Front Page, Musings

Weekly Musing: Unforgettable Reads of 2016

Last week I went over the books which made my list of Regrettable Reads of 2016. This week I focus on the books which stuck with me throughout the year either because they captured me emotionally or were just plain fun to read.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: A pick by my book club, this is a beautiful book revolving around The Night Circus, an ethereal, magical circus unlike any other. At the center two magicians trained under rival magicians for the purpose of competing against one another. The fathers of the two magicians have been rivals for centuries, engaged in a continuous battle to prove who the best is.

What I loved about this book were the characters from the protagonists to the supporting cast of circus performers.

I loved the circus itself since it isn’t the kind we are used to. There are the more traditional acts one finds at a circus from a fortune teller to animal tamers to acrobats, but all of it is tinged with real magic. The color scheme of The Night Circus is black and white which should have presented a hindrance to Morgenstern to make the circus vivid, but she does a wonderful job presenting unique, gorgeous visuals for the reader.

I also loved the romance which developed between the two protagonists. It is developed slowly, subtly over the years and comes across as natural and not overdone. You actually root for them to fall in love because they mutually respect each other’s gifts and realize how dangerous and pointless the rivalry set in motion by their fathers is.

The Ming Storytellers by Laura Rahme: First let me start off with a warning. This book was self-published and is riddled with typos, formatting issues, and could have used another editing pass. That being said, I’m still putting it on my Best Of list because the story, characters, and prose were that compelling.

Set in the early days of the Ming Dynasty, it’s an epic historical fiction story. We follow several characters from a trusted naval general, who happens to be eunuch, as he falls in love with one of the Emperor’s concubines to the concubine herself to an unsavory government official to a Persian merchant and a mysterious storyteller.

All the characters were intriguing and fleshed out along with each of their stories. What I loved was the stories sometimes were directly woven into other stories and other times not, however, Rahme makes sure all the stories serve the larger story of the novel.

I loved the setting descriptions and felt like I was in this time period; key to historical fiction. Again, with a little bit more editing a book which is already pretty special could have been spectacular.

Drinking From a Bitter Cup by Angela Jackson-Brown: I previously reviewed this book and still find myself haunted by it. Doesn’t help that I finished it the day a particularly emotion wrecking episode of “Game of Thrones” aired. I don’t recommend reading this book if you’re watching that show. You’ll be ruined for days.

A Skeleton in the Family by Leigh Perry: Another book I previous reviewed.  I’ll simply add that what I loved most about this book is how much of a fun it is.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George: A charming book set in Paris, it follows Perdu, a bookseller whose shop is a boat. He believes books are medicine, a literary apothecary, and recommends book to people to “heal” people simply by looking at them. He lives in an apartment nearby and at first the book starts off as a possible romance with a neighbor. Like him, she is lonely, suffering from heartbreak yet wishes for love. An event causes Perdu to leave Paris in his floating bookstore and travel the Seine River to the town his long dead one and only love lived. Along the way he picks up an interesting cast of characters including a young author not dealing well with sudden success.

Though ultimately a romantic love story, it is also a love story to books and the impact they have on us. It’s also a love story to living life and taking chances.

Perdu is an empathic and compassionate soul whom the reader roots for him to be truly happy and let go of the past. The cast of supporting characters I loved for their eccentricities and varying views on life and for being at different stages of their lives.

Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson: One more book I reviewed previously. I’ll only add that I’ve read the second book in the series and look forward to reading books three and four in 2017.

The Last Adventure of Dr. Yngve Hogalum by D.L. Mackenzie: A self-published Steampunk novella, The Last Adventure of Dr. Yngve Hogalum is the first in a series. It’s a breezy read revolving around the assistant to the now deceased Dr. Yngve Hogalum, Phineas Magnetron, who assembles a crazy batch of scientists to go on a daring adventure.

Like A Skelton in the Family, this book is a fun, delightful read. The characters are insane in a good way and it’s not dark like some Steampunk novels tend to be. It knows what it is and Mackenzie shows he was inspired by late Victorian era science fiction.

I’m also impressed by how well Mackenzie accomplishes so much in fifty-three pages without sacrificing any elements. I loved the writing style and look forward to reading the next two novellas in the series.

 

So there you have it. My favorite reads of 2016. While these books are all over the place in terms of genre, they all share compelling characters and wonderfully individual stories I completely immersed myself in. They represent to me the kind of writing I wish to do in that they elicit a joyous response in the reader.

