What I Read in January 2017

I made my goal of five books this month, including one that I have been working on for more than four months. I complemented that with a half dozen or so comic collections, but I don’t really have anything to say about them. I am currently reading about four different books, including finally getting starting on my reading project for this year: reading all of Charles Dickens’ novels. I’ve already read quite a few of them, but it has been a long time for most and I might go back to them as a refresher. I am about a quarter of the way through Pickwick Papers. I didn’t read anything nearly so impressive in January, though.

gits

Girl in the Shadows

Gwenda Bond

I read the first book in Bond’s series about the circus, Girl on a Wire, and enjoyed it. Not as much as I enjoyed her Lois Lane books, but it seemed unlikely that I would with no prior affection for it. This sequel changes the focus from high wire acts to a stage magic and also increases the amount of real magic in the series. The first book had a magic coin that gave the person holding it luck; this creates a whole society of real magicians. The central story is along the same lines as the last book, with a young performer out to prove herself on the stage. Moira, the protagonist, runs away from her restrictive father to join a traveling circus as a stage magician. She soon learns that she can do more than just stage magic, as well as a host of family secrets. She is aided by a boy she meets at the circus and a romance is soon kindled. It works, though I found it less engaging than the first volume.

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The Demon’s Brood

Desmond Seward

I am very conflicted on this book. It is an enthralling read, but it is very selective about the history it portrays. While reading this overview of the Plantaganet Dynasty of England, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Seward was deliberately including the most shocking and graphic stories of the era, even those that as far as I know have largely been discredited by historians. It all becomes clear near the end, when the writer makes a plea that these older Kings to replace the Tudors for dramatic portrayals, possibly to get some of that sweet Game of Thrones money. He’s not wrong, but it does color what does and does make this already stretched thin book. Less appealing are the writer’s reflections on the quality of each king, weighted heavily in favor of their martial prowess over anything else.

While it can be sensational, The Demon’s Brood does give a good overview of a dozen or so Kings. Even those with a passing knowledge of English history, or Shakespeare in my case, will learn a lot from this book and it is a very easy read. It is certainly nowhere near a comprehensive look at any of these figures, and it all but leaves out some rather important people like Eleanor of Aquitaine, but it definitely worth a look.

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A Man of Some Repute

Elizabeth Edmondson

This is supposedly a mystery, but while Edmondson does a lot of work to set up her fairly enjoyable cast of characters, the mystery part frequently gets lost in the shuffle. The personal problems and post-WWII period details are all fine, the book absolutely doesn’t work as a mystery. I do like the characters, but the book slow plays just about everything about them. It sets up a lot of directions things could go for Hugo, Georgina and Freya, but doesn’t give them a lot to do.

Recently injured and forcibly retired from his intelligence work, Hugo moves to Selchester with his younger sister Georgina. There they meet Freya, the niece of the old Earl who went missing seven years before. Soon after they arrive, the Earl’s body is found on the premises of Selchester castle, kicking off a very relaxed investigation. I didn’t hate the book, I liked it enough to pretty much immediately read its sequel, but I wasn’t overly enthralled.

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A Question of Inheritance

Elizabeth Edmondson

This is the sequel to A Man of Some Repute. Again, this feels like a slow playing of everything. It does have a stronger mystery, but otherwise is pretty much the same as the previous book. Or what I assume is the previous book, because this one doesn’t exactly pick up where the last left off. This one starts with a new Earl of Selchester moving into the castle with his two daughters. Unfortunately, this unknown American taking the seat is not welcome news to everyone and someone appears to want him dead. When a guest turns up dead at the castle, Hugo and Freya set to work again sorting things out.

This one does feel more like a classic mystery, though that mystery plot still gets sidelined for way too long at certain points. It also delves more deeply into Hugo’s spy past, a turn that could be interesting, but this only barely starts to make it good. It is like a couple of chapters of a spy novel fit into this rather domestic book. I don’t think this series has been very good, but they are still largely pleasant reads.

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Republic of Thieves

Scott Lynch

I really enjoyed the first two of Lynch’s Locke Lamora books, but it took me a long time to warm up to this one. It doesn’t help that things don’t really get going until more than halfway through the book. It isn’t that the first half is unenjoyable, but it is very low stakes. A lot of it is focused on cleaning up loose ends from the previous book, which left this series’ anti-heroes in somewhat dire straits. After that, Locke and Jean are engaged in a political game between rival wizard factions to throw the results of a coming election. That is the real problem: the stakes feel very small compared to the two previous books. This one is largely a dive into the relationship between Locke and Sabetha, as she is leading the other party in this contest. That stuff works, but it doesn’t really feel like the protagonists have any direction or goals for most of the book. They take the job because that is literally the only choice and they have no skin in the game, as long as they play by the rules.

Lynch has created a great cast of characters. Characters like the Sanza twins, who only appear in the flashbacks but continue to get more and more fleshed out, making their lack in the present chapters strongly felt. Locke and Jean, and Sabetha for that matter, are all great. I am happy to just read more of their adventures, but I hope that going forward they have a little more at stake.

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