Monday, June 17, 2013

The Summer Prince

Title: The Summer Prince
Author: Alaya Dawn Johnson
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Published: 2013
Rating: 7.5/10

Review: I picked up The Summer Prince based on a glowing review I recently read and while I am not nearly as impressed with it as the original reviewer, I did find the book interesting and fun.

The story is set on post-apocalyptic Earth, 400 years in the future with a very vague explanation of how it got that way. The main character, June, is an angry teenager from well-to-do family who lost her father and who is taking it out on her re-married mother and everyone else. In general, this is a story of growing up as much as anything else and while I like these types of stories, I found June's initial angst a bit unappealing. However, things get much more interesting towards the middle of the story.

The city in which June lives is called Palmares Tres and the culture there has a lot of Portuguese influences -- a number of Spanish words are used to describe various concepts which I had to look up the meaning of. The city is ruled by women, a Queen at the head and Aunties as her advisers. Every five years they elect a King, who seems to be generally a young man in comparison to 100-something year old Aunties and  the King is publicly sacrificed at the end of the year. The idea behind the sacrifice is that he chooses the next queen in his dying moments and a dying man cannot be bribed, etc.

So the story follows June and her friend Gil making friends with the latest Summer King, Enki. The story itself is decently plotted and once I've got into the book, I felt it drew me in and progressed very well. However, I think the social commentary was probably a more interesting part of the book than the plot itself.

The author attempts to showcase gender issues in some interesting ways, but doesn't always do it consistently well. For one, the mores allow both different- and same-sex partnerships and give them identical status. It's an interesting idea, but I find it strange that whereas June mother seemed to dominate June's father, the roles are reversed when she gets married to another woman. The idea that everyone's bisexual is easier for me to believe than a gender role reversal in mid-life.

A number of other conflicts play a major role in the book: old vs young, technologically progressive vs conservative. In fact, it felt a bit like an overload to have all of these conflicts -- but in general it worked and made me think along with the main character about the issues involved. However, I do think it would probably work better if one or the other was explored more in depth instead of just heaping on everything.

The writing itself was somewhat mediocre, but the style was easy-going as one might expect of a YA book. The characters were interesting, but at times a little over-angsty. The world-building was really cool and is probably the strongest part of the book. All-in-all, I would recommend it.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Die Trying

Title: Die Trying
Author: Lee Child
Series: Jack Reacher, book 2
Genre: Mystery
Published: 1998
Rating: 7.5/10

Review: I decided to continue with the series featuring Jack Reacher and was glad since I enjoyed this book better than the first one. In this installment Jack gets kidnapped along with a lady whom he's helping carry her dry cleaning and who turns out to be an FBI agent. Together they unravel the kidnappers plot.

Once again, the beginning of the book was probably the best part. Lee Child is just very good at drawing you into the action and getting you hooked on the story. It literally takes just a couple pages before I can't stop myself and keep reading. The pacing in the second half of the book is still fast, but I think slightly less gripping since we understand much more of the overall story and despite slim odds it's clear that the good guys are going to win.

I liked the supporting character better in this book as well. She was smarter and had a bit more personality than the cop girl in The Killing Floor. She actually saves Jack's life at some point rather than just act the damsel in distress, which I appreciated. Though in general, I feel like Child's much much better at writing interesting men than writing interesting women. Neither book passes the Bechdel Test, but what else is new, really?

Once again, there was lots of gory violence, but I think I rather expected it more this time around and so it went down a little easier. There were also a bunch of little things that didn't make sense to me during the book, and one big thing. The big thing happened at the end, where after plot resolution (in which FBI and Militia were involved), the parties just dropped Jack Reacher off at the side of a random road to continue wandering in his adventures. Yeah, right, those guys would just let him go without any accounting of what happened, etc, etc.

All-in-all, it's a fun book if you don't look too close at the particulars and the likelihood of it going down the way the author describes it. I think I might actually keep going with the series.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Death's Daughter

Title: Death's Daughter
Author: Amber Benson
Series: Calliope Reaper Jones, book 1
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Published: 2009
Rating: 6.5/10

Review: I've gotta prefix this by the admission that I am a big Buffy fan. In fact, I liked the series enough to watch all seven seasons is something close to 3 weeks while preparing for exams in 3rd year university. That show is awesome and if you haven't given it a serious shot yet, go watch it now and reserve judgement until you see at least a few episodes. It starts out slow, but it's pretty amazing over time.

Now, Amber Benson played Tara on Buffy and though I've never been particularly fond of her in the show, I thought it would be interesting to check out the novel she published. This novel is her debut and since I've seen it talked about and reviewed around the blogosphere, I thought I'd check it out.

The main heroine in the book, Calliope, is Death's daughter. When Death himself is kidnapped, she is asked by her family to step into his shoes and rescue her father. In addition to Death, the book also features the Devil, God, Goddess Kali, and the Devil's Protege. Calliope mostly stumbles around, getting into various mis-adventures, and somehow still getting ahead despite being somewhat dense and prone to crying fits.

The pacing for the book was good. It was easy to read and the humourous situations came through quite well. I mostly liked Calliope as a protagonist despite her flightiness and constant emotional turmoil. However, at times the absurdity of the actions did get a bit much and I thought the writing of the book could use some work.

Altogether, not a bad airplane read and perhaps not bad at all for a first-time author, but I can't say I was deeply impressed either. I would consider picking up the next book in the series, but I am in no hurry to do so at the moment.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

April and May Recap

May was finally a month where I got out of my reading slump a little bit. Since all of the April was taken up by reading the C++ book, I went for the easier fiction reading in May. I finished 4 books:

  1. Timeless by Gail Carriger
  2. Killing Floor by Lee Child
  3. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  4. Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley
My favorite was probably Speaking from Among the Bones, which was surprisingly in-line with my mood and I enjoyed it more than the previous installment. I am definitely on a mystery reading kick this year, so if anyone has suggestions for good mystery series to pick up, I am all ears.