Friday, August 7, 2015

July Reads: Good Girls, Bad Boys & Vice-Versa

The Shattered Court: A Novel of the Four Arts (Novel of the Four Arts) M J Scott

Amazon sezEntangled in a court ruled by tradition and intrigue, a young witch must come to terms with new found power and desire—and a choice between loyalty and survival.…

MM sez Because I had to "create" a magic system in Queen of Heka (or at least explain the Ancient Egyptian one), I'm always interested in how others do it. This system is an interesting one to be sure, with magic as a determining factor in royal succession. Also, it  employs a unique division of power, although the restrictions on and hatred for other forms of magic are a bit skimpy. Linking magical abilities to sexual bonding is a theme right up my alley, although there was a bit too much insert tab A into slot B description for me. This book falls more in line with romance than fantasy, and I admit that the most interesting part was the last chapter. Was the first 98% a set up to get us hooked on the series. A good airplane read.

Second Life SJ Watson

Amazon sezFrom the New York Times bestselling author of Before I Go to Sleep, a sensational new psychological thriller about a woman with a secret identity that threatens to destroy her.

How well can you really know another person? How far would you go to find the truth about someone you love?

When Julia learns that her sister has been violently murdered, she must uncover why. But Julia's quest quickly evolves into an alluring exploration of own darkest sensual desires. Becoming involved with a dangerous stranger online, she's losing herself . . . losing control . . . perhaps losing everything. Her search for answers will jeopardize her marriage, her family, and her life.

MM sez Touted as tense and unrelenting. Yeah, not so much. One reviewer described it as "another woeful misery-fest." I might call it "first world problems writ large." I think the bones of a good, although hackneyed, story might be in there, but the POV character is not someone I cared for in either a good or a bad way; she left me indifferent to her fate. Indifference is not a trait you want to encounter in a murder mystery. Her dark sexual desires are pale at best, and the denouement, while somewhat surprising, isn't terribly satisfying. All this might have been saved by a few well-wrought phrases, but the writing is pretty pedestrian. Another airplane read, but only if you left your Kindle at home and must by something at the airport.

The Stars Never Rise  Rachel Vincent

Amazon sezThe New York Times bestselling author starts a new series about a girl who must join forces with rogue exorcists to save her sister and, ultimately, humanity.

MM sez Katniss Everdeen starring in The Handmaid's Tale meets The Walking Dead? Or something like that.  OK, they're called Demons, and they just eat your soul, but how is that different than a zombie? Our heroine, Nina Kane, steals to live and goes on a quest to save her younger sister; yes, that sounds just a bit familiar. Instead of the Governor and Terminus, we have religious communities that supposedly protect the inhabitants from the demons. . . if you follow all the rules of the Church. Oh, and there's this whole thing about babies; they're not in short supply, but you can't have one unless someone in your family gives up their soul. Which means DIE!

It's July, so I guess I'm drawn to beach and airplane reads. There are some surprise twists to this story; for example, the male protagonist is a disembodied spirit, but apparently still hot.

Everything I Never Told You: A Novel Celeste Ng

Amazon sezLydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio

A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

MM sezBoy Howdy, Everything I Never Told You  is pretty much about everything. All the stuff Amazon says is true. Everything I Never Told You is a story of secrets, of love, of longing, of lies, of race, of identity, and knowledge, but for me the novel was about expectations. The expectations that we place on ourself, the ones we put on our children, our friends, our family members, and our potential lovers. The expectation of how we will meet expectations, and how it can all go horribly awry. Yes, the details are about a Chinese American family, and it makes for good symbolism; it could be about any family, anywhere. The writing is amazingly poetic, without making you aware of its poetry as you read it. It is simply a book you must read.

Red Rising Pierce Brown

Amazon sezPierce Brown’s relentlessly entertaining debut channels the excitement of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power.

MM sez: I SAID I was never going to read another trilogy, but here I am hooked on the first book of one. I just ordered book 2. No self-control. I do hope the books don't get progressively more disappointing as books in a trilogy tend to do. (Don't get me started on Mockingjay and Allegiant.)

