Friday, October 13, 2017

September Reads

Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children) by Seanan McGuire

Synopsis: Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere... else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she's back. The things she's experienced... they change a person. The children under Miss West's care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy's arrival marks a change at the Home. There's a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it's up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of things.

No matter the cost.

My take:  This novella won a LOT of awards, and it deserved every one of them. It's an interesting concept, and McGuire executes that concept well. It does an excellent job of evoking the terrors of childhood and taking them to the next level. Every Heart was in turns atmospheric, poetic, and terrifying, and it held my attention throughout. I highly recommend it.

Rosemary and Rue (October Daye Series Book 1) by Seanan McGuire

Synopsis: The world of Faerie never disappeared; it merely went into hiding, continuing to exist parallel to our own. Secrecy is the key to Faerie's survival—but no secret can be kept forever, and when the fae and mortal worlds collide, changelings are born.

Outsiders from birth, these half-human, half-fae children spend their lives fighting for the respect of their immortal relations. Or, in the case of October "Toby" Daye, rejecting it completely. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the fae world, retreating into a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, Faerie has other ideas...

The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose, one of the secret regents of the San Francisco Bay Area, pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening’s dying curse, Toby must resume her former position as knight errant to the Duke of Shadowed Hills and begin renewing old alliances that may prove her only hope of solving the mystery...before the curse catches up with her.

My take:  I read this book because I enjoyed Every Heart a Doorway. Maybe because Every Heart was such a great read, I was disappointed in  a novel that was basically just OK;I probably won't read the next ten books. To put it mildly, I'm weary and burned out of kick-ass heroines who prove their kick-assedness by acting inept and getting themselves in situations where they no other recourse than to be kick ass.

Yes, McGuire does some nice work with Faerie, and that part of the novel is fresh and exciting.  But world building alone is not enough.  I just can't get excited about the main character, October Daye, because I've seen her way too often. Rosemary and Rue is the first book in the series, and it was written eight years ago. So, the series might get better in later books. I just can't summon sufficient enthusiasm to find out.

A God Against the Gods by Allen Drury
Return to Thebes: Sequel to A God Against the Gods by Allen Drury
Synopsis 1: The sweeping chronicle of a great and tragic pharaoh who lost his throne for the love of a God.

In the glory of ancient Egypt, an epic of a royal family divided, bloody power ploys, and religious wars that nearly tore apart one of the greatest empires in human history.

AKHENATEN: The dream-filled King of Egypt, who dared to challenge the ancient order of his people and dethrone the jeslous dieties of his land for the glory of one almighty God.

NEFERTITI: The most beautiful woman in the world, bred from birth to be the Pharaoh’s devoted lover—and to follow him anywhere, even in his tortured obsessions.

“Drury’s best book”—Fort Worth Star Telegram

Synopsis 2:  The spectacular conclusion to the Egyptian epic begun in A God Against the Gods. After his brother’s assassination, a new Pharaoh must take the throne and battle the corrupt and violent priesthood. His name is TUTANKHAMUN.

Pulitzer Prize winning author Allen Drury paints a vivid, dramatic picture of the most tumultuous times in one of the greatest empires in human history. Following the murder of Akhenaten and the beautiful Nefertiti and the religious uproar that threatens to tear Egypt apart, the pharoah has to defy the gods in order to rule his people.

The master writer recreates ancient Egypt with all its pomp, glory, politics, and treachery, and brings legendary titans of history to life, with all their tragic—and all too human—flaws.

My take:   I'm generally not a big fan of the Amarna Period or of Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and Tut. That said, I did read three novels about them this month. Of the three, I ended up liking these two the best.  First published in 1976, I'm not sure they'd get published today because they require some rigorous discipline to get through the complicated world that was Ancient Egypt, and they are not action-oriented in the way so many books are today. The book was well-researched, although I must mention that in the intervening 41 years since these books were written, new discoveries have superseded some of  the facts that were "known" about the time period.

First and foremost, Drury brought these figures to life for me in a way that no other writer has. The various intrigues of the royal family, the odd relationship between Nefertiti and Akhenaten, a truly logical explanation of Smenkhkare, and attention to detail kept me turning the page. I also rather enjoyed the Horemheb  and Ramses I portrayals, which are also different that what you read in many books.  Mostly, I just enjoyed the fact that none of these characters simpered as many Amarna characters in contemporary novels do.

Yes, I did feel that I was in Ancient Egypt, because the details were really good. I could have done, however, with a few less repetitions of the entire Hymn to the Aten. Overall, anyone who is interested in Ancient Egypt or how religion can change the world and what happens to the people involved in both the new and old religion will find this book mesmerizing.

