Sunday, February 28, 2016

February Wrap-up

Wow, did this month fly by! My reading slowed WAAAY down this month, but I tackled a couple of big ones that had been on my shelves for a long time, and discovered a new genre that I think I'm really going to enjoy.

This month I read -

Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

This is the first foray I have ever made into these movie tie-in novels, and I really enjoyed it! I'd love to read more in the Star Wars universe - if they are all of the same quality, I have a lot of great reading to do.

The Eight by Katherine Neville

I've had this book on my shelves for ages, and I'm so glad I finally pulled it off and dived in. What a great novel - excitement, history, a little bit of romance - so much good stuff in here. I absolutely loved this one.

The Fire by Katherine Neville

This sequel was, unfortunately, not nearly as good as its predecessor. I'm happy have read it, mostly just for the space it will free up on my shelves!

Only 3 books finished this month, but all three were from my own shelves! Woot! Great progress made on the #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge. I have a bunch of graphic novels waiting for me at the library, so March will have higher numbers, as well as fewer from my own shelves, but I'm excited to dive in.

What was the best thing you read this month?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Book Thoughts - The Fire by Katherine Neville

The Fire by Katherine Neville
published 2008
451 pages

Synopsis -

2003, Colorado: Alexandra Solarin is summoned home to her family's ancestral Rocky Mountain hideaway for her mother's birthday. Thirty years ago, her parents, Cat Velis and Alexander Solarin, believed that they had scattered the pieces of the Montglane Service around the world, burying with them the secrets of the power that comes with possessing it. But Alexandra arrives to find that her mother is missing and that a series of strategically placed clues, followed swiftly by the unexpected arrival of a mysterious assortment of houseguests, indicates that something sinister is afoot.

 1822, Albania: Thirty years after the French Revolution, when the chess service was unearthed, all of Europe hovers on the brink of the War of Greek Independence. Ali Pasha, the most powerful ruler in the Ottoman Empire, has angered the sultan and is about to be attacked by Turkish forces. Now he sends the only person he can rely upon-his young daughter, Haidee--on a dangerous mission to smuggle a valuable relic out of Albania, through the mountains and over the sea, to the hands of the one man who might be able to save it.

My thoughts -

Well, this was a disappointment. Actually, it kinda wasn't, given that I'd seen a whole list of reviews telling me this book just did not live up to its predecessor. Sadly, I agree.

I've seen several reviews that say the novel started strong, and then lost steam in the middle. I disagree. I feel like this novel was a convoluted mess from the very beginning. "Mystery" characters that weren't very mysterious, "secret" conversations that (surprise, surprise) weren't very secret, and an entire secondary plot that was basically abandoned halfway through the book.

It just seems like Neville didn't have enough to say - like she needed a 500 page novel, but she really only had enough story for a 300 page novel, so she just added a bunch of poorly wrought confusion and hoped the reader wouldn't notice. Interestingly, there are places where the novel is genuinely intriguing and even a bit thrilling - it just isn't sustained nearly long enough to be an overall enjoyable reading experience.

My advice - pretend this one never even happened. The Eight is still a fantastic novel, and stands on it's own quite nicely. Just let it be the end of the story. You won't regret it.

Finished - 2/20/16
Source - my shelves, #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks
MPAA rating - PG-13 for some violence and scary situations
My rating - 2/5

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Book Thoughts - The Eight by Katherine Neville

The Eight by Katherine Neville
first published 1988
598 pages

Synopsis -

Computer expert Cat Velis is heading for a job to Algeria. Before she goes, a mysterious fortune teller warns her of danger, and an antique dealer asks her to search for pieces to a valuable chess set that has been missing for years...In the South of France in 1790 two convent girls hide valuable pieces of a chess set all over the world, because the game that can be played with them is too powerful....

My thoughts -

This novel is considered the originator of the "historical-scavenger-hunt-thriller"-type novel that Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code and Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian have made famous. Having read both those novels, I was interested to see how the first in the genre would hold up after 25+ years. I'm please to say it holds up quite well indeed.

