Wednesday, April 16, 2014

2014 book 82

Elizabeth Gaffney's When The World Was Young
So this is the story of a young girl, way into Wonder Woman comics (yay!) and entomology (interesting!), from V-J day--when a family tragedy hits--up through the 1950s. I loved everything about her interest in science and desire to be a professor studying ant pheromones, as well as her friendship with the family maid and the maid's son. I was less interested in her love-life and how things got a little cheesy toward the end. But in general, this was a satisfying historical read with some strong political/cultural points. B/B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in August.

Monday, April 14, 2014

2014 book 81

Dana Reinhardt's We Are The Goldens
Reinhardt's latest YA book (after The Summer I Learned to Fly and A Brief Chapter in my Impossible Life) centers on the younger of a pair of sisters, Nell, looking forward to starting high school and living the dream. But things aren't as dreamy as she'd imagined, especially once she finds out a secret of her sister's, putting her in a moral quandary.  Really solid writing, and I appreciate that Reinhardt is centering her story on an ethical dilemma and on the relationship between sisters. Nell's experience with romance is also more realistic than that of a lot of YA books, which was great. B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in May.

2014 book 80

Francine Prose's Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932
Prose is one of those authors who inhabits an entirely different world with each book she writes. This one involves a group of people in Paris in the 1930s, all brought together by the titular Chameleon Club, told through their letters and memoirs and an extremely terrible biography of a lesbian racecar driver turned Gestapo torturer. It's fascinating to see the same scenes from different perspectives, and I loved seeing the art world of that era through an up-and-coming photographer, his baroness patron, a writer who fancies himself as another Hemingway, the latter's ex-girlfriend (who I hate to label that way, since she is by far my favorite character), and more. I also love how character beats are revealed slowly and somewhat hilariously. A few parts drag--including, oddly, a scene where the racecar driver has dinner with Hitler--and I struggled with the casual (and not-so-casual) anti-Semitism of several of the characters (though it is very accurate!) but in generally really loved this--another strong contender from Prose. A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on April 22nd.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

2014 book 79

Claire North's The Fifteen Lives of Harry August
This has kind of a similar premise to Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, in that the main character dies and is born again into his old life. But here, he doesn't die that often (mostly lives to an old age each time), and is very aware of his situation. Eventually he discovers a club of people who also relive their lives--as well as someone determined to bring their club down to enable his own experiments. It's all pretty sci-fi-ish? I'm not really sure. It's interesting enough, I just wasn't really into the conflict between Harry and Vincent, which makes up the majority of the book. B.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

2014 book 78

Genevieve Valentine's The Girls at the Kingfisher Club
Man, you write a reworking of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale set in New York in the 1920s, and I am THERE. And this was VERY well-done, centering on the twelve daughters of a wealthy man who doesn't really interact with them at all, and doesn't let them out of the house (so they sneak out to dance at speakeasies!), and is now about to start marrying them off. The girls are believable, and all have distinct personalities, and best of all, they don't rely on a prince (or any dude) to rescue them! (OK, a few dudes help, but mainly they rescue themselves.) I loved the relationships between the girls, and loved how they all progressed. In fact, I loved everything about this book. I'm sure if I wanted to get nitpicky, I could find some things to criticize, but I don't see why I should, especially when I'm still full of delight about it. Because it was delightful. A.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in June.

2014 book 77

Ann Brashares' The Here and Now
Brashares takes a pretty big departure from the world of the magical traveling pants with her latest, which I /think/ is a standalone. It centers on Prenna, a girl FROM THE FUTURE!!! Yes, in this book, about a thousand people from a devastated future have come to live in the past, in theory to try and stop a series of plagues, but also to live in luxury. One of their main rules is not to get too friendly with the natives, but of course Prenna is way into a cute boy from her high school. I actually didn't hate the romance here, but wish more time had been spent on the world-building, because it's pretty interesting, and less on the hand-holding. Anyway, it's Brashares--the plot is pretty interesting, the writing is adequate, and Prenna is mildly unrealistic, even considering that she's FROM THE FUTURE. But I like time travel books and this wraps up in a better way than I'd have imagined, so: B/B+.

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

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

2014 book 76

Laini Taylor's Dreams of Gods and Monsters
The final book in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy is a pretty good wrap-up! I don't really have much to say about it--I appreciated that, although it's all about gearing up to a battle of good vs evil, or whatever, there was minimal violence, and I could have done with a little less of the angsty forbidden romance stuff (the amount of time spent talking about how they haven't even kissed yet is WAY TOO MUCH). And definitely, I feel like the action on Earth is a plot thread that just kind of gets dropped. But I liked the way it wrapped up, and new character (at least, I don't remember her from the earlier books) Eliza Jones, a grad student with mysterious and disturbing dreams, is AMAZING. And things go in interesting directions. I don't know, I have no complaints about it, but I'm also not like "OMGGGG I need to talk to someone about this!" It's fine. It's good! B+/A-.

