Monday, June 29, 2015

Half Year Reading Assessment

So last week I didn't even manage a blog. I suck. I want to be interesting and I got nothin... but as tomorrow marks the end of the first half of the year and I had a couple reading goals/projects, I thought I'd share a bit about what I've read and what I recommend YOU read.

The Read Your Friends Project  (aka Blog Buddy Book Review)

Nasty by Bret Wright (Mystery/Thriller)

Nate Jessup is a PI in the Pacific Northwest and as the story begins, Nate is in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is held up by a desperate man who really just wants help getting away from the beach where they encounter each other, or more specifically, the MEN on the beach who are trying to kill him. Nate ends up with his car exploded and some people after him who think he has something that he doesn't.

The tone of this has a lot in common with the hard boiled detective stories of old, but I felt like it had a lot more heart. Nate isn't a caricature—he has some demons, sure, but he is also balanced—a good person who has just been through some stuff. I also loved the Pacific Northwest setting, though that may be because I have roots there myself.

Overall I loved the tension, story and the nice sprinkling of humor to keep this balanced. And excellent debut.

Dragon of the Stars by Alex Cavanaugh (Sci Fi—Space Opera)

I enjoyed this space jaunt. The characters were well thought out with complete arcs and Pendar had some very tough choices to make. I particularly loved Tamlin—his weapons leftenent (though I may have that title wrong)--she is his hard working and talented wingman with a gift for sincerity that makes her both a bit awkward and very endearing. I liked the moral dilemma at the core of this story and the character growth shown by Pendar, who is initially so focused on his career that he fails to quite comprehend that there are people around him with worries and lives. It isn't normally my genre, but there was plenty of character stuff to keep me happy.

A Twist of Hate by VR Barkowski (Mystery/Thriller)

This was a fantastic debut. I counted five separate mysteries, beautifully twined together. This story is set in current day, among the elite art community in the San Francisco area, but ties in an escape from Nazi occupied France and the newly contested ownership and theft of an important painting. The characters were compelling, slightly flawed or damaged, their interactions sometimes tense, and the plotting was masterful. I definitely recommend this.

The City of Refuge by Diana Wilder (Historical Fiction/Mystery)

As historical fiction I thought this was fantastic. As a mystery, I had just a few quibbles. I think the characters, backdrop, setting and details were very well done. The perfect level of description to really put me there. I feel though, the author might have made a slightly stronger story had there been something up front that suggested WHY they group was going to the dead city--I mean an official reason was given, but a "why then" would have hinted at the suspected looting--a motive for the second prophet. I mean I get that it is tied to the mystery, so important not to give too much away, and he isn't the PoV, but it would have increased the readers drive forward. As it was, I was about a quarter of the way in before I really grasped what the story was about. It all came through in the end and things fell together well, but it was a little hard to get into because of that.

The Prospect of My Arrival by Dwight Okita (Speculative Fiction)

I loved the premise of this story. An experiment to see if people who have a chance to PREVIEW life before they actually commit are then happier because it was their choice. And Prospect was a wonderful character—his combination of innocence and pre-coded facts made him engaging and much of this tale was very thought provoking and entertaining. I had a few later frustrations that would be too spoilery to share, but that is probably because I was too invested and had a certain way I would have liked it to go. And it's probably good I don't have the power to write my own endings, or I'd never be surprised. I was surprised here.

Strings (In progress--not yet ready for review) by Allison Dickson (Horror)

Pending. But already scary.

So I am starting the 6th rather than finishing, but that isn't so far off. Plenty of time to do my 12.

The Other Books I've read, According to Goodreads and by Genre

Young Adult (because I want to master writing these)

Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (5 Stars)

I really enjoyed this twist on a myth tale. The world felt very real in most ways, pulling me farther into it so the fantastical bit (these "sea horses" if you will) feel real, too. The author really made me care about the characters and it had a perfect mix of darkness, tension, and triumph and hope.

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner (4 Stars)

Very interesting book. Stylistically it had bits that reminded me of Fahrenheit 451 and bits like The Book Thief, though I liked it much better than the former and it didn't quite catch the magic of the latter. It was an interesting dystopian sort of world and an interesting set of characters. Overall worth the read.

Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith (5 Stars)

I sometimes feel guilty about how stingy I am with five-star reviews. I give them, but a story really needs to be fairly flawless AND suck me in—so both well executed AND my thing… But once in a while a book like this will come along that makes me feel like I need to go back and downgrade 90% of my fives because it is just head and shoulders above sublime.

This book is not for the faint hearted. There is swearing, a bit of sexual violence and a lot of teen deviance. But harder than that, this is very dark emotionally so it is probably not the thing for some people. But for others, it is EXACTLY the thing.

The story set-up reminded me a lot of The Talisman, one of my favorites from two of my favorite scary authors—Stephen King and Peter Straub. In both books there are parallel worlds in which people can exist in both and the MC is pushed into a position of going back and forth, but I felt while The Talisman is a brilliant show to watch externally, The Marbury Lens actually pulls us inside so we feel it. And the REAL world in Marbury Lens is more real and the OTHER world is darker… I just really feel like Smith upped the ante on the type of tale.

