What Janine is Reading, Late Summer/Early Fall 2011

What Janine is Reading, Late Summer/Early Fall 2011

In addition to the books I read for review, I’ve been doing some reading with my husband. Because he is not a romance fan, and I am not a fan of science fiction (his genre of choice), we have to meet in the middle. For the most part that has turned out to be young adult fantasy. Here are some of the books we’ve read together:

This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer

This is the third book in Pfeffer’s series about how people’s lives are changed when an asteroid knocks the moon’s orbit closer to Earth. This World We Live In continues the story of Miranda, the protagonist in the first book (Life as We Knew It). My husband and I were both disappointed that she seemed to have lost the maturity she had acquired by the end of the first book.

About a quarter or so into the book the protagonist of book 2 (The Dead and the Gone), Alex, showed up with his sister Julie. My interest sharpened at this point both because I like Alex much better than Miranda and Julie was my favorite character in the series, as well as because Alex and Miranda’s budding romance engaged my attention.

From that point on the book got quite good, and it was heading for a B+ grade when the story took a nosedive toward the end. I expect some realism and even bleakness from this series, but this ending was overkill. My other half thought the big event near the end unfolded in an unconvincing fashion, and hated that we were left hanging as to most of the characters’ fate. A side character seemed utterly superfluous to both of us as a result, too. So much about this ending was pointless that I can’t grade the book any higher than a C/C+.

Interestingly, when Jia reviewed Pfeffer’s series here, her preference among the books differed from mine. Whereas the second book was Jia’s least favorite, it was by far my favorite because it felt more believable to me than the other two, and because I had so much more empathy for those characters. I’m not sure I will be reading more of Pfeffer after the ending of book 3.

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Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief Series

I’ve reviewed all four of the books in this series in the past, but after seeing Turner on the YA panel at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, my husband and I decided to read the series together. It was the first reading for him and a reread for me. Although I had reread parts of some of the books before, it was only my second time reading the series in its entirety.

In my original review of The Thief, I felt that the first half was slow and the book aimed at a younger audience than me. I still feel that way, but it was fun to read the book knowing Gen’s secret from the beginning. My husband enjoyed The Thief very much on the level of the adventure story that it is when you haven’t yet read the later books and don’t know what’s coming.

The latter three books are targeted at older readers and full of intrigue. The King of Attolia, book three, is still my favorite because I find it so romantic and I really enjoy seeing Gen through the POV of Costis, his guard. There is something so satisfying to me about seeing Costis’ opinion of Gen evolve without his even realizing it for the longest time. Also, the intrigue is at its most intense and complex here, and watching the pieces of the puzzle fall into place is wonderful. This book is a rare perfect A for me now.

Having said that, book two (The Queen of Attolia) is probably the most girly, and I can see why so many romance readers count it as their favorite. The last third of that book is deeply romantic. The middle does drag a tiny bit, but less so for me on rereading than on the first read through when I didn’t know where that book was heading.

So on the whole, I’d say the first three books all rose in my estimation, which was pretty high to begin with. As for book four, A Conspiracy of Kings, perhaps because I had read it more recently, or because Sophos doesn’t have as many layers as Gen, my enjoyment of it was close to the same as before. My husband and I both felt that Sophos’ characterization in this book wasn’t entirely consistent with the shy, sweet, stammering Sophos we had met in The Thief, but we still enjoyed the book very much.

After reading all four books, my husband is as much of a Turner fan as I am. I’d probably give the series overall an A- grade.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

We selected this book because it’s both romantic and science fictional. My husband loved it, which surprised me, because there is quite a bit of focus on the romantic relationship. As for me, well, I had read it at least three or four times before so that should tell you something. I love Niffenegger’s prose, the main characters and the darkness and complexity of their relationship.

I also love the nonlinear structure which is just about perfect for the story since the romantic relationship itself develops in a nonlinear fashion. Henry first meets Clare when she is twenty and he is twenty-eight, but Clare first meets Henry when she is six and he is in his thirties. When Henry stays put in his own time, their age difference is always eight years, but when he is time traveling (something he cannot help) the age difference between them becomes protean.

I thought a lot about the issue of reader consent as I read The Time Traveler’s Wife this time, about how Niffenegger manages to pull this realtionship off to me without that much of a squick factor. Part of it is that when we first see them interact, Clare is an adult and the pursuer. Part of it is that Henry has no control over where and when he travels to. Another part is that so much serves to separate them that it is hard not to want their happiness almost as badly as they do.

Toward the end of the book, Henry compares their love to a net under a high wire walker. Between the strangeness of the relationship and the complexity of the timeline, the book itself is a kind of high wire act. Still, this time around, I wasn’t as emotionally caught up in the story as I’ve often been in the past. I was more conscious of some of its flaws, like the way I couldn’t understand Clare’s friendship with her old roommate Charisse, or Charisse herself. Typically this book wrings tears by the bucket load out of me; this time I was just a little damp-eyed.

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What about you guys? What did you think of these books, if you have read them? And have you ever tried to read with a partner? If so, do you find your tastes in books similar or dissimilar?