Tuesday, March 20, 2018

2018 book 51

Sharon Shinn's Summers at Castle Auburn
Well, this was a perfectly charming, if more of the usual white European/heternormative sort of fantasy story, about a young girl--the illegitimate sister of the local prince's (legitimate) betrothed, who spends summers at the castle with her beloved sister. And all the local court intrigues. Shinn does a good job of showing her growing up from summer to summer, from an educated yet naive young girl to a more socially aware and astute young woman (primarily regarding a group of enslaved fairy-ish people). And I honestly wasn't sure how the romances were going to play out half the time. Solid writing and pacing and great characters--I will definitely be reading more by Shinn. A/A-.

Monday, March 19, 2018

2018 book 50

Jaclyn Moriarty's The Ghosts of Ashbury High
Sometimes I like this conclusion to the Ashbury/Brookfield series more than others--the story is told primarily through essay tests which I find to be an unusual storytelling device. Of course, it is also told through fairly hilarious blog posts and comments. And the story itself is moving, bringing Australian history and Irish folklore into the complicated teenage lives at its center. An interesting way to wrap up these characters' lives, for sure.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

2018 book 49

Roshani Chokshi's Aru Shah and the End of Time
So basically Rick Riordan was like, we could really have Percy Jackson-esque books for all different world mythologies, but perhaps I as a white man am not the best person to write them, and instead I will use my platform to promote #ownvoices writers. So now a few new series that fit the Percy Jackson mold are in the works, written by other people. This is the first, which is basically Percy Jackson but with Hindu mythology and with a girl—so I am here for it! I actually liked this better than the other Choski book I’ve read—it has the good pacing and humor of a Riordan book, with lots of entertaining characters (the protagonist has a neurotic but smart compatriot and a pigeon sidekick), plenty of action, and a lot of heart. Anyway, I can’t wait for all of the sequels—this was really fun! A/A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on March 27th.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

2018 book 48

Leslye Walton's The Price Guide to the Occult
Walton's second novel, after the word-of-mouth hit The Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, starts off strong—it’s the story of a girl from a long line of cursed witches, with the ability to know the thoughts of plants and animals, shy, a cutter, with the requisite eccentric and underveloped best friend. So her life, and the town, is all relatively interesting. But when she discovers her straight up evil mother is basically forming a cult, the story goes completely off the rails. There are love interests and murders and family secrets and magical drama and it is all somewhat silly and the writing is . . . not subtle. It ends in a way that suggests a sequel, or maybe it just ends, who knows. I really wanted to like this but I just didn’t. B-.

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

Thursday, March 15, 2018

2018 book 47

Jaclyn Moriarty's The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie
The third Ashbury/Brookfield book brings in a few of the characters from the first two, but is primarily told through the diaries/other assorted notes of the titular Bindy Mackenzie, who at first you think is just an especially insufferable nerd (and I say that as someone who is also a fairly insufferable nerd), but then you realize not only do you like her, you're worried about her. And then a mystery comes into play! Just really excellent character work here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

2018 book 46

Jaclyn Moriarty's The Year of Secret Assignments
I have read this book many times now and I never stop thinking it's sweet, silly, and surprisingly hilarious at times. I love reading about girls who care about each other fiercely (and the boys they flirt with via a pen pal program). And JUSTICE.

Monday, March 12, 2018

2018 book 45

Mallory Ortberg's The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror
I know it is tempting to plow through a new book by Ortberg, but these stories demand to be savored, and I think benefit from it too. Ortberg is playing with fairy tale tropes and bible stories to create stories that are weird, hilarious, creepy, and sad, and sometimes all four at the same time. If you already love Ortberg's writing, this is another winner; if you’re not familiar, the first story in the book--Ortberg's take on The Little Mermaid—will be a good litmus test. A/A-.

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

Sunday, March 11, 2018

2018 book 44

Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone
This book has been getting a lot of hype, but I was sure it was going to be some generic YA fantasy/action/romance novel, just set in Africa, which, hey, the world needs more of those, too. From the very first scene this had me hooked, though. It's great! Now I see why my mom was texting me when the author was on Good Morning America last week. :) ANYway, this story centers on Zelie, a young woman from a mythical African country, who is part of a group that SHOULD have magical powers—but the magic was mysteriously lost. And now she, and others like her, are persecuted and oppressed. But maybe she can restore magic with the help of a mysterious scroll—and the local princess? (The princess and her brother, obsessed with his duty, are also both POV characters.) This did start to drag a little at a certain point, and there was the occasional clumsiness in the writing—I wished the editing was a bit tighter, as usual with YA books, occasionally found the romance to be overwrought. But still, a really solid story and I look forward to seeing where it goes next. A-/B+.

