Monday, April 20, 2015

2015 book 98

Kate Atkinson's A God in Ruins
I might be blubbering too hard to say anything coherent about Atkinson's latest, the companion to Life After Life about brother Teddy, a bomber pilot in WWII. Somewhat surprisingly, it starts with an elderly Teddy, and flashes back and forth between his childhood, his adulthood (with complicated daughter Viola and her children), and his war years (this could actually almost be a Code Name: Verity companion with all its airplane talk, no complaints though). I think if people are expecting certain Ursula-related questions to be answered, they might be disappointed, but on its own, this is a pretty great novel, and I did love seeing Ursula through Teddy's eyes. I also loved his relationships with his grandchildren, I loved how this was sort of a meditation on life and on stories, and I ended it by totally sobbing and saying "WHAT, WHAT" multiple times. I need to read this again, immediately. Maybe it didn't grab me /quite/ the way Life After Life did, but a) it's not fair to judge it by one of my all time favorite books, and b) I think it works just as well as a standalone. It's telling a very different kind of story, and one that is almost as interesting as its predecessor's. Oh, Teddy, you were the best of them. Except for Ursula. A/A-.


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A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on May 5th.

2015 book 97

Holly Goldberg Sloan's I'll Be There
I honestly have no memory of reading this book or really anything about it, but I guess I really liked it back in 2011! I found the writing style slightly more grating/overly melodramatic this time around, but I guess I still liked it? It is REALLY melodramatic though. I actually am not sure why I liked this so much last time I read it. Maybe I've just become a lot more cynical in the last four years? I mean, the ending did make me teary, but the whole thing felt a little silly this time. Downgrading this to a B.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

2015 book 96

Kate Atkinson's Life After Life
I wanted to reread this because the companion novel--about brother Teddy!--comes out soon, but let's be honest, this is one of my all-time favorite books and I basically always want to reread it. I mean, I have read it several times and am still kind of teary from it right now. Parts of it I still read with dread, even though I know exactly what's going to happen! If you haven't read it, it's the story of a little British girl, Ursula, born in 1910, growing up through those turbulent times--except, she keeps dying, and going back to the beginning and living her life again, taking different paths every time (kind of like a choose your own adventure? But amazing?). And I mean, the very first scene is Ursula killing Hitler, which is obviously great. UGH, nothing I can say will express how much I love this book and how much of an accomplishment I think it is. I really can't wait to see what Atkinson does with Teddy.

Friday, April 17, 2015

2015 book 95

Silvia Moreno-Garcia's Signal to Noise
This was a cool book for someone who's both a book nerd and a music nerd to read, I have to say--there are musical and literary references galore. It starts with a woman flying from Oslo to Mexico City for her father's funeral--the father she hasn't seen in almost twenty years. But it soon flashes back to when she was fifteen, hanging out with her two best friends, who she also hasn't seen in almost twenty years--because they learned how to use music to do magic, and something broke them apart. YES, they learned how to do MAGIC WITH MUSIC, it's all so very Phonogram, except that it's really more Mexican folklore type magic. Either way, it's awesome. Moreno-Garcia does a good job keeping things moving while flashing back and forth between 1988 and 2009, and all the characters are pretty great. The teenagers especially felt realistic. I also really enjoyed the protagonist's relationship with her father, and how they primarily bond over music.  The end is maybe a little bit pat, but otherwise this was very enjoyable. B+.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

2015 book 94

Caroline Blackwood's Great Granny Webster
I one hundred percent read this because Nicole from The Toast tweeted about it, and so of course it was awesome. Semi-autobiographical novels by rich British ladies from eccentric (and ultimately tragic) families are soooo my jam. AND it was short-listed for the Booker Prize, so I can delight in its slightly gossipy tone while still feeling like an intellectual! Anyway, this is a nice short novel that you all should read, and be sure to check out Blackwood's Wikipedia page, which is also a delight. A-.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

2015 book 93

Mary Balogh's Slightly Dangerous
The final book in the Bedwyn series may also be the BEST book in the series, or anyway, I liked it a whole lot. It centers on cold oldest brother Wulfric, the Duke, falling for a charming, lively woman, who wouldn't at all make for a proper Duchess--so Wulf proposes that she be his mistress instead, insultingly! (There is also a rather Darcy-esque marriage proposal.) Eventually they work it out and it's pretty great. Lots of scenes with all the other sibs and their many, many children were nice too. A-.

2015 book 92

Susan Juby's The Truth Commission
Um, ok, this book was awesome, just super cute and touching and awesome. It's about a teenage (Canadian) girl who goes to this cool art school, and she and her two best friends form a Truth Commission, to ask people honest (though invasive) questions, which gets out of hand pretty quickly. Meanwhile, she's also a character in her older sister's famous series of graphic novels, which is causing some tension in their family. Really good stuff here about friendship and family and art and good mentors and honesty and all sorts of stuff. I really enjoyed this. A/A-.