For me, Dan Brown's novels always feel a little too surface-y, as if they are written for the movie they will eventually become but lack a bit of the substance I really crave in a good novel. Elizabeth Kostova, on the other hand, was SO dense. There were just SO MANY WORDS, and I felt like the plot needed some more action to keep me completely engaged. The Eight was the perfect balance of both worlds - complex plotting with enough thrills to keep me right on the edge of my seat and wanting more.

The Eight uses a lot of ingredients that have been successfully incorporated many times since in popular books and movies - Freemasonry, alchemy, the mysterious Middle East. Because these tropes have become so popular as plot devices, the possibility of them feeling stale is high. I felt like this novel was able to stand on its own well, despite the passing of years, because of Neville's expert weaving together of all these familiar strands into a story both exciting and fresh.

Neville's two main heroines, Cat and Mireille, were intelligent and dauntless, and following their dangerous and heroic exploits was complete and utter fun. I genuinely felt anxious on more than one occasion, because I was that involved in their stories. Because this novel has been the inspiration for so much that followed, some of the plot twists were easier to predict, but there were still plenty of surprises along the way.

I'm extremely glad this novel found it's way into my hands. I enjoyed every minute, and would not hesitate to recommend it.  

Finished - 2/14/16
Source - my shelves #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks
MPAA rating - R for violence, scary situations, adult situations
My rating - 5/5

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Book Thoughts - Star Wars: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

Star Wars: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
published 2015

Synopsis -

The reign of the Galactic Empire has reached the Outer Rim of Jelucan, where aristocratic Thane Kyrell and rural villager Ciena Ree bond over their love of flying. Enrolling at the Imperial Academy is nothing less than a dream come true for both of them. But Thane sours on the dream when he sees firsthand the horrific tactics the Empire uses to maintain its ironclad rule.

Bitter and disillusioned, he joins the fledging Rebellion--putting Ciena in an unbearable position between her loyalty to the Empire and her love for the man she's known since childhood.

Now on opposite sides of the war, will these friends turned foes ever find a way to be together, or will duty tear them--and the galaxy--apart?

My thoughts -

I can say with certainty that a year ago I never would have considered reading this book. But Disney is definitely upping the game of the Star Wars franchise, and after enjoying The Force Awakens so much that I saw in theaters twice (!), when I noticed my husband had used an Audible credit for this book I decided to give it a try.

Friends, this was a LOT of fun. I don't think you necessarily have to be particularly well-versed in Star Wars lore to enjoy it - the characters stand completely on their own, and while there are references to people and events from previous movies, this book has its own timeline and major events that are contained within the novel. This is just a very enjoyable sci-fi space opera, with two main characters I could root for throughout.

Thane and Ciena are wonderfully charismatic, and while it's clear from the start what trajectory their relationship will take, the author does a superb job of placing just enough road blocks in their way to keep the ride enjoyable. I so appreciated that neither character was dependent or subordinate to the other - each had their own clearly defined set of beliefs and values, and neither was willing to sacrifice them for each other. 

This was exciting and action packed, but the author didn't resort to a cookie-cutter happy ending for any of her characters, which was a refreshing change from many YA novels in this vein. I would happily read a series of books about these characters - I'd love to see where their paths take them.

The audiobook narration was good, but the producers did use a LOT of sound effects and music, which I am not particularly a fan of - just read me the book, thankyouverymuch. But that's a small quibble in an otherwise very enjoyable experience.

If sci-fi is your thing, check this one out. If you are a Star Wars fan, DEFINITELY check this out. This has made me extremely interested in reading more of the novels in the Star Wars universe, and that is certainly not something I would have said before starting. 

Finished - 2/13/16
Source - my own audible library #RMODB
MPAA rating - PG-13 for some violence, adult situations
My rating - 4/5