I just finished reading A Conspiracy of Kings, the fourth book in a terrific series by Megan Whalen Turner. The books are set in several small, fictional Mediterranean countries populated by kings, queens, temples, gods, spies, soldiers and conspirators. And thieves. Eugenides is the central character, a talented thief who is usually busy hiding his true intentions from everybody, including the reader. (He reminds me of another favorite character of mine, Francis Crawford of Lymond from the series by Dorothy Dunnett.) The first book, The Thief, was a Newbery Honor book, but it’s the second book, The Queen of Attolia, that’s my favorite. It’s the perfect mix of romance and adventure. Unfortunately, A Conspiracy of Kings, the fourth and latest, is a real disappointment. The first part of the book is very good, but then it becomes a slog through political strategy and diplomacy, referring a whole bunch of funny-sounding countries without a map included to sort them out. Frankly, I got bored and lost. Eugenides was there, briefly, in the middle, but he was cool and distant, so near and yet so far away. The focus was on a character not seen since The Thief, and he was interesting, but the book gave us too much strategy and not enough character interaction. It was also one of those books with wide margins and double spacing—a very short book with a full-length price tag, without even a map to help you find your way.
A friend insisted I read the new teen novel The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. My friend said it reminded her of the way Twilight made her feel, without the vampires. It was really enjoyable, for a book about grief and loss, because it’s also about first love and cute, perfect boys. The story is about a teenage girl whose older sister has died suddenly. Lennie leaves poems everywhere to express her grief, written on scraps of paper, bathroom walls, tree trunks, and library books. Her quirky family also finds odd but endearing ways to mourn. Then Lennie finds herself torn between two boys: the adorable new boy in town with the dazzling smile who brings the light back into her world, and her dead sister’s boyfriend who understands and shares her grief and darkness. It’s an interesting story, moving and sexy, even though the boys are too perfect to be entirely believable. Here’s my favorite sentence from the book: “The next morning, a showered and betoweled Gram is fixing breakfast ashes. Big is sweeping the rafters for dead moths to put under the pyramids, and I am trying not to make out with my spoon, when there’s a knock at the door.” (page 62)
I’ve been reading lots of books by John Connolly recently. The first one I read was his last one published, and I chanced upon it while looking through the new arrivals section of my library. It’s called The Gates, and it is really delightful. It’s about a boy and his dog in an English village who battle demons escaping from the gates of hell in a neighbor’s basement. I know that sounds horrific, but think Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Shaun of the Dead, and you’ll get a better idea of how much fun this book is. Hoping for more of the same, I went back to read Connolly’s earlier works. His first book, Every Dead Thing, couldn’t be more different from The Gates. I’m not saying it was a bad book, but I’m pretty sure it had the highest body count of any book I’ve ever read. Now, that’s not counting books where there’s a plague or a natural disaster or the Apocalypse. I’m talking page by page, person by person, methodical slaughter. After the first hundred pages, I decided to disengage from all the characters but the main fellow, since it wasn’t likely anybody else would survive the book. Will I read more Connolly? Sure, but with all the lights on and the door locked.