It’s been a while since we talked books. Let’s catch up, shall we? Even with the kids home this summer, I was able to get some reading done and make a dent in my To-Be-Read pile. With the exception of one, I went on a little speculative fiction joy ride this summer, including one by Mr. Stephen King – my first King.
If you’ve read any of these, I would love to hear your thoughts on them. Or, if you have any recommendations to add to my TBR pile, I would love those, too.
Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen – This is the first book in a trilogy (I’ve just started reading the second installment) set in the future. However, due to some cataclysmic event, referred to as the Crossing, society has been reduced to a feudal system once again. Modern technology and advances lost, and spoken of in terms of legend. A young woman, raised hidden away from the world, has assumed the crown, and now must take control of her kingdom nearly brought to ruin by her uncle, the regent. Keeping her people safe is the Queen’s first priority, which proves difficult when faced with magic she doesn’t understand, and the threat of war with the stronger neighboring kingdom looms over her.
The story, itself, was good enough – good enough that I wanted to read the next installment. Queen Kelsea is young, inexperienced, and insecure. She constantly questions her ability to lead, and feels frustrated at the lack of information she is given by those around her. However, she’s idealistic, and makes fast decisions based on those ideals, without too much thought into the consequences.
I have two complaints: 1) the lack of world building. The author does not delve into the events leading up to the Crossing, or explain the society, environment they live in now. 2) In addition, several of the characters are a little cookie cutter. The evil queen in the neighboring kingdom is evil for no reason we know of. (I couldn’t help picturing the evil queen in Snow White). Queen Kelsea’s trusted guard/advisor is the Mace, the typical strong man with a deeper side character. We know nothing of his history, the secrets he keeps, or why, and yet Kelsea trusts him more than anyone.
While this book was good, I think it could use a little more development to be great.
Uprooted by Naomi Novak – Sitting squarely in the fantasy genre, this book doesn’t hide or apologize for the magical elements used, nor should it. Once every ten years, the Dragon (the name for the friendly neighborhood wizard) selects a girl from the village to lock away in his tower as his companion. Everyone expects him to choose Kasia, the prettiest, most accomplished girl. But, he picks Agnieszka, the clumsy one with constant stains on her skirt. Agnieszka comes to learn she was picked to serve as his apprentice, in a Pygmalion story, with Agnieska serving as the magical Eliza Doolittle.
The haughty and rude Dragon dishes out stern lessons, while the two try to battle the evil forces of the Woods. Yes, the big bad in this story is the Woods, known to spread and swallow whole villages, and infect people with madness and evil.
Novak does a good job handling the fantastical elements of the story, weaving a fairy tale like atmosphere, so that even the walking trees whisking people away into the dark woods doesn’t seem too far fetched. However, I found some of the non-fantastical scenes to be lacking in oomph, and any real point. Several of the scenes I ended up just skimming past looking for the payoff, and not finding any. The relationship between the Dragon and Agnieszka is ambiguous, most likely intentional, and confusing. Clearly they are teacher/student, though at times, the roles flip. But, are they friends? Lovers? I prefer more resolution to the relationships than the author provides.
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King – My first King. And I was not disappointed. On a foggy morning, a grey Mercedes plows through a sleepy crowd outside a convention center waiting to attend a job fair, killing eight, and injuring others. A year later, the detective, now depressed and overweight, who worked the case is retired, leaving the case still unsolved. But, the driver isn’t done yet, and he wants the detective to know it.
King bounces the story between the detective and Brady Hartsfield, the crazy killer, putting you directly inside the head of each. As the stakes and pace pick up in this cat and mouse game, each taking a turn in both roles, Det. Bill Hodges picks up a few unlikely, but likeable, allies who are unfailing in their determination to stop the killer from wreaking havoc again.
If you like suspense, but scare way too easily (like me), this is a good read. It has just enough creep factor when you’re in Brady’s head, but not too much where you can’t sleep at night. Mr. Mercedes is the first in the Bill Hodges Trilogy. The second, Finders Keepers, released in June of this year, is sitting in my To-Be-Read pile, ready and waiting.
Station Eleven by Emily St.John Mandel – Another cataclysmic event piece of fiction. This one explainable. A deadly flu epidemic wipes out ninety percent of the world population. Now, twenty years later, a nomadic group of actors and musicians roam land bringing the arts back to the various encampments and colonies they find.
This one creeped me out just because it could happen. The world Mandel creates is one that is so probable, its worrisome. Small colonies create new homes in looted Walmarts and abandoned motels. A loon rises to power as the “prophet”, leading a band of marauders. Unlikely companions become family.
Underneath it all, this is a story of hope. Hope that survival is possible, that rebuilding a world could happen, and that you never really lose everything as long as you can find the common ground and the common good.
The One and Only by Emily Giffin – My only and only contemporary romance this summer. Shea Rigsby lived her whole life in Walker, Texas, centered around Walker Football. Now, at the age of thirty-three, she’s faced with questions of her future and what life can hold for her in Walker, Texas.
Enter the male lead, Clive Carr, who happens to be the head coach of the Walker University Football Team, and also the father of her best friend, Lucy. Yeah, that’s right. He’s known Shea her whole life. He’s recently widowed- his former wife being besties with Shea’s mom, and he has a picture of his daughter and Shea in Walker onesies as babies. Are you saying “Eew!” yet?
So, here’s the skinny on this – Shea, she’s funny, bright, all around normal gal, a little skittish of the unknown, afraid to leave the comforts of the familiar. She makes for a likeable lead. She’s obsessed with football, as most Texans are, and makes for a good balance with her bestie, Lucy, who’s the epitome of Southern Charm: pearls and heels, impeccable manners. The story is fun and light, leading Shea into worlds unfamiliar. Except for the fact that she’s secretly in love with a man who used to see her getting her diaper changed.
I just couldn’t get past it. I wanted to. I wanted to really like the story, and for the most part I did. But, every time old man Carr started sweet-talking young Shea, I got the heebie-jeebies. I’m not so much opposed to the age difference as I am the relationship prior to the relationship. I mean, the man watched her grow up! Her whole life! There were sleepovers, and birthday parties, and all sorts of things that make me want to say “Ick!”
But, Giffin is entertaining, and a good story teller, so I think I’ll find another of hers to throw on my TBR list, to give her one more try. But, seriously, if it ends up being a grandpa and twenty two year old ingénue, I’m out!