Friday, May 17, 2013

What I’m Reading, May 17, 2013

This week I read a selection of books covering readers of all ages. So, I’ll start with the youngest and work my way up.

Sleeping Beauty’s Daughters by Diane Zahler (releases August 27th)
I’ll kick-off the list with a good juvenile read, suitable for ages 8 and up. The book is a twist on the Sleeping Beauty story, this time following the narcoleptic beauty’s young daughters Aurora and Luna as they go on a great sea adventure, seeking to reverse the sleeping curse that threatens to overcome young Princess Aurora (after their mother was saved from the curse it reverted to her eldest daughter). The concept is a fun twist on a well-known plot. It’s pretty easy reading and simple enough for younger readers, but if forced to read aloud, the tale won’t bore parents. Because of the adventure, and a rather brave young boy who aids the sisters on their quest, the book will also appeal to boys, so don’t let the more feminine cover fool you. Overall, a fun read for young kids.

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal (releases June 11th)
This is a difficult one to review. It has many elements that I enjoy: fairy tale theme, paranormal aspect, coming of age, danger; but it just doesn’t come together in an appealing manner. Let’s get the plot out of the way and then I’ll explain the ways the book lost me.

The basic plot is that Jeremy Johnson Johnson (yes, two Johnsons) of the small village Never Better has two problems, he and his recluse father are about to lose their home, and he can speak to ghosts. Jeremy’s ghost just happens to be the late great Jacob Grimm (who is also the tale’s narrator), a spirit trapped in the space between life and death, wandering the Earth in hopes of either finding his brother or finally passing into the afterlife. When the aptly called “Finder of Occasions” finds Jeremy and friend Ginger in the midst of their own trials, he finds a way to exploit them, endangering their lives unless the ghostly Jacob can do something to stop him.

The story is ridiculous, but not in the appealing manner of fairy tales (which it tries to emulate), rather it bounces all over the place, letting the characters dangle over several problems and dangers, but pulling them back on the brink, so when the actual danger appears you end up breathing a sigh that it’s done. This is not the sigh of an enchanted reader mind you, but one of an irritated reader waiting for the story to end. Another issue is the dialogue—it is very stylized, which can work when applied in the right way, but since there is no sense of time period it is difficult to accept such odd discourse. At times it seems as though the story is taking place in the 1950’s, at others current time, and then there’s the notion that the characters are merely stuck in the back of the Mystery Machine, copying the lingo of the Scooby Gang. No matter how interesting the plot, poor dialogue will destroy a novel, and McNeal just doesn’t write decent dialogue.

I wanted to like this one, wouldn’t dissuade anyone, particularly those between 9 and 12, from reading it, but in all this just wasn’t a great book. Nice concept, poorly executed, a middling novel.

Descendant: A Starling Novel by Lesley Livingstone (releases August 27th)
Descendant is the sequel to Livingstone’s Starling, and also a part of the universe she created in her Wondrous Strange series. This YA series is fun, bringing in an entertaining mix of Norse, Greek, and Egyptian mythologies, as well as the Fae world created in the Wondrous Strange books. In Descendant, there is a nice touch of romance, fierce battles, and familial upheaval. It is an entertaining, if not completely solid tale, but do beware of the cliffhanger ending, as it is a typical middle book where nothing is resolved. An acceptable read for genre devotees or fans of Livingston’s other works.

It Happens in the Dark by Carol O’Connell (releases August 20th)
As a big fan of the series, I have to mention the 13th Mallory novel It Happens in the Dark. This time O’Connell pits the sociopathic Mallory against a ghostwriter who is killing off members of the cast and crew of a Broadway play and then sets his sights on Mallory. This is a typical suspense for the series, nothing too exciting happens, and it has none of the brilliance of Find Me (#11), but as a fan, I’m always eager to spend some time with Mallory, Riker, Charles Butler, and the crew of the NYPD Special Crimes Division. One note though, in both this installment and the previous, The Chalk Girl, O’Connell gives us an epilogue from the point-of-view of an elderly Charles Butler, in each it has Mallory long dead and Butler searching his memories for moments of her humanity. Does this mean that O’Connell is preparing us for an eventual kill-off of Mallory and the series? I hope not, but after the revealing Find Me, and then these two epilogues, I just can’t rule it out.

Circle of Shadows by Imogen Robertson (Releases June 13th)

Another series I thoroughly enjoy, Circle of Shadows is the 4th chapter in the Harriet Westerman/Gabriel Crowther mysteries that take place in 18th Century England. In this book Harriet and Crowther travel to Germany in an attempt to save Harriet’s brother-in-law, Daniel Clode from wrongful execution. What they find is a court built on lies, splendor, mysticism, and intrigue; and a murderer eager to make a very significant and creative statement. Crowther’s forensics, and Harriet’s intuition are always a fine match, throw in a rather complex conspiracy involving the Freemasons and you have an entertaining Georgian suspense. Robertson’s writing gets better with each novel, but her structure is still a bit odd, with the narrative bouncing between locations and individuals a little too haphazardly for a reader’s comfort. Still, fans of the light suspense series will enjoy the banter and intrigue, making it a worthwhile read.

Right now I’m reading The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani. Thus far it is fantastic. One of those great fiction reads that is smooth and enchanting from page one. I can only hope that it continues to be as engrossing to the end. Definitely worthy of its own review, so keep your eyes open.

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