Saturday, April 22, 2017

2017 book 71

Robin Stevens' Jolly Foul Play
When you are in the middle of a couple of different books and just feeling meh about them, the only cure for your reading rut is an awesome middle grad historical British boarding school mystery! (My reading ruts have very specific cures.) The fourth Wells and Wong book is just as good as I remembered, as the Head Girl of their school is murdered--apparently by one of her prefects!--and everyone's secrets are starting to spill out. It's up to the Detective Society to solve the case and save the day--and the school! Yeah!!

Monday, April 17, 2017

2017 book 70

Becky Albertalli's The Upside of Unrequited
I really, really liked Albertalli's first book, so I was very much looking forward to her second, and it did not disappoint. It's one of those lovably chaotic and relatable and heartwarming-but-not-TOO-cheesy YA books, with a really cute and compelling narrative voice. It centers on a teen--the chubby one of a pair of twins, who always has a hopeless crush and never does anything about it--and what happens when her sister gets her first girlfriend. Lots of good diversity here too. Super nice fluffiness. A-.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

2017 book 69

Elizabeth Strout's Anything is Possible
Strout's latest is basically a sequel to My Name is Lucy Barton, in that it returns to Lucy's hometown and its various denizens, including the Bartons themselves. I think it's tackling some different themes--there is a large sense of kindness and family and love here, despite the fair share of small town secrets--but it's just as excellent as its predecessor. Just gorgeous writing and characterization--Strout is so good at taking these little pieces of a person's life and using them to show the whole. Great, great stuff. Totally the sort of book you can just get lost in. A.


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A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on April 25th.

Friday, April 14, 2017

2017 book 68

Robin Stevens' First Class Murder
Ah, finally, a text and a title left alone for the American audience! How can you improve upon perfection? Heh. Anyway, the third Wells and Wong book finds the pair investigating a spy--and a murder!--on the Orient Express--hampered by competing detectives and Hazel's disapproving father. These stories definitely hold up on a reread.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

2017 book 67

Robin Stevens' Poison is Not Polite
I was pleased to see that the second Wells and Wong mystery is less Americanized in the version that came out here (though the original title is better--Arsenic for Tea!). This is a classic English house party murder mystery--except that the house in question is Daisy Wells', and most of the suspects are related to her. Having read it before, I can say that the story totally holds together and is just as satisfying a second time.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

2017 book 66

Robin Stevens' Murder is Bad Manners
Despite having a bunch of library books checked out right now, I had a hankering to revisit the Wells and Wong series! I'm reading the American versions now, which besides having inferior titles, are also totally Americanized! Like, let American children figure out that cookies are called biscuits in England--it is totally inauthentic to change that for American audiences. And like can Americans not figure out what a bunbreak is from context? Does it really need to be explained? OK, petty griping aside, I love this series and this is a great introduction to the characters, their friendships, Hazel's issues as a person of color in a very white 1930s England boarding school, not to mention their mystery-solving skills. So delightful.

2017 book 65

Laini Taylor's Strange the Dreamer
Ah, new Laini Taylor, you made me feel so many feels. For the first few chapters, I was messaging a friend who had already read it like "This jerkface is such a JERKFACE!!!!!" "This is making me SAD, this poor lil librarian boy!!!" "Why aren't there any GIRLS?" Rest assured that eventually girls do appear, and they are interesting! And poor lil orphan librarian boy gets cool stuff to do too. Taylor is an accomplished world-builder and pulls in a lot of interesting mythology and lore and gods and ghosts and monsters here, to great effect, and her characters are all compelling, multi-faceted, and so on--I just wish her romances were less OVERWROUGHT. They are so melodramatic that it really pulls me out of the otherwise awesome story a bit. Like there are world-changing events going on, can you save your makeout sessions for later? I also had many feels about the end and am so angry I have to wait months and months to see what happens next. A-.

