Sunday, January 25, 2015

2015 book 26

Judith Flanders' A Murder of Magpies
Oh man, I really hope this is the first book in a series, because it's super charming and slyly funny and right up my alley. Our protagonist is an editor at a publishing house in London, working with an author friend who's written a major-league takedown of a big fashion company, showing that they've been doing some seriously illegal fraud stuff. A lot of people are pissed off about this book. And then . . . he disappears, and she's determined to find out what happened, with the help of a cute cop and her hardcore lawyer mom (there are lots of other great characters too--her hilarious assistant, eccentric neighbors, various other friends and coworkers . . . ). It's a really funny look not just the publishing industry, but lawyers, fashionistas, and more. A couple of plot points are easy to guess, but I really liked how things proceeded and especially how things wrapped up. Flanders is a really strong writer with a really nice fun and breezy tone--I definitely would recommend this to fellow book nerds and to cozy (and non-cozy) mystery readers. A/A-.

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

2015 book 25

Rachel Hartman's Shadow Scale
YAYYYYY the sequel to Seraphina (and the conclusion to her story--this is the rare non-trilogy in YA fantasy) is here!! And it totally lives up to its predecessor! I want to avoid spoilers, so will just say that, as hinted in the first one, we start to meet other half-dragons--and find out more about the mysterious Jannoula. The romance stuff is once again on the back-burner because of various war and political issues, much to my relief, but I one hundred percent LOVED the way it turned out. Absolutely amazing. And the story here is pretty great--lots of history/information about the world is revealed, the writing is stellar, there's plenty of diversity of all kinds, several of my favorite characters from the Amy Unbounded graphic novel play a big part, and I cannot wait to read it again. I had some mixed feelings about the villain, but I think Hartman handles things well. Although this little series is wrapped up, it seems that Hartman is writing another book set in this world, and you can bet I'll be eagerly awaiting it. A/A-.

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

Friday, January 23, 2015

2015 book 24

Rachel Hartman's Seraphina
I HAD to reread this, because the sequel comes out soon and I need to properly appreciate it! Not that rereading it was a hardship or anything--I straight up love this story of a half-dragon girl dealing with her mixed heritage, falling for a prince, getting involved in politics, trying to stop a war, learning to use her talents, etc etc. I especially love that she and her love interest are SENSIBLE: crisis now, romance later. Plus the world-building here is just so good. I am so so excited the second book is finally coming out.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

2015 book 23

Lila Perl's Isabel's War
This is an interesting counterpoint to the Annika Thor books I read a couple weeks ago, since it also involves a Jewish girl fleeing Europe (in this case, Germany), heading to England on the Kindertransport and then to relatives in America. Unfortunately, that girl isn't the main character here--the titular Isabel is, and she's the WORST. All she does is whine about how WWII is inconveniencing her personally--and yes, I know that surely not all people were thrilled about making sacrifices, but come on, she is an unbearable and unrealistic brat. When she meets the refugee girl, she's initially jealous of her and, even though the girl becomes the lens through which she finds out about the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis, never really seems to care about her much (and is even fairly bratty about her towards the end). And the end just feels really abrupt. This is the first original Lizzie Skurnick book (the others are reissues), and it's good to have Lila Perl's last book in the world, but I found it a little disappointing. B.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

2015 book 22

MarcyKate Connolly's Monstrous
I'm not even sure where to start with this one, because the plot is kind of complicated. Basically, our protagonist is a girl--or was a girl, once, until she and her mother were killed by a wizard, and her father has now brought her back to life to seek revenge on said wizard. She's not quite the same, though--she's been given a venomous tail, raven wings, and cat's eyes and claws. Her mission is to protect the girls of the kingdom by stealing them back from the evil wizard. Of course, it becomes clear pretty early on to the reader that things are not quite right here, and things really get going once she figures that out herself. There's also a cute boy, a friendly dragon, and some nice girl-power moments. It's miiiiiiildly cheesy, but it is aimed at middle graders, so I can't really complain about that. Either way, it ends on a really nice note. B/B+.

