Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Stead, Rebecca (When You Reach Me)

I love a good last line.

At first, I wasn't enamored with this novel because it seemed way too obvious who the real hero of the story was. Then I wasn't so sure. Then I was sure again, but it didn't matter because by that point I was far enough into the story to enjoy the character and story development.

Stead owes a great debt to Madeleine L'Engle, and I can see that she's wanted to write, in essence, a tribute to L'Engle since she could remember reading "A Wrinkle in Time" as a young girl. I want to think that this was the only YA or children's sci-fi novel of my generation's time, but that can't be right, right? There have to be others. The only other one I can think of is "The House With a Clock in its Walls," but that's not sci-fi, that's gothic horror aimed at kids (what? yea, but it's fabulous). I think of all the riches kids have today and I'm so jealous.

I digress a bit. I ended up liking this hugely because Stead wraps things up in a nice neat bow - absolutely essential for this kind of story - but leaves you wondering about one little thing. Until the last line.

Friday, June 26, 2015

King, A.S. (Please Ignore Vera Dietz)

Part of me worries that the Printz Award only nominates edgy young adult fiction, and perhaps bypasses novels that are worthy but are a bit more mainstream. Then again, I don't know what I'm talking about because I don't read enough young adult fiction.

You'll see what I mean right off the bat - completely disillusioned, and obviously heartbroken, young woman trying to make it through high school. Peers, first loves, schoolwork, big social issues, it's all addressed. It seems important to the author to make sure she's smart and "does what's right" for the most part, or else we would not sympathize with her or her situation. Or understand that the moral of the story is that you shoudl be smart and do what's right. I often find YA to be like this - a leetle bit too obvious. But I am not the audience for it, and that's important for me to keep in mind.

There's no question that you do understand her plight, because those adults reading it were all kids, and we remember all kinds of heartbreak (perhaps not quite this dire). In my case, I really understood her plight because he makes her a pizza driver, and I was a pizza driver in my 20s. Everything you're reading about that? Completely spot on.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Thomas, Rob and Graham, Jennifer (Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss and Tell)

I really hope this is not the final book in the Veronica Mars mystery novel series. And it should not be the last one Jennifer Graham writes.

Her voice is fresh and invigorating, even as she's using somewhat tired tropes. It's full of cultural references, so no, these are not your grandfather's Elmore Leonard novels, but that doesn't make it any less appealing. She understands twists and turns, when to create them, and when to leave them alone. She still writes Veronica with internal monologue in italics, and that drives me crazy, but I understand why she can't not do that. I hope Rob Thomas recognizes her value and puts her front and center for the next umpteen of these books. Perhaps they're waiting to announce that because there's another movie in the works? One can only hope. (Please make it better than the first one, Rob.)

By the way, I almost had a heart attack in the last few pages. Those who have diligently watched the series will understand what I mean. Fear not. All is well.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

McCall Smith, Alexander (The Good Husband of Zebra Drive)

Not much to say that I haven't said many times before. I'm about halfway through this series, reading one every year or so, and they're just a breath of fresh air. The writing isn't stellar, the books are essentially the same each time - Africa! Botswana! traditionally built women! doing what's right! - but there's something about them that makes me gobble them up each time. It must be the love for the country shining through, which is something you don't see often in novels. On to the next one in a short bit.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Winters, Ben (World of Trouble)

And, of course, I was going to finish the trilogy. This is the best mystery series I've read in a long while. Even if the second book didn't fulfill my expectations, I had every reason to believe the third would. (See every diatribe written about second book problems.)

And he pulls out all the stops. Each and every situation in this volume made sense. The people you meet and the events that occur are complete tragedies in and of themselves. In one sense, it's like reading a series of short stories created into a novel - and only the best can do this well (see Olive Kitteredge). He extends the mysteries from the previous two novels into this one, and he makes sure you are allowed to feel for each character in the mysteries, even as you retain the sense of the doomed world and the oddity of caring about doomed people.

I did see the solution to the ultimate mystery coming (and by ultimate, I don't mean that asteroid), and I feel that he didn't obscure it as well as he needed to. It's obvious from the moment you meet the first character in that scenario, if you wonder about the potential for the scenario as much as I did.

Enough obfuscation, since writing anything revealing defeats the purpose of the review! Enjoy this trilogy and hope that he writes more like them.

Winters, Ben (Countdown City)

I was tempted to write the review of the second and third books together, seeing as I gobbled them up in one go while on vacation. But, they are different in their approaches, and so I'll write a short one for each.

The second book, as with most second books, was not as satisfying as the first. It's not new, you understand the world the author has built, and you expect something to be, frankly, completely different. I don't care if you intellectually understand that this is not possible - it's simply in our nature to want more and different things each time we pick up a book.