Passenger by Andrew Smith (4 Stars)

(Sequel to Marbury Lens) I LIKED this, but I didn't love it quite to the same degree. The premise is good—same parallel world setup as Marbury Lens, but this is a world where the changes you make have ripple effects and everyone else changes, too. My trouble with it was it felt less coherent, like the author was pantsing it more. I suppose the chaos is part of the point—the MC doesn't really know what is going on either, but I sometimes felt like neither did the author. (I have several friends who liked this one even BETTER, so I think this is a totally subjective assessment)

Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (5 Stars)

Blue lives in a house with her mother, a couple relatives and several of her mother's friends. ALL of them are psychic... except Blue. Blue however, has a sort of amplification effect, so she makes all these women more powerful. It begins with attending St. Mark's with her aunt where the people who will die in the following year march in a parade along the lay line... this allows her family to “give notice” to the doomed who might have affairs to set in order (they seem to have a no harm approach—no need to tell anyone if there is no significant benefit). But in watching there is a boy Blue can see, Gansy. Her aunt says she can see him because either she is his true love, or she is going to kill him. (maybe both). Blue becomes acquainted with Gansey and a few friends, these Raven Boys. And they are on a quest—to wake a long dead king and get their wish... and so it begins. I love this series and this first book is an excellent introduction. This cast of boys is each unique, with his own strengths and flaws. And Blue's setup, in that house with that cast of quirky people, is brilliant, both for plot and for a heavy dose of humor in an otherwise sort of grim tale. This series is one I am strongly recommending to people and this is where to start.

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (5+  I'd rank it higher if I could)

I loved The Raven Boys, but I've been trained that the second in a series is typically a bit weaker. Not so with this one. This one is Ronan's story. Ronan is arguably the darkest Raven Boy, and we finally get to understand why and follow his demons and he wrestles with them, often quite literally. The over all story of the lay line and the quest for Glendower continues, but it becomes clearer why Ronan is such an integral part of this story. I really loved this.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater (4 Stars)

The third in the Raven Cycle series and maybe weaker than the other two, but still excellent. I feel like any plot would be spoiler for the other two. What I will say is I am VERY eagerly awaiting the fourth.

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (4 Stars)

This was such a unique story and telling. It tells a story from two ends--two narrators, two points in time. Amber is in a young women's detention facility. Violet is a ballerina headed to Julliard three years later. And both are telling the story of the character who connects them. To say much more risks giving it away, but it is one of the more unique books I've read stylistically and it mostly works. If I have a complaint it is that the ending strained my suspension of disbelief a bit. Overall though, it was very enjoyable.

Legend by Marie Lu

I loved this one. I just finished Friday, so need some thought, but basically, it is a dystopian future of a split US where part of it decides full futures based on a test we take at 10. The top get good training, the middle get manual jobs, and the bottom get experimented on... The MCs are a girl who scored perfectly and is a prodigy headed to government work and a boy who failed and somehow managed to escape and become a bit of a (legendary) criminal fighting for the little guy. Good stuff.


Spilled Blood by Brian Freeman (5 Stars)

A tale of two cities. This story is about twin towns, one benefiting from a huge agricultural research firm, the other experiencing a cancer cluster among kids that they blame on that same firm. Tempers are high and violence is escalating, and then the daughter of the CEO winds up dead. The MC is called to town because he is a lawyer and his daughter has been blamed for the death. I found the tensions true to life and the interactions realistic, and I loved the way an outsider with such a huge vested interest inside could dig down to figure out what was going on. I really thought this was an excellent mystery.

Historical Fiction

The White Princess by Phillippa Gregory (3 Stars)

I read this because I watched The White Queen on Starz and loved it and I wanted to see what came next. First person present was a problem for me (it always is except in the very most engaging stories) but for historical fiction it also felt particularly off. And then unlike The White Queen, where stuff HAPPENS, this felt like a lot of “well maybe this is happening” but nothing really ever did. I get that you don't want to change history, but I feel a little like this slice of it might have been more interesting from somebody else's point of view.

So that is 16 books read in 26 weeks... I'd love to be a super fast reader, but I just really am not. A book every two weeks though, is not a pace I am too embarrassed about. And making a point of highly rated YA for a lot of it I think has been a good investment. I am now going to turn to revisions on a couple of my YA drafts, so having a good feel for what works and what doesn't will be critical.

As for BuNoWriMo... I'm not going to win. It is the first time other than one I knew I'd be traveling so I made an alternative goal... I just petered out on plot. But I will get back to it. I need to do some revision and get a feel for how I do this thing first.

And on WEDNESDAY, when we are all here being insecure, I will announce the winner of VR Barkowski's ARC. You still have time to go enter if you want...


Liz A. said...

I think that's a very steady reading rate. Lots of books. Many of these I've heard of and have been wondering whether or not to get into.

Ted Cross said...

I'm not reading as much this year as I'd like either. Last year was pretty decent, with I think 52 books read, but I'm nowhere close to that pace this year.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You've read a lot of books.
Glad you enjoyed Dragon so much!!

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I enjoyed THE WALLS AROUND US. So many good YA books out there! :)

Chrys Fey said...

Looks like you've read a lot more books than I have this year.

Maggot Moon sounds interesting.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

You've read a real variety. I need to update my reading list on Goodreads.
Susan Says

Helena said...

You've read a whole lotta books, Hart, and your reviews definitely make me want to look up several of them. Sigh. As if I don't already have so many books to read and not enough time.