Monday, April 07, 2014

2014 book 75

Roxane Gay's Untamed State
What do you say about a book when you recognize its literary merit, but wish you hadn't read it because it was amazingly upsetting? This book is going to haunt me for months and months. I honestly felt a little sick while reading it. And I still feel sick just thinking about it. Anyway, it's about a woman visiting her (wealthy) family in Haiti with her husband and baby, when she is kidnapped and held for ransom. Only her father doesn't want to pay, on principle. And they rape and torture and break her for thirteen days. And somehow she has to survive it.

I have read and enjoyed several of Gay's essays, but this novel turned me into a quivering heap of terror. Is that a good thing, from a writer's perspective? Certainly this novel is powerful. But also certainly, I felt like finishing it was kind of like punishing myself? (I hesitate to use the word "masochistic" because of its sexual connotations, because nothing in this book is remotely titillating.) Although I did really like the relationship between the woman and her mother-in-law.

I don't know how to grade this book. I'm giving it 4 stars on Goodreads, but don't really recommend it except for the most stout-hearted readers.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in May.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

2014 book 74

Nina Lacour's Everything Leads to You
LaCour's latest (after Hold Still and The Disenchantments) just further cements her status as one of my favorite writers. This one centers on 18-year-old Emi, a set design intern for a production company in Hollywood (and very talented at what she does), and what happens when she and her best friend discover a letter from a famous deceased actor and start to solve an old mystery. It is also a completely adorable love story between two girls AND a fascinating look at the behind-the-scenes stuff in movies (SO FASCINATING!). I just loved everything about this--cute and functional families, realistic relationships, honest communication, and so on. I really feel like LaCour would be great for A.S. King fans, particularly those who liked Ask The Passengers. A.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in May.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

2014 book 73

Emma Straub's The Vacationers
Straub's second novel--after Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures--will be PERFECT beach reading for the more literary-minded set this summer. Which I absolutely mean as a compliment. It centers on a family vacationing in Mallorca--Franny and Jim and their troubled marriage (the details of which are revealed in a timely manner); daughter Sylvia, about to start college and determined to lose her virginity; Franny's best friend, Charles, and his husband Lawrence, who are trying to adopt a baby; and adult son Bobby and his older girlfriend, who none of the rest like (very unfairly, in this reader's opinion). The writing here is strong--particularly descriptions of beaches and other local color--and the interactions feel realistic, and if it all wraps up more-or-less neatly, well, that's why it's a good beach read. Bobby is kind of a weak link, but all the other characters are great and I enjoyed this very much. A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in May.

Friday, April 04, 2014

2014 book 72

Emma Donaghue's Frog Music
Donaghue's first novel since Room (though there was a book of short stories somewhere in there too) didn't immediately grab me like its predecessor did. It was one of those books where I enjoyed it as I was reading, more or less, but was never in a hurry to pick up again once I'd put it down. It centers on Blanche, a burlesque performer/prostitute in late 1800s San Francisco, dealing with the murder of her friend Jenny (a pants-wearing, bicycle-riding, frog-catching free spirit kind of woman). The story flashes back and forth from their meeting and burgeoning friendship (during a smallpox epidemic!) to the weekend after the murder, with Blanche kind of flailing around helplessly, trying to figure out what happened and finding out about Jenny's past, and also trying to find out who has her missing baby, because of course her common-law husband kidnapped their baby to punish her. I will say that at times this was very hard to read--Donaghue seems to have an interest in writing about men degrading women, but it's not something I particularly have an interest in reading about. In general, this is kind of a slow book. Apparently it's based on a true story. I am kind of meh about it, if you couldn't tell. B.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

2014 book 71

Lauren Owen's The Quick
This book starts off with a dusty, old-fashioned, Gothic literature sort of atmosphere to it, as young James and Charlotte are mostly left to their own devices on their isolated estate. And then James grows up, and goes to Oxford, and is struggling to be a poet while living with a dissolute aristocratic type.  And things start to feel really moving and hopeful and romantic . . . and THEN! Things go in a totally unexpected and amazing direction! Like, so many exclamation points were in my mind! And it's all told in diaries and letters and from all different perspectives. And James stops writing letters, and older sister Charlotte comes to London to try and find him. I don't want to give away anything else, b/c the surprise twist was really great to me, so I'll just say this was GREAT, full of great characters (including lots of amazing girls/women). I have no complaints at all, and I recommend it wholeheartedly. A.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on April 3rd.

