There's an ever growing pile of books I want to read…
Those of you who follow me on twitter (@gentlethorns) may know that I have been visiting Seattle, a place with the most bookstores per capita of any city. I had a really great time and bought far more books than I really should have. This is just one of the many, many bookstores that I visited while I was there:
I also got to see a few Seattle landmarks, eat a large variety of delicious foods, experience a proper USA halloween (including a bit of dressing up), play Gloom (the card game), visit the friendly and awesomely TAGFEE offices of SeoMoz and hang out with some completely amazing people. All in all, it was one of the best holidays ever. I also made time to read a few books:
Book Number 1
Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
I read this book when I was in middle school and loved it. Actually I think I read every Tamora Pierce book that was stocked in my local library back then and I was very upset to discover that many of them have gone out of print in England.
Alanna wants more than anything to become a knight, but women aren’t eligible for that in Tortall and she is being sent away to learn ‘womanly skills’ and prepare for marriage instead. She trades places with her twin brother (who wants to be a sorcerer not a knight) and disguises herself as a boy to make her ambition come true.
Things I liked:
There’s something about nostalgic rereads that I enjoy, especially when the book proves to be almost as good when revisited. I sometimes find that things I loved as a child (for example, the X-Men animated series) are very disappointing to my adult self but Alanna was practically as good as I remembered.
The lead character of this book was so inspiring to my teenage self and still stands up as a great female fantasy character. Tamora Pierce makes it obvious that her amazing skills (in fighting etc) are because she works really hard. This is important to me because I hate stories where the protagonist is just good at everything without trying. Also because I genuinely believe that if you want to get anywhere in life, you have to be prepared to put in the effort.
Things I didn’t like:
Fair warning, this story is now very dated. You know how there was a fashion in fantasy fiction of the 1980s of very sparse non-descriptive writing? This story is written like that. There’s also some unpleasant casual racism, which is a product of its time but still inexcusable.
I feel that Tamora Pierce doesn’t handle time well in this book. Sometimes, whole months would be written off in a sort-of ‘not much happened until’ kind of way. It’s not that I want lots of dull padding, it’s just that I sometimes felt the transition was awkward and I was left aware of a strange hole in the story.
The ending also felt quite abrupt. This is book one in a series of four and I didn’t feel done when I finished because many of the plot points were left unresolved (on purpose!). The bad guy is still alive and at large, Alanna isn’t a knight, she hasn’t followed through on letting people know that she’s really a girl and what exactly is going on with the gods?
Despite its problems, I felt so desperate to find out what would happen next that I looked in many of Seattle’s bookshops until I found the rest. I bought the complete 4-in-1 edition and put my copy of the first book in the used bookstore pile:
I might write a big review for the whole Alanna series once I have finished the whole thing so, keep your eyes peeled for that.
Book Number 2
Murder is Binding by Lorna Barrett
Did you know that there is a place called Seattle Mystery Bookshop and that it is completely AMAZING?! If you visit Seattle and you like mysteries, you’ll love it there. I promise. I am a sucker for books about books or bookshops so I was drawn like a book-loving moth to their display of mysteries that had that in common. I bought two and read one while I was there.
Murder is Binding is a cosy crime story set in a place called Booktown. Okay, it’s not actually called that but it might as well be because like Seattle (or really more like Hay-on-Wye) it is filled with bookstores and the entire local economy depends on them, which is why the series is called The Booktown Mysteries.
When the owner of The Cookery is found murdered and her store set on fire, suspicion falls on the owner of the mystery bookstore next door. It’s up to her to clear her name and find out who the real killer is.
What I liked & disliked:
I have smushed these two sections together because, in many ways, the things that I liked about this book were also the things I disliked about it. There are certain things that you expect when you read cosy crime novels and one of those things is that the characters will fit into certain cliched roles. Many of them read like cardboard cutouts or are underdeveloped.
The crime plot itself was pretty predictable and overwrought. Again, that’s really what you expect in a cosy crime story.
There’s a sub plot about cooking and all of the recipes are in the back of the book, which is a nice touch.
What I really feel about this book was that, although I enjoyed it, it was not particularly well written or something that I feel comfortable about recommending. If you know that you enjoy books about book stores and cosy crime stories where you don’t have to think too much, you’ll probably enjoy it too. If those aren’t your cup of tea, this isn’t the book to change your mind. Still, it was very good comfort reading.
Book Number 3
Spider’s Bite by Jennifer Estep
I picked this up second hand somewhere (I’m not sure where, I visited a LOT of bookshops while I was in Seattle). It’s the first book in the Elemental Assassin series of paranormal romances.
Gin is an assassin with a troubled past who relies on her fighting skills rather than her stone and ice elemental abilities. When she’s set up to take the fall for the murder of a supposed embezzler (a man whom she was hired to kill) and to be murdered herself, she finds herself caught up in something that might very well be beyond even her abilities.
What I liked:
This was a book that I wanted to get to the end of and not in a bad way. I was really rooting for Gin and wanted to know what was going on and who had set her up. Although Gin has had bad things done to her and does bad things for a living, she does still have a moral compass of sorts. She’s not so jaded as to have no redeeming qualities (which is always a possibility when reading about assassins!)
The world building and elemental magic system were well thought out and made sense. This was important to me because I read a lot of books with fantasy elements that just don’t make sense, where the author has clearly just wanted to throw something in and make up how it works as they go along. (I’m looking at you, J.K. Rowling. I’m sorry. I love the Harry Potter series but, really, the adults only know the same spells as the kids? Really?)
It also had a good ending but I won’t say any more about that.
What I didn’t like:
As I previously mentioned, I did have a slight problem sympathising with Gin because of her profession. She was written strongly enough that I could get past it but I still thought that she was a bitch and not someone I’d want to hang out with in real life.
The romance subplot really didn’t work for me. I don’t know. It just didn’t seem like the two characters made sense together or had a lot of chemistry. Blah.
Also, the author killed off a character that I was a little attached to.
This was a fairly enjoyable read and if I happen upon the next book in the series, I’ll buy and read it but I don’t feel the need to run out and search for it. I feel like a shrug would sum up my feelings about this book. If you find a copy and you’re between books, you could do worse than this. *Shrugs*