So, obviously, this was a continuation of the same trudge towards extinction, however, this time with the addition of situations that beggared belief. It's tough not to give anything away, but there is a large machine that boggles the mind, and there is a significant injury incurred by our tragic hero that is really, truly unbelievable.

Yes, of course, there is more excellent prose about Henry's need to "do the right thing" and that lesson is why these books are so good. Would you be like Henry if push came to shove? Maybe you and I both should be.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Hartman, Rachel (Shadow Scale)

I truly loved Hartman's first book. I'll admit to being surprised because I knew her first as a comic book creator, so seeing her talent at writing fantasy fiction sorta shocked me. Silly me, I really should have known better (especially since her comic talent lay in perfectly realized faux-medieval tales).

She finishes off her story about Seraphina in this book. I won't say I was sorry to see her go, because I did love this world of real-as-can-be dragons, the humans who fear, care for, or despise them, and those who live in-between them. I won't redefine that in-between for the sake of those who haven't read the first book yet, although it's not much of a spoiler.

The reason I didn't love this volume as much as the other is because this one... well, it takes too long. She has a complex story, and I appreciate that she wrote it as briskly as possible while still taking time to develop her characters and lay the plot accordingly. But around 2/3 of the way in, Seraphina's journey feels like it's more than a fool's errand, it feels like it was never necessary in the first place. That's a real letdown when it comes to the impact on the story of your main character.

But, goodness, that's not going to prevent me from reading more books of hers. Her voice is fresh and invigorating, so bring them on, please.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Mandel, Emily St. John (Station Eleven)

I love post-apocalyptic genre fiction (both written and visual). I especially love it when it's thoughtful and persuasive.

As usual, I'm sure this novel is deeper than I give it credit for. I'm sure the author has many themes and flourishes I am not cognizant of. However, it's clear that the book takes the post-apocalyptic genre and adds at least one layer to it - what will we miss from days gone by? why will we miss it? who in particular will miss it? should we miss it?

I found myself really struck by this. Besides everything else going on in the book - other layers of multiple mysteries and woven lives - I was alternately surprised and, frankly, annoyed by the ongoing comparison of young people (don't miss anything, of course) with old people (deeply missing various things). I simply hadn't thought about how different these sets of folks might be. Usually post-apocalyptic fiction details all the ways people can destroy each other when left to their human nature. This book is somewhat gentler in this regard, but it made me realize that a cultural schism in terms of young and old could be quite devastating.

There's a book club discussion area at the end of my copy of the book. I usually skip these, but the final question caught me since I'd already been ruminating on it. What would I miss? Electricity, hands down. Without it, no internet, no air conditioning, no cars, no airplanes, no anything vital. What would you miss?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Lynch, Scott (The Republic of Thieves)

At first, I thought that Lynch had watched The Wire one too many times. The first book being about (essentially) gang warfare, the second about the sea (aka the docks), the third about politics. Will the next book be about schools? Well, I doubt it. I don't think Lynch would do anything this obvious.

He's writing his own story and building his own world. I heartily enjoy the mix of Shakespearean wordplay (and foppery) with language from our own times. (Case in point: read the bit where they escape from the ship again, and come on, I'm not giving anything away, you knew they'd escape from the ship or else how would the story continue.) I even more heartily enjoy the fact that he peels away mysteries as he goes (and not always one per book, sometime more, sometimes zero), but he leaves many mysteries in his wake. I can count at least 3 left standing (5, if you're more literal) by the end of this volume.

That just leaves me wanting more of his art. In contrast to Martin and Sanderson, both of whom can blather on for 200 extra pages (and one of whom is good at it), Lynch manages to keep his story exciting, interesting and surprising, all without extraneous blather. I am really looking forward to book 4 this fall.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Ozeki, Ruth (A Tale for the Time Being)

You can know your science and still produce a book that doesn't have anything to do with it. This is one example.

Ozeki did do her homework. If you want to know how tidal effects work, or what Japanese pop culture is like, or later on in the book, what quantum mechanics are all about, she gives you all that. Almost exactly as if she did do her homework. It's that dull and pedantic.

Her being pedantic is not my sole criticism. My bigger criticism is that the book takes a turn about 3/4 of the way through that came smack out of left field. It felt not at all in the same vein as the rest of the book - instead designed only to shock and startle you. Actually, there were two left field turns - one that startles, and the other that bewilders. (For those who've read the book, the bewildering one is more closely related to metaphysics.) Having one come right after the other threw me for a loop. If I hadn't thought she had no business writing a novel about what she was writing about before, that did the job for me.

I know that she at least has experience regarding Buddhist nuns, being one herself. The writing related to that subject seemed forced. Imagine how the rest of it seemed.