Nefertiti: The Book of the Dead (Rahotep Series) by Nick Drake

Synopsis: She is Nefertiti—beautiful and revered. With her husband, Akhenaten, she rules over Egypt, the most affluent, formidable, sophisticated empire in the ancient world. But an epic power struggle is afoot, brought on by the royal couple's inauguration of an enlightened new religion and the construction of a magnificent new capital. The priests are stunned by the abrupt forfeiture of their traditional wealth and influence; the people resent the loss of their gods—and the army is enraged by the growing turbulence around them. Then, just days before the festival that will celebrate the new capital, Nefertiti vanishes.

Rahotep, the youngest chief detective in the Thebes division, has earned a reputation for his unorthodox yet effective methods. Entrusted by great Akhenaten himself with a most secret investigation, Rahotep has but ten days to find the missing Queen. If he succeeds, he will bask in the warmth of Akhenaten's favor. But if Rahotep fails, he and his entire family will die.

My take:  This novel is a solid (if plodding) mystery. As familiar as I am with the characters and the twists and turns of mysteries, I found myself going "Huh?" a little too often with this novel. Rahotep is, as should be, the most interesting character, but Drake doesn't do enough to develop Nefertiti. As a result, we don't care much about her. I was carried along mostly by the desire to see Rahotep not die, but I would not have been too sad if he did.  Drake, unlike Drury, did not do a great job at creating a "picture" of this era, and the novel might well have been set at any time and place that was undergoing great social upheaval.

Secrets in Death: An Eve Dallas Novel (In Death, Book 45) by J.D. Robb

Synopsis: The chic Manhattan nightspot Du Vin is not the kind of place Eve Dallas would usually patronize, and it’s not the kind of bar where a lot of blood gets spilled. But that’s exactly what happens one cold February evening.

The mortally wounded woman is Larinda Mars, a self-described “social information reporter,” or as most people would call it, a professional gossip. As it turns out, she was keeping the most shocking stories quiet, for profitable use in her side business as a blackmailer. Setting her sights on rich, prominent marks, she’d find out what they most wanted to keep hidden and then bleed them dry. Now someone’s done the same to her, literally—with a knife to the brachial artery.

Eve didn’t like Larinda Mars. But she likes murder even less. To find justice for this victim, she’ll have to plunge into the dirty little secrets of all the people Larinda Mars victimized herself. But along the way, she may be exposed to some information she really didn’t want to know…

My take:  I'm just not going to keep explaining my love of the Eve Dallas books. I devoured it in one night. . . . the night it came out. So, there.

Rewinder (Rewinder Series Book 1) by Brett Battles

Synopsis: You will never read Denny Younger’s name in any history book, but the world as you know it wouldn’t be the same without him. Denny was born into one of the lowest rungs of society, but his bleak fortunes changed the day the mysterious Upjohn Institute recruited him. The role: “verifier of personal histories.” The job title: Rewinder. After accepting the offer, Denny discovers he’ll have to do his research in person…by traveling through time.

Using a device capable of opening a portal into any era from the past, Denny is sent back to serve as an eyewitness to significant moments in human history. But as he journeys across the centuries, he begins to suspect that his missions to “observe and report” have a much darker purpose. When a time jump drops Denny into the midst of a rebellion, he finds himself in over his head in a deadly game where even the smallest choices can have catastrophic consequences.

Armed only with his wits and his time-travel device, Denny’s adventures take readers on a pulse-pounding journey of page-turning twists. But will everything he’s got be enough?

My take:  An  intriguing book that presents a good alternate history. It's the light version of Connie Willis' The Doomsday Book and Stephen King's 11/22/63. I liked it well enough, but I'm not one of those people who obsess on what happens if you go back and time and try to change the past. So issues that other reviewers had about the sci-fi not being rigorous enough didn't bother me. On the other hand, the characters and the plot didn't enthrall me enough to reach for the second book in the series, either. It was just an enjoyable weekend read.

Rhapsodic (The Bargainer Book 1) by Laura Thalassa

Synopsis: Callypso Lillis is a siren with a very big problem, one that stretches up her arm and far into her past. For the last seven years she’s been collecting a bracelet of black beads up her wrist, magical IOUs for favors she’s received. Only death or repayment will fulfill the obligations. Only then will the beads disappear.

Everyone knows that if you need a favor, you go to the Bargainer to make it happen. He’s a man who can get you anything you want … at a price. And everyone knows that sooner or later he always collects.

But for one of his clients, he’s never asked for repayment. Not until now. When Callie finds the fae king of the night in her room, a grin on his lips and a twinkle in his eye, she knows things are about to change. At first it’s just a chaste kiss—a single bead’s worth—and a promise for more.

My take:  This book might be some combination of Lolita , Rosemary and Rue, and Eve Dallas (which I also read this month). It was not a sappy romance, and Callie was a well-developed character who brought a lot to the novel. The mystery was also well-developed, and Thalassa did a really great job of portraying the young Callie as an abused and desperate girl who catches the eye and heart of a bad guy with a heart of gold.  Yep, this read was fun and satisfying.