the clockwork scarab

2016-07-20_orig

The Facts

The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Cleason
Basia rates it: 3.5/5
Connor rates it: 3.5/5

basia

This book had so much potential. I loved the premise–it is exactly the sort of thing that speaks to my sensibilities. It sounds like it’s going to be so much fun. And it was, to be fair–Evaline and Mina are wonderful, and several other characters became favorites, but my lower-than-expected rating comes down to one thing: Dylan. At best, he’s bothersome. At worst, he’s a nuisance the likes of which you want to squash with the world’s largest flyswatter. I never felt that he was necessary or useful; his subplot is too contrived; it tries too hard to fit into a story that, quite frankly, doesn’t need him. Everything his two-dimensional self was there to do could have been handled in another, less clunky, less annoying manner. That being said, I do plan to pick up the next book. The protagonists’ budding friendship, their grudging respect for one another, is a story I’ll follow to the deepest vampire den–even if it means putting up with Dylan.

connor

I slipped the rating down to 3.5 for the ending, which I found to be rather short and sudden, and for Dylan (who, as Basia mentioned, is both unnecessary and annoying). While I’ll definitely pick up the next one, his was one plot line too many in a convoluted tale. Still, the main narrative was fun and the characters of Mina and Evaline (and a smattering of favorites in cameo) kept matters lively enough to make this steampunk novel a witty enough matter of crime solving to keep me interested. In all honesty, I was biased towards this from the start: not only is mystery my favorite genre of choice, but I’m usually a fan of the steampunk aesthetic as well. The premise–creating a partnership between Bram Stoker’s teenage sister and the teenage niece of Sherlock Holmes–captivated me, and the development of their friendship and a slow, begrudging respect for the other’s talents kept me reading even when Dylan was at his most obnoxious.

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the waking fire

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The Facts
The Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan
Basia rates it: 4 out of 5

I received an ARC of The Waking Fire from a Penguin Random House service known as First To Read, which encourages readers to review books they win but does not require it.

The Waking Fire takes place in a world where the blood of drakes (which are basically dragons) can imbue certain humans who have the ability to use drake blood with enhanced abilities. The ability each offers depends on the type of drake–black, red, green, or blue. I think what I liked best about this novel is that I didn’t feel like we had the “simpleton outsider” trope; I never felt like there was one character who didn’t know anything about the world specifically so the reader could be told things as they were explained to the character. I had to do a lot of inferring about what drake’s blood did what and so on, but I liked that. It’s always refreshing when an author remembers his or her audience have brains and treats them accordingly. There was, of course, a bit of explanation here and there, but I never felt like any of it was too much of an info dump, which is a pitfall most high fantasy books fall into as they try to explain the setting.

This book is long. If you’re not accustomed to long high fantasy novels, I’d suggest steering clear of this until you think you’re ready. The characterization in this novel is spectacular; there are three point-of-view characters, whom the narrative interchanges fairly regularly, and each character felt distinct and tangible. (Also, one of them is a woman.) It’s difficult, sometimes, to come across high fantasy that isn’t plot-driven. I generally prefer character-driven novels, and this is a very good example of how high fantasy can work with a character-driven rather than a plot-driven structure.

Most of my quibbles with this book are fairly small. There are a lot of characters in this book, and many of their names similar. I once knew someone who said she only really took in the first letter of each name, and this book would be hard for her to navigate. It was sometimes difficult to remember which character belonged to what name, especially if I was reading quickly. Also, while a decent amount of the secondary characters were well-constructed, there were a handful on whose personality I couldn’t quite get a grip. I’m hoping this is rectified in later novels. The author also has a tendency to over-describe aspects about which I have no knowledge or any desire to have knowledge, and so I would find myself glazing over sometimes, but that’s more of a personal thing. It wasn’t info-dumping so much as oversharing.

Overall, however, it was a good read. I plan to pick up the second novel when it comes out, and I’ve already recommended it to several people. There were enough dragons (drakes, I should say) to satisfy even me, and while this isn’t a read you can tear through at breakneck pace, it’s engaging and keeps you interested. Ryan does a good job of giving you just enough information to make you feel a bit satisfied but withholding the rest so that you feel compelled to keep going. If you’re into long high fantasy and dragons, I say definitely pick it up!

murder on the orient express

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The Facts

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Connor rates it: 4.5/5

Anyone who knows me could tell you I read an awful lot of mystery novels. Almost every other book I read is a mystery novel. Agatha Christie, Ellis Peters, Dorothy Sayers, Peter Tremayne, Jacqueline Winspear, Elizabeth Peters, Charles Todd–I always have at least one mystery on hand, and quite often two or three behind it. Today, we’re focusing on one of my most-recommended authors, the Queen of Crime herself: Agatha Christie.

I’ve heard more than one person tell me that while the Americans invented the murder mystery (a… sort of accurate fact? Thank you, Edgar Allan Poe), the Brits perfected it. Agatha Christie remains one of the most popular authors of all time–she’s right up there with Shakespeare in the “two to four billion sales, we aren’t really sure which” category–and this particular novel of hers is my favorite.

Murder on the Orient Express is not the first Agatha Christie novel I read (Death on the Nile, seventh grade book club). It is not the one that gripped me most thoroughly (And Then There Were None, one year later in a single sitting), nor even the one with the most startling ending (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, a few months after that). But like I said: it’s my favorite.

In addition to M. Hercule Poirot, that most celebrated of detectives who uses the little grey cells to solve crimes, the audience has an ally in M. Bouc, to whom Poirot often explains (or chooses not to explain) his methods, and the array of murder suspects is numerous and varied enough to amuse even the most persnickety of readers.

While Christie swaps narrative viewpoints like M. Bouc swaps accusations of murder, there’s a reason Murder on the Orient Express remains an iconic crime novel over eighty years after its initial publication. After all, there aren’t many murder mysteries that beg to be re-read; the revelation of the murderer is often half the fun, and a reread means already knowing whodunnit. Murder on the Orient Express is an exception. Christie always keeps her plots and characters interesting and inventive, but in this particular novel–with its peculiar dose of Poirot’s arrogance and misleading clues–she shines.

(And if you insist you don’t have time for this 300 or so paged novel, I’d recommend the audiobook. The most recent version was recorded by Dan Stevens, and his character voices are absolutely phenomenal.)