Best reads of the past month:
The Sharing Knife: Legacy by Lois McMaster Bujold
I was really looking forward to this sequel and was happily anxious to hear it picked up right where Beguilement left off. Unfortunately, it didn't quite live up to my expectations. The problem was simple--nothing ever happened. They traveled here. They were ostracized there. Dag went to fight malices over here. Fawn sat around trying to blend in over there. There was none of that exquisite tension that propelled the first book forward. The two main characters seemed so tired and, well, apathetic about the whole thing that I couldn't help but feel the same. The thing is, the writing is so good. And the characters are as well. They just weren't present this time around and I missed them. It felt like the Spark and Dag I loved were being impersonated by slightly lackluster simulacra. But. The ending did leave me with the distinct feeling that the real deal would be back in the next installment (currently titled Passage) and I will snatch it up as soon as it's out.
Stray by Rachel Vincent
Aware of my current craving for good urban fantasy/paranormals, my husband recommended this one to me after listening to the audio version while he was out on the job. Vincent's first offering manages to be at once hefty and highly accessible. Stray opens with Faythe, a werecat and the only daughter of an alpha, attempting to assert her independence and live a life of normalcy outside the Pride as a grad student at the University of North Texas. A series of attacks on other tabbies by a mysterious "stray," along with the unwanted protective stalking of her former intended Marc, drag her back to the family ranch and into the complicated politics of the Pride. I liked Faythe well enough. I liked Marc and Jace even better. The world is decidedly dark and these weres need each other more than they seem to know. Vincent has signed a contract for five future books in this series and I sit back and happily look forward to watching Faythe mature and develop as a character.
Moon Called and Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs
Patricia Briggs was the best new find of the month. I'm still all tingly from the excitement of finding her. These two are the first in a paranormal series about a girl named Mercy Thompson. Mercy is a VW mechanic and a walker, meaning she can shift into a coyote at will. Though not part of a pack, she was raised by one and lives across a field from the leader of the local werewolf pack. Werewolves, vampires, and other miscellaneous fae abound in Mercy's world and they all seem to want a piece of her, literally and figuratively. What makes these books the best paranormals I've read all year is the combination of Briggs' sophisticated writing, humor, and palpable tension (all the best kinds) woven into the narrative without ever delving down into the crass or gratuitous. They remind me of Robin McKinley's Sunshine meets a squeaky clean Sookie Stackhouse book. I loved them, couldn't get them out of my head for weeks, and can't wait for Iron Kissed.
Avalon High by Meg Cabot
Meg Cabot does Camelot. King Arthur reincarnated as quarterback of the high school football team. What else is there to say? I think it's my favorite of her non-Princess Diaries books. Longer and denser than usual, with all those familiar characters. And, in the end, after you're sure you've pegged every one of them, Ellie turns out not to be the Lily Maid at all, but another more mysterious and oft overlooked member of the legendary cast. Though the two are vastly different, it would be fun to pair Avalon High with Lisa Ann Sandell's Song of the Sparrow in a discussion of contemporary revisionist approaches to Arthurian lore.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Hands down winner of this month's Best Last Line Award. What a read. I was all prepared to type up a post for this month entitled "A Harry Shaped Hole," in which I'd describe the sense of loss/utter despair I felt upon finishing the last Harry Potter book. But the thing is....it was so much better than I thought it would be. That makes it sound like I didn't trust J.K. Rowling to get the job done, and that simply isn't true. I trusted her implicitly. I gave her ten years of my life. I'll give her next series ten more. But to end it all to my satisfaction? Knowing how many deaths were imminent? Knowing how it was becoming harder and harder to see a way for Harry to defeat Voldemort without dying himself? I couldn't see how she'd do it. But she did. And it was unbelievable how much fun it was. I'll never forget sitting in the line at my local Barnes & Noble at a quarter to midnight as a strange green firework shoots across the sky above us and worms its way into the shape of the dark mark. The hushed, startled silence of the crowd and then the wild, exultant cheers we erupt into at the sheer magic of it all. I'll never forget sitting next to Aaron at 12:30am and turning to the dedication page to find out she'd dedicated the last one to us. "And to You, if you have stuck with Harry until the very end." To me, it was a profoundly touching moment between an author and her readers. And I will never forget Jed tiptoeing downstairs at the point of no return, whispering excitedly, "Where are you guys?" then climbing onto the bed with us, and the three of us reading it to the end together. It was the most amazingly satisfying reading experience I can imagine. More than I'd hoped for. And in the end, after seven years, just exactly what our boy deserved.
Karavans by Jennifer Roberson
In this first in a new series, Roberson returns to an ensemble cast similar to that of the Cheysuli books. Throughout the Sword Dancer saga she kept the cast small, the focus remaining on the two principles--Tiger and Del. But her Robin Hood historicals prove she can certainly pull of the large cast and revolving viewpoint with style. Roberson's worlds are always multi-faceted and active, the earth itself often feeling like a character. In Karavans, that is literally the case. The demon-world Alisanos up and moves at will and mere mortals must be sure never to be caught up in its wake or they will return to their own world strange and altered, or not at all. So far the half-mortal, half-god karavan guide Rhuan and the hand-reading diviner Ilona are my favorite characters. I have the second in the series Deepwood on my TBR stack and look forward to seeing how they fare.
Stray by Stacey Goldblatt
By total random coincidence, and for what must be the first time ever, I read two books by the same name in one month. While Vincent's Faythe is a werecat, Goldblatt's Nattie is a confirmed dog lover and, outside of a love for domestic animals, the two books have nothing in common. This was a sweet book. Sweet and calm and surprisingly welcome at the end of the month. I particularly liked that all of the characters, from Nattie's bitterly overprotective mother to her snotty and popular next door neighbor, are portrayed sympathetically. Reminding us that everyone is more than they appear, no matter how unsympathetic they can be at times. The fact is sometimes you find yourself in a bathroom with your arch nemesis, holding her hair back for her as she vomits her guts out. Goldblatt's writing feels well-grounded to me, her characters glitz-free and appealing.