Posts Tagged ‘library book sale finds’

Library Book Sale Finds: The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman

Is it just me or does it feel like September is going super fast?

This is another out of last November or December’s library book sale, all of which were hard cover and within a few years of publication. I’ve been having trouble figuring out why the library would withdraw and sell practically new books (this one came out in April and was being sold about six months later) but I have a theory.

Said theory is that libraries probably buy a bunch of copies of new books that they predict will be popular. This allows them to get through the release rush. Then, when the stream dies off, they keep a smaller amount for long-term use and sell off the extras.

Best I’ve got. Any librarians out there know?

Title: The Devouring Gray
Author: Christine Lynn Herman
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publication Year: 2019

Pros: Intriguing plot, great characters
Cons: Middle is a little boggy

I actually really enjoyed this one (though I can hear my spouse mocking me for reading YA fantasy again). It was one of those books where I’d sit down, intending to read for 15 or 20 minutes, and still find myself going an hour later. The plot really pulls you along, but not in a way that I found anxiety-inducing.

I believe this is the first book in a duology. At least Goodreads leads me to believe the second book, The Deck of Omens, is the conclusion. The story takes place in Four Paths, New York, and follows four teenagers, each a member of the town’s four founding families. But Four Paths is not a normal town, and the founding families are not normal, either–each has a special talent, used to protect the town from the Gray and the Beast within.

Each of the four main characters is different and complex, not quite the protagonists you would expect. Only three of them have viewpoints in this book (I guess the fourth has one in the epilogue) but I enjoyed all of them. And I enjoyed learning more about the secrets of Four Paths and the Gray.

My one complaint, minor really, is that the middle is slightly bogged down by characters going over what feels like the same ground a few times. But it’s minor, and the story picks up again with new information pretty quickly after that.

So, hey, if you missed this one and you like YA contemporary fantasy, I’d give it a look.

(But, seriously, where has September gone?)

Library Book Sale Finds: The Sword of the Spirits by John Christopher

Hey, hey, sneaking in under the wire, two months in a row!

This book had a lot of telling right at the beginning, and it took me about halfway through before I realized I was reading the last book of a trilogy.

Title: The Sword of the Spirits
Author: John Christopher
Genre: Science Fantasy
Publication Year: 1972

Pros: Impressive wordsmithing
Cons: A lot of telling, unlikable main character

Wikipedia tells me that this is the last book of a young adult trilogy. I would not have considered it young adult before that, but apparently the main character is considerably younger in the first two books.

The beginning, as I said above, has a lot of telling–recounting what the main character had done at what must have been the end of the second book, explaining how the world works, etc.–but it was very pretty telling. I’m always a little annoyed when I read a book and the telling is pretty and interesting. I think I’m just annoyed that someone had broken the cardinal rule of writing and done it in a way I can’t even be grumpy about.

(Eye of the Dragon by Stephen King is like that too.)

This series takes place in a post-apocalyptic United Kingdom (mostly England) where things have reverted to a medieval level of technology and the people live in individual city states. (I’m not clear what exactly happened…something with some sort of radiation, I suppose, since there are classes of humans called dwarves and polymufs which have various physical differences from “true” men. Also some sort of overall cooling of the planet.)

Do you remember when we read the Finnbranch trilogy? This felt like that, and is of about the same era of fantasy. It’s not true fantasy, of course, because it’s Earth in the future, but most of its tropes and elements come from fantasy rather than science fiction.

Our main character is Luke Perry (which is a thoroughly modern name and for some reason very distracting to me), Prince of the city-state of Winchester. He’s apparently prophecized by the Seers (basically scientists pretending to be holy men since machines are considered to have been the reason everything fell apart in the past) to be the one that will unite all the city-states again.

And he’s a pompous idiot.

There, I said it.

Luke is very headstrong and doesn’t take advice well, and he doesn’t take well to people challenging his decisions. Everything that goes wrong–and things go horribly wrong–is his own fault. I guess that’s kind of the author’s trademark, writing flawed protagonists. But it does make it hard to root for him.

And I won’t spoil the end, but I felt like it was unfulfilling, that everything Luke had worked for throughout the book was worthless in the long run. Also, it was depressing, and not in a way that was satisfying. Almost like the story was bored of itself and wanted to be done.

Now, it’s possible that if I had read the whole trilogy it would have been better, but maybe not. I’ve read enough 70s trilogies followed “chosen ones” of whatever ilk, and I’m kind of bored of the whole thing, since they’re almost always depressing and make you wonder why you bothered.

