Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Recent reading . . . and yet the TBR pile does not shrink

So, made some inroads on the TBR pile this past weekend! Also had a handful of new books arrive, so actual net progress in whittling the pile down was zero. Even negative if you count the couple of books on their way but not yet arrived.

Read: THE SCORPIO RACES by Stiefvater, THE GIRL WHO by Valente, TOADS AND DIAMONDS BY Tomlinson, and the third vampire romance by Ward, LOVER AWAKENED.

Arrived: SHADOWS IN FLIGHT by Card, CRUCIBLE OF GOLD by Novik, THE PEACH KEEPER by Allen, and GUARDIAN OF NIGHT by Daniel.

The first of these? From the heft, it’s a novella. Can I just say here how much I hate it when the publisher packages a novella as a novel and prices it like a novel and never says a word to indicate that it’s not really a novel? So I’m peeved about that.

Have you tried the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik? The series set during the Napoleonic era, with dragons and Jane Austin-ish language? Actually I wasn’t totally overwhelmed by the Australian novel in the series, but you’ll notice I still picked up this latest installment.

The thing by Daniel, I know nothing at all about, I was filling out an order from the SFBC and it looked promising despite the extremely generic title. It says it’s kind of The Hunt For Red October in space and I’m up for that, though of course I’d prefer to have Sean Connery in the leading role. Red October is one of the very very very few movies that I think is better than the book and partly that’s because Tom Clancy always puts too much exposition in the books but mostly it’s because, hey, Sean Connery.

And THE PEACH KEEPER? That’s because of this review. Also this one (much briefer). I think it’s kind of a mystery, which I was sort of short of on the TBR pile anyway, but really I think it’s a relationship book and a romance. Plus I like the title. And the cover.

Now! The recent reading:

Ward’s vampire romances continue to be good. I was really afraid that the third book was going to turn out to be one of those situations where if the main characters only TALKED to one another, everything would be fine, but they just won’t, so everything goes to blazes. I hate plots like that more than words can say. Maybe even worse than Stupid Gas, if possible. There were, to be honest, elements of this, but not as much so as I was afraid of. I quite liked it. I have to just mention that to enjoy this series, you do get used to the stupid ‘H’ names and kind of read past them. The even stupider ‘H’ words from, I guess, the ‘old language’ make NO SENSE AT ALL, but that is just a detail and I guess we can ignore them. With an effort.

You know what’s bothering me a bit, though? The doggen. The happy servant people. I get that to the author, they are just a plot device to smooth out the lives of the Real Characters, but it is actually kind of disturbing to stick in a slave class and have nobody think that this is problematic – not even Beth or Butch, who are outsiders and ought to get that it is icky to have hereditary servants who call all the Real Characters ‘Sire’. Ick ick ick.

Well, I still like the books, though, and I’m certainly planning to head on to the fourth installment shortly. The author’s surprised me before, maybe she’ll suddenly turn out to be just kidding about being oblivious to the situation she’s set up.

TOADS AND DIAMONDS – and have I mentioned how great a title that is, and what a wonderful cover the book has? – is set in a kind of alternate India. What I loved: the setting, which had lots of great details; the whole idea of the twin blessings and the way both the diamonds and the toads really are blessings; the genuine niceness of both main characters, each in a different way. What I didn’t like: both Diribani (The Diamond Girl) and Tana (The Toad Girl) seemed a bit dim. I didn’t get why Diribani failed to insist on her jewels going back to her home province through someone other than Governor Alwar. I mean, once the prince showed that he was going to be generous with her gift, why didn’t she at least TRY to get around Alwar?

And it’s probably not fair to hold against Tana a certain slowness to get the connection between disease and rats and her snake gift – that probably depends on a modern knowledge of the Black Death – but still, waiting for that shoe to drop was kind of tedious.