Book Reviews, Front Page

Scribbling Scrivener Reads: Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson

Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson is the first book in the Thieftaker Chronicles. It’s an alt history, fantasy story which takes place in 1765 Boston. The main character is Ethan Kaille, a thieftaker which means people hire him to track down stolen property and return it to them. He’s not the only thieftaker in town as he has a rival in Sephira Pryce. However, their paths rarely meet as her clients are the upper crust of Boston society. While Ethan operates within the law and tries to avoid harming the people he captures, he does have a secret weapon: He’s conjurer. This means he casts spells. Since the story is set 18th century colonial America, being a conjurer is akin to being a witch and so the threat of being hanged or burned as one is very real. Yet a surprising amount of people know about Ethan’s abilities even though he doesn’t go around advertising it.

The novel starts with Ethan tracking down a jewel thief. After recovering the jewels and warning the thief to leave Boston ASAP, the next morning Ethan’s approached by one of the wealthier citizens of Boston to recover a brooch stolen off his dead daughter’s body. But Ethan is puzzled why he’s contacted when Sephira Pryce usually handles the more exclusive members of Boston. His new client explains Ethan was recommended by Pryce because of his abilities and something is off about his daughter’s death. When Ethan conducts a couple of spells, he quickly realizes that whoever killed her is an incredibly powerful conjurer for he or she has been able to cleverly disguise not only the cause of death, but also the signature color each conjurer has. Ethan realizes recovering the stolen brooch is irrelevant and something to throw off who the real killer is.

Solving murders is not Ethan’s area of expertise so initially he’s at a lost at where to start. Matters are not helped as Pryce and her goons beat him up several times as a warning to stick with just recovering the brooch, but he doesn’t listen and soon the killer stalks and attacks Ethan. Everyone from the deceased woman’s betrothed to Pryce to several others, including a couple of members of the Sons of Liberty, try to pin the murder on a known rabble-rouser. But Ethan doesn’t believe it as none of the evidence supports the claim.

I loved this book. Not only for the historical aspect of it, but how seamlessly the fantasy elements work within the world. It’s natural, not over done, and when spells are cast it’s not over the top. I also love how Ethan is not a super powerful conjurer. He’s got skills for sure, but admits more than once he doesn’t know everything and seeks help in another conjurer, Janna as she specializes in a different kind of conjuring. This makes the final battle between Ethan and the real killer more exciting because he struggles, racking his brain for any little trick he can use to gain the upper hand. The way conjuring is used is pretty neat. Each spell caster has essentially a ghost or guide that appears. Ethan’s happens to be a grizzled, middle-age man he refers to as Uncle Reg as guide doesn’t talk. But what he doesn’t say, he makes up for in facial expressions, and comedic moments. The reader gets the impression Uncle Reg is a reluctant guide and doesn’t care much for Ethan but those changes throughout the book.

Another thing I enjoyed were the characters. The villains are well done especially Pryce as she’s almost throwback, good old-fashion villain with her thugs and who enjoys what she does. I look forward to seeing more of her and Ethan’s interactions in the series. I appreciate Ethan is a straight up, pure hero. While he may come from a privileged background, he’s done things in his life, criminal things, he has paid a hefty price for. It’s easy to feel sympathy for him and is the kind of character one wants to keep reading about. Also he has moral limits when it comes to conjuring, but is forced to push and cross those during the course of the book. Ethan is definitely not the brooding hero type that personally I’m getting a little tired of seeing. Another I also like about him is that while he does try to keep his abilities secret for a variety of reasons, word still gets out no matter how careful he is.

The supporting characters are also wonderful. From Ethan’s kinda best friend Diver to his girlfriend Kannice to his sister Bett to the minister-in-training Mr. Pell and everyone in between, it’s a cast I can’t wait to see more of. Relationships are complicated, but not needlessly so. And while life is certainly hard and times are difficult with riots protesting the Crown and the Sons of Liberty making a name for themselves, these people aren’t depressed which sometimes I see in books set during transitional time periods.

The world of Thieftaker is vivid and the reader can tell lots of research went into bringing pre-American Revolution war Boston to life. Again, everything in the book is just natural even when incorporating real life characters, such as Samuel Adams, into the narrative.

I honestly found little to complain about with this book. When pressed I guess I did notice some of the descriptions of when either Ethan or the real killer would use their power seemed repetitive. And sometimes I admittedly did get lost as to what exactly was going on and how people were able to do what they were doing. But that’s probably more on me as the reader rather than a defect of the writing.

Overall I give Thieftaker four pencils out of five and will definitely be picking up the next books in the series.