Autumn Reading

As usual, it's been a mix of books for me this autumn, beginning with "The Demon Trappers: Forbidden" by Jana Oliver. **** I got the first book of this series as a review copy, and began reading without expecting much - demons aren't my favorite corner of YA paranormal land. I was completely blown away by the quality of the writing, the depth of the characters and the fact that the plot is based on a girl trying to make it in a man's world - and succeeding against the odds. There are far too many passive heroines in this genre, and Riley was a breath of fresh air.

I'm glad to say that none of that falls by the wayside in this second book. The characters develop, as does the overarching storyline - though probably not quickly enough for some readers. Riley's interactions and deepening relationships with Beck and Ori were handled beautifully, and for me, very believably. Her grieving process for her father was well done as well.

There are a few reasons why this wasn't a five-star book for me, as the first one was. The first of these is Simon. While the plot accounts for Simon's about-face in relation to Riley (and the world in general), it's only barely. He only appears a few times, and in each of them he's the cardboard cutout Angry Young Man. I kept trying to decide whether this was because the author tired of him as a plot line and wanted to get him out of the way, or she wanted to open up Riley's romantic playing field, or she actually has some major Simon-related subplot up her sleeve for a further book/s. I suspect the latter, but if so, I'd have liked to know a little more about these mysterious people he's been speaking to. Seems a little odd that Riley would spend hours driving around Atlanta following recycling trucks, but it never occurs to her to investigate what evil influence has got her boyfriend's ear.

The second is Peter. While it's de rigueur in these books for the heroine to have a boy-best-friend who's secretly pining for her while she pines for the supernatural hottie, this story has plenty of interesting potential love interests in Beck, Simon and Ori. Whenever Peter appears in this book, it feels a bit forced - i.e. she's created this character, and can't easily shelve him, though he really serves no purpose.

The third is that the plot takes quite a while to rev up. To be frank, the reason why I read this genre, as a thirty-something mum and professional historical fiction writer, is pure escapism. The best of these books grab you by the throat and twist, and if they don't, equally frankly, they go to the charity shop unread. This book is far from that purgatory, but still, I was more than half way through before I was hiding in the bathtub from the children while I finished another chapter - my personal gold standard.

Regardless, I've pre-ordered the third book with high hopes.

Next was Maggie Stevfater's new book, "The Scorpio Races". *** Having read all of Maggie Steifvater's books - loved the fairy pair, liked the werewolf trilogy - I was looking forward to this one. Partly because I live and breathe horses, but also because, though it's an interesting facet of Celtic mythology, there isn't a whole lot of material on water horses to work with. I was intrigued to see how she would flesh out the mythology.

The idea of a place where people capture and race these monstrous horses is a good one. For me, though, this story never really took off. The pace is slow, up to and including the Big Race. Also, both the menace and the romance are far too obvious to be particularly engaging. The menace is the same one that's been used ad nauseum in horse stories and beyond, while the romance was lacking a freshness that characterizes M.S.'s other novels: the hyper-real Sam & Grace, the wonderfully prickly Isabelle & Cole, the danger of James & Nuala.

Another stumbling block for me was that there were just too many echoes of 'The Hunger Games' in the Scorpio Races: young contestants, mortal danger, desperately needed money to be won. But at the same time the stakes weren't quite high enough, or the danger quite believable enough, or the heroine's reasons for entering quite dire enough, to compare favorably. (Slight spoiler alert.) I thought that the piebald mare could have been used to far greater effect, and also that Puck's choice to ride her own horse diffused a lot of the excitement. I'd have loved to read about her catching and taming one of the water horses, not just hitching a ride on her boyfriend's. The ending is also ambiguous, not in terms of what happens, but in what it means for the characters involved - yetnot in a way that particularly lends itself to a sequel.

Read it if you're a die-hard fan. Otherwise, maybe look elsewhere for your next teen supernatural hit.

Then a non-fiction book - rare for me but really compelling - "Faery Tale" by Signe Pike. **** I almost never read non-fiction. Or rather I do, but usually only as research for my own writing. But I judged this book by its cover - and the fact that my current novel is heavily involved in Scottish fairy mythology, and I thought it might have some useful info - and gave it a go

I'm so glad I did! This is simply a lovely book. So many of these type of books are dry and academic, but this reads like a well-written journal, or a series of letters from a good friend travelling abroad. The premise - young American woman goes to Britain to see if fairies are real - is so simple it could have fallen at the first hurdle. Instead, Signe Pike draws the reader into her search from the very beginning, her scepticism/desire to believe striking a chord in me which I think must be common to many people in this day and age.

So, four stars rather than five... Okay, I know that this isn't and never purported to be a scientific study. In fact the overall sense was that the author's research and subsequent reporting were based heavily on intuition, which is quite fitting given the subject matter. Still, there was an unevenness to the structure that niggled at me throughout the reading. Glastonbury, for instance, got far more air-time than some entire countries, and while this of course is partly a function of how much happened there, I got the distinct sense as the book progressed that the author was rushing through the material faster and faster.

I also couldn't help being annoyed by some of the half-baked observances the author put out as fact, especially in the (very rushed) Scotland section. I know that she was at the end of her journey, and maybe she was out of steam - but then admit it, rtaher than make sweeping statements like Scotland has no live music. Seriously? In the little Borders village where I live, there's a ripping folk music session ever other Thursday, and much more at other venues. Yes, that's a personal gripe, but it points to the generally rushed nature the book takes on near the end.

Still, a fascinating read and a relatively thorough investigation of the topic. Hope she writes more!

By sarah on 05 November 2011 |