Monday, April 10, 2017

2017 book 64

E. Nesbit's The Lark
Today I made the exciting discovery that a) E. Nesbit wrote books for ADULTS, and b) this adult novel centers on a pair of plucky cousins! Plucky down-to-earth young ladies are my favorites! And these two are in something of a pickle: their guardian has gambled away their inheritances and has left them high and dry (with a house and 500 pounds) to make their way in the world. Which they do, with aplomb, and with a lot of sheer hilarity I had not entirely expected from Nesbit. Too delightful, and just what I needed. A.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

2017 book 63

Gail Honeyman's Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
When this book begins, you're going along like, oh, I see, Eleanor is one of those narrators who's a little offbeat, socially inept, maybe on the spectrum, but she'll learn just enough to have a cute romance or something, like in The Rosie Project. And then you realize Honeyman is sowing the seeds for a totally different kind of story--one that is a lot more heartbreaking and upsetting, but still a bit hopeful. I will just lay out a general content warning here, though the warned content is counterbalanced by some really nice examples of human kindness. Ah, this was really good, I think it is going to stick with me for a while. A/A-.


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A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on May 9th.

2017 book 62

Rachael Herron's The Songbird Sisters
Just throwing this out to the romance authors out there--maybe dooooooon't have your male love interest explain about consent to a character who has been sexually assaulted? I get that you want to be relevant/address "issues"/be educational, but that is kiiiiiiiiinda gross. Like mega mansplainy? Like I was not really into the characters in this book compared to its predecessors before that conversation, and that absolutely killed it for me? Jesus, you can't have a rich country singing dude "heal" a woman who feels damaged with the power of his words and his penis. Men are not going to rescue women and it is bizarre to read! Get a therapist, girl! Yoy. B-.

2017 book 61

Rachael Herron's The Songbird's Call
The second book in Herron's Darling Songbirds trilogy follows the same formula as the first in terms of story beats, but I found the characters in this one (the middle sister, the "chubby one," and the local sheriff) more compelling--like the first thing the couple does is rescue a kitten! I am here for this! Herron attempts to bring in real life issues like domestic violence to some good effect, which I appreciate. I am now off to read the third one, which I do hope varies slightly. B+.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

2017 book 60

Rachael Herron's The Darling Songbirds
The first book in Herron's trilogy about a trio of sisters who used to be famous country singers--and now are struggling in various ways--centers on oldest sister Adele, who makes her way to her father's hometown after her uncle's death, to deal with his various businesses--and to deal with the bartender who wants to buy his saloon. These two are mostly cute together, though Adele has some moments of incredible bitchery (she is very cruel about an alcoholic woman the reader knows is her love interest's mother) and slut-shamery (Adele is sexy in a classy way, not like all those OTHER women in their low-cut tops). Otherwise this is nice, light entertainment, and I am curious to read the followups. B/B+.

Monday, April 03, 2017

2017 book 59

Agatha Christie's The Body in the Library
A few months ago, I watched a bunch of the Miss Marple mysteries on Hulu, and this one was my favorite (primarily because it involved Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous constantly bragging about how awesome her friend Miss Marple was, but also because it was just a cleverly told mystery), so I was interested to see the source material (which does differ in some large respects). And it was just as good--really well-plotted and with a hilariously dry narrative voice. I love how all the important police dudes are like "But what does Miss Marple think???" the whole time. Old ladies getting stuff done. Totally my jam. A/A-.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

2017 book 58

Jacqueline Winspear's In This Grave Hour
In the latest Maisie Dobbs book, WWII has just been declared, and Maisie is asked to investigate the murder of a man who came to England as a Belgian refugee during WWI. There is also a whole thing with a little girl evacuated to her family's house, who doesn't speak. I like the characters in this series a lot, and like that Winspear is just as focused on them and their lives as on the mystery aspects, but the latter were a bit weak here for sure. And the writing is occasionally awkward--lots of awkward exposition, lengthy monologues, etc. Still, I am interested in these characters and their journeys, and certainly plan on reading the next one. B/B+.

