Tuesday, September 29, 2009

August 2009 Book List

While I have been religiously documenting my reading material, I haven't been as vigilant when it comes to writing down my thoughts about each one. My August list--relatively short because of my preparations for a little vacation in Beijing--now sounds like a good place to start.

1. The Red Queen's Daughter (Jacqueline Kolosov)
A friend of mine had glowing recommendations over this book. Another began foaming at the mouth at its mere mention. A bit wary over anything that would produce the second reaction, I lowered my expectations for Red Queen's Daughter. Perhaps because of that, Ms. Kolosov's fantasy take on Tudor history didn't quite win me over. Upon later reflection, however, I realized that it was also due to a rather disappointing execution of what could have been an exciting premise. The protagonist was a Mary Sue-ish character, who seemed to me sorely lacking in personality and strength. The romance was intended to be a pivotal part of the plot but I felt it was sorely underdeveloped. Suddenly, the characters were earth-shatteringly in love after pages of filtered lust/attraction. At this point, the plot careened into a mad finish. I suppose it was only the idea that the author did not choose the easier ending that saved this book for me. I have no love for Mary Seymour as a character, but I am still, in all honesty, fairly interested in what Ms. Kolosov will come up with next.

2. Agnes and the Hitman (Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer)
Sometime during the middle of August, I visited an old friend of mine. Celine is now taking care of her one-year old son Raymond and is buying and selling used books on the side. Her house is filled with boxes of pre-loved titles -- 'Tis so much joy!, claims Emily Dickinson -- which prompted me to give in to my guilty pleasures and search for titles that wouldn't be first on my must-buy list. One of them is this collaboration by romance author Ms. Crusie and action-adventure writer Bob Mayer. It's not hard to guess which author wrote which part, but they do an admirable job of bridging the gap between the genres. The result is a romantic yet action-filled romp that revolves around weddings, flamingos, and the mob.

3. The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder (Joanne Fluke)
I've always seen these Hannah Swensen mysteries but never really took an interest in them until I saw the first book of the series in Celine's treasure trove. Celine sold it to me for a dollar, and I found a new mystery series that I could really sink my teeth into. Part of what I find charming in Chocolate Chip is how it incorporates Hannah's baking recipes in between the narrative. The dishes sound yummy, and they add a little characterization to the story as they include Hannah's thoughts about certain people. Now, in no means is this a literary trailblazer; it just means I find it a nice touch to a light and fairly straightforward murder mystery. In this book, local baker Hannah helps out her brother-in-law with a murder case, especially when the victim is holding one of her cookies. It introduces a lot of other characters around their town Lake Eden, which I strongly believe sets us up for future mysteries. One thing I wasn't too keen about was how Hannah fared better than her brother-in-law Bill, a police officer, when it came to sniffing out clues. It was still enjoyable, though, and I will definitely be looking forward to reading more mysteries -- and recipes -- from Ms. Fluke.

4. Eon: Dragoneye Reborn (Alison Goodman)
Echoes of Oriental legend resound in Ms. Goodman's novel, also known as The Two Pearls of Wisdom (the lovelier title, true, but after finishing the book, the first title made more sense to me). My friend told me that reading it before our Beijing trip would have gotten me in the mood to explore the city, but I'm still glad that I read it after Beijing because the trip painted a clearer visual image for the scenes in the book. Ms. Goodman pens the exciting account of Eon, a crippled twelve-year old training for the rare chance to be chosen as a Dragoneye. But Eon is really sixteen-year old Eona, and in a country where females take lesser roles (and a female apprentice is completely taboo), she has to hide her identity to survive. Eon is destined for greater things, else there will be no book, and it is through this new role at the Imperial Court do we appreciate Ms. Goodman's ability to weave a believable and triumphant tale of courage. While the novel predictably follows Joseph Campbell's monomyth, it engages us with two main struggles: first, as Eon survives the magic and politics at court and second, as Eona comes to terms with her own identity. Eon/Eona has admirable qualities but her main weakness chafes at me. For a rather smart girl, her insecurities have made her irritatingly illogical.

5. Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher)
My thirteen-year old sister and I are fond of trading YA titles. One book that we discovered together is Jay Asher's debut novel. Thirteen Reasons Why follows how well-liked Clay receives seven tapes from Hannah Baker, a classmate who has recently committed suicide. Hannah has sent these tapes to the thirteen people who have contributed to her death, and Clay, who has been in love with Hannah, agonizes why he is included in this list. As he listens to the tapes, he begins to piece together the hardships and heartbreaks that Hannah faced throughout high school, enough to make her choose the way she did. Both Clay and Hannah's voices are genuine and their story will stay with readers even after they have closed their books. Suicide is always a hard topic to deal with (I had a cousin who killed himself when we were 19 and personally, there was a lot of anger mixed with the grief) but Mr. Asher handles it deftly and sensitively.

6. The Book of Lost Things (John Connolly)
This started out slow for me. But it has been on my to-read list for such a long time that I was determined to see it through. As a huge fan of fantasy novels and children's/YA books, I've adopted a 'seen-that, read-that' attitude when it comes to worldbuilding. I was a bit disappointed when Mr. Connolly's The Book of Lost Things seemed to wander into familiar territory and didn't look like it was going to make any huge departures. But despite that, it carried with it a sadness as it delved into family issues -- of growing up, of acceptance, of selflessness -- which I truly admired. David is barely coping with the death of his mother when his father falls in love with another woman. Not long after, David is part of a new family, one he resents. When David crosses over to another world after a WWII bomber crashes into their garden, he encounters one fantastical archetype after another, and it is after he goes further into the kingdom that the story picks up for me. Side stories of twisted fairy tales season David's journey, which of course, is a reflection of the fears and struggles of his real life. Perhaps the strongest element I encountered here is the Book of Lost Things itself, owned by the old King and which David believes holds the key to finding his way home. Anyone who's read L. Frank Baum can tell you that it's not the destination but the journey that counts, but I found something heartbreaking in the story of the old King and his precious book that made the whole read worthwhile in the end.