Saturday, September 29, 2012

Summer Reading List, or How I Can't Stick to a Plan

     The summer this year kicked my butt.  Back in late May, I thought I would need a lot of fluff reading to get through the season, as most of the books I was looking forward to aren't being released until mid to late fall.  So I get myself all of kinds of traditional contemporary romance novels, thinking they could tide me over while I waited for my other books.  As with most plans, it didn't really work out that way, and now I have a stand-by  pile of fluff that is staring at me with sad puppy eyes, wondering when I'll find time for it again.

     What really tripped me up was A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.  I spent my week at the beach devouring it, but when I started to critically analyze the story, it was like holding sand.  So I forced myself to go back over it, rereading it a second time, in an attempt to write a review.  By that point, it was July.  I still have time to get to my fluff, right?

     Thanks to either GoodReads or Amazon, I found out another favorite author had published another book in an ongoing series.  I love Lynn Flewelling's Nightrunner series; it's an amazing swashbuckling adventure with very fun characters.  A Casket of Souls is the newest book in the series, and I devoured it.  She has done an amazing job of keeping the characters fresh and emotionally connective.  At the same time that I had ordered this one, I also got Glimpses, a collection of short stories and art featuring the characters of the Nightrunner series.  This is one of those things that rounds out the backstory and makes certain nuances more easily understood.  I found it to be a great compliment to the series, and maybe something that would be easily overlooked by those who aren't fans.

     At about the same time as those two books arrived in my mailbox, a forgotten preorder also found its way to me.  Back in the early spring I had preordered Karen Marie Moning's graphic novel, Fever Moon, which is set in the universe of her popular Fever series.  (The one that I am slightly obsessed with; I admit it).  Unfortunately just before it was completed, the artist, Al Rio, committed suicide.  A portion of the sales go directly into a trust for his wife and children.  So to me that was money well spent.  And while it's not my favorite genre, this particular graphic novel has some awesome artwork.  I love the pin-up girl style Al Rio used to bring the characters to life.  The story was a nice side plot, and added some depth to the background without interfering with the story of the books already in print.

     I did make an attempt at my fluffy romance novels.  I like Margaret Mallory's Highlander series, so I thought I would try out her earlier work.  Her first series, All the King's Men, is set in the late 14th century/early 15th century England.  I'll admit to being more interested in the background politics of the story them in the romance plotline.  The author did a great job bringing the life and times of King Henry V to the foreground.  The romance storylines were good, if standard; the history was pretty well researched.  I at least get an E for effort in attempting to get through my book pile.

     By this point, I was well into August, and on the road for most of the month.  Just before going on vacation, a friend lent me a book after hearing my praise for Laurell K. Hamilton's Merry Gentry series.  (Shut it, Burt).  I had even given her a copy of A Kiss of Shadows last Christmas (and knowing her reading list, she'll get to it sometime next year).  She had read a series with a similar urban-fantasy setting revolving around the Fae.  She lent me (what she thought was) the first book in the series.  Turns out it was the third book; the series (so far) is a trilogy.  Frustration!  Angst!  Here I am, on a road trip, and the only book I brought with me is not the right one!  So I spent a portion of my time searching for the rest of the series at every bookstore I came to.  Fortune was having a laugh at my expense, for the books are not recent enough to be carried at most stores.

     When I finally got home, I rushed to the library.  Glorious day!  They had gotten my reserve notice while I was on the road, and managed to assemble the other two books for my convenience.  I then spent my remaining summer vacation time devouring them.  And I got indigestion too.

     The first book of the series, Tithe, by Holly Black, honestly took me by surprise.  This trilogy is marketed as teen fiction.  I'm not sure I want to suggest this series to any teens under the age of 17, unless they have lived in the depths of urban poverty and decay.  To them, this will seem bright and full of hope.  Truthfully, the urban decay and social breakdown that is the emotional backdrop to this series is frightening in its stark veracity.  it's scary because it's true; it is all too real.  Almost too dark.  It was hard to decide if I liked the story or not, because it seemed too adult for teens and yet not ready for the adult shelves.

     The story follows a teenage girl named Kaye who finds out she is a changeling, a fae child that was exchanged for a human one.  Her mom is a guitar player in a band, and they live with Kaye's grandmother in a rundown New Jersey suburb of New York City.  Her best friend is a borderline psychopath who that works the night shift pumping gas.  Kaye struggles to find her identity, both in the Fae realm and the mortal one.  Added to that she is set up to be a sacrifice in an ancient ritual of fealty; working her way out of it is almost impossible.

     The dark overtones to the story would do White Wolf proud.  (Look Burt, there really is no such thing as happy shiny fairies!)  The second book, Valiant, is just as dissonant as TitheValiant is set in the same universe as Tithe, though with an almost entirely new cast of characters.  Valerie is an average teenage girl growing up in a (slightly less decomposing) New Jersey suburb of New York City.  Unfortunately, she quickly finds herself the unwilling star of an afterschool special.  Running away from home and a situation she finds too painful to understand, she ends up living the life of a homeless teen in a subway tunnel with a strange group of kids she met in a coffee shop.  Worse yet, she gets entangled with the fae outcast of the city, and addicted to a drug that is suppose to help fight iron sickness.  When it comes to light that the cure is poisoning fae, Val comes up as a prime suspect for murder.

     This story was both easier and harder to get through.  I found it easier to empathize with the main character, and yet the dystopia she found herself in was almost impossible to bear.  The story was compelling the whole way through; it even ended on a somewhat happy note.  The third book, Ironside, wraps up plotlines from both books, and brings the entire cast together.  Thankfully, reading the first third of the book before realizing it was the last book in the trilogy did not seem to ruin any of the storylines from the first two books; it only made me more grateful to get them when I got home.

     Ironside once again focuses on Kaye.  Still unsure of her place in the Fae world, she seeks to show her boyfriend, the Unseelie King, that she is worthy of his attention.  In return, he sends her on an impossible (seeming) quest.  Disheartened, Kaye decides to self-destruct, and sets out on another impossible mission; she promises her mother that she will return the human child the Fae stole.  All the while the Seelie Court is hunting Kaye, in hopes of using her as their secret weapon in their war on the Unseelie.

     It is a seat-gripping experience, this trilogy.  As an adult, you can see all the bad choices glaring like neon signs, and how attractive they are to the moth-like teen mind.  At the same time, the author does a remarkable job of showing that no matter how bad the previous choice, you can always choose better the next time; redemption is available to everyone, if they are willing to face their poor past choices.  There is an awesome message of hope here, lying under the detritus of modern social decay.  Life is a trial, but it can have a happy ending.  You just have to face problems head-on, as hard as that can be at times.

     Despite all the running around and the time crunch, summer is still my favorite reading season.  I made a concerted push this summer to stay on top of my goal to read 50 books this year.  Just 12 weeks left to the year now, and I'm slightly ahead of my goal.  I'm looking forward to the November rush, when my wait for pre-orders will be over.  Maybe I'll even get a chance over the holidays to get through that pile of fluff.....

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