. In addition, Warbreaker features one of the most tender romantic subplots I’ve ever seen. A must-read!

And finally, The Bookman, a debut novel by Lavie Tidhar. I tell you, these author people are crafty. They know that if they put the word “book” in a title, all these bibliophiles are going to say, “Oooh! Me have!” But this is irrelevant, as are most of my ramblings. Allow me to focus. The Bookman is a fine addition to the growing stampunk genre, mixing classic literature, pirates, turn-of-the-century England, marine biology, and a lizard Queen Victoria. In less capable hands, it would read like the script for a bad B movie, but this is a gripping and lovely book. The writing is lush and poetic (which is as it should be, for the main character is a poet). Listen to this:

“Orphan had first met Lucy one day at the bookshop…He fell in love the way trees do, which is to say, forever. It was a love with roots that burrowed deep, entangled, grew together…Orphan loved her the way people do in romantic novels, from the first page, beyond even The End.”

I will be buying the sequel, Camera Obscura, when it comes out for sure.

Yikes, that’s a long post. I’ll try to post month-by-month this summer, rather than lumping them all together. See you soon!

I Finally Read the Twilight Books

I started reading Twilight by Stephenie Meyer to see what the fuss was all about. It’s been an interesting experience; my opinion of the series has changed drastically as I’ve worked my way through all four books. I’m betting that most people have a general idea of what these books are about, so I’ll be brief in that regard and just offer a short analysis of each book.

Girl moves to small town and falls in love with hot vampire. Twilight never did sound like my kind of book. Vampires have never really done much for me, and Twilight didn’t, either. I didn’t hate it, but neither did I love it, and that was due to more than just the subject matter. (After all, there are a small number of vampire books I have enjoyed.) There was just a lot of teen angst in this book and not much else that I could see. The plot was basically not much deeper than girl falls for hot vampire. And while the characters were sympathetic, they weren’t deep.

But I felt that there was enough potential that I moved on to New Moon. And I liked it better. Yes, Bella spends much of the time moping, but there were enough new developments that it kept things interesting despite all the teen angst. And the biggest new development is Jacob. In New Moon, Bella is trying to adjust to life without her dear hot vampire Edward, and in the process, she makes friends with, in my opinion, the first well-developed character of the series. I found Jacob to be much more appealing than Edward. (I know I’m entering into serious debate territory here.) I loved Jacob so much that I decided to read the next book.

And I will admit, my opinion of the series climbed a bit with Eclipse. I still thought Bella and Edward were underdeveloped, but the secondary characters started filling in nicely. And Jacob….oh, I love Jacob. He’s just so funny and sweet and easy to sympathize with, poor guy. I started to feel a little miffed by this point, though, at how passive Bella is in these first three books. I mean, if I were in the middle of a feud between vampires and werewolves, I’m sure I’d be quite content to let everyone else just take care of me, but as a reader, I want more. I want to live vicariously through a character who gets to jump into the fray.

But I did like Eclipse. So then I moved on to Breaking Dawn. And yes! I get it now. I see why these books are so popular now…or at least, I would if Twilight had been as impressive as Breaking Dawn. Bella and Edward finally spring to life, facing the kind of adversity that forces them to make choices which truly let us see the raw material that makes them who they are. As they fight to save everything that will matter to them for the rest of eternity, they are stretched to the limit and become real at last. Then we get into Jacob’s pov, and I think that was a good move, one which would have benefited earlier books. I understand that part of the series arc is Bella growing from vulnerable and passive to formidable and active, and some scenes in another pov might have helped to break up her lack of action in earlier books. But Bella’s passivity is over in Breaking Dawn, and Edward is developed enough that I finally see what she sees in him. A very nice conclusion to the series.

So now I’m in the loop! I’ve finally read the Twilight books. And speaking of which, I’m finally going to get caught up on my monthly reading posts and otherwise whip this blog into shape. I finally, finally, finally have internet at home again. It’s dial-up (until I can convince my husband to switch!), but it’s still internet access, so now I don’t have to beg and borrow from family and friends, which means my posts will be far less sporadic.

So I’ve got a bunch of other books to cover from March and April. Those will be coming soon.

Jan and Feb Reading…Slightly Delayed

I wrote this post weeks ago and kept forgetting to post it. Not a very auspicious return to Monthly Reading, is it? So before it’s time for March Reading, here’s January and February.

My husband got me The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson for Christmas–my first read of 2011. I am happy to report that it may well be the best book I read in 2011 (meaning no disrespect to the books listed below, of course). This is a big, thick book in the epic fantasy tradition, easily heavy enough to maim a person if you have the mind to do so. (It’s a weapon and a book for the price of one!) The thing I adore about this book is that it shows the full range of humanity–how low a person can sink and how high a person can rise. Over the magnificent backdrop of a magical world where plants seem almost sentient and armies war against each other with little understanding of why, Sanderson weaves the story of a man who has lost everything and has every reason in the world to just lay down and die, but who rises above it all to become a hero in the humblest of ways. For those wondering the future of Sanderson’s career, he will not merely be remembered for his role in finishing Robert Jordan’s work. I’ve been a fan of his since his debut novel Elantris, but he has reached new heights with The Way of Kings. It is every bit as worthy as a Robert Jordan, a George R.R. Martin, and every other high-profile, so-heavy-you-can-maim-a-person-with-it epic fantasy novel ever made.

