The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Suspenseful and quickly moving, this YA sf adventure depicts a world (well, a North America) in which the gap between rich and poor has become an abyss, where much of the society lives with a shortage of food, and where, presumably both to appease the masses and keep population down, a lottery chooses young people every ... year? month? (I'm not sure it was made clear) ... to participate in a kind of Survivor reality show in which the contestants are really killed. I enjoyed it, within its limits, among which was the all-too common complaint these days of cardboard, limited characters (heroine - beautiful and resourceful; hero - handsome, with hidden motives). I felt that the society was not well developed; it seemed to be based on a concept like "oh, what if Survivor was real" rather than any fully thought-ought notion of how the society worked. There's a big government, with apparent access to wealth, and then a bunch of small provinces or states from which the contestants of the games are chosen, and that's about it. Perhaps more will be revealed in the (inevitable) 2nd and 3rd books of the (inevitable) trilogy, but I'm not sure I was engaged enough to bother reading any more.
Fire, Kristin Cashore
I was a little bit less than whelmed by Graceling, but loved this prequel so much that I wonder if I perhaps read the former with less attention than it deserved and am glad that I bought it and did not donate it to the Times-Colonist Book Sale so I have a chance to reread. Fire was one of those magical reads where I was completely captivated while reading, laughed, cried, thought about afterwards, and didn't want to stop. It reminded me of the best Robin McKinley's - I think because of the haunted, damaged, imperfect heroine - but without McKinley's sometimes rather garrulous style. Here we have characters who are not just defined by their physical attributes and by one or two limited characteristics. Indeed, much of the underlying message here lies in how complicated people, ethics, motives can be.
A Conspiracy of Kings, Megan Whelan Turner
Perhaps because I had heard that some of my blogging and reading friends were a little disappointed with this, I read it with fewer expectations and consequently was delighted with it.
Yes, I know, it's not about Eugenides. In fact, Gen is very much a secondary character here, and we miss him. But I liked Sophos, possibly because he is less extraordinary than Gen, and I think we see more into his heart than we were ever permitted to do with Gen because of Turner's very clever narrative strategies in the earlier books. I want to reread the whole series now and reacquaint myself with this group of attractive and interesting characters.
Once you get past any disappointment you might have that this isn't about Eugenides, you find an engaging and believable hero, a suspenseful plot, and, as always, impeccable writing. It was a pleasure to read.
The Uncommon Reader, Alan Bennett
A very slight, charming novel, in which the titular "Reader" is the Queen of England who starts borrowing books from the mobile lending library. There was a certain disingenuousness about this, and I couldn't help feeling that Bennett was being a bit patronizing towards the Queen, who I'm sure reads a lot more than would be implied here.
Darkwood, M.E. Bream
A quite intriguing fantasy, reminding me a bit of Joan Aiken, particularly Midnight is a Place, although not quite as good.
Lips Touch, Three Times Laini Taylor
I'm very glad that I read in someone's review not to be put off by the cover, because I think I would have been. Rather lurid cover aside, the contents are three lovely stories, linked by the idea of a kiss, and of course by love. All have slightly familiar fantasy elements - the first is a riff on "Goblin Market," the second has a faintly Arabian Nights flavour to it, the third is more-or-less a vampire story - but all have a wonderful strangeness and mystery. The writing is gorgeous - poetic without being florid. Highly recommended.
American Gods, Neil Gaiman
I picked this up again for the "one book, one Twitter" challenge and am very glad I did. I had bounced off it badly some years ago, but this time got past the "bounce" point and realized that I think this is probably the best novel of Gaiman's that I've read; for once, it lived up to the hype (though to be fair, at the time this was published Gaiman was nowhere near the huge celebrity that he is now)