Friday, July 5, 2013

What I’ve (been) Reading, July 5, 2013

I’m a little more rounded this go around, having read a blend of fiction, mystery, sci-fi/fantasy, satire, and a couple of teen series installments. So here we go:

Lexicon by Max Barry (out now)
Long a fan of Max Barry (see another short review here), I’m always eager to get one of his books into someone else’s hands, and Lexicon is no exception. Following two individuals, Emily and Will, whose lives are inextricably entwined by their involvement with a powerful group called The Poets, Lexicon is able to take a look at the power of the spoken word and take it to places it has never been before. Barry uses his genius for marketing, and extraordinary insight into the human psyche to build a world where a secret society uses personality tests to single out powerful individuals, and where a single word—one that doesn’t even need to be spoken—can bring about the destruction of everything and everyone. Barry is a master of combining satire, social commentary, and a touch of science fiction to create a realm that is both so far from being possible and utterly believable at the same time. He’s an author who makes the impossible seem plausible, and can keep you enthralled for hours. Lexicon is a brilliant, imaginative new novel from one of the smartest fiction writer’s around.

The Heist Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg (out now)
The Heist was my first foray into a Janet Evanovich (best known for the Stephanie Plum series) book and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Following the escapades of FBI Agent Kate O'Hare, who is forced to pair with her nemesis, con man extraordinaire Nicholas Fox in order to bring down a corrupt investment banker, The Heist is a delightfully entertaining novel of espionage and crime-fighting that oozes just enough humor and sex appeal to keep you entertained through the end. This is strictly a light and amusing piece of work, so if you’re expecting grit or edge, look away—this is no masterpiece, The Heist is for kicks only. Great fun to read, The Heist is sure to bring you enjoyment and fun.

Longbourn by Jo Baker (releases 10/8/13)
Longbourn, so named for the Bennet estate in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, is a reverse look, or in today’s terms a “Downton Abbey look”, at the world of the Bennet family, as seen from the point of view of the servants. I’m not the biggest Austen fan (see my reasons here), but I’ve been in this weird Pride and Prejudice mood that I just can’t explain. So, while it’s not a natural thing for me to read an Austen spin-off novel, I was oddly eager to give this one a try. It’s always interesting to see behind the curtain—whether it’s the same story told from two different points of view like Gayle Forman’s Just One Day/Just One Year or, as in the case of Longbourn, seeing the backside of a famous family from the point of view of the people who literally clean-up there messes—I find it a generally intriguing, and for the most part, enjoyable venture. With Longbourn, the reader is only given brief glimpses of the family and their story; we see Jane’s beauty and warmth, Elizabeth’s intelligence, Mrs. Bennet’s histrionics, and Lydia’s recklessness, but Longbourn is not their story; it instead follows young maid Sarah, new footman James, and housekeeper Mrs. Hill. Young Sarah is the primary protagonist, struggling against her place in life and the conflicting feelings of love and confusion regarding the mysterious James, as she navigates her way behind the scenes of the actual Pride and Prejudice narrative. As a reader I liked Sarah, and found both Mrs. Hill and James’ stories to be of interest, but the author adds her own brand of twenty-first century plot devices that tended to take me out of the story. Adding secret affairs and closeted homosexuality to characters created (if not fully fleshed out) over a century ago has become incredibly clichéd, and detracted from the overall enjoyment of the narrative. The writing itself is decent, if not brilliant; there are a few too many hazy, dream-like scenes that lack cohesiveness, and the overall story, is good, if not compelling, but in all I kept hoping for a better look at the Bennet sisters and their story. I think this is a reasonable fault for me as a reader to find in the book, primarily because I’m not a big fan of Pride and Prejudice, and yet I still cared more about the Bennets, than I did their servants. So, good enough book, enjoyable for fans of Austen, but no real gem that will be remembered for years on end.

Charming by Elliott James (Releases 9/24/13)
This is not a romance novel!
John Charming is not your mother’s Prince Charming—that is unless you are looking for a part Knight Templar, part Werewolf, holy water-toting, man on the run—then of course he’s “that” Charming. In Charming, author Elliott James creates an exciting paranormal world where Knights have been sworn to uphold a centuries long duty to protect the Pax Arcana—the magical shield that protects humans from knowing the supernatural exists—from exposure. His tainted hero is sarcastic and wounded; making for an intriguing blend of wit, strength, and humility. I liked what James did with these characters and this world, creating a new twist on the ever present, oft recreated vampire/werewolf genre. Not a home run—it gets a little predicable, and the martial arts descriptions get old and redundant (and that’s from someone who practiced martial arts for years)—but an admirable start to a new series, with memorable new characters. I will beg you to please excuse the horrible cover—it’s bad, and could really turn some readers off—just close your eyes and pretend it’s something different.

Of Triton by Anna Banks (out now)
The sequel to Of Poseidon, is a fun young adult novel following half mermaid (called Syrena in this series) Emma as she seeks to reunite family, and save the Syrena people from a potential internal threat that could change the way they live and rule forever. I don’t want to give much more detail than that for fear of ruining the first book in the series—but I can say it’s a solid fantasy/love story for teen readers. Also, it’s the only mermaid book (outside of the Emily Windsnap series for 8-11 year olds—that is really great fun) I’ve genuinely enjoyed.

Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger (Releases 11/5/13)
I’m a Carriger fan, love the Parasol Protectorate books and am actually even more enamored of her Finishing School series featuring the intrepid young Sophronia Temminnick. This sequel to Carriger’s debut into the young adult word, Etiquette & Espionage, is delightful. The series, which follows the adventures of Sophronia as she is educated aboard Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, a floating school, that just happens to teach young ladies the art of espionage, is fun, clever, and unique. Playing off the world created in her previous series (the aforementioned Parasol Protectorate), Carriger continues to create rich characters, and inventive steampunk gadgets. Sophronia is headstrong and smart, a real joy to read and root for. This is a great book, and series for both young adults and adult fans of Carriger’s other works.

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