Monday, April 13, 2015

2015 book 91

Ann Packer's The Children's Crusade
Packer's latest novel centers on what happens when the youngest son of a complicated family--a noted troublemaker--comes home for the first time in years. I don't really have a lot to say about this one. It was fine, I liked it, it was well-written, but it didn't really grab me or anything. B+.

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

Saturday, April 11, 2015

2015 book 90

Sarah Dessen's Saint Anything
Dessen is a reliably good YA author, and I honestly think she's just getting better and better--plus, I really appreciate that the romances aren't the be-all and end-all in her most recent books (the one here is cute though). Her characters just feel so real (with the notable exception of the big black guy in this one, whose primary characterization is "eating at all times"). The protagonist of this one is a girl who feels invisible in her family--her charming older brother has always gotten all the attention, especially now that he's in jail after a drunk-driving accident that paralyzed a kid. There's also a friend of her brother's who is constantly creeping on her (I read this book with SO MUCH DREAD because of him). Luckily she has awesome new friends AND yummy pizza to see her through. The friendships here are all really well-done. The final sections felt overly-wrap-up-y, but I really liked the very ending, and thought this was another great one from Dessen. A-.

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

2015 book 89

Kent Haruf Our Souls At Night
Haruf's final novel is a brief and lovely story about an old woman who initiates a relationship with an old man, a neighbor, just for talking and sleeping and so she won't feel so alone. They discuss their lives and secrets, all while having some really beautiful moments, particularly with the woman's young grandson. Things also get a teensy bit meta toward the end, which made me smile. Look, I can't describe a Haruf novel in any way that makes it sound exciting, but all of his books and his writing are really compelling to me, and this was no exception. I will miss having a new work of his to look forward to. A-/B+.

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

2015 book 88

Kimberly McCreight's Where They Found Her
The followup to McCreight's debut Recovering Amelia was kind of a let-down for me. It involves small town politics, university politics, the discovery of the body of a little baby, a couple of teenage girls who might be involved, the mother of said teenage girls, and a reporter covering all this who had a stillborn baby fairly recently. It's kind of a lot, and the chaos doesn't really do the story any favors--I ended up not really being invested in any of it. Some of the resolutions were interesting/surprising, but on the whole, I thought the end was overly neat and mildly silly. B-.

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

Friday, April 10, 2015

2015 book 87

Angela Flourney's The Turner House
Really strong story about a large Detroit family, and the family house after Detroit has started to go downhill. It primarily centers on oldest son Cha-Cha--who may or may not be seeing a ghost--and youngest daughter Lelah, a gambling addict. I did wish for a little bit more of the other siblings, but most of them got at least one solid character moment, and interludes focusing on their parents in the second half of the book helped put things in context. I also wished for slightly more resolution, plot-wise, but I guess families don't have resolution really, and so that all rang true too. A-.

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

2015 book 86

Robin Stevens' A Murder Most Unladylike
This was a super cute historical YA mystery--that genre is my JAM--about two girls at a boarding school in England who have formed a detective agency.  I liked that after one finds a dead body, and they have a REAL mystery to solve, one is like "oh shiiiiiiiit, this is crazy" and the other is like "yay I'm like I'm in a detective story!" I also liked that one was a girl from Hong Kong, and the story doesn't shy away from the casual period racism she has to deal with. I guess this is a British series being introduced in America, but the title here is "Murder is Bad Manners" which is not really as cool. A-.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

2015 book 85

Gillian Flynn's Dark Places
All the talk about the movie version of this made me want to reread it (more than I want to see a movie version, anyway). As always, Flynn's strength is her narrative voice, but there's certainly plenty of plot to keep things moving. I also noticed this time how she really nails the Midwestern poverty, and just how crushing it was to all the Days. Flynn is one of my favorites, and this one definitely holds up.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

2015 book 84

Mary Balogh's Slightly Sinful
The 5th Bedwyn book was waaaay better than the last couple, mainly because no one is a jerk! It centers on Alleyne--presumed dead in the last one--being discovered naked after Waterloo and nursed back to health by a pretty young lady who happens to live with a bunch of jolly prostitutes. Of course, SHE is not a prostitute, and thus is allowed to be the heroine of a romance novel. Anyway, Alleyne of course has amnesia (AMNESIA!!!!!), and he and the pretty young lady enter into a fake marriage for the purpose of getting her inheritance so she can give the jolly prostitutes money to start a bed and breakfast (it's a long story). Everything ends up EVEN BETTER than you might imagine. Solidly entertaining. A-.

2015 book 83

Amy Butcher's Visiting Hours: A Memoir of Friendship and Murder
Several years ago, when Butcher was a senior at Gettysburg College, one of her good friends walked her home from a bar, and then apparently suffered a psychotic break and brutally murdered his girlfriend. She's been publishing excerpts from this online for years now, and it's now here in its final form--her meditation on this event and the effect it had on her, as well as her subsequent investigation into what happened that night. In some ways, this is a profoundly selfish work, but on the other hand--who wouldn't dwell on something like this? How could it not shatter your worldview and make you afraid? (It also feels a little selfish because she doesn't really talk about Emily, the victim, until more than halfway through.) Butcher's writing is evocative, for sure, to the point where I can't imagine her having another story to tell, because she's been so consumed with this one. But of course, I hope she does. B+.