Would I recommend this? No. But the book does have a 3.8 on Goodreads, which is decent, so your mileage may vary.

Read any less depressing fantasy trilogies from the ’70s? Have any book recommendations in general?

Library Book Sale Finds: The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick

Ha! Here’s July’s book done, only a few days late.

This one is from my most recent book sale, back in November or December where I got a whole bag of books for $6. Admittedly there was not much on sale, so I think it ended up being $1 per book, but they were all hardcovers and fairly recent books.

We’ve already done one book from this sale–no, two, the blah mystery and the newer Mary Downing Hahn–so, hey, maybe I’ll actually get through all the books within a year of buying them. That would be the first time ever.

I am a sucker for books with book-related things in the title. Library of this or that, Book of something, etc. I don’t read a lot of contemporary books but I have this year, probably because they’re low stakes and feel-good, and this year sucks.

Title: The Library of Lost and Found
Author: Phaedra Patrick
Genre: Contemporary/general literature
Publication Year: 2019

Pros: Feel good-y
Cons: Predictable, some really awful characters

Also the cover copy made me believe there would be a mystery element to the story, and if there was meant to be, well, I figured it out REALLY EARLY and then that whole thing was lost.

The Library of Lost and Found follows Martha Storm, community do-gooder and library volunteer. Martha is a hard viewpoint character at the beginning of the book, because she’s such a pushover, ready to do anything to help someone out, and everyone else in her small town has figured this out and exploited it.

The book is told mostly in Martha’s point of view, though there are occasional chapters from her mother’s point of view in the past. These chapters always include a story Martha wrote as a child, which are nice and a key point in the book.

One night, after Martha has pushed all her stuff to the library from her house only to find the event she was hosting has been cancelled, she discovers someone has left a package for her on the library steps. (Also, I am not entirely clear on whether or not Martha works at the library in some capacity or just volunteers, and apparently none of the other reviewers on Goodreads are either. I’m pretty sure she just volunteers, because she talks about her parents leaving her some money and she keeps applying for jobs at said library. Which really makes the whole thing worse, with the being taken advantage of.)

The package ends up being a book of her stories from childhood, with a dedication to her from her grandmother, who died three years before said dedication. Or so she’d thought.

There’s not a lot of heavy lifting here. Family secrets are predictable. But it was easy and quick to read, and I mostly enjoyed the experience. And it is fun to watch Martha’s transformation.

If you need something feel-good to read and don’t mind not seeing anything new, I’d recommend this one.

Hope your August has started well, squiders. See you Thursday!

Library Book Sale Finds: The Door into Fire by Diane Duane

Finally! I’ve been reading this book for two months. There’s not even any reason why it’s taken so long except I can’t focus at all right now and so am in the middle of four books (and have six more out from the library like an idiot). Is that one of the stages for dealing with trauma? Inability to focus? It’s driving me mad.

I have high respect for Diane Duane. I found her, I suspect, like a lot of people do: from her Star Trek novels. Two in particular were very influential on me: My Enemy, My Ally; and The Romulan Way. Because of those books, the Romulans are my favorite Trek species to this day, and, when I did Star Trek roleplaying as a teenager, I often played Romulans, either as my main characters, or when side characters were needed.

(You can see me geek out about Star Trek: Picard having them speak Rihannsu–the Romulan language Ms. Duane created–onscreen here.)

That being said, I’d never read any of her original work, just her Star Trek work, so when I came across her very first book at a library book sale, well, it was mine.

Title: The Door into Fire
Author: Diane Duane
Genre: Fantasy
Publication Year: 1979

Pros: Extensive mythology, Sunspark
Cons: Sometimes gets a bit infodumpy

I’m kind of in awe of this book, to be honest. I mean, it reads very much of its time, using conventions that you (unfortunately) can’t get away with in modern fantasy, but the amount of care that went into the worldbuilding, character arcs, and the setting is impressive no matter what.

This is the first book in her Middle Kingdoms series. There are three books and more shorter works; she has a whole website for it. The story takes place in a somewhat standard alternative Europe fantasy setting, and follows Hereweiss, the first man in a thousand years to possess a magic called the Flame, though he cannot access or use said magic.

(I will note that there is a complicated relationship system set up, and that this book features characters of various orientations without calling out any of them as strange or different. I know some people like to look for books that specifically feature non-cishet relationships, so here you are.)

Hereweiss’s quest to access his Flame has consumed him, but no matter what he tries, he seems to be getting no closer to an answer. However, he’s distracted from that because his loved, who is the exiled king of a neighboring country, has gotten into trouble and needs rescuing. (Apparently again.)