This is a short novel and the focus on Diribani and Tana is pretty tight; other characters are not drawn out in any great depth. The two cultures – which are certainly Hinduism for the conquered people and Islam for the conquerors, disclaimers aside – well, certainly they clash, but again the clash feels sort of superficial. Prince Zahid and Princess Ruqayya are just too nice, and Diribani too accommodating of their customs, for the conflict between their peoples to seem all that real. It’s pretty unusual for me to complain about characters being too nice, but that’s how it seemed to me in this case. To me, this novel seemed like a charming MG rather than a YA story – and I would have liked more depth throughout – but it’s hardly the story’s fault that it wasn’t really written to suit my taste.

THE GIRL WHO – very clever use of language, very clever details all through, I laughed out loud at some of the most unexpected lines. It is reminiscent of THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, which is the impression I’d gained from reading reviews, but I wasn’t as totally overwhelmed as a lot of other people have been. In fact, I think TOLLBOOTH is definitely the stronger book. That might be because I was younger when I read it, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that actually it’s because of a more coherent storyline to the TOLLBOOTH allegory and also to a protagonist who developed more through the course of the book.
Of course your mileage may differ. And I did enjoy THE GIRL WHO, so don’t get me wrong.

Of course its very cleverness sort of holds the reader at a distance. You certainly aren’t going to fall right into the story and feel like it’s a true story about real people.

Which is why THE SCORPIO RACES was the outstanding book of the weekend, because you totally DO fall right into this one. I didn’t know much about it before going in, but it turns out to be much more a contemporary fantasy than I’d expected. With just one fantastic element, which is not hidden at all, but just taken for granted: of course the capaill uisce, the water horses, come out of the sea in the fall – just on this one island – and of course they’re bigger and more beautiful and much, much more dangerous than ordinary horses. Naturally we have this ritual race built around the capaill uisce. Everything feels totally real, the way Stiefvater tells it.

I love Sean Kendrick. I love Puck Connelly. I love the way there’s no insta-romance and absolutely no description of Sean Kendrick as super-hot. I love the development of the relationship between them, much slower and more awkward than has become typical in recent YA releases.

Not only that, but I love the way they both HAVE to win the Scorpio Races – when naturally it has to actually be one or the other. I even believe how this worked out in the end – because Stiefvater is that good a storyteller. I do particularly love the bit when Finn saves the day right at the end. Brilliant! And yet obvious in retrospect.

And the thing with Corr? So sad, and yet satisfying.

I expect this one was marketed as YA, but to me it seems almost more like an adult novel – yes, it’s a coming-of-age story for both main characters, true, but it’s got all the depth and character development you could want. And it’s not paced super-fast. There’s room to appreciate the world and the unfolding story. Whether you lean more YA or more adult, I think you’d stand a very good chance of appreciating this one.

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3 Comments Recent reading . . . and yet the TBR pile does not shrink

  1. Elaine T

    On TOAD & DIAMONDS over all I agree with your assessment. I also left it feeling that Diribani was short changed in story, or growth or accomplishment (its been a while and details have faded).

    I read the first few Noviks, but got tired. The Australian book got my husband to drop them, too. They brought home to me as a reader how hard it is to make travel interesting, in book 2 where most of it is spent going places and not a lot else. I shouldn’t be able to skip over a hundred pages and pick up the rest of the book without a problem.

    Got SCORPIO RACES from the library to check it out.

    And from the previous post’s comments, I MUST get my husband that Informal History. He’d love it. He still improvises rocket and things that go kabloom occasionally.

  2. Andy Lang

    I just read The Scorpio Races. While I do believe that her characters are well developed, some left me a tad disappointed in such that they were sort of stereotypical. Honestly, with a name like Mutt Malvern, can you be anything BUT evil? And the interjection of the rich American swooping down on an English seaside town looking to snatch up all the best treasures. But I agree that all in all, it was a pleasant read nonetheless. A quick note in passing, I really enjoyed The Griffin Mage Trilogy and I love your blog. Have a terrific summer break!
    All the best,,

  3. Rachel

    I admit I simply detest names like Mutt and I would certainly have preferred the author not do that.

    But I enjoyed the Rich American. I don’t mind a stereotype at all as long as the details are great, which I think they were. I loved R. A.’s plain-spokenness and perceptiveness and kindness.

    And thanks! Glad you liked The Griffin Mage!

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