Monday, March 31, 2014

2014 book 70

Rachel Neumeier's Law of the Broken Earth
The third book in the Griffin Mage trilogy is, like its predecessors, perfectly adequate and satisfying, but nothing exceptional. The characters from the previous books, along with two new characters (the cousin of one of the major characters, another timid girl who may have a gift, and a talented spy), come together to try and deal with another war, and some warlike griffins. Like I said, it's all perfectly satisfying. And there is a really cool girl magic power moment. But it never quite goes deep enough to be something more. B/B+.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

2014 book 69

Ayelet Waldman's Love and Treasure
I love how Waldman has started busting out these stunning books, epic in scope, after beginning her career writing a series of cozy mysteries. Not that there's anything wrong with cozy mysteries--one of my favorite genres!--it's just, come on STUNNING and EPIC are not words usually used to describe them. Anyway, this one starts off with an elderly Jewish man, dying of cancer, whose granddaughter, fleeing from a failed marriage, is coming to stay with him. Then it flashes back to his career as an American soldier just after WWII, when he's been taken away from his unit and forced to work as a translator--and then to take charge of a train of valuable items stolen from Hungarian Jews. All while he tries to woo a pretty red-haired refugee. And then we have the granddaughter again, trying to track down the heirs of the owner of a particular item from the train (though I love that she does historical research in this section, I feel like the romance here is totally unnecessary, and is kind of a misstep, and doesn't read realistically at all). And then we flash back again, to the owner herself! This section is BRILLIANTLY narrated by a psychoanalyst of the sort that is very typical of the early 1900s. He's convinced her menstrual cramps are caused by hysteria. It's maddening and hilarious. (This was by far my favorite part. She's a suffragist!!) An epilogue wraps things up, more or less. Anyway, Waldman's writing is really on-point here--not too ostentatious, but all-in-all really lovely. She thanks Julie Orringer and Andrew Sean Greer in the acknowledgments, and I feel like their prose serves as a good comparison. Strong writing and a very strong and readable story. A/A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on April 1st.

Friday, March 28, 2014

2014 book 68

Chelsea Cain's One Kick
So Cain seems to be taking a break from the Gretchen-'n'-Archie mysteries for this new book (which seems like the start to a series) involving a ring of pedophiles. I mean, in case that didn't clue you in, this book is super dark and might as well be called "Trigger Warning." Anyway, our protagonist is a young woman who calls herself Kick, famous for being rescued several years after being kidnapped. Now a mysterious man (who is the least believable character I've ever read) is trying to recruit her to help solve a new string of kidnappings. Which . . . sort of makes sense? Because she knows how pedophile kidnappers think? Kick is a pretty okay character, but this whole thing is very . . . sensational. And COMPLETELY bonkers. Just completely, completely bonkers. If you want to read a totally crazy and kind of pulpy thriller/mystery like this, it's pretty great. But it's not /good/. Warning: bad things happen to animals. And children, obviously. B.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in August.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

2014 book 67

Rachel Neumeier's Land of Burning Sands
I appreciate that Neumeier takes this second volume in a whole new direction, focusing on a couple of the denizens of the land of the invading army from the first book--primarily a talented slave and an adorably absent-minded academic type woman. I liked what she was saying about freedom and kindness here. Then the slave encounters the cold mage from the previous book--and again, it's nice to get his point of view, when he was basically just a magical villain in the first book--but it gets so repetitive after that! I swear the slave and the mage have the EXACT SAME conversation like eight times. So boring, especially when one is petulant and one is kind of snide. At least the academic is off dealing with interesting political things--and running into one of the characters from the first book. Eventually all the characters come together for a pretty great ending (I also like how the little bit of romance kind of simmers below the surface till then, too). B/B+.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

2014 book 66

Rachel Neumeier's Lord of the Changing Winds
I guess I figured now that I'm all into books with dragons, I should expand my scope to other mythical creatures (please send unicorn-related recs my way). In this first book in the Griffin Mage Trilogy, a timid young girl (from a land of people who have affinity with animals!) is swept up into a displaced community of griffins, where she discovers a special gift. The other main character is a young man who's bros with the local king and also ends up having dealings with the griffins. Then there is  . . . a battle! I mean, not that much /happens/ in this book, per se, besides a battle, but it turns out griffins are pretty cool, and I really liked both main characters, so will definitely be investigating the other books in this series. A-/B+.