I haven't done one of these posts in a long time, mainly because I've been focusing on writing.
This doesn't mean I've quit reading! Just that thinking about reading has been occupying less of my attention.
Anyway! Here's what I've read lately (that I can remember):
Joe Ide, IQ; Righteous.
These are two books, the start of a series I suspect, about a kid named Isiah Quintabe. They're a revision (recreating) of the Sherlock Holmes series, except that IQ (as he is called in the hood) is from South Central L.A. and is of mixed black/Asian descent. His Watson is Dodson, a classmate and partner in crime (they start out as criminals, running heists together, heists planned by IQ).
Each book has both a main mystery that needs solving, as well as a mysterious backstory that plays out in the background. The writing is sharp, the dialect and dialogue spot-on, and the characterization excellent.
Sarah Rees Brennan, In Other Lands, The Demon's Lexicon (Trilogy)
These are YA fantasy books, with mostly the characterization and the writing going for them, although In Other Lands, the book by Brennan which I read first also has something to say.
In Other Lands has already become one of my top ten favorite book, by the way. The Demon's Lexicon trilogy is also readable, but nowhere as strong as the stand-alone novel.
In Other Lands seems like a Harry Potter knock-off at first glance. Elliot is selected (well, sold) from his British school because he alone of his classmates can see the wall separating our Earth from the "other land," which is where magic and magicians, mermaids, harpies, elves, and the "Sunborn."
This Tor review describes Elliot as "a redheaded bisexual boy with a fantastically bad attitude and sharp tongue," and that is accurate. At first I was only reading out of delight in Elliot's character. And Elliot is delightful. He's both smart and a smart-ass, a bundle of neuroses who can't seem to keep from infuriating everyone around him (why he's like this becomes clear as the book progresses).
But Brennan has a plot as well. This is a world at war, and a world which glorifies war. Elliot is a pacifist, who finds the waste and destruction of war horrifying. We watch him grow into a diplomat who channels his furious intelligence into writing treaties and brokering peace between the various parties on in this Other Land. This, for me, was the best part of the book.
Though other parts are also great! This book also has wonderful characterization, and there are plot twists that will break your heart.
Published by Small Beer Press, who published another of my favorite books, Perfect Circle.
Andy Weir, Artemis
Andy Weir wrote the famously famous The Martian, later made into a movie. This is his second book, and it suffers from the same faults as The Martian. That book had a great premise and some very cool ideas, and then lost energy in its last quarter, so that we were skimming through obvious attempts by Weir to ramp up the action and delay the conclusion.
This one too. Set in a small company town on the moon, named Artemis, this is the story of a plucky and very bright woman who in her struggle to make a fortune (for reasons that become clear late in the book) is running a smuggling operation. She also takes on odd jobs, and one of these lands her in deep trouble. The plot deals with how she gets out of trouble, basically.
The problem here, as with Weir's first book, is both pacing and characterization. His characters are flat; the problems with pacing I mentioned above. And while I enjoyed the economist, the rest of the book is bland. Weir has nothing much to say, and substitutes wisecracks for actual depth.
While, like The Martian, this was readable, it's not one I'd read twice.
Katherine Arden, The Bear and the Nightingale
Fantasy mixed with Tolstoy, this is the story of the family of a Russian boyar, related to the local king, whose daughter (and daughter-in-law) have the ability to see mythical (magic) creatures.
Partly I like this book because of all the snow. I am a sucker for stories with lots of snow in them.
It's also a story of an extended family, in which (almost) all the characters are well-developed and well done. The "main character," in the sense that she is the focus of much of the plot, is Vasya, the youngest daughter of the boyar's first wife. She's the one who can see magical creatures. But there is also her grandmother, and her second-eldest brother, and the stepmother, and a Russian priest -- all intriguing characters.
The ending is weaker than the rest, but still a good read.
This one reminds me a bit of Neil Gaiman's American Gods, but on the whole I like the writing and the story here much better.
I've also been re-reading a lot (when most of my intellect is focused on writing, re-reading is so much easier): David Lodge, Nice Work; Eleanor Arnason, Ring of Swords; Le Guin, Birthday of the World; and straight through every work written by John Barnes, or at least the ones I own or the library has.