Recent reads–Adult fiction, Adult speculative fiction, YA speculative fiction

strong and weak books exist in every genre

Recent reads
November/December

Adult fiction

The Ghostwriter
Alessandra Torre
The central character in this book is a writer who’s been given three months to live and decides to hire a ghost writer to help her tell the story of some mysterious event over which she’s agonizing. She doesn’t want the book published until after she dies, so there’s nice word play on “ghost writer.” The characterization was strong. The central character is unlikeable but we come to understand her, and I, at least, sympathized. There are also interesting comments on writing and being a writer.

I was ultimately disappointed over the reveal of what happened four years earlier because it was a twist for which the reader hadn’t been prepared at all. Twists work best when the reader says, “Of course! I should have seen that coming.” I can understand why the central character was blindsided. She’s oblivious to most of what happens outside the pages she’s writing. But readers should see clues when they look back.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies
John Boyne
This is a very well crafted story of a man’s life over the course of changing attitudes about homosexuality. The central character, Cyril Avery, grows up in Ireland in the 1950s, a time and place in which being gay is difficult. In the course of his life, he travels, finds love, and finds himself in a changing world. It was very well-done.

Adult speculative fiction

Half a King
Joe Abercrombie
This traditional fantasy has an engaging central character who unexpectedly inherits a throne. He’s betrayed at every turn, falls into some extremely painful situations, and grows stronger and wiser as a consequence. I was caught up in it and read avidly, but I’ll need a break before I read the next book in the series because it was pretty grim.

This book illustrates how fuzzy the line is between adult and YA fantasy. The central character is a teenager who grows up over the course of the book. In other words, it’s a common YA plot line. This one may have landed in the adult category because of what happens in the rest of the series, or it may simply contain violence and cynicism beyond what you usually see in YA.

Elysium’s Shadow
Matthew Munson
This was science fiction with political overtones, a common situation in the genre which often explores social issues. The story is set on a prison planet. Some people in this world have a mutation that gives them special powers, and genetic engineering is a topic of concern. One of the central characters is deaf.

The book uses multiple points of view, a choice that has both costs and benefits. Generally speaking, the more points of view a writer adds, the less attached to any one of them a reader is. But if what you’re writing about is a society wide issue, then those multiple points of view can give you a better rounded understanding. Also, they allow a reader to know things that a particular character doesn’t, which can let the reader worry—always a good thing.

Sorcerer to the Crown
Zen Cho
This adult fantasy alternates between two central characters: Zacharias, who’s the Sorcerer Royal, and Prunella, who needs to be educated about her magic, despite the crown’s prejudice against female magicians. To me, the book read like Jane Austen with magic. The narrative voice renders the characters with humor and affection. It’s an easy and enjoyable read.

YA speculative fiction

Tale of Gwyn
Cynthia Voigt
There was a lot to like about this book—a girl central character in a world that assumes both men and women engage in hard, physical work, and stereotypes of “femininity” seem irrelevant. I found the start slow, but I loved the way legend of Jackaroo (a kind of Robin Hood figure) and reality eventually merged. This is the first book in a series, and as soon as I make a dent in my to-be-read pile, I’ll get the second one.

Thief’s War
Hilari Bell

This is the fourth book in a series in which echoes Don Quixote. The point of view alternated between a young nobleman with delusions of being a knight errant, and a former con man who’s signed on as his squire. The two of them present a nice contract in terms of idealism and cynicism. They take down a major league criminal boss in a very satisfying story.

I had to look to see if this was YA or adult. Both characters are adults, but the story is still listed as YA.

DNFs

For various reasons, I also stopped reading three books I started recently, though Amazon reviews tell me other people enjoyed them. I find this comforting as a writer. Not every book is for every reader, but every book has a reader waiting somewhere.

 

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