Friday, September 16, 2011

Read in August

I either read dense, serious books, or stuff I picked up from the children's section.  Yep.  That's me.

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I'll start with the children's books.  First of all, what is a sophomore doing in the children's section?  Shouldn't I be reading supernatural romances or sassily-titled tomes about mousy-haired girls snarking about girls at their school that they hate and gushing over the football player and/or hipster dude?

Nah.  Children's books make me feel happier, safer.  And, a lot of the time, they're just more fun.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard
The Tales of Beedle the Bard, by J. K. Rowling

I can say that I have read all ten Harry Potter books: the seven in the series proper, Quidditch Through the Ages, and Newt Scamander's Guide to Fantastic Beasts. Dumbledore's commentary is pretty funny.

Jake Ransom And The Skull King's Shadow (Jake Ransom, #1)
Jake Ransom And The Skull King's Shadow, by James Rollins

Just the day before I'd been thinking about civilizations that are underrepresented in historical fantasy, so when I saw a Mayan pyramid on the cover I couldn't not check this book out.

It did not disappoint. Was the writing a trifle juvenile? Yes. (Note: putting three one-sentence paragraphs in a row dilutes the impact.) Were the characters just a couple notches above archetypical? Yes. (Though I must say they were less flat than I'd feared.) But the premise, of falling into a world occupied by several different civilizations scattered throughout history and space - that was awesome. A bit gimmicky, but hopefully later books will give passable reasons for the place's existence.

I won't be looking too hard for holes, though. What matters more to me is the fresh, straightforward adventure story that this series promises to deliver.

The Crowfield Curse
The Crowfield Curse, by Pat Walsh

With a generic medieval setting, archetypical characters, and a plot that took a while to get to the point, there was nothing particularly special about this book...but the writing was good enough, and the main character William, while generic, was a good enough kid. If the other books are at my library, I'll probably read them.  Sometimes the quality of a book doesn't matter so much as how it makes you feel, and children's books, as I said before, make me happy.

The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles, #1)
The Red Pyramid, by Rick Riordan

I wonder if Rick Riordan is planning on writing a series about every major pantheon. If he does, I am completely down with that. He's a great author.

It didn't quite match up to the Percy Jackson series, but I have high hopes.

What impressed me was the amount of detail and research that slipped into the narrative so casually. Crocodiles at temples? Awesome. I also liked how the alliances shifted around a bit. Chapter titles were amusing, as expected.

Looking forward to the second book.

I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade
I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade, by Diane Lee Wilson

A book set on the Mongolian steppes during the reign of Kublai Khan = must read. Because no one writes about Mongolia. (Can you tell I like unusual settings?)

Oyuna was a very, very conventional children's book protagonist: a spunky girl who likes horses and disguises herself as a boy and has a smart cat sidekick. Clearly, she was not what made this book good.

Rather, it was the setting. The gratuitous use of Mongolian words was occasionally grating, but the details of steppe life - that I could not get enough of. The obo of the mountains, Oyuna's astonishment at seeing a bridge, the festival at Karakorum...the unfamiliarity of the book's milieu more than made up for the boringness of the main character.

The writing was pretty good, the kind that is not noticeable. It did make the field of dead saiga and the detour to a malevolent character's house seem almost nightmarishly otherworldly, though.

All in all, a rare find. It was not the gem that I had hoped for, but an interesting-looking rock is just fine too.

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So far, all the books I've been talking about are what I would have read in middle school - maybe even elementary school.  I enjoy such lighter fare, but this month did not go by without more substantial reading material as well.

Many Waters (Time, #4)
Many Waters, by Madeleine L'Engle

Madeleine L'Engle is a very good author, but there is something about her books that makes it difficult to imagine yourself reading them. Maybe it's the science that weighs just as heavy as the fantasy. Whatever it is, once you get started finishing is the easy part.

The description of antediluvian life was fascinating, as all things from distant history are. Differences between the nephilim and seraphim quite intrigued me - though, truth be told, I prefer immortal creatures to be more inhuman, more extreme.

The dialogue, while not displeasing, had a curious limp to it, prettier and yet flatter than more convincing speech; same goes for the rest of the prose. I couldn't feel great anxiety for the characters because of that, but it was certainly an enjoyable book.

However: There is more than one "Noah" in history. It seems too great a leap of faith that the twins, skeptics both, would reach that conclusion first rather than passing it off as coincidence.

American Gods
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

Favorite part: the names and descriptions of the forgotten gods. Makes me want to know more about them - unfortunately, I doubt I'll be able to get more information about the mammoth god.

As dense books often do, it made me feel leaden. I probably should have spaced out my reading of this book a bit more - reading it for all of Monday was like eating a banquet with n + 1 courses, n being the number of courses I can consume comfortably.

Shadow and Linda's relationship was sweet, given the circumstances. The wrap-up of the Lakeside disappearances was...disturbing, to put it lightly. I took issue with some aspects of the main plot, but it was satisfying.

Everfound (Skinjacker, #3)
Everfound, by Neal Shusterman

Reading this book was quite draining. Do not misunderstand: it was an excellent book, and Shusterman is an excellent writer (why else would I have stuck with the series?). However, it dealt with weighty topics - abuse of power, doing what needs to be done no matter how bad it is, world destruction, large-scale murder. Things with natural gravity.

I find it tragic whenever a powerful, to-be-reckoned-with character falls a long way - even if that character deserves it.

The intricate net of character interactions was one of this book's triumphs. Changing alignments of loyalty and wildcards such as Clarence show just how awesome Neal Shusterman is at juggling lots of characters who all have some part to play. The resolution was relieving, the end satisfying even though the way things ended up was not all too different from the beginning of Everlost (the first book). The things that did change were significant enough to show that progress occurred.

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Testing a new way to run these monthly "read in" posts.

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