Sunday, June 10, 2018

Brief Reviews Spring 2016

The Stockholm OctavoI really enjoyed the setting of this novel in late 19th century Sweden. There were aspects of the plot that probably had more tension for me than intended because I have very little knowledge of Swedish history. The plot was intricate with plenty of political intrigue and many characters to follow. If you like plot-focused books I think this would appeal to you. Unfortunately I'm more of a character-focused reader and there weren't any characters that I felt particularly attached to. Still, it was a fun read and I found the tarot and fan aspects fascinating. I particularly appreciated the emphasis on women's roles behind the scenes during that era. The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann

Pride and Predator (Ben Reese, #2)This was a great countryside mystery. The detective is an academic from America who happens to be in Scotland doing some appraising work on an old estate when a murder is committed. The characters were all drawn very well and the setting was a lot of fun. I enjoyed traveling back to Scotland via book. The mystery itself was engaging to piece together (although I figured it out pretty early on). I really enjoyed spending time with the characters and I'll be interested in reading the rest of the series. A fun, light vacation read. Pride and Predator by Sally Wright

Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect ScienceI'm not usually a big fan of memoir but I found this account of a resident surgeon's life fascinating. He focuses on different issues facing medicine and provides insight in an approachable way. Gawande's writing style is clear and eloquent and I learned a lot. Far from the stereotype of the arrogant surgeon he's surprisingly willing to admit both his own shortcomings and those of the profession in general. I'll be reading his other works and I'd recommend it to those interested in the subject. Complications by Atul Gawande

Return to Augie Hobble** spoiler alert ** I definitely enjoyed parts of this novel and it had me chuckling quite a bit. With its short chapters, lovely illustrations, and sense of humor I think it would be particularly good for struggling readers. I didn't personally enjoy the novel as a whole as much as I thought I would though. It starts as a humorous realistic story about a kid whose dad owns an amusement park. Then it flirts with the supernatural as there's a possible werewolf. Then it suddenly turns into a tear jerker as Augie's best friend unexpectedly dies. That is hardly dealt with before the supernatural angle comes back on strong. The werewolf plot is finally tied up when his friend comes back from the dead as a ghost and hijinks ensue. The whole book was scattered and I couldn't get settled into it. Very little time was spent on character development and I sometimes even had difficulty keeping all the characters straight because they blended together. I'm sure the way the plot jumps around will be engaging for some readers, but it wasn't my thing. Return to Auggie Hobble by Lane Smith

The Winner's Kiss (The Winner's Trilogy, #3) I really enjoyed this book and I like the way it concluded the trilogy, which is important to me because I've become so invested in these characters over the course of the series. But I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the first two. The plot wasn't as intricate and there weren't as many meaty moral conundrums. The first two books I read in a sitting staying up late because I simply couldn't put them down. This book I enjoyed but read it over the course of several days and didn't have trouble stopping when it grew late. Still, if you've read the first two books you'll definitely want to finish up the series with this installment. The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1)This is a fun fantasy series if you want some light reading but it doesn't really stand out from the pack and the plot doesn't stand up to much scrutiny. The writing is full of cliches and hard to pronounce made-up names for people and places. The world and the characters never felt authentic to me. First off, the whole premise of the book that the king would give that much power to a champion chosen from a group of people with such questionable backgrounds and loyalty is odd to me. Even the idea of the castle made of glass seems absurdly ill-advised. Secondly the characters don't seem to have authentic responses to their situations. The main character is a highly trained assassin who was orphaned at a young age, suffered abuse at the hands of her adopted father figure, and spent a year being brutalized in what is described in the book as a 'death camp.' And yet not long after being released from it her main concern is whether or not she can attend a ball? There are some references to the trauma she's suffered but overall she seems to have recovered incredibly quickly and well. Don't even get me started on the people telling her that she looks prettier when she smiles. (Because,you know, after all she's been through it's her responsibility to make the people at this corrupt court feel better when they look at her and as an assassin looking pretty should be her main priority.) In fact a large proportion of the narrative is devoted to her looks and how pretty she is and how handsome the prince and oh my goodness no one can resist them on account of their beauty! I'm also not sure how the captain of the guards for such a cruel king seems so inexperienced at killing people and just generally naive. How did he get that position? None of the characters are particularly nuanced. The main driving force of the plot is the love triangle and just as much time is spent on flirting as the tests for the champion. If you're looking for a light fantasy romance series, this will do the trick but if you're looking for an adventure about an assassin I'd look elsewhere. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Mass

Silver in the BloodThis is a frothy, light-hearted historical romance with some shape shifters and a coup plot thrown in for good measure. The story revolves around two New York socialite cousins at the end of the 19th century. They're sent to Romania to meet their mothers' family. One is outgoing and leaves a series of scandals in her wake while the other is more reserved. When they finally make it to the old family estate they discover a secret that their proper upbringing in no way prepared them for. It's a bit predictable and some of the characters are pretty one-note but that's in fitting with the light tone of the novel. There's excerpts of the girls' diaries and letters woven throughout the text and the relationship between them is my favorite part of the book. They have romantic subplots but the most important relationship in the plot is the friendship between them, which is refreshing. I particularly enjoyed how they both handle the news of their family secret differently and the more reserved cousin gets a chance to find her inner strength and thrive. Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George

One This touching novel in verse is told from the perspective of conjoined twins. Grace and Tippi (named for Hitchcock actresses) have been sheltered and home-schooled their whole life, but a change in the family's fortune means that they have to attend school for the first time. They're understandably nervous about how the other kids will treat them, and are relieved to find two good friends. But just when they finally get settled into their new routine, things take a turn for the worse. This novel is a quick and emotional read and I loved getting to know Grace and Tippi. I wish the novel had a broader focus though. At the beginning it's revealed that their father is an alcoholic, their sister is anorexic, and Grace develops a crush on a boy at school. I thought the book would explore these sub-plots more but instead the second half focuses almost exclusively on medical issues around being conjoined. Especially considering how much Grace laments in the text of the novel how people see them as nothing more than conjoined twins I was disappointed at how much of the novel focused exclusively on this aspect of their lives. I wish the fact that they were conjoined was just one of many aspects about who they are that was explored in the novel instead of the main focus. All the other subplots I previously mentioned just get dropped once the medical issues arise and are never really resolved. I'd be interested to read a sequel that fleshes out the characters further. Still it is a moving novel with memorable characters and a very quick read if you'd like to try it.  One by Sarah Crossan

The Raven King (The Raven Cycle, #4) This was mostly satisfying as a conclusion to the series, but I didn't like it as much as the other books. There were a lot of strange plot threads and characters to tie up. This meant that the focus was more on the plot than in the previous books where we got to spend a lot of time just getting to know the characters and exploring their relationships. One thing that was consistent across the books was the gorgeous language. There were so many striking passages that I gave up keeping track of them. There were a few things left vague at the end and I would have preferred more explanation, but overall I was happy with it. The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

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