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Library book shelves

Library book shelves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Spring seems to have brought renewal to my local economy.  I can tell because the public library is finally adding new books again.  My nearest branch is tiny, so I access the library’s catalog online, request books, then pick them up at my branch.  Lately, the librarians have piled lots of NY Times bestselling hardbacks right at the entrance, making new stuff really easy to find.

I read some really great books this month and a couple that were a complete waste of time.  Maybe this list will help you choose some winners, and avoid some losers.

Mindblowing

Apocalypse Z:  The Beginning of the End by Manel Loureiro (kindle version available free through the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library; $4.99 to buy kindle version)  I linked to alligatortoe’s blog review of this book last month and read it solely based on that review.  It was incredible.  I’m not generally a reader of zombie apocalypse fiction (it makes me twitchy), but this book was worth the twitches.

It starts as a blog, written in the first person, before becoming a journal.  The narrator remains unnamed throughout the book and he tells his story through posts and entries.  The reader only knows what the narrator knows.  All he discloses about himself is that he’s about 30, a widowed lawyer with parents and a sister, a cat (tiny spoiler alert/heads up:  nothing really bad happens to the cat, so animal lovers can relax) and no particular macho survival skills.  His journey to survive is full of the kind of missteps a regular person might make in these circumstances and that made the zombie apocalypse a little more realistic.

The action is nonstop and builds relentlessly.  The narrator has some deeply disturbing experiences as civilization breaks down completely.  His troubles come not just from the dead, but also the few living people he encounters.

My only complaint is the ending; it’s a cliffhanger, clearly setting up the second book which is rumored to be released in English toward the end of 2013.  I don’t want to wait that long!  What the hell happens??

Great book, well worth actually buying, but don’t read until the sequel’s out if a cliffhanger ending bothers you.

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz (public library)  I heard Terry Gross interview the author on NPR last fall and had my eye out for this book.  It’s a haunting, honest, raw series of stories (mainly) about Yunior’s various relationships over his lifetime.  Lots of profanity and colloquial Spanish.  I’m sure I missed some subtleties because of my lack of Spanish fluency, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment.

Most of the stories chronicle Yunior’s romantic relationships.  The title of the final story, “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” gives some insight into Yunior’s fatal flaw.  He cheats.  He cheats because he’s bored; he’s following the cultural example all around him; he’s self-sabotaging; he doesn’t recognize the value of what he’s got until it’s gone; he minimizes his emotional investment in favor of sexual conquest; he gets away with it; cheating is exciting; cheating is easy.  Even as he hates himself for it, he keeps cheating.

I enjoyed the stories detailing his family dynamics.  They’re complex and uncomfortable; they feel completely real.  Diaz’ style makes reading the stories as intimate as having a conversation.  Recommend.

Good

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (public library)  This was a big hit in 2012.  I waited a long time for it to show up at my little library.

Right from the start, I didn’t find either of the main characters likeable.  There were a lot of sharp points and edges recognizable to anyone who’s lived through a faltering marriage.

This book was an onion, with layer upon layer.  The mystery layer was initially well done and captivating, although I kept thinking it was too easy to blame one character over the other.  Ultimately, the mystery layer was contrived, with an ending I found false.  Peel down to the relationship layer which is a stinky mess.  Almost all the relationships in the book are dysfunctional…because of the psychological layer.  The two main characters are complex, and as I said, unlikeable.  They’re both screwed up and spiteful.  And when two screwed up, spiteful people are stuck in a marriage together, well, now you’re at the lies.  Lies we tell each other and lies we tell ourselves.  There were layers dealing with self identity, inner satisfaction, the media and the role it plays in our justice system, as well as layers about the people charged with bringing us justice.

A thought-provoking read, marred by a bizarre twist at the end.  I admire the author’s skill at putting all the elements together.

Pretty Good, If The Price Is Right…or Free

Into The Woods:  Tales From The Hollows and Beyond by Kim Harrison (public library)  A collection of 11 urban fantasy short stories, seven of which were previously published.  There are seven stories set in the Rachel Morgan world (only one is new); the other four stories are unrelated urban fantasy shorts (three previously unpublished).  Because there are only four new stories here, I was glad to get it from the library.  $24.99 is steep for four new stories!

The Rachel Morgan world stories are all good, but only if you read the series of novels.  These were written to give deeper insight into the characters and action in the novels, or in the case of “The Bridges of Eden Park,” pay tribute to a now-deceased character.  If you haven’t read the novels, these stories won’t be interesting to you.

The stories from beyond the Hollows were a mish-mash.  “Pet Shop Boys” involves fey vampires and some kind of warrior creature.  (Caution:  creepiness involving a kitten.  Ewww.)  “Temson Estates” and “Spider Silk” were variations on Greek and Roman dryad myths.  But the final story, “Grace,” was new and I loved it.  It was an urban fantasy police procedural with a wonderfully developed main character.  I’d like to see it expanded to a full-length novel or series.

Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs (public library)  The latest in the Mercy Thompson series, an urban fantasy with werewolves, vampires, witches, and the fae.  Usually, these are well-plotted, imaginative, and full of great characters.  This one felt stale.  Haven’t Adam and the pack been abducted before?  Aren’t vampire politics pretty much always a pain in the a**?  I didn’t feel like we went anywhere.  There was a lot of running around, fighting, shady government dealings, and death, but the overall story didn’t advance.  You could skip this and not miss a thing.  But it’s not a terrible way to get a Mercy fix, if that’s what you’re jonesing for.

When You Want To Escape

Dream Eyes by Jayne Ann Krentz (public library)  I picked this up after I finished Gone Girl.  I needed to clean my literary palate and this fizzy confection did the trick.  It’s part of an ongoing series of paranormal romance trilogies and it’s just fluffy fluff.  Breezy beach reading.

Not Even If It’s Free

Family Jewels: A Dix Dodd Mystery #2 by Heather Doherty and Norah Wilson ($2.99 kindle edition)  Last month I read the first in this series and loved it.  I liked that freebie so much I would’ve paid for it.  Well, I paid for this one and it was a disappointment.

Problem #1:  It’s set in a Florida retirement community, and while I’m sure these can be hoppin’ places, this one’s boring.

Problem #2:  Too much emphasis on the sexual tension between Dix and her assistant.  Which leads to…

Problem #3:  It seemed like I spent half the book inside Dix’s fantasies about her assistant.  Where’s the mystery?

Problem #4:  Dix has done a 180.  Gone is the tough, competent PI from the first book.  This Dix is an immature, Stephanie Plum wannabe.

Worst of all, the mystery falls completely flat.  The villain was revealed early on; all that was left were the details and those were unfairly embellished at the bitter end.

I bought the third book in the series at the same time.  Sigh.  I hope it’s better than this one.

How to Benefit From Amazon Prime and the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library by Linda F. Thompson (kindle freebie)  A very short book I downloaded hoping to get tips on the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library.  Unfortunately, this book is a badly written, poorly edited marketing piece with less information that you can find on the Amazon.com website.  Skip it.

I’ve got to focus on the huge backlog of books on my kindle and try to stay away from the library.  I’ve topped 400 items and only two are video games.  Did you read something really great this month?  Please share in the comments!

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