June 5, 2017

Recent Reads

55. A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1)
I recently asked my nieces and nephews to recommend books they thought I must read. This was the one my thirteen and a half year old niece, Sophia, selected. She loves the first two books in the series, and when she sent me a text that the third in the series was released earlier this month, she had am emoji with hearts for eyes, which made me smile.

I was not smiling while reading this book however. It's a mashup between Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, with Game of Thrones undertones and faeries. On the plus side, this is a really fast read and the main female protagonist does not become putty when strong male arms surround her. The world building is fun, and I enjoyed the varied cast of characters, though I found the main guy (aka Beast) rather annoying. I was surprised by some of the gruesome and bloody scenes in this one, and also the sex scenes are very steamy (recall that my nieces are 13 and 14). I did find all the male growling during sex to be off-putting, but that might just be me. I also find it interesting that beautiful girls fall in love with "beasts" yet somehow that trope does not seem to work the other way around. Imagine a story where a handsome boy falls in love with a "beast" girl. Yup, that's what I thought.

I can see why my nieces love this series, Feyre (the young woman) has a strong will and agency, there's lots of action, both out of and under the sheets, and the plot pulls you along to an ending that was interesting, though not unexpected for this older reader. I won't be continuing with this series, but am enjoying the discussion with my nieces, and that's really my primary goal anyway. Rating: 2 stars.

56. Why We March: Signs of Protest and Hope
This is photo album that showcases 300 creative signs from around the world carried during the Women's March of January 2017. I liked it for what it was, and it was interesting to see some of the more interesting signage people created, plus all those pink pussy hats are a delight. However, I would have liked to read about the history of the march and what the organizers hoped to achieve with some contextual essays interwoven among the pictures. It's said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but in this case I think the addition of words would have made this a more powerful book. Rating: 3 stars.

57. Natchez Burning (Penn Cage #4)
This is the fourth book in the Penn Cage series, and the "first installment in an epic trilogy that interweaves crimes, lies, and secrets past and present in a mesmerizing thriller featuring Southern lawyer and former prosecutor Penn Cage."

This is the only book in the series I've read, and while there are hints of stuff that happened in the previous books it was not an issue in my reading of this one. This is a chunkser at almost 800 pages, and I listened to the audiobook (about 36 hours) which was well narrated by David Ledoux.

The story is set in Natchez, Mississippi, and unfolds with a first person narrative by Penn Cage, and with third person point of views from multiple characters, who are all connected to Penn in some way. There are various threads that all get woven together. There are bloody and brutal crimes that happen during the 1960s that were not unusual for that time and place. These events though have unexpected reverberations into the current time, when Penn's upstanding and much beloved father is accused of murder. The Double Eagles (a vicious KKK group) is at the heart of crimes in both the past and present. Throw in assassination conspiracy theories, racially motivated atrocities, greed and corruption at the highest levels, and you've got yourself a heck of a ride.

I really liked the setting of this story and links between Jim Crow and present day Natchez. While some things have changed, much is as it has always been. I found the male characters well fleshed out, but was disappointed with the how the women in this story were written, as there was not much depth to them at all. I really liked the plot device of tying a present day crime to ones almost 40 years old, and the exploration of race, violence, and the lived experiences of the people of this town.

I did not like the amount of repetition in this novel. Penn experiences something, then we have to rehash it as the other characters chime in with their third person perspective of the same thing as he tells them about it. This happened all the time, and while one could skim those sections while reading in print/ebook format, an audiobook does not work as well for skimming, and it got really annoying. Another thing that didn't work for me were the actions taken by the key players in this story, many of which simply made no sense at all. Seriously, no sane person comes up with plans like these, and I'm talking about the "good guys" here. Also, how is it that basic genetics seem to be beyond these highly educated people? Sigh.

Now, I know that this was re-marketed as the beginning of a trilogy, but this story could very easily have been satisfactorily wrapped up in one book. Instead, things get dragged out unnecessarily and the ending reads like the author suddenly ran out of ink in his pen. I played back the last several minutes a couple of times to make sure I hadn't missed something. What the heck?!

Overall I really liked the sense of place and the themes explored, but I simply could not get past the things that annoyed me to give this a higher rating. The author writes well, and this would have been a better read with tighter editing. Will I read the next book? Maybe. But I'll not be doing the audiobook, as I expect I'll need to skim some. Rating: 3 stars.

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