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

2015 book 21

Tessa Dare's Say Yes to the Marquess
I've been trying to space out my historical romance reading to avoid burnout on the genre, but sometimes you don't have a choice about when library e-books become available! Anyway, in this one--second in Dare's latest series (which involves a guy leaving his many goddaughters each a castle when he dies), after Romancing the Duke--a young woman who's been engaged to a prominent young diplomat for EIGHT YEARS is fed up with waiting for him (and with all the jokes and gossip) and decides to call the marriage off (since she has a castle now, she doesn't need him). Too bad his younger brother is sick of being all responsible (he's much more interested in bare-knuckle boxing) and wants them to get married so his brother can come home and take over estate stuff. Which leads to an inevitable attraction between him and his brother's fiance as he tries to convince her to go ahead with things. Meanwhile, there's a younger sister of the brainiac variety--she's similar to other smart sisters of historical romance, but it feels like she's on the autism spectrum--and another (married) younger sister who is basically a Lydia. It's all very amusing. Plus, we learn pretty quickly that part of the reason the girl wants to cancel her wedding is so she can use her dowry to START A BREWERY. That is so awesome. This book also contains the line "Had someone attached a thread to one corner of his mouth, then secured the other end to her nipple, the effect of that smile could not have been more direct" which is both absolutely hilarious and evocative. (Tessa Dare can write a sexy scene, for sure.) There is also a charming elderly bulldog, so high marks all around. A-.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

2015 book 20

Mary Balogh's Only Enchanting
The fourth book in Balogh's Survivor's Club series is pretty charming--it centers on the guy who has a head injury in the war, and subsequently lost many of his memories (and gained a stammer). He's full of ironic good humor though, so of course he appreciates the practical young widow/artist he meets while visiting friends (the couple from the last book). I think what I most liked about this one is that a large portion takes place after their marriage, as they learn to be a married couple and work together to thwart title-grubbing exes and family gossip. I actually was hoping for even more of their happy married life admiring nature (or whatever) together, but there's actually a lengthy excerpt from the next book in the series at the end. Anyway, I liked this a lot. A-.

Monday, January 19, 2015

2015 book 19

Lisa Lutz's How to Start a Fire
Lutz's latest is a big departure from her earlier books--my beloved Spellman Files series (hilarious books about a family of PIs) and Heads You Lose--and has a bit more of a serious air. It focuses on three women who become friends in college--wild Anna, athletic and outdoorsy George, and quirky and quiet Kate--and their lives over the next twenty years, flashing back and forth in time to gradually reveal a couple of major secrets. I will say that the flashback structure is interesting and does a good job of building narrative tension, but I had a really hard time keeping the chronology straight. I also had some mixed feelings about how the various romances went--though certainly found most of them to be believable. And I did wish for a little more of Lutz's trademark humor (though she ends with a real zinger). Of course, that's not the sort of story Lutz is telling--I'd compare this much more to books by Courtney Sullivan than other books by Lutz. It's doing a similar thing, straddling the line between literary and women's fiction, to satisfying results. I really hope this is a breakout book for Lutz--I'd love to see her be a bigger name in the book world. A-/B+.

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

Sunday, January 18, 2015

2015 book 18

Kate Kae Myers' Inherit Midnight
I feel like this is a plot that's been done before--a bunch of spoiled, ungrateful relatives competing in a crazy world-wide contest to be the main heir of the family and get control of their diamond business--but it works pretty well here. I mean, the protagonist is way too much of a poor-little-rich-girl (she's the illegitimate daughter of one of the family sons and the nanny), and the dialogue is often awkward, but Myers keeps a fast pace going and the challenges are pretty intriguing. I will say that the inevitable romance totally gets in the way of the family drama and intriguing plot, and the story would have been MUCH stronger without it, but that seems to be the way of YA these days. I just kept wanting to shout, "stop making out and get your head in the game!" I think I need to reread The Westing Game as a palate cleanser. B/B+.

