104 in 2014: 7. well, it makes you think

Sometimes, I read a book and, seriously, if I didn’t keep a record of it, I would have forgotten the whole thing within a week. Other books last a lifetime. I have to be honest and say that, here in my next 10 titles towards this year’s reading challenge of 104, most are relatively transitory as far as taking up brain space goes. But a couple of them – well, they make you think:

#61 cover Scarlet Women by J.D. Christilian (Read 10/04/2014) Finally, I have read one of the “gosh, that books been lying around on the bookshelf at home waiting to be read for ages” books, as originally proposed by Timothy when he issued the reading challenge. Set in New York in 1871, this historical murder mystery does not wear its research lightly. There is a wealth of detail about the political corruption scandals of the time, horse-drawn vehicles and who shovels the snow off the tram tracks, the growth of New York as it extends up the island of Manhattan, spiritualism, suffragettes, immigrants, street gangs and so much more.  Online reviews compare it positively to Caleb Carr’s The Alienist, which was published the year before Scarlet Women, and praise its hero, enigmatic private investigator Harp. In fact, it was Harp that annoyed me most about this novel. What do you call a character who knows everyone; is universally liked; can gain access to anywhere from dodgy gang hideouts to high society drawing rooms; who is good at everything; has useful contacts everywhere obligingly providing information and assistance; and who never loses a fight, even with incredible odds? I’d call that character a Mary Sue, or in this case, Harp. Most irritating.

#62The Abominables cover The Abominables by Eva Ibbotson (Read 11/04/2014) I love this author’s early tales of daft ghosts, witches and monsters, and I love her later novels about orphans, impoverished aristocrats and fin de siècle Vienna. This is one of the former, unpublished at the time of her death in 2010. Overlooking the abduction of a young English girl that they want for a nursemaid, this tale asserts that, far from being abominable, yetis are adorable. To save them from extinction a plucky pair of British children help them travel by truck across Asia and Europe, delivering them, accidentally, into the hands of a pack of ruthless big-game hunters who whisk them off to Antarctica for a shooting party. But it all ends happily thanks to the Queen. It’s a little heavy-handed in places, but I did not mind too much, because there are patches that are Ibbotson at her most charming.

#63Copper cover Copper GN by Kazu Kibuishi (Read 11/04/2014) Copper invites comparisons to Calvin & Hobbes, because it’s about a boy and his tiger/dog, who have adventures that may or may not be real. Quite a lot is going on in these deceptively simple stories, but it is going on quite slowly, so this is not a graphic novel to peruse if you are after action and excitement. It’s full of strange landscapes, missed opportunities for true love and canine anxiety. My problem with engaging fully with this one is that it shifts so much – sometimes Copper seems a little kid, sometimes a young man, sometimes it feels post-apocalyptic, sometimes urban, sometimes a dreamscape.

#64Night Broken cover Night Broken by Patricia Briggs (Read 13/04/2014) The eighth Mercedes Thompson urban fantasy book, and I have to say I love this series. I enjoyed the character dynamics in this installment, and I admire the way that Mercy doesn’t just tell me that she’s smart – she makes smart decisions. I know that might seem like a given, but believe me, in the world of sassy, street-wise, paranormal, urban-fantasy heroines it’s anything but. Another plus, for this one, is that I was pleasantly surprised by the adversary – it’s not a mythical creature that I was aware of, so I didn’t guess what was going on too early. Plus I hugely enjoyed the werewolf pack dynamics, as ever, with the pack master’s ex-wife stirring up trouble to add to the mix. Fun stuff.

#65Tuck Everlasting cover Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt (Read 14/04/2014) We’ll be talking about immortality at a library event tonight, and I was reading about portrayals of immortality in fiction. I kept seeing references to this book. So, obviously, I’ve been living under a rock, because I can’t say it’s impinged on my conscious mind before – but there was a Disney film made 10 years ago, and it’s an award winning YA novel, and huge in Canada and the USA, so colour me stupid and let’s move on. The Tucks, having drunk from a magic spring that has made them immortal and unaging, are living apart from the world to keep their condition a secret. Ten year old Winnie Foster stumbles onto their secret, and is followed by the unscrupulous Man in a Yellow Suit. Would you drink from the spring? Would you agree with Mr Tuck, that they have fallen out of the natural cycle of things? It definitely makes you think, whether you would make Winnie’s decision, or not.

