Recent reading: a potpourri

So am I the only person in creation to hate Cronin’s THE PASSAGE? Because it was a DNF for me.

It’s true I don’t-finish a much higher proportion of books than used to be the case. I decided, you know, life is short and the TBR pile is long and why waste my time reading a book I don’t like? But I sure didn’t expect THE PASSAGE to be one of the books I didn’t like, after The Book Smugglers gave it a, get this, nine. A nine. I expected to love this book.

But, no.

I mean, we open with this young mother who is basically forced into prostitution to support her child, Amy. Although I was definitely wondering, why is she unable to get welfare? You’d think this was set in the 1850s when poor women really could be forced into prostitution, not in the modern day where there is, you know, a safety net. Is it possible for a woman to really not realize she would totally be eligible for all kinds of services? So right there I had questions about how Cronin set this up. But they were short lived questions, because — here comes a spoiler — the young mother, who is quite a sympathetic protagonist, leaves her little girl with nuns and vanishes. We never see her again.

So then this fascinating nun from Africa, Sister Lacey, takes over Amy’s care and becomes the story’s protagonist. I was definitely pulled into caring about Sister Lacey. Too bad because — spoiler alert — she is very quickly killed helping to rescue Amy from a rather typical Evil Federal Agency. The Feds accidentally-but-so-predictably set loose a vampire apocalypse, thus leading to the end of the world.

So Amy now depends on the Good Federal Agent, Agent Wolgast. Who is an interesting new protagonist, only he — is this getting repetitive? — he dies, leaving Amy alone in a world that has basically come to an end.

Fast forward 100 years and . . . never mind, I no longer care. After losing three protagonists in a row, I no longer trust Cronin to give me a character I can care about and to leave that character alive for more than 50 pages. I’m done.

So after THE PASSAGE was a bust, I thought, fine, try something completely different. So I picked up a Tamora Pierce novel I found at a library sale last year: THE WILL OF THE EMPRESS. Unfortunately, I’m a little old for Tamora Pierce, whom I suspect is an author that appeals more if you first started reading her books when you were fourteen. Even more unfortunately, this book turns out to follow not just one prior series, but two.

This novel had four main characters, but I just didn’t find any of them very interesting. That might have been different if I’d read the prequels. As it is — they all just annoyed me. All these unnecessary misunderstandings, and the plot looked like it was going to unroll in an extremely predictable way, and I just found myself unwilling to go on with the story to see if I was right about how all the plot elements would fit together. So . . . my second DNF in two days, which may be a record for me.

The third try was the charm, thankfully, because I really enjoyed the murder mystery I tried next: SLOW DOLLOR by Margaret Maron. My mother, who reads a lot of mysteries, didn’t much care for this one, so my expectations weren’t high. It was nice to be surprised in a good way.

SLOW DOLLAR is by no means the first in the series, but unlike the Pierce novel, it’s easy to get into without having read the others. Well, I guess that’s typical for a murder mystery series, maybe more so than for a fantasy series. But it was a welcome difference.

Anyway, I liked Maron’s protagonist, Judge Deborah Knott. You know what I thought was especially entertaining? The way Judge Knott tried such boring, ordinary, everyday kinds of cases. DUIs and vandalism and other petty crimes. No sensational murder trials, nothing like that. I liked this ordinary-life feel to the book. Not that the book devotes much time to the minutiae of all these trials but we definitely get a feel for Judge Knott’s ordinary courtroom life, and her ordinary life outside the courtroom, too. I think I’m starting to really notice stories about protagonists who aren’t lost princesses or the subjects of prophecies or the heirs to immense fortunes or anything, but rather just ordinary people. I mean, how many stories like that do you see? It seems like not very many. I enjoyed that aspect of Bujold’s Sharing Knife series, too.

I liked the carnival element in Maron’s mystery, and I really liked the complicated family relationships that wrapped around the whole plot from top to bottom, and I liked how the author worked things out in a positive way, getting Andrew to acknowledge his (adult) illegitimate daughter after all, and having Andrew’s current wife be instrumental in making the daughter feel like maybe she could be part of the family. I loved Deborah’s father — what a guy.

I liked the sort of hidden romance between Dwight and Deborah — I mean, actually hidden from Deborah herself, in a way, even though she is one of the people involved in the romance. That was definitely different. I loved how Maron showed us just enough of Dwight’s pov so that we — the readers — understand the relationship better than Deborah herself does. This is all SO different from the super-hot paranormal romances and angsty teen romances that are so very very common these days. Plus, I’m definitely rooting for Dwight. I think I’ll get the next book along in the series just to see how this plot element develops — and after seeing how Maron sets things up so that they work out, I think I trust her to develop this relationship in a way I’ll enjoy.

So . . . what all have you all been surprised by lately, either liking a book less than you expected, or more?

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