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

2015 book 17

Erika Johansen's The Invasion of the Tearling
The sequel to the very awesome Queen of the Tearling has arrived, and I really feel like Johansen is kind of stepping up her game with this one. I mean, the political stuff young queen Kelsea has to deal with is interesting enough (not to mention magic, dark creatures, various immortal people, and a few love interests), but what is REALLY compelling here is that Kelsea has started to have visions of a young woman who lived centuries ago--remember, this series is set in the future--in the waning days of a super-conservative America (in the 2080s, to be more precise). And I was really into Lily, struggling to deal with an abusive husband in a VERY anti-woman world, getting caught up in a bunch of stuff I won't reveal because spoilers, except to say we do find out more about William Tear,  the man who brought everyone over to . . . wherever they are, and created Kelsea's world. I really can't wait to have more of these questions answered, and it looks like the next book will be pretty action-packed. I LOVE THIS SERIES SO MUCH. Plus there are a couple of GREAT little girls, sisters--one is a psychic and one is super talented with a knife! Good stuff! A.

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

Saturday, January 17, 2015

2015 book 16

Tania James' The Tusk That Did the Damage
James' second novel--after the excellent Atlas of Unknowns--heads back to India, but this time her subject is elephant poaching (insert many sad-face emojis here). The story is told from the POVs of three narrators--a young woman, working on a documentary about an elephant rehab center; a young boy called "the poacher," who is . . . not actually a poacher; and AN EFFING ELEPHANT, an infamous one called "the Gravedigger," who has an EXTREMELY SAD history. Eventually these three stories converge, though not in the way you might think. I really liked each character's story and found this to be a sad, but touching, novel. Really strong writing and hopefully will get people up in arms to save the elephants! A-.

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

Friday, January 16, 2015

2015 book 15

Lexie Dunne's Superheroes Anonymous
I LOOOOOOVE novels about superheroes, and this is a pretty strong entry in the genre. It centers on a young woman named Gail in Chicago, nicknamed "Hostage Girl" for the many times supervillains have targets her in the belief that her boyfriend is the superhero who always turns up to rescue you. I won't say anything else about the plot, which has a few nice twists and turns, and will just say that I enjoyed this quite a bit and very much look forward to the sequel (this straight up ends on a cliffhanger). It reminded me quite a bit of Carrie Vaughn's After the Golden Age, and god knows I loved that one. A-.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

2015 book 14

Kate Bernheimer's The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold
Bernheimer--perhaps best known for her writing and editing of new fairy tales--has actually written a series of three connected novels about the Gold sisters. Ketzia is the middle sister, and is pretty much trapped in her own head (her sanity is at least a little bit in doubt), in the midst of a collapsing marriage. I really like the way Bernheimer integrates European/Jewish folktales into the story, but it's all so disjointed. I mean, it's not hard to follow, and it's a smart way to reflect Ketzia's mental state, but it's not really an /easy/ read, especially toward the end when things just become depressing. I really felt like I was drowning in Ketzia's sadness. So I recognize the strength of the writing here, but did not totally enjoy it. B.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

2015 book 13

Annika Thor's The Deep Sea
The third book in Thor's series about the Steiner sisters may be the strongest yet, as Stephie is almost sixteen and dealing with more complicated life issues--religion, trying to stay in school to become a doctor, pregnant friends, tragedies, etc. Not to mention her relationship with Nellie. I'm so bummed the fourth one isn't available yet, and I have to wait god knows how long to find out what happens at the end of the war (this one takes place in 1943, so things are coming to a close). A-.

2015 book 12

Holly Black's The Darkest Part of the Forest
Black's latest is in the same vein as her Coldest Girl in Coldtown, though set in a small town rife with fairies (the mean/tricky kind from stories, though, not cutesy ones). Our protagonists are a pair of siblings who both are infatuated with the local tourist attraction, a fairy boy who's been sleeping in a glass coffin for decades--until he's suddenly freed. Fairy bargains, swords, enchanted music, monsters, and high school drama all come into play. The protagonist is annoyingly clueless about stuff involving her love interest, but I actually didn't mind the romance stuff here--it's fitting for a fairy tale. I always like in fairy tales when humans use their wits to win, and there's plenty of that here, along with some cool magical action scenes. Entertaining stuff. B+.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

