Friday, October 11, 2013

What’s I’ve (been) Reading: October 11, 2013

 Get ready for 2014—I sure am, and just to prove it, I’ve spent my time delving through the pages of winter and spring 2014 book releases. Yes, reading a book not released until April of 2014 might not be the best pastime in October of 2013—there are certainly enough good books out right now, but call me forward thinking, because that is exactly what I have been doing. So as not to completely lose the 2013 reads, I’ve also thrown in a couple of current releases, giving my two cents on their worthiness and readability.

Nil by Lynne Matson (releases March 4, 2014)
On the island of Nil the rules are clear: you have 365 to escape, if you don’t, you die. When Charley Nil provides a refreshing science fiction plot. Unfortunately, despite the appealing concept, the story goes a bit flat in places, and the ending is a little too contrived. An adequate read, Nil provides a nice break from vampires and dystopian futures, but doesn’t quite come up to snuff.
disappears from a parking lot only to awaken naked, on a mysterious and decidedly dangerous island, the only thing she knows for sure is that survival means everything. When she comes across Thad, and a group of other teens; all magically transported to Nil, she learns that her stay on the island has a time limit; find a way back in a year, or die trying. This was an interesting premise and a nice departure from the loads of dystopian teen fiction crowding the shelves. Full of adventure, romance, a unique depiction of teen angst,

The Lost Sun: Book 1 of United States of Asgard by Tessa Gratton (out now)
What if the Norse Gods were real? What if those same Norse Gods were an active part of society with their own followers and fan bases? In this alternative history, America doesn’t exist; instead it is the United States of Asgard, where Odin, Thor, Loki, Freya, and all the other well-known figures from Norse Mythology are very real, and very important. Within this country is Soren Bearskin, a berserker hiding from his heritage and Astrid Glyn, daughter of a famous seer with her own crosses to bear. When Balder, the beloved son of Odin disappears, Astrid and Soren must team up to find him before panic can overtake their country.

I love mythology, and the integration of Norse gods into this alternative USA society was very well done. It made me want to revisit my old high school myth books (Marvel has rotted my brain, so I can only remember their versions of the stories). I’ll be curious to see how the rest of the series pans out, based on the fairly tidy (in myth story terms) ending of The Lost Son. I think that in general they can only get better. At this point author Gratton has painted a decent, if not fantastic portrait of this world; hopefully she takes a bit more time to flesh out the details, it will certainly add an extra layer to her storytelling, and benefit the books greatly. If the author is able to more fully develop her world (the books are really dependent on that), and move beyond some of the obvious plot contrivances, she could have a fun and unique series on her hand. It will take the next book The Strange Maid: Book 2 of United States of Asgard (out June 2014) for me to make a firm decision on whether to stick with this series of not.

In the Blood by Lisa Unger (releases January 7, 2014)
Lisa Unger returns to The Hollows (Fragile and Darkness, My Old Friend) in her latest psychological thriller In the Blood. I was a really big Unger fan after her Beautiful Lies books, and subsequent suspense novels Black Out and Die for You. Her stories are just the right amount of twisted to make you hang on and enjoy the ride. I also like her forays into The Hollows, primarily because I enjoy the familiarity of murder/mystery series, but for me, they have been some of her weaker narratives. The same could be said about In the Blood. A story that follows college student Lana Granger, a girl with a dark past and a string of lies that make up her present. When her best friend disappears she is soon drawn into a game of cat and mouse, where the awful truth of her life just might be her ending. There is a major twist in this book—one that did not take me by surprise, and ultimately worked against the book. It’s too much of a plot devise and is a little too unbelievable—especially for a first person narrative. In all, it’s not a bad book; it’s still riveting in its own way, but just not up to par with her standalones.

The Intern's Handbook by Shane Kuhn (releases April 8, 2014)
Fans of Max Barry and Christopher Moore will love this brilliant satirical suspense. Told as though it were an actual handbook for would be assassins The Intern’s Handbook follows the last mission, of uber-assassin John Lago as he lays out the laws of the land (and his corrupt agency HR, Inc.) for interning. Granted in this world interns are assassins—the perfect killers really, because who pays attention to the intern—no one. Witty, with plenty of action The Intern’s Handbook is a remarkably fun and entertaining read.

Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield (releases November 5, 2013)
Diane Setterfield’s debut novel The Thirteenth Tale was a gothic suspense filled with tension, mystery, and strangeness. It was an intriguing story that stayed on the bestsellers list for some time. Now, after seven years Setterfield is back with her sophomore effort Bellman and Black. Billed as a ghost story, Bellman and Black follows the triumphant life of William Bellman after he kills a rook with a slingshot as a young boy. Blessed with good looks, intelligence, and a general likeability, William excels in life, until a set of tragedies lures him into a new and unusually dark pact. I don’t want to give away the twist, but if you are at all a comprehensive reader you will guess it rather quickly. This book was a big disappointment. The writing is very good, but the plot is very bland. It is not a ghost story, rather a gothic life story that tries to pull in the supernatural, but doesn’t quite succeed. I so wanted to love it. I did enjoy the story initially, but after I was about three quarters of the way through, I realized exactly where the narrative was going, and was letdown by the lack of originality. Setterfield is a wonderful prose writer. Her words flow effortlessly, with obvious talent, but Bellman and Black just didn’t have the brilliance of plot manipulation that was displayed in The Thirteenth Tale. Some may enjoy this, but it won’t reach any of the peaks as her debut.

The Innocent Sleep by Karen Gillece (releases February 18, 2014)
This book was just plain bad. Manufactured plot, unlikeable characters, a predictability that exceeded ridiculous—The Innocent Sleep was all of these things and more. There was no real suspense, although it claims to be a part of that genre, and the contrived, pseudointellectual characters are neither intelligent nor interesting. A bad book and a waste of my time.

Balthazar by Claudia Gray (out now)
Gray’s Evernight series started off great, but progressively lost its steam as it went on. Fans will enjoy this spin-off, featuring the beloved character, tortured vampire Balthazar, but newcomers to the Evernight world will be slightly confused, and not very enthusiastic. This is primarily a book for fans, one that will delight them, but not bowl them over.

The Clockwork Scarab by Coleen Gleason (out now)
The Clockwork Scarab is a great alternative history (steam punk) novel for teens. Following Mina Holmes (niece of Sherlock) and Evaline Stoker (sister of Bram), The Clockwork Scarab traverses all over a steam punk Victorian England as the two girls team up under the remarkable Irene Adler to solve a series of murders. Time travel, alternate history, deduction, Egyptian mythology and vampire hunters are all jam packed into this smart and highly entertaining new novel. This one is going to be a series that I will happily follow. Good for fans of mystery (female driven), I would whole heartedly recommend this. Also, for fans of Barry Levinson's Young Sherlock Holmes, look for some decided similarities in some of the plot points, just enough to give you a little fun if you’ve seen the movie (I can only imagine the author drew something from it, but if not, it’s still fun).

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