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A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book is available now.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

2017 book 57

Benjamin Alire Sáenz's The Inexplicable Logic of My Life
I really liked Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, but the author's latest didn't really hit those high notes for me. It's about a teenage boy, his adoptive gay father, his best (girl) friend and her neglectful mother, another friend, nature vs nurture, whatever. It kind of goes around in circles and the writing and dialogue felt really awkward and slow to me. There is also just a lot of melodrama. There are some interesting thoughts about loss but the material just didn't connect for me. B.

Monday, March 27, 2017

2017 book 56

Robin Stevens' Cream Buns and Crime
The latest book in Stevens' Wells and Wong series is actually a series of short stories involving the duo and their friends, with interstitial material on codes and ciphers, baking, recommended detective stories, etc. I was of course more interested in the former--the latter is definitely geared to a younger audience, but it's all stuff I would have loved when I was a kid. Anyway, it's all a lot of fun, if not quite as compelling as the full-length novels in this series. And it definitely ends on a high note. A-.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

2017 books 53, 54, 55

I just got home from a trip where I did not bring my laptop, and I am tired, so I am blogging my vacation reads in one entry.

Kathleen Flynn's The Jane Austen Project
Up until the end, I'd have said that this book was way better than it needed to be. It's about a pair of time travelers from a dystopian future who are tasked with befriending Jane Austen, recovering the lost manuscript of a novel and her lost letters, and maybe find out why she died--which is all very ridiculous, but I am kind of here for it. And the main character being a Jewish woman doctor who has to hide a lot of her identity to fit into Regency times is pretty interesting. I didn't love the end, but this was definitely an entertaining read. B/B+. A review copy was provided by the publisher--this book will be released on May 2nd.


Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Rereading this for book club and it was a joy to revisit--such an amazingly vivid look at lower class life in Brooklyn in 1912 (complete with some very interesting opinions of Jews!). I still can't believe I read this in school in like 6th grade--not that we couldn't all relate to Francie, but this book has a lot of  . . . gritty and sordid parts. Still an amazing novel. Did you know Betty Smith lived in (and is buried in) Chapel Hill in her later years? A.


Stephanie Burgis' The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart
Burgis is a reliably good author, and her latest is a charming middle grade story about a young dragon who wants to discover her passion--and when magical hot chocolate transforms her into a human, she discovers her passion is chocolate (!!!) AND gets to have an adventure as she is trapped in human form and has to make her own way. This book was super cute and made me hungry. Excellent. A/A-. A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on May 30th.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

2017 book 52

Hannah Tinti's The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
Tinti's long-awaited latest novel (after the great The Good Thief) was well worth said wait--it's one of those books you can totally rip through in one sitting, and you probably will want to. It's centered on a girl with an unconventional childhood, who, with her father, is maybe finally settling down--interspersed with tales from her father's criminal past. The two stories gradually intersect to strong results. I was not super into the daughter's love interest, who takes up way too much space in the story, but enjoyed her interest in astronomy, her dealings (and her father's) in a small town, family secrets coming to light, grand theft auto etc. Really entertaining and gorgeous writing. A/A-.

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A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on March 28th.

2017 book 51

Elif Batuman's The Idiot
Batuman's first novel is a semi-autobiographical tale involving a Turkish-American freshman at Harvard in the mid 90s, who falls for a totally unbearable and pretentious Hungarian guy, and so a lot of this novel involves them having meandering conversations and I wanted him to just GO AWAY. It was all very realistic to being in college in the 90s, which is maybe my problem! (I did love all the little period details--I was in college just a couple years later and nodded knowingly throughout. Also, this book made me miss taking totally random and fun college classes.) But seriously, I hated that guy so much and the story feels like wading through molasses whenever she is with him, or thinking about him, or emailing him, which is most of the time. It just felt so claustrophobic. Maybe that is the point, but I can't say I enjoyed it that much. B.