Friday, March 27, 2015

2015 book 75

Jane Smiley's Early Warning
 The second book in Smiley's Langdon family trilogy (after the excellent Some Luck), tracing the family from the 50s to the 80s, is kind of a slow starter--there are a lot more people to keep track of in this one, and it took me a bit to remember all the interrelationships. Eventually I got into the groove and was happy to sink back into this now-extended family's lives. Obviously some characters are more compelling than others, and some of the plotlines strain incredulity a bit--it makes sense that at least one of the boys would end up in Vietnam, but how likely is it that another grandchild would get involved with Jim Jones and the People's Temple? (Not that it's not fascinating to read about.) The Cold War elements as well as the treatment of mental illness are both really well done, and I liked how Smiley slyly snuck in a random child--at first I was like "who's THIS kid" and when I figured it out after his second appearance I honestly GASPED. I also liked seeing the gradual shift from what someone of my generation (The X/Millennium cusp) considers "olden times" to what I recognize as modernity. And of course there's more of what made the first great--complicated families, motherhood (of many sorts), secrets, love, siblings, and so on. Smiley really makes these people feel real. I ended this one crying, but they were happy tears. A-.

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

Thursday, March 26, 2015

2015 book 74

Mary Balogh's Slightly Wicked
So at the very end of the previous book in the Bedwyn series, brother Rannulf commented that he was off to visit a relative who had found yet another prospective bride for him, and this book picks up on his journey, as he encounters a coach with a broken axle--and with a very pretty young woman with a head full of daydreams on her way to be a poor relation to a mean aunt--only she tells him she's an actress (he has also given her a fake name) and he treats her accordingly (and she is super into their flirtation and everything that follows, and it is all super hot by the way). And of course his prospective bride turns out to be her terrible cousin (the terrible relatives here are basically the same as the ones in The Arrangement)--but at least it means they're thrown into each other's orbits again. AND they each have a particularly awesome grandma. Balogh does older women SO WELL. I could have done with less of the predatory step-cousin--I am really not into rapiness in my light reading and it felt overdone to have Rannulf rescue her from that dillhole like three times. Otherwise this was cute? B+.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

2015 book 73

Mary Balogh's Slightly Married
I have really been enjoying Balogh's books, and the first in her Bedwyn series (about a bunch of siblings, children of a Duke) was no exception. It centers on stern and grumpy second son Aidan, an army officer, who makes a dying officer a promise to protect the dying man's sister. And she is pretty great--the sort who adopts orphans, and hires ruined governesses and cooks, and has a three-legged one-eyed dog, and so on. BUT because her brother is dead and her dad was a jerk, she is now going to lose her property to a horrible cousin--unless she marries. So Aidan proposes a marriage of convenience--she'll save her land and all her friends/employees/orphans/elderly aunts, and he'll go back off to war, and they'll never see each other again. But circumstances, elderly aunts, and intimidating older brothers will interfere, and soon they find things not going quite according to plan. Interestingly, there is no attraction at first sight here--he's interested in a General's daughter, and she's in love with a guy she hasn't seen or heard from in over a year. I like a slow building romance, and this one feels really organic. And everything is just so funny and charming and CUTE. I really loved this one. A-.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

2015 book 72

Stella Gibbons' Cold Comfort Farm
Somehow I've never read this before, and I guess I'm glad I did? I mean, this is really one of the silliest books I've ever read. Of course, that's mostly on purpose--it's a parody of a certain sort of rural novel that I've never read (besides, like, Thomas Hardy), but can easily imagine thanks to this one (it's like Northanger Abbey and whatever melodramatic gothic novels Austen was playing with--you don't really have to be familiar with the source material to get the humor). Luckily protagonist Flora, recently orphaned and moved to the farm of some distant cousins with a Terrible Secret, isn't having any of those shenanigans. She also totally messes with a guy who claims Branwell Bronte wrote all of his sisters' books. I did spend a lot of this alternately giggling and boggling while reading, for sure. But all's well that ends well, and it certainly ends in a pretty adorable way. B+.

Monday, March 23, 2015

2015 book 71

Erich Kastner's Lisa and Lottie
Today I am super happy, because Lizzie Skurnick Books has reissued one of my favorite books from childhood, one of the cutest books of all time--and it's the inspiration for The Parent Trap! It totally holds up, and the LSB edition has all the adorable illustrations I remember. YAY.

Friday, March 20, 2015

2015 book 70

C.S. Harris' Who Buries the Dead
Look, it's one thing to have characters in a historical novel reading Jane Austen, it's another thing entirely to throw her in as a character, especially when she has nothing to do with the story! It just feels cheap--especially when the invented characters here are apparently supposed to be inspiring Persuasion