The story’s strength is very much in the depths of the world creation. This feels like a fully formed world, with mythology and history and the works. It doesn’t read all too differently in places than some of the other late 70s/early 80s fantasy we’ve discussed here on the blog that tends to be more real-mythology based.

Also, there is Sunspark, who is my favorite in every way. You’ll have to read the book to learn more about it.

So! I enjoyed this and would recommend it. I find first novels to be very interesting, especially from authors who had published a lot of books and have been publishing for a while. And Ms. Duane obviously has a talent for worldbuilding–probably why the Romulans spoke to me so much in those later books.

How are you, squiders? I am still behind on everything, but at least I am catching up.

Library Book Sale Finds: One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn

As we discussed last September when I was doing my foundational book series, Wait Till Helen Comes was a formulative book for me when I was a child, one that is still creepy to this day. So when I spied a much newer Mary Downing Hahn book at the last library book sale I went to, I definitely grabbed it.

Title: One for Sorrow
Author: Mary Downing Hahn
Genre: Children’s horror
Publication Year: 2017

Pros: Still creepy
Cons: Suffers from protagonist issues

One for Sorrow is oddly timely, since it takes place during the Spanish Flu in 1918/1919. It follows Annie Browne, who has moved to a new town and started at a new school. She’s almost immediately latched onto by another girl, Elsie Schneider, who is hateful and mean and keeps Annie away from the other girls so she can’t make other friends.

Elsie is eventually home sick for a week, allowing Annie to get away from her and make new friends. But when Elsie dies of the Spanish Flu, it gives her the opportunity to make sure Annie can never get away from her.

I had to put the book down for a few days in the middle because life was so awful for poor Annie (though she’s kind of a pushover and will go along with bullying) and I didn’t want to deal with. But, in general, this book was a fast read, with good imagery,

My biggest complaint is Annie, and the way Annie is treated by the plot. Annie doesn’t do anything to try and help herself, really. She doesn’t stand up for anything, either when Elsie is pushing her into things she doesn’t want to do or when her new friends are doing things she doesn’t agree with. And once the haunting begins, it doesn’t get any better.

And–SPOILER ALERT–Annie doesn’t even do anything to get rid of Elsie, in the end. A nice old lady who can see ghosts conveniently comes along, and shows Elsie the way to move on.

It reminded me of the House of Many Ways, which we read as part of a readalong of the Howl’s Moving Castle series (Howl’s here, Castle in the Air here). In it, the main character is a little girl by the name of Charmain, but she doesn’t really do anything. Grown-ups come in at the end and do most of the real work, and it felt the same here.

House of Many Ways was one of the last things Diana Wynne Jones wrote before she died, and Mary Downing Hahn has been writing children’s horror for around 40 years. It makes me wonder…do authors, as they get older, sometimes feel bad about the danger they put their child protagonists into? Does it make more sense to them, over time, to have someone older and wiser come in and save the child?

I’ll admit that’s a pretty big leap to take based off of two data points. I would need to make an actual study of it–read different children authors’ books over time, see if there’s a trend toward children becoming less proactive throughout the books. But it did strike me as an interesting coincidence.

What do you think, squiders? Have you noticed this trend, or am I seeing things that aren’t there? Read this book, or any other newer Mary Downing Hahn book?

Library Book Sale Finds: The Pandora Directive by Aaron Conners

Sometimes you find the weirdest things, amirite, squiders?

The Pandora Directive has a note that it’s a Tex Murphy novel, which meant nothing to me until, about halfway through, I happened to accidentally glance at the author bio at the end of the book.

But, anyway:

Title: The Pandora Directive
Author: Aaron Conners
Genre: Science fiction noir
Publication Year: 1995

Pros: Cool mash-up of traditional noir with some science fiction elements
Cons: A little too puzzle game-y near the end

On the surface, this is a fun scifi noir book (though I’m not sure if the main character, Tex Murphy, is from the 1940s and time traveled to the 2040s at some point, or if he just has a lot of nostalgia going on). It takes place in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco where people are out at night and sleep during the day to avoid the dangerous radiation levels.

But! It turns out that it’s the novelization of an adventure game. And The Pandora Directive is actually the fourth game in said adventure game series.

I love adventure games. I especially love ’90s-era adventure games (Monkey Island is my favorite series and, with the exception of the TellTales’ Tales of Monkey Island, I’ve played all the games multiple times. Tales is good too, I just keep getting distracted by life.), but somehow I missed this series completely.