Yes, this book is reminiscent of the Hunger Games. But it's for adults (even though the characters are young.) I love the concept:  set on Mars, elements of Roman mythology, and a slave insurrection. You start out feeling sorry for Darrow who is a lower caste slave who is forced to hold the feet of his hanged wife to end her suffering because the gravity is lower on Mars. But, make no mistake, Darrow is not a nice guy. When he gets a chance to compete with the ruling caste, he can roll with the worst (or best) of them, proving absolute power corrupts absolutely. But Darrow learns from his mistakes and pulls off a victory with trickery worthy of Katniss Everdeen. Can't wait to see what he becomes in Book 2.

The secondary characters are well drawn and pull us into Darrow's world, both with the lower and upper castes.

I read the book in two days, staying up late to find out what happened in the final chapter;although the ending might be a foregone conclusion, you just have to know how it plays out. It plays out well!

Golden Son: Book Two of The Red Rising
Amazon sezA lamb among wolves in a cruel world, Darrow finds friendship, respect, and even love—but also the wrath of powerful rivals. To wage and win the war that will change humankind’s destiny, Darrow must confront the treachery arrayed against him, overcome his all-too-human desire for retribution—and strive not for violent revolt but a hopeful rebirth.

MM sez: First, let's be clear, no matter what Amazon sez, Darrow is no lamb. Red Rising propelled me into Golden Son. Had I read this book first, I might not have rushed so enthusiastically into a second book. There were soaring moments when Darrow reflected on what he was doing and what he became that equalled the first book, and there were some carefully crafted plot twists. Just not enough of either. The prolonged battle scenes were somewhat devoid of emotion, and the alliance building was pretty rote. Nor does the author draw much of a  delineation between Darrow's cause and Darrow's  followers and the tyrants they're fighting against. To be fair, Darrow himself admits this at one point.

Will I read the third book? Maybe. Probably. However, I don't feel as invested in Darrow's story as I was at the end of Book 1. I'm not sure I care enough about what happens to him or his world anymore.

The Good Girl Mary Kubica
Amazon sezAn addictive, suspenseful and tautly written thriller, The Good Girl is a propulsive debut that reveals how even in the perfect family, nothing is as it seems.

"Kubica's powerful debut…will encourage comparisons to Gone Girl."

One night, Mia Dennett enters a bar to meet her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when he doesn't show, she unwisely leaves with an enigmatic stranger.  But following Colin home turns out to be the worst mistake of Mia's life when he kidnaps and hides Mia in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota

MM sez: Told alternately by Colin, Mia's mother, Eve, and detective Gabe Hoffman from both before and after the event, The Good Girl evokes both the agony and banality of a horrific crime and its aftermath. Mia herself does not speak until the very end, and what an ending it turns out to be. Didn't see it coming. A great read for a rainy weekend.

Apparently some readers had trouble with the shift between the different narrators. It worked for me because each character has something different to add to the story, and it didn't lapse into the less compelling omniscient Point of View. I see this issue brought up by readers any time a book has multiple points of view. Maybe we need a warning on the cover?

As for the now almost ubiquitous reference to Gone Girl, I'm getting kind of tired of it. This was way more plausible, and I didn't hate anyone in this novel the way I hated Amy in GG. Must every mystery with a complex female character get that comparison?

Scroll of Saqqara Pauline Gedge

Amazon sezPrince Khaemwaset is a powerful man. The son of Ramses II and a revered physician, his wisdom is respected throughout Egypt. But Khaemwaset harbours a strong and secret desire—to find the mysterious Scroll of Thoth and receive the power to raise the dead.
When Khaemwaset hears of the discovery of a hidden tomb on the plain of Saqqara, he is quick to break its seal and take its secrets—secrets that he soon learns he should never have disturbed.

MM sezEven though there are more books in the world than I'll ever read, some books are worth rereading. This is one of them. In less  than no time, I was caught up with the plot (still surprising and suspenseful in the reread) and the on-spot depiction of life in ancient Egypt.

One reviewer calls it Egyptian Gothic, and that is certainly true. Another reviewer says it's a must-read for all lovers of ancient Egypt. Also true. Pauline Gedge is one of my favorite novelists when it comes to Ancient Egypt. In short, Scroll of Saqqara is Job set in the 19th Dynasty.

Disclosure: I decided to reread this novel for a couple of reasons:

  • I started researching the infamous Book of Thoth  for an article I'll be writing for Mythology.
  • Khaemwaset and the Book play an important role in my next book, Reeds of Time.