Ellen's Choice: Reading Challenge Digest - Books 11 through 15

For this week's Ellen's Choice, it's time to run down another month of Reading Challenge books!  Once again, it's a long one, so skim through for the titles in bold if you just want to see what I've read.

Book 11: “Red Seas Under Red Skies” by Scott Lynch
“a book with a color in the title”

Wow - Locke Lamora is at it again! Consider me officially hooked on this series now - yet another winner of a fantasy-action-con novel from Scott Lynch. In this one, Locke gets roped into being a real-life pirate - not by choice, unfortunately. Some great characterization and world-building ensues, with badass female pirates running a tight ship and standing toe-to-toe against much greater foes. Reading as Locke and Jean went full pirate-cliche for a con was incredibly entertaining, particularly since it's contrasted with the nowhere-near-cliche depictions of the actual pirates they're working with. I also really enjoyed getting to see more of the mysterious world where they live, with exotic ports of call and frightening sea monsters.

Oh, and those mages Locke pissed off in the first one? Yeah, they're still pissed off - possessing shopkeepers and little children to do the creepy horror-movie prophecy bit and let our heroes know they're still being watched. Over and over, Locke displays his uncanny knack for getting in over his head and forced to undergo greater and greater cons, and once again manages to complete them all fairly decently without dropping any of his story threads.

I almost switched the line item for this one to "a book that made you cry," since I was bawling for several pages near the end, but I just couldn't pass up the colors in the title. Rest assured, though, that the next book in the series will make every effort to jump into my challenge list somehow!

Book 12: “Kinslayer,” by Jay Kristoff
“a book with a one-word title”

"Kinslayer," by Jay Kristoff, is the second book in the Lotus War series. Kristoff's fascinating dystopian steampunk Japanese world is as striking as ever, and only gets more and more intriguing as more is revealed. There are some significant changes in the storytelling format of this book that kept me thoroughly engrossed right up to the end. Whereas the first book, "Stormdancer," followed Yukiko almost exclusively, this book tells the story of the chaos following the events of the first book from multiple people's perspectives, effectively telling somewhere between four and six stories at once (depending on how you define the stories). The narrative shifts back and forth between the main characters, telling one or two chapters from each at a time, and quickly traveling back to cover the rest of the characters' actions during that time. Several of the newly-introduced characters get flashbacks as well, vignettes told in italics that show us glimpses into their histories and motivations. The whole thing culminates in a climactic ending scene where all these disparate stories are woven together in a desperate battle that begins the 'Lotus War' proper.

Friendships are forged, betrayed, broken, and tested in this book. Traitors abound, and Kristoff pulled several gut-punch plot twists out of his hat with a flourish near the end in a way that caused me to look up from the book, stunned, in several places. I am certainly primed for the final installment!

Also: creepy zombie cultists who flay off their own skin and tattoo ancient texts on it. That is all.

Book 13: “The Long Earth,” by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
“a book by an author you love that you haven't read yet”

I absolutely love Terry Pratchett's work, and was heartbroken when he passed recently. Our BYOBook club made this month a Terry Pratchett Tribute Month, so I decided to read this book that my hubby got me last year. "The Long Earth" is a collaboration between Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, and apparently the first in yet another sci-fi series, this one with four books to its name. (My most recent Literature Spotlight is about this particular book; you can check it out here.)

I was struck by the sensation I got of Pratchett's style being 'tempered' by the collaboration with Baxter. There are glimpses of the quirkiness, light-hearted attitude and imagination that I associate with Pratchett, but the story itself has much more meat, more texture, more...depth, perhaps? This is a book that raises big questions and makes you think. It was an interesting experience to read what seemed to me to be what would happen if Pratchett wanted to write a 'serious' book. It's not exactly serious, since there are definitely light moments, but there are no punch lines, no jokes or bad puns, just a subtle sense of whimsy. It's more like catching the twinkling eye of a man who gives you a wry smile and a wink, rather than a wizard in bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirt bouncing through on a pogo stick and yodeling. (That analogy was for you, Terry.)

I highly recommend this one, especially if you find Discworld a bit too crazy for your taste.

Book 14: “Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal,” by Christopher Moore
“a book your mom loves”

I definitely enjoyed "Lamb." I really enjoyed Moore's choices about what Jesus (called Joshua in the book) was doing during those thirty years of childhood that the bible never mentions. In this telling, Josh and his childhood friend Biff (Levi who is called Biff, actually) go on a quest to find the three wise men who attended Joshua's birth, to ask them to teach him how to be the Messiah. In the process Josh learns Confucianism, Buddhism and Yoga, and Biff learns Feng Shui, Kung Fu and the Kama Sutra.

Overall I found Christopher Moore's writing style very readable - this was another quick one to finish. I was surprised near the end, when the more familiar events begin to happen, at how distant the character of Joshua suddenly became. It seemed as if Biff was suddenly watching impotently through a pane of glass as the prophecy of Joshua's birth was carried through, unable to be heard or to have any impact on the events. Contrasted with Biff's role as protector and streetwise companion during their thirty-year journey, it was a gut punch of emotion I wasn't expecting.

I'd say Lamb is definitely worth a read, especially if you have a sense of humor about the subject matter.

Book 15: “Damned,” by Chuck Palahniuk
“a funny book”

"Damned" tells the story of thirteen-year-old Madison Spencer, who dies tragically and is sent to Hell. That's where the book starts, with her already dead. She goes on to have adventures with a group of misfit damned souls reminiscent of The Breakfast Club - and to be honest, that's all I really want to say about the plot. It just gets better and better as the book goes on, and I really don't want to spoil anything since my descriptions wouldn't hold a candle to the ones in the book. Just read it for yourself - it's short and easy to digest. And yes, it's very funny, in a slightly deranged sort of way.

I did enjoy how each of the short chapters begins with a miniature 'diary entry,' beginning with some variation on the phrase "Are you there, Satan? It's me, Madison." And once again I find Palahniuk's use of second person intriguing. (If you remember, I was first introduced to Palahniuk's work through a short story in the anthology I read a few months ago that was told entirely in second person.) The book is told from Maddy's perspective, but she's very much telling it directly to Satan, so she refers to him as "you" for most of the book.

It strikes me as particularly comic that I read this one immediately following Lamb - from one side of religious lore to the other, eh?

Stay tuned for more updates in the coming months - I've officially passed the halfway point in the challenge already and I'm on book #26, so there's lots more to come!
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