Time keeps trucking along and I still keep forgetting to post reviews. I wouldn’t bother, except I enjoyed most of these books immensely and I love to share good books with readers. It is one of the many reasons I became a librarian, after all. So, here is another round of mini-reviews from my summer of reading:
- The Dark Side of the Road by Simon R. Green – If you are a sci-fi/fantasy buff who has a soft spot for classic manor murder mysteries, than Simon R. Green’s new series is for you. Representing a slight departure from Green’s normal fare, The Dark Side of the Road introduces an anti-hero in the vein of The Dresden Files: Ishmael, Ishmael Jones. As Ishmael says, “Because someone’s got to slay the dragons, even if the armour isn’t as shining as it used to be. And because if you have to hide in the shadows, it helps if you thin out the predators that want to hide in there with you.” As Ishmael hunts for a murderer among the guests of his employer’s holiday party, he hides a secret of his own. This book is what a genre-blend should be: Something new that will attract die-hards of both genres, while providing a fun homage to a beloved genre, in this case a classic British murder mystery.
- The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler – When librarian Simon Watson is sent an old, dusty and stained book, he becomes obsessed with the mysterious ties his family has with it. From it he learns that the women in his family were all able to hold their breath for a remarkable amount of time, and they all drowned too young on July 24th. As his life – and the family house – falls apart around him, he fights to break the cycle – because July 24th is approaching, and his sister is showing signs that she may be just like her ancestors. Swyler’s novel swells with her love of books, circuses and the sea. As she builds Simon’s history, you find yourself caring for and fearing for these characters as they are swept forward on the tide to face their fates.
- Thursday Next Series: The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, & Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde – The year is 1985, and England has been at war with Russia over the Crimea for years. Thursday Next, a SpecOps agent tasked with tracking down literary criminals, finds herself pulled into a whopping mystery in which the fate of Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit and Bronte’s Jane Eyre hang in the balance. At the same time, her time-traveling father is on the run from crooked SpecOps agents, although he stops in every once in a while to check that his attempts to set things right are on track. Packed with literary references, hilarious details of an alternate future, and dodos (yes, dodos), the Thursday Next series is a fun romp through literary classics. Anyone who wishes they could meet some of their favorite characters should pick this up. Then promptly move on to the rest of the series, because it is excellent.
- The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins – I’m not sure what I expected when I checked out The Library At Mount Char, but the novel turned out to be a science fiction fantasy that tells of the end of this age through the eyes of a librarian-in-training. But don’t be fooled. Librarians aren’t what you would expect, either. Instead, librarians are scholars who master the mysteries of the universe from a brutal and cruel man who rules the world from behind the scenes in a library that exists on another plane of existence. The book is not an easy read, since it includes a great deal of gruesome violence and has a lot of characters to track. At first the gratuitous violence makes you want to put it down, but Hawkins slowly hooks you with empathetic characters whose plight forces you to keep reading. It’s not what you would expect, but it is definitely a thrilling read that makes you rethink how the smallest gesture can make a huge difference in another’s life.
- Armada by Ernest Cline – Ernest Cline wowed me with an overwhelming amount of geeky pop-culture in his debut novel Ready Player One. Since the announcement came that he was writing a new novel, I’ve been looking forward to the release of Armada. Like Ready Player One, science-fiction media and video games are frequently referenced, though you don’t have to know the references to follow the story. And the story is quite good. The story centers on a teenaged boy, whose father died before he got to know him, grappling with what to do when he graduates but finding it difficult to care about anything but his rank in Armada, his favorite video game. Then his whole world is upended when he spies an alien craft from the video game flying nearby his high school. Cline has a talent for creating an immersive universe and a thrilling plot, as well as variety unique – and geeky – characters. Cline grapples with ethics of war, conspiracies, and familial relationships, especially fathers, again using a lighter, science-fiction narrative to cloak important discussions.
- The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley – Though the language is difficult to get into and the narrative is slow to build – despite narrative points that are usually quick to pull me in – I ultimately enjoyed this historical novel that takes readers from Victorian London to Japan during the civil war and back again. The eponymous character – the watchmaker of Filigree Street – and the magical twists that drive the narrative are lovely and worth the effort it takes to get through the beginning.
- Two Across by Jeff Bartsch – I don’t like romances, but I do like stories about quirky characters. I like characters with depth and I find that characters who show the most depth are those that are unique in unexpected ways. And if those characters just happen to fall in love during the novel, I can accept that. Two Across follows two spelling bee championships through the ups and downs of their early teens through late twenties and the relationship that develops. Set in the 1970s, the quirky factor lies in their use of crosswords to communicate. Although I found myself wanting to throw the book across the room after particularly distressing decisions by the characters, in the end, I enjoyed the novel.