Sunday, March 10, 2013

Whitney speculative wrap-up, Clockwork Prince

32. Dan Wells, The Hollow City.  This was my favorite of the Whitney speculative finalists. In a city haunted by a serial killer (the Red Line Killer) who leaves his victims faceless, Michael Shipman sees things that other people don't. He sees men without faces and fears electronics (cell phones in particular) because he believes a government conspiracy is using the phones to monitor him. When his visions land him in a psychiatric ward, Michael is told he has schizophrenia--that his brain interprets stimuli that don't actually exist. He's also given reason to believe that he's the Red Line Killer: the people targeted are all associated with the cult that killed his mother, and Michael has unexplained gaps in his memory that cover the times of the murder. Michael isn't convinced--not about his diagnosis, not about the murders. But Michael has to figure out the truth of what's going on before the secrets from his past catch up with him . . . For the most part, I enjoyed this one. The writing was compelling, the plot quick moving, and Michael's narration was fascinating, as the book plays with the question of what is ultimately real. The ending, I felt, wrapped things up a little too quickly without answering all of my questions, but aside from that, it was a good read.

33. Jacob Gowans, Flight from Blithmore (Whitney speculative). Henry and Isabel have been in love since they were children, though he is the son of a successful carpenter and she's the scion of a noble house that's fallen on rough times. But when Isabel's mother dies and her father refuses to acknowledge her engagement, Henry and Isabel feel they have no choice but to start their lives together somewhere else. However, Isabel's cruel father fights them--he sells Isabel (illegally) to the emperor of a neighboring country. When Henry stands up to the emperor to save Isabel, the emperor launches a revenge man-hunt that endangers not only Henry and Isabel, but Henry's sister Maggie, Isabel's brother James, Henry's journeyman, and Henry's childhood friend Ruther (a master storyteller). The premise was a little far-fetched to me, but that's not something I mind when the story is well told. Here, the story-telling was mixed. The writing itself tended to be clear and smooth-flowing (there were even some parts that glimmered of brilliance). But I struggled getting into this--after the excitement of their initial escape, the characters seem to wander without much real danger until almost the end of the book. I also struggled to relate to the characters.  Over at "The Dawning of a Brigher Day" (The Association of Mormon Letters blog), Jessie Christensen talks about Mormon lit that feels "bland"--that lacks a distinct voice--and I think that sums up some of my difficulty with the book. Henry and Isabel had so many virtues that they didn't feel real; the other characters seemed to be pretty one-note: Ruther was the dissolute with an occasional good conscience moment; James was the soldier; Maggie was---I'm not entirely sure what her distinction was supposed to be, except as another female for the group; and the journeyman was a coward.  Oddly enough, my favorite chapter was one between two minor characters--the King of Blithmore and the emperor's retired general--I think because the two both had distinct, unusual characters and their interaction was refreshing. This book does have a lot of good star reviews at Amazon and Goodreads, so perhaps I'm in the minority in my opinion here.

34. Ally Condie, Reached. One of the things I love about Condie's books is how she makes classic literature more accessible for teen readers. Reached is no exception. Reached begins with the Rising's revolution: a nation-wide plague for which only the Rising has the cure. But when a plague-resistent strain breaks out, Cassia, Ky, and Xander must do their part to fight the plague and figure out their places in the newly evolving society. This novel wasn't as action-packed as I had anticipated for the third volume of a trilogy that includes an uprising, but I liked it despite that. I liked that the novel raised interesting questions about the shape of a revolution--how do we really change society? Are the changes superficial or can we enact real change? What are the costs of that change? I also liked Condie's thoughtful and lyrical prose. My only real complaint was that the resolution of the love triangle between Cassia, Ky, and Xander wasn't quite as complicated as I'd hoped it would be--I felt like the question of who she would end up with was answered fairly quickly.

35. Josie S. Kilpack, Daisy. Daisy is a 46 year-old-mother of two (almost a grandmother), who's looking forward to having an empty nest in a few months when her youngest graduates from high school. That is, until she finds herself with an unexpected diagnosis and has to revisit all of her plans for the future. (I can't say much more without giving away too much of the plot). I've read two of the other novels in the Newport Ladies book club, and, while I like the concept (the way four different women's lives are altered over the course of their interaction in a book club), it does introduce one difficulty that this book drives home: the shared parts of the novel start to feel repetitive by the second or third reading. Otherwise, I liked reading about how Daisy begins to change her perspective on life through the events of the novel, and I liked Daisy herself, although the final resolution left me feeling a little incomplete.

36. Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Prince. It's rare that I like the sequel to a book better than the original, but that was definitely the case with this book. The series already has a lot of elements I like: setting in Victorian England (complete with references to literature and art that I actually get! I felt unreasonably smug when I realized that I'd actually read one of Tessa's favorite novels, The Hidden Hand, for a graduate course--I'm guessing most readers have never even heard of the book). A love triangle that actually interests me (I was amazed by how my loyalties kept shifting between Will and Jem--usually I have a clear-cut favorite in a love triangle that doesn't waver, but here I find my loyalties almost as divided as Tessa's). Lovely writing and a compelling plot. I'm looking forward to reading the conclusion to the series when it gets released shortly.

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