Content warning for rape threats and lots and lots of brutal violence.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

2018 book 43

Shannon Hale and Dean Hale's The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: 2 Fuzzy, 2 Furious
The best part of pre-ordering a book and then immediately forgetting its release day is the joyous surprise of getting an email that you can read it RIGHT NOW! So I was already really happy to start this book, and it lived up to its predecessor in sheer delight and hilarity. The plot here involves Doreen and her merry band of friends and friendly squirrels taking on an EVIL SHOPPING MALL. And also Thor hanging out and chatting about socks, and hilarious superhero group texts, and FRIENDSHIP. It's GREAT. The world needs more joyful, adventurous, kind stories of this sort. I sincerely loved this and laughed throughout. A.

Also, peep this cameo in a list of squirrel names.

Monday, March 05, 2018

2018 book 42

Sarah Rees Brennan's In Other Lands
I sometimes find this author's writing style to be . . . overly mannered? But I had read enough positive reviews of this book--wherein a snarky 13 year old bisexual nerd named Elliot is recruited to a magical land and has fairly hilarious adventures--to want to check it out. And I loved it. I especially liked that the elves in this land are matriarchal warriors, and thus super matronizing (which my sexist computer insists is not a real word) to men, and Elliot totally goes with it constantly. And that Elliot is a pacifist trying to keep the militaristic society--and his friends--from war. And it’s very funny and occasionally  dark and deep.  I did wish Elliot was less dumb about the clearly telegraphed romance, but I loved how it all wrapped up. A/A-.

2018 book 41

Jaclyn Moriarty's Feeling Sorry for Celia
I wanted to reread this and the second book in the Ashbury/Brookfield series so badly that I assigned the other one to my book club this month. These are purely satisfying comfort reads to me, with realistic teenage voices (and problems), girls who care deeply about one another and their friendships, plus an engaging narrative where all the threads eventually collide in a very funny way. I have read this book several times and never stop finding it charming and engaging.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

2018 book 40

Jonna Gjevre's Arcanos Unraveled
If I am here for anything in this world, I am here for the story of an adjunct professor at a magical college (hidden within the University of Wisconsin) who teaches ENCHANTED TEXTILES and does magical knitting! I love the mix of academic politics and magical education, and the protagonist is really likable and practical (my favorite kind of witch). Magical adventures and magical politics ensue, as they are wont to do, and it is all very cute and fun. I hope to see more in this universe. A-/B+.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

2018 book 39

T. Kingfisher's The Wonder Engine
The second and final book in Kingfisher's (the pen name for Ursula Vernon's more adult works) Clocktaur War series (after Clockwork Boys) is creepy, dark, romantic, hilarious, and awesome. I love the characters here (particularly the badger-like gnoles and the young academic) and the plotting and action are tight. If you haven't read any books by Vernon, you are really missing out--she has a distinct (and distinctly entertaining) voice. I just really enjoy everything she writes and this was no exception. A/A-.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

2018 book 38

Melina Marchetta's The Piper's Son
The followup to Saving Francesca centers on one of the boys from the previous book, and his family--shattered by grief and alcoholism and stubbornness. But how they put themselves back together is why this story is so compelling. Amazing characters struggling with real issues, but not in an after-school special sort of way. Marchetta is just great.

Monday, February 26, 2018

2018 book 37

Melina Marchetta's Saving Francesca 
Maybe it is weird to find comfort in a novel about depression when you yourself are feeling depressed, or maybe that makes perfect sense. Either way, this is an excellent novel with excellent character work and excellent depictions of friendships and family and little rowdy feminists.

2018 book 36

Erin Entrada Kelly's Hello, Universe
This book just won the Newbery, the first time in a long time I hadn't even heard of the winning book before! So I was eager to read it. It's about four middle school kids--a shy Filipino-American boy with a pet guinea pig and a crush on a classmate; said classmate, a deaf girl with a recurring nightmare; a Japanese-American girl who runs a business as a psychic; and the local jerk bully--and the events leading up to a memorable day in the woods. Sometimes I am a little bit meh on the Newbery winners, but this one was pretty great. A/A-.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

2018 book 35

Tilly Wallace's Secrets to Reveal
A friend who knows that Recency-era fantasy novels are my jam recommended this to me, and it was pretty fun! It starts off on a low note for me, as the heroine laments that she can't make any female friends, yet she dismisses her boarding-house-mate's conversations as "inane chatter" because she is clearly Not Like Other Girls. The world-building and the love interest coming from a troop of Scottish werewolves are more than a little reminiscent of Gail Carriger--Wallace is definitely playing in that sandbox. I did wish for a more attentive editor; we shouldn't have to be told six times in the first couple chapters that most people think the protagonist is a maid (when really she is a secretary/codebreaker) and the “inane chatter” of women shouldn’t have come up even once, let alone multiple times. There were a few other things that seemed to be errors, too. In general, the writing is a bit overwrought and I wished things had been polished up a bit. The romance and the spy stuff are both pretty cute, though. B.