I did not intend to go on about that book in such length. Oops.

For something completely different, I followed The Way of Kings up by reading Lauren Willig’s latest historical spy romance, The Orchid Affair. I’ve talked much about this series of Napoleonic-era espionage books in the past. This one is the first of Willig’s books which features a protagonist in her thirties and a romantic lead who is widowed or has children, which was kind of cool. Like all of her books, it was enjoyable, but it wasn’t one of my favorites.

The Mischief of the Mistletoe, however, is my absolute favorite Lauren Willig book. I have now read it three times since getting the ARC in September. Since I’ve mentioned this one before, I’ll skip the commentary.

While waiting for the long-anticipated Green Rider #4 to come out, I reread Green Rider #3, The High King’s Tomb by Kristen Britain. Again, a reread; skipping the commentary.

And then…ugh. I mentioned Blackveil by Kristen Britain here shortly after I read it. A super well-written book, but it made me so angry that I still get gloomy just thinking about it. I spent most of the book yelling for King Zachary to cut off people’s heads, or wishing the Weapons would open up a big can of whoop-ass on a whole bunch of people. Yes, I am a big fat drama queen about it, but I just can’t help it! I’m dying to find out what happens next, and if there’s as much unhappiness in Green Rider #5 as in this one, I’m liable to have a conniption.

Which is why I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare next. I needed a happy ending. This has been my favorite book since I was twelve years old, a historical Newberry winner about a sixteen-year-old girl who moves to the American colonies and is accused of being a witch. (It doubles as research, too, since I just finished the first draft of a historical fantasy about a broom-riding man who must evade witch-hunting Puritans in the American colonies.)

March Reading is coming soon to a blog near you!

(I am such a dork.)

Powerful Stories

I was forced to add the tag “makes me want to kill fictional people most painfully” to my list of book tags on LibraryThing recently. Some books just reach out and grab our heartstrings, touch us someplace deep inside with characters we love and care about, and then rip us apart by having other characters break our beloved characters’ hearts, souls, and spirits. What power, what wonder, these authors have wrought!

Equally powerful (though not so seductive to my homicidal tendencies) are books with characters who have overcome amazing odds, who have every right to throw themselves to the ground and not get up again, yet who somehow find the strength to rise above. These books inspire us to be better, to try harder, to face our troubles and not flinch away. We read books by such authors and wonder, “How did he do that?”

Such books can be found in every genre, are so varied as to be nearly incomparable. Yet something binds them together. Something about these books breathes life into fictional people and reaches out to real people not because the plot is fresh or the setting interesting, but because it reflects some part of the human experience. The emotions it draws out, the memories it brings to mind, are things every human understands. But it’s not coincidence when a writer achieves such excellence. It’s also not coincidence that many of our favorite books took their authors years to write. (Which is why people need to stop pestering George R. R. Martin and Kristen Britain to write faster. “If you rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles.” But I digress.)

I confess that I’m not sure what my point is. I guess it’s just to marvel at the power the written word can hold, and to marvel at the ones who give it such power.

September Reading

I’ve had a lot on my mind this month, which means I’ve been reading a lot to distract myself. Eight books! Some of them have been/will be reviewed at Debuts and Reviews, but I’m short on time, so I’ll add the links later. Anyway, here they are.

Shadow Fall, sequel to Shadow Bound by Erin Kellison, is one of those rare Katie-approved urban fantasies. With its ventures into the fey’s brooding and beautiful Twilight woods, the wolf stalking the beautiful ballerina, and one man’s quest to save her, it reads like a New York fairy tale. Reviewed on Debuts and Reviews.

Illusion by Paula Volsky is a sweeping epic set in a world strongly based on real-world history with strong echoes of the French and Russian revolutions. Some of the descriptive passages were a little long and I had to skim, but for the most part, it was a very interesting book, which follows a rich aristocratic girl’s descent as the world around her is thrown into chaos. It may be a little hard to find (I managed to find a used copy), but it’s worth a look. It also has a couple light steampunk elements.

Continuing Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series about spies in the Napoleonic era, I read The Temptation of the Night Jasmine (#5), The Betrayal of the Blood Lily (#6), and the forthcoming The Mischief of the Mistletoe (#7). (I love ARCs!) One of the great things about these books is thht beloved characters from previous novels still turn up in later books, though the protagonists never repeat. Another great aspect of the Pink Carnation series: You might think it would get old, reading about Napoleonic-era spies one volume after another, but it doesn’t. Changes in location, character, and adventures continue to keep the series fresh. Review forthcoming at Debuts and Reviews.