2015 book 82

Naomi Novik's Black Powder War
The third Temeraire book finds the dragon and his crew in the middle of some shenanigans in Turkey, and it manages to be even more racist/Orientalist than the last book. I keep waiting for Novik to do something subversive with these historical stereotypes, but it never happens. At least the Jewish characters are ok? (I'm pretty sure Novik is Jewish.) I just wish they would head home to England already and get back to chilling with Jane and Harcourt and Maximus and Lily, though a new baby dragon makes up for a lot. On the other hand, I am kind of sick of reading about battles. I maybe need a break from this series. B.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

2015 book 81

Naomi Novik's Throne of Jade
The second Temeraire book involves a long journey to China and some really fascinating international diplomacy. It is, weirdly, more gory than the first book, despite not really involving any actual warfare. Still really good stuff, and I like how Novik is using the traditional way/sea journey sorts of books and layering dragons and social justice over top of them (I am psyched to see some dragon reforms!). I'm not sure about the handling of China in this one--it certainly reflects 1800s thinking, but I wished for some of Novik's twist on societal/historical views. A/A-.

Friday, April 03, 2015

2015 book 80

Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon
Yes, I am finally reading the Temeraire books, and this one is as delightful as I've always heard. The short version of this series is "the Napoleonic wars--WITH DRAGONS" but that doesn't get at how LOVABLE the dragons are. You guys, I cried when a fictional dragon died. Anyway, in this first one, a Naval captain captures a French ship with an egg on board and the little baby dragon totally likes him, which means he has to be its rider and leave the Navy to use the dragon FOR ENGLAND. And there are lady dragon riders too, so all my fears were assuaged. This is just like all the historical romances I've read lately, except it's about a guy and his dragon instead of, you know, a heteronormative couple (not that he's doing anything weird with the dragon, they are just super bonded bros, like if you had an amazing pet that could talk to you about math or whatever, obviously you would love it EVEN MORE). This is great, I'm gonna read all of them. A.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

2015 book 79

Mary Balogh's Slightly Tempted
Boy, Balogh really conjured up a couple of jerks for the Bedwyn girls. In this one, baby sister Morgan is finally out, unwillingly going to balls in Brussels (for contrived reasons), and is targeted for seduction by a guy who wants to get revenge on her oldest brother. Which, like, I don't care what his backstory is, and that obviously he immediately likes her for herself, that is a DICK MOVE. Plus, he's thirty and she's EIGHTEEN. That is a huuuuuge age difference, and sure, it's like the 1800s or whatever, but it's a little much for a modern reader. It's also frustrating that most of the plot hinges on Morgan being trapped in Brussels during the war for various reasons. Morgan is cool and capable as a war nurse, which is nice. Things improve a little once the action returns to England, and I especially enjoyed seeing the Bedwyn family's interactions and meeting a pair of secret lesbians. This was definitely a weaker effort in this series, though. B.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

2015 book 78

Sara Gruen's At the Water's Edge
Gruen's latest, after Ape House, will probably please her Water for Elephants fans more than a book about bonobos did. It centers on Maddie, a young American in 1945, newly wed to a guy determined to prove himself by finding proof of the Loch Ness Monster (her husband wasn't allowed to enlist b/c he's colorblind, AND his father is famous for faking photos of Nessie, so he REALLY wants this). So her husband and his best friend drag her off to Scotland at wartime. I really feel like the message here is "rich American guys are terrible, tragic Scotsman are wonderful"--but you could get the former just as easily from watching an episode of The Kroll Show. Anyway, it's all very readable, despite some over-the-top writing, and there are some interesting hints of magic and folklore. Maddie is likable enough, if hopelessly naive. The romance stuff is more than a little bit unbelievable, but Gruen sure can paint a portrait of a crumbling marriage. I will rate this as: mildly silly, but entertaining. B/B+.

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

Monday, March 30, 2015

2015 book 77

Mary Balogh's Slightly Scandalous
The third book in the Bedwyn series focuses on bold sister Freyja, recovering from heartbreak at Bath (her ex's wife is about to have their first kid and she does not want to be in the area). Her romance has an entirely ridiculous start--she's staying at a not-great inn on the road with doors that don't lock and she makes her maid leave b/c of snoring and a dude just RUNS into her room in the middle of the night b/c he's fleeing whatever, and she covers for him, and he immediately kisses her (at least she punches him). He's basically your stereotypical scoundrel, though also happens to be a lord.  He's also super smarmy. BUT he has a horrible aunt (very Lady Catherine de Bourgh) determined to marry him off to her daughter (who doesn't want the marriage any more than he does), so he and Freyja enter into a fake engagement (which obviously will soon turn real, since they're totally into each other). I love Freyja--she's clever and assertive--but it took me a lot longer to warm up to her love interest. Once I did, I was seriously rooting for them, though--to get together, and to beat some trumped-up murder charges (!!!). As usual, Balogh is not at all subtle with her villains, but this was enjoyable anyway. B/B+.