#66One Year in Coal Harbor cover One Year in Coal Harbor by Polly Horvath (Read 14/04/2014) A girl called Primrose Squarp. A dog called Quincehead. A restaurant that serves everything on a waffle. Interesting. This book does read like a sequel – a sort of catching up with characters from the previous book because you loved them so much feel – but the library does not have a copy of the award-winning, quirky first in the series: Everything on a Waffle. I wasn’t crazy about all of this book, but I admit that I did laugh out loud at the poems from Miss Lark, the local author who condescends to act as the replacement primary school teacher. She deigns to read some of the poems from the book she is working on to the children – how lucky they are! Here’s one of them:

Pussy pussy on the hill
Why so quiet, why so still?
Why no movement for so long?
Was it something I did wrong?
Are you just a peaceful cat?
Meditating this and that?
On your tranquil grassy bed.
Oh, my goodness, you are dead!

That’s just solid gold, right there. Bad poetry is always funny. But cat doggerel? Priceless.

#67half bad Half Bad by Sally Green (Read 17/04/2014) I’d been looking forward to the release of this book since last September, when I first heard about it. And it is amazingly good, especially for a debut. It messes around with point of view, and tense, and uses short choppy sentences in places, which I know some readers have hated. But, I enjoyed it immensely. I liked the way that the story was told – as more details were filled in to make sense of Nathan’s situation. It’s about witches – White (WW) and Black (BW), good and evil –  who co-exist with the mundane world, hiding to avoid persecution, but who  are doing an exceptional job of persecuting each other. All the WWs know that BWs are dangerous, mindless killers. All the WWs know that the Council of Witches is there to protect them from BWs. Therefore the Council’s use of dangerous WW killers is completely justified. Or is it? Another good book to make you think. I look forward to the next in the series.

#68Carniepunk cover CarniePunk by Rachel Caine and others (Read 18/04/2014) I loaned this collection of themed short stories for the sole purpose of reading the one written by Seanan McGuire: Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely Sea. And I loved it, and it was worth borrowing just for that. Unfortunately, like the sucker I am, I tried, and failed, to read all the others too (oooh, look, words on a page! gimme, gimme, gimme!!). This was frustrating, because quite a few of them are set between novels in a series, or are teasers for a book, which don’t bother to build character or setting, because you’re supposed to know what they are. So I skipped the three and a half stories before the final one I was after. I didn’t mind the Rachel Caine story, though (The Cold Girl). Revenge, horror and a carnival of the damned – I wasn’t expecting the chance of a redemptive, happy ending.

#69First Grave on the Right cover First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones (Read 20/04/2014) See that comment above about urban-fantasy heroines and the lack of show-don’t-tell me that they’re smart? Yeah. That’s what I’m talking about. I read a positive review of the latest in this series and thought I would start at the beginning and give it a try. Charley Davidson is not the most annoying heroine I’ve ever read, but she gives it a really good shot. She’s wafer thin, character-wise – all smart mouth and bad attitude, sitting up late with her overweight, single-mom, feisty, neighbour/receptionist/B.F.F. obsessing about her erotic dream lover – I don’t know, is this supposed to make me like her? She’s so sarcastic it rapidly becomes tedious. She laughs at her own jokes. She is entirely unbelievable as any sort of psychopomp – it feels like she’s got Grim Reaper on her C.V. as an opportunity for more snarky death jokes. And I was physically repulsed by the hottie hero of her dreams, after she confessed she’s been crushing on him since she was a teenager and he threatened to rape her. Urgh. Just urrrrrrgh. Not reading the rest of the series – not ever, no way, nuh, uh.

#70Why Kings Confess cover Why Kings Confess by C.S. Harris (Read 21/04/2014) This is the 9th Sebastian St. Cyr book, and really, I love this series. They are very well written, the lead characters are strong, intelligent, flawed and interesting people. The support characters have their own lives, interests, quirks and developments. The political and social issues of the time feel real. In fact, the only complaint that I have is that once I have grabbed it, and devoured the whole thing by reading long into the night, I have to wait so long for the next one. Start at the beginning, with What Angels Fear, if you want to enjoy the experience of moving through this marvellous historical mystery series.

And there you have it. Another ten titles – some gems and some duds, but that’s the way it goes when the key to one’s reading choices is a voracious need to read, read, read! I’ll be back soon with the next ten.