2015 book 11

Katie Coyle's Vivian Apple at the End of the World
I admit to reading this with a growing sense of joy as I realized it was set in PITTSBURGH, my hometown. But it's even better than that: it's about a typical irreverent teenage girl whose newly devout parents are (apparently) Raptured up in a big ol' Rapture type thing. Vivian eventually decides to find out the truth by going on a road trip with her best friend and a cute mysterious boy (there's always one of those around). But things are pretty . . . post-apocalyptic. I mostly liked this a lot, though was not super interested in the romance when so many other things are going on! Is it really hard for publishers to market books about teenage girls that DON'T have a romance, or something? Coyle doesn't seem super invested in it, either, b/c everything else going on is so much bigger! Don't get me wrong, it's all mildly silly. But I'd read the sequel. B/B+.

2015 book 10

Annika Thor's The Lily Pond
The second book in Thor's series about the Steiner sisters focuses primarily on Stephie, attending grammar school away from the island, boarding with a wealthy family (whose older teenage son she has a huge crush on). Thor handles the historical issues deftly while making the story feel really personal to Stephie and her experience. I mean, it's a middle grade book, so the stakes are low (or as low as a Holocaust story where the main character's parents are Jews trapped in Vienna can be--but there's a lot of like, Stephie lies about having a boyfriend! going on). This one actually did feel kind of Anne of Green Gables to me, to boot. A-.

Monday, January 12, 2015

2015 book 9

Annika Thor's A Faraway Island
Translated from the Swedish, this story centers on two sisters--Stephie and Nellie--Jewish refugee children sent to Sweden after Germany invades Austria. In theory their parents will soon have visas to America and the whole family will emigrate, but . . . yeah. The girls are housed separately, but the younger Nellie acclimates much more quickly than Stephie (who is plagued by bad memories and racist bullies). Comparisons have been made to Anne of Green Gables, which I don't really see, besides the fact that there's a Marilla-type character and a Matthew-type character, and that both girls have braided hair. That's not a complaint--it's really well done and doesn't need to be something it's not. There's a really touching author's note at the end explaining the historical context and Thor's related background. This is the first of four, though only three are out in America so far. I'll definitely be checking out the others. A-.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

2015 book 8

Colette McBeth's The Life I Left Behind
This one is a little hard to describe, so let me preface my efforts by saying that it's really good. Anyway. A young journalist has been murdered, and her death bears a lot of similarities to a case of a woman who was ALMOST killed seven years ago--but who was very emotionally damaged by the attack. The police arrest the same guy, but there are some indicators someone else was actually behind both attacks. The book is primarily narrated by the dead girl, though there are also 3rd-person sections for the previous victim and for the detective working the case. Now, there are not a TON of suspects, and I correctly guessed who it was pretty early on, but that didn't make things any less intense or creepy. Really strong--and scary--story. A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. The official release date is in February, but the Kindle version seems to be available now.

Friday, January 09, 2015

2015 book 7

Andrew Smith's Grasshopper Jungle
My book club has been calling this one "the semen book" based on vague things we had heard about it, so you can bet I was not super excited to read it--THANKS, FYA, for forcing me to read a book by a DUDE. Especially one where the most common line was "It made me horny."* I mean, it's interesting that it's about a boy who is confused about his sexuality, in that he wants to sleep with/loves both his girlfriend and his best (guy) friend, but his constant thoughts about sex are almost like a parody of how teenage boys supposedly think.  But anyway, it's all normal stuff--at least until some terrible bully teenagers accidentally start a plague and the book turns into a SUPER INSANE APOCALYPSE OF BUGS! (I think it's unfair that the official description blames the protagonist and his friend.) Anyway, I was way more into it after that. Smith has a deft touch with the foreshadowing--and it's nice to have a little bit of humor to go with your giant man-eating bug apocalypse. I mean, it's deliberately repetitive, and the matter of fact narration can be a bit dry, but in general, I liked this MUCH more than I expected to. There is definitely a lot of semen-related talk though. A LOT. B+.

* I did a search and the word "horny" only appears 65 times ("only"?) but it feels like a lot more. I did not search for associated words like "horniness."