I mean, I would have picked it up if I’d heard of it. Probably why I picked up the book. It’s noir, it’s scifi, there’s rumors of Roswell–what’s not to love?

According to Wikipedia, the Tex Murphy game series has had an interesting history. The first game is apparently a mashup of genres, though the other five games are fully in the adventure genre. And there was apparently a short film, and a radio show during the hiatus in game producing (there’s 16 years between the fifth and sixth games), two more game novelizations (of the 3rd and 5th games), and two non-novelization novels.

Huh.

As for the book itself, I really enjoyed it. It’s mostly noir, with just occasional trappings to remind you that you’re in the future and not the past. There’s the radiation thing so the characters are mostly active at night. Tex has a flying car, essentially. All the calls are video calls.

The Internet still works like the ’90s, which is when the book was written, but it makes me laugh. Always a danger when reading scifi written in the past. No one can predict everything right.

The characters are good, as is Tex’s voice. It hits the feeling of ’40s noir without including a lot of the more offensive bits. And in general the plot is good too. No real complaints, honestly, except that near the end, it starts to show its adventure game roots a little too much.

(If you’ve ever played an adventure game, you know they involve a lot of puzzle solving. And if you’ve never played an adventure game…they involve a lot of problem solving.)

There’s a lot of puzzle solving at the end. It felt like reading an adventure game. I don’t know if it would have bothered me as much as it did if I hadn’t known I was reading a novelization.

All in all, an enjoyable read. I’d recommend it if you like noir, Roswell mythology, the Tex Murphy games, or just need a fun read.

Have you read this, squiders? Played the games? Are they worth trying to hunt down?

Library Book Sale Finds: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

I’ve been meaning to read this one for a long time, squiders. It’s not my first Shirley Jackson book. I’ve previously read The Haunting of Hill House, but We Have Always Lived in the Castle is perhaps her most famous book. You can imagine my pleasure when I found a copy at a library book sale. Every October for the last few years I’ve said I’m going to read it, but I never quite make it around to it.

Except now I have! My copy is old, a paperback from 1963, which cost a whopping 60 cents at the time.

Title: We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Author: Shirley Jackson
Genre: Gothic horror
Publication Year: 1962

Pros: Just…a carefully wound mess where you can see the disaster coming and can do nothing to stop it
Cons: See above

I had a hard time picking a genre for this. Wikipedia has it listed as a mystery, which…no. Just no. It’s not a mystery. It has elements of horror and elements of Gothic novels, but it’s not quite those either.

In the book, we follow Mary Katherine Blackwood (or Merricat for short). She lives in a big, old house separated from the rest of the village with her sister Constance and her uncle Julian, both of whom never leave the property.

It’s hard to talk about the plot without major spoilers, so, uh, stop here if you haven’t read it, but it’s been out for 58 years and so I think we are perhaps past that at this point.

Mary Katherine, Constance, and Julian are the only remaining members of their once large and respected family. As the story goes on, we learn that the other members all died on a single night, when the sugar at the dinner table was poisoned. Constance was tried for the murder but ultimately acquitted. Mary Katherine was not present for the meal, having been sent to bed without dinner, and Julian ingested some of the poison (arsenic) but ultimately survived, though the incident left him physically frail and obsessively focused on the “Last Day.”

Mary Katherine is an interesting narrator. She has put elaborate rituals in place to keep her remaining family safe, including burying things around the property and keeping certain things in certain ways. It’s not clear if this is how she’s always been, or if it’s a reaction to the death of her family and the relative isolation she’s lived in since then. She does occasionally leave the family land to get food and books from the library, but the townspeople are cruel to her and she prefers not to interact with them if she doesn’t have to. Despite her odd way of looking at the world, she does seem to be an excellent judge of character and what’s actually going on.

The book culminates in the partial burning of their house and the hate of the townspeople, where they come in and destroy everything they can. Assured of the evilness of the outside, Mary Katherine and Constance barricade themselves inside the remaining portions of the house, and it’s implied they never leave the property again. The end is how urban legends are formed, with people leaving them food to assuage their own guilt and telling stories about the ladies that live in the house, and what they will do to people who upset them.

I will say that the twist about the poison was pretty obvious, in the end. I’m not sure it was meant to be a twist at all, though everything I’ve read about the book seems to treat it as such.

All in all, a fascinating and disturbing read. I can see why it’s endured.

Read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, squiders? Thoughts? Thoughts about Shirley Jackson in general, or Gothic horror (or whatever one would call this particular type of book)?