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In order to cleanse my palate for the upcoming release of Guy Gavriel Kay’s River of Stars (Tuesday!), I bring you yet another edition of The Books I’ve Read Lately. Not real reviews, mind you, just a few scattered impressions.

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
WOW! Yes, WOW! I loved this book so much. When I first heard of it, I assumed something along the lines of Something Wicked This Way Comes – dark and haunted and potentially creepy – but nothing could be further from the truth. The Night Circus is beautiful and magical, a place of pure enchantment – with a dark side, yes, but also with a love story at its heart that (if you’re at all like me) will sweep you away in a surfeit of literary happiness. I cannot recommend this book enough! Great story, great characters, great writing, all the way around.

Troubled Bones, by Jeri Westerson
I don’t typically read in the mystery genre – figuring out who-done-it just isn’t something that appeals to me on a regular basis. But this was lent to me by a friend who knows my interest in all-things-Medieval, and since this particular book is set in 14th Century Canterbury, she thought I might enjoy it. Which I did. Oh, it was no masterwork of literature, but it was entertaining enough, especially with Chaucer and the Wife of Bath making notable appearances, along with other characters from the famous Canterbury Tales.

Osama, by Lavie Tidhar
One of the things I like best about digital books is previews – I like being able to read a sizable chunk of a book in the comfort of my own home, without being self-conscious about mucking up a shelf copy at the bookstore. I can get a good sense of whether I’ll really like a book or not before investing any cash in it. So I save myself from books like this one, which I haven’t heard anything about, really, except that it was a World Fantasy Award winner, so I thought I’d give it a try. I can’t give it a fair review, because I only read part of it, but from the part I read, I’d have trouble defending any either the “fantasy” part of the “award winner” part. All I came away with was an impression of literary pretentiousness of the most yawn-worthy sort.

Redemption in Indigo, by Karen Lord
This book was another digital preview that I went ahead and paid for, and it was well worth the price. I haven’t crushed on a book character for a loooong time, but the Indigo Lord from this book sure caught my fancy! Not that he’s the only reason I thoroughly recommend this book. It’s a totally unique story and voice, with an African-inspired setting that sets it apart from most fantasy literature. I liked this one well enough that I quickly snapped up the next book by the author (which is Sci Fi) when I saw it on the shelf at the library.

The Human Division, by John Scalzi
There are only a couple episodes left of this online serial, and I’m still enjoying it. The most recent one I’ve read was a bit slow, I have to say – it was an interesting character piece that highlighted the backstory of one a secondary character, and entertaining enough in that sense, but I’m not sure it did enough for the main story to deserve a whole episode to itself. But the one where the dog got eaten by the plants was hilarious.

Wool, by Hugh Howey
This is the free version of a SF story that was published online in installments and has gotten a lot of attention and I think earned the author a book contract. I believe this is the first installment, which was available for free. It is terrifically depressing – survivors in a post-apocalyptic world are surviving in an enclosed underground silo, and criminals are sentenced to go outside and clean the cameras that give them a view of the world outside, only the air is so toxic that it’s a death sentence. While the writing is decent, I can’t say I was inspired to go pay for more.

The Uncertain Places, by Lisa Goldstein
Again, I only read the preview here. It reminded me a lot of Little, Big, but with a self-indulgent late 60s-early 70s afterglow. I may go back and read more of this – I’ve enjoyed other books by Goldstein – but I wasn’t captivated from the start.

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
I’ve managed not to read this book before, though I am a long-time fan of the movie (I haven’t seen the musical, though). I’m glad this book lived up to the movie – in fact they are pretty equal match in their storytelling grace and thematic depth. Though, if I have to be honest, it makes me want to go watch the movie again…

The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
This book is pretty much exactly what it’s billed as – Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia except with college students. It’s pretty much a wish-fulfillment story, for all us grownups who never got over the bitterness of never finding a magical land in the back of the wardrobe or getting a special delivery letter from Hogwarts on our 11th birthdays. It should be a lot of fun, really, but I think Grossman went to far when it came to making the books feel “grown up.” Pretty much, the main character, Quentin, is a dismal and and wretched person, never able to be happy with what he’s got, even when he’s living out all the magical fantasies he once dreamed of. One of the teachers in the book even makes a speech to the point – “You’re good magicians because you’re all unhappy.” It reminds me of the old “artist in the attic” myth, that great art only comes from suffering. Plus, Quentin and his friends are ALWAYS drunk. Apparently, Grossman has a very limited viewpoint on what makes an interesting adult. So while the writing was good and the story inventive (I actually liked the plot quite a bit), I’m hard put to say I enjoyed this book because the characters were pretty unlikeable. There’s a sequel out now, which I’ll probably pick up at some point… at the library.

Next on my reading pile: The Best of All Possible Worlds, by Karen Lord; The Siren Depths, by Margaret Wells; Wonders of the Invisible World, by Patrica McKillip; and of course, River of Stars, by Guy Gavriel Kay. Yes, a bevy of books by all my favorite authors – where to start? I know, I started off waxing anxious for the Kay, but now that it’s actually here I am afraid to start it. You only get that First Read once, you know? And when you’re done? A years’ long wait for the next new book by your favorite author…

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