Hey folks, for something a little different, here’s what I’ve been reading this year and my thoughts on each. These were all read on my Kindle e-reader and were procured for no more than $3; most were free.
Bound by Sally Cabot Gunning
Summary: A young girl is sold into servitude by her father as they arrive in the United States, and over the months and years to come she endures hardship and scandal on the path to becoming whole once more.
Thoughts: The pre-revolution America setting is always one of my favorite time periods to read in Historical Fiction, and there’s no shortage of immersion. It was easy to slip back into the era thanks to the author’s talented descriptions of old New England, and while it is somewhat difficult for me to channel female protagonists (depends on the author), I had no issue following and channeling Alice throughout her saga. Another author I highly recommend who is great at this is Erika Mailman. Her book The Witch’s Trinity similarly set me in the life of a female lead with ease.
There are a few parts that are hard to get through, one graphic scene in particular that stands out, and while Alice’s life is a series of miseries, the end makes up for it in a way that isn’t stupid or patronizing. Well worth a read. This was book #2 in the Satucket series; I’ll need to read 1 and 3 soon (they’re each disparate plots and characters set in the same period, so out of order is no problemo).
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Summary: A somber, nearly faceless protagonist is led by a down-on-his-luck Odin through a saga of bizarre events that ripple through the mythic undercurrent of humanity’s beliefs, echoing, mending, and destroying the boundaries between reality and folklore.
Thoughts: I love Neil Gaiman, especially for the Sandman comic series, and a lot of this book feels very Sandman in the best ways. Gaiman’s got this unique way of making his worlds rich, dreamlike, and his characters often somber and conflicted in fascinating ways. It’s like Tim Burton if Tim Burton didn’t run out of ideas in the 80’s. The TV version looked really, really uninteresting (despite the always great Ian McShane), and the further books don’t seem appealing. Great standalone book, though.
The Tethering Trilogy by Megan O’Russell
Summary: Stop me if you’ve heard this before – An adolescent orphan realizes he has special powers, is taken to a school where he can develop said powers, and must use these to save the world from the bad man and his team of bad magic-users.
Thoughts: As I read the first book, I became intensely aware that this trilogy was an angsty Harry Potter ripoff. I reluctantly read the second book, then the third, and in the end it was, well, basically an angsty Harry Potter ripoff. The characters are terribly uninteresting, the premise unoriginal, and the plot arcs induce many an eye roll. Skip it. I read all of them so you don’t have to.
The Benjamin Ashwood Series by AC Cobble
Summary: A young ale brewer in a remote village is called to adventure with a ragtag band of mysterious travelers, finding out along the way that within him lies great untapped power, etc. etc. You’ve read books like it before, and that’s fine.
Thoughts: The author wholeheartedly admits that this is the standard trope of the Hero’s Journey, and thankfully Cobble navigates the shortcomings of that familiar plot by making all of his characters terribly interesting and full of life. Their pasts seem worth investigating, the world they inhabit is vibrant, and their quests don’t feel stupid. If you’re into Fantasy that doesn’t get too up its own ass, ala The Kingkiller Chronicle, you could do infinitely worse than AC Cobble’s stuff. I’ve started The King’s Ranger series of his as well and it’s not bad either.
All Things Left Wild by James Wade
Summary: A pair of brothers turn outlaw, murdering a child in a horse robbery. The child’s father sets out to find them, entirely against his nature, and the journey to their inevitable collision transforms all parties.
Thoughts: If you’re into grit western fiction, this is outstanding stuff. Wade definitely knows how to channel the Blood Meridian vibe without going full Cormac McCarthy, and the story he weaves is enchanting, somber, and ruthless. The interesting twist of having one character’s perspective done in the first person and the other in the third took a bit to get used to, but I found it actually helped me switch “modes” when moving from chapter to chapter. Well worth the read. I intend to read Wade’s newest book River, Sing Out soon.
The Chronicles of Aveline (books 1+2 of The Lady Crusader series) by Ken Fry
Summary: A family is torn apart by a corrupt medley of church officials in the time of the third crusade, and the eldest daughter vows to whoop some ass, discovering in herself a great warrior and knight.
Thoughts: I had hoped to finish this series, but book 2 just kinda…I dunno. The characters aren’t exactly well fleshed out and the action doesn’t bring a satisfying balance with character development. It did get me in the mood to watch the Kingdom of Heaven director’s cut, however, which is never a bad thing. I like the idea of a badass female protagonist stepping boldly into a typically male action role, and maybe the third book will answer that bell, but I’m taking a break from this particular just-okay saga.
Viking (Viking Ventures #1) by Tony Bakkejord
Summary: An outcast viking and his thrall make an unlikely bond as they attempt to survive the bloodthirsty and battle-craving vikings that dominate their daily lives.
Thoughts: I feel mean saying this, but don’t bother. This isn’t a long book, but it took me a couple weeks to slog through. I’m usually all for slow burns, but there’s a difference between a slow burn and a meandering nothingquest. Unsatisfying cliffhanger ending with characters who don’t have that much at stake among a group of very unlikeable people. Pass.
The Great Train Robbery by Michael Chrichton
Summary: Adapted from a real event, a team of expert conmen, theives, and otherwise shady types swirl their craft in the employ of a mysterious orchestrator in preparation for a train heist that rocked 19th century Britain.
Thoughts: I’m cheating here, as I’m only 70% of the way through this one so far, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it. It’s like Gangs of New York meets Ocean’s Eleven. There’s so much old-timey slang that requires explanation, but I love that kind of stuff. There is a movie adaptation that Chrichton directed with Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland back in the 70s, but it looks like a comedy, so I may or may not explore that once I’m done.
I procured all of these books from BookBub, Freebooksy, r/FreeEBooks, and ogres-crypt.com, so if you’re on the hunt for some free/cheap reads, there you have it.