Thursday, August 29, 2013

What we're reading: First novels

The Cadet of Tildor,
by Alex Lidell

Lady Renee de Winter is attending the elite Academy of Tildor, studying to become a Servant of the Crown. Specifically, Cadet de Winter is on probation, struggling with the Combat Arts Track as her fellow classmates leave her behind (which is to say, defeat her in every test of arms). Then the intimidating Korish Savoy is recalled from his command to teach the cadets, and Renee becomes his protégé--or his target, depending on how you look at it. But the bigger picture of Tildor's future overwhelms the smaller concerns of training, and Renee and friends are pulled into a desperate fight to keep the kingdom from falling to a war between rival outlaw factions.

This book reminded me very much of Tamora Pierce's Tortall books, with its fighters, mages, and politics, particularly the Beka Cooper series and the Protector of the Small series. But I didn't feel that Lidell's first book was derivative--just that it shared some similarities of world-building (as what fantasy does not?). I loved the way she developed the characters from start to finish. Although the book stands on its own, there was enough foreshadowing to make me hope there are further books about these people in our future!

Escape Theory,
by Margaux Froley

This is a murder mystery, masquerading as a boarding school book with coming of age elements...or is it the reverse? Yes, it's a murder mystery, but it meanders its way through subplots about drugs on campus and secret pregnancies and suspicious teachers and former founders of the school, all through the agency of one student counseling others after one of their classmates (whom she secretly loved) commits suicide. I suspect from the ending (and from the #1 on the cover) that there is a sequel (or maybe more) planned, which I'm not sure I would read. All of the subplots were in service of the main goal, and you eventually get to where you need to go, but the book was too choppy to sustain my interest.

It's not that it was dreadful; it wasn't even actively bad. The writing was okay, and I liked some of the characterizations quite a lot (especially Cleo), but they weren't enough to carry the book for me. My reaction was "meh." You know you will be disappointed when you get three-quarters of the way through the book and realize that your favorite character is the guy who committed suicide in the first five pages! Maybe the second book will be better...

Charming in parts, off-beat, strange...well, peculiar! And not entirely in a good way. While I adored the idea of incorporating these decidedly weird photos into the book and liked the premise (especially the stories the grandfather told), the follow-through was not great. It wasn't the writing, which was good--even beautiful, at times--it was the storytelling. It fell a bit flat for me. I also thought the book would be a lot creepier than it turned out to be, which wasn't very. The "science" (as in science fiction) had great big holes in it. Finally, I was hoping it would be a standalone, but apparently a sequel is intended, which meant that the ending was unsatisfactory as well! Not my cup of tea.

The Outside Boy,
by Jeanine Cummins

What a lovely book--poetic, beguiling, and different. It's a coming-of-age story, but within the little known subculture of the Irish Pavee--travellers, gypsies, tinkers, whatever name they are called by outsiders--circa 1950s rural Ireland. And within the picture of this culture is the intimate story of Christy, who is at the brink of many unexpected discoveries about his family's past and his own. I plan to suggest this for 10-12 book club sometime this year--a real charmer, poignant and inspirational but also a good tale.

(Editor's note: This book is in adult fiction but is recommended for teens.)

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