Mansfield Park is not as celebrated as other Jane Austen favorites like Pride and Prejudice, but like all her works, it is a fascinating study of human nature and romantic love. It didn’t find it as bitingly witty as her other works, btu that’s because sweet Fanny Price doesn’t have the nature to think such cutting things, even about the many people who do her so terribly wrong. Mansfield Park‘s highlight for me is a famed Austen quote which sums up her entire writing philosophy: “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.”

I’ve been awaiting The House on Durrow Street by Galen Beckett, sequel to The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, with nail-biting suspense since the day I first finished the first book a year and a half ago. Well, it’s finally here…and I’m not sure what I think of it. Parts of it are unsettling to my religious sensibilities, but even overlooking that, The House on Durrow Street just doesn’t have teh charm of its predecesor. With the latter, I was captivated from the first line, and completely engrossed in the promising (or so I thought) exchanges between Ivy and Rafferdy. I know it’s a little unfair to jusde the book’s worth against the one that came before rather than on its own merits, but then again, that’s just the way it is with a series; it can’t be helped. And with The House on Durrow Street, the witticisms are more sparse, and the gripping Ivy/Rafferdy storyline doesn’t exist. So it was a bit of a let-down for me. (But I still love Mr. Rafferdy.)

Steampunk in the Old West, a fantasy novel of Witches and Warlocks steaming cross-country by train, horse, and flying machine, and an artifact that may kill Emily Edwards–if the evil men chasing her don’t kill her first. M.K. Hobson’s debut novel The Native Star is a fantastic addition to the growing steampunk subhenre. It, too, unsettled by religious sensibilities, but only very slightly–a minor annoyance, nothing more. One of my complaints about several of the steampunk novels I’ve read has been that they lack the wonder and discovery I love in a speculative novel. But The Native Star captured all of that. I definitely recommend it. The American setting is such a breath of fresh air in a genre that’s so often inspired by England. I love England as much as the next person, but America is a great place to set a fantasy book, too!

I highly doubt I’ll be such a prolific reader in October, but regardless, I’ll be back for October Reading, and hopefully before.

PS: Sorry about any typos. I’m in a rush right now; will fix them later.

The House on Durrow Street: Almost Here!

If you’ve been following this blog or my reviews for any length of time, you probably know how utterly, deeply, insanely in love I am with the novel The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett. Well, its sequel, The House on Durrow Street, comes out late this month, and in preparation, I have scoured the internet for any sort of news. I found jacket copy, an interview with the author about the fantasy genre, and a “review” from the infamous Harriet Klausner.

So maybe you don’t care, but I do!

Here’s the summary:

‘A charming and mannered fantasy confection with a darker core of gothic romance’ is how New York Times bestselling author Robin Hobb described Galen Beckett’s marvelous series opener, The Magicians and Mrs. Quent. Now Beckett returns to this world of dazzling magick and refined manners, where one extraordinary woman’s choice will put the fate of a nation – and all she cherishes – into precarious balance.

Her courage saved the country of Altania and earned the love of a hero of the realm. Now sensible Ivy Quent wants only to turn her father’s sprawling, mysterious house into a proper home. But soon she is swept into fashionable society’s highest circles of power – a world that is vital to her family’s future but replete with perilous temptations.

Yet far greater danger lies beyond the city’s glittering ballrooms – and Ivy must race to unlock the secrets that lie within the old house on Durrow Street before outlaw magicians and an ancient ravening force plunge Altania into darkness forever.

I will refrain from linking the Klausner review. :)

Sigh. If only I’d have thought to ask for a review copy sooner. If I asked now and got a yes, it probably would arrive the same time it hit bookstores anyway.

Maybe I’ll reread The Magicians and Mrs. Quent yet again to tide me over.

Summer Reading

As it’s been so long since I did a reading round-up, I’ll go light on the commentary this time.

Heart of Light by Sarah. A. Hoyt – Dragons, flying carpets, and an African secret society. Riveting, but the ending left a bitter taste in my mouth. So much so that I doubt I’ll try anything of hers again soon.

The Alchemy of Murder by Carol McCreary – First woman reporter Nellie Bly teams with Jules Verne, Oscar Wilde, and Louis Pasteur to catch a killer in Paris. My review.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – Reread. What a great book.

The Masque of the Black Tulip and The Seduction of the Crimson Rose by Lauren Willig – Napoleonic-era spies in love. These are crazy fun reads. My review of the series, books 1-4. Review of the rest of the series forthcoming.

The Perfect Poison by Amanda Quick – I’m more of a fantasy-with-romantic-elements reader than a romance-with-fantasy-elements fan. The magic in this book was really neat, but too much time was spent on the romance to develop the fantasy elements enough to suit my tastes. Just a personal preference.

Dragonborn by Jade Lee – A little too racy for my tastes, but interesting all the same. I met the author at RWA Nationals and just loved her. She’s so funny.

Shadow Bound by Erin Kellison – What if your father was what the world fears most? What if your father was Death? I’m not big on urban fantasy, but I really liked this. My review.

Insatiable by Meg Cabot – Paranormal chick lit. An unexpected (at least to me) combination which gives new meaning to the phrase, “You are what you eat.” Review forthcoming at Debuts and Reviews.

I promise not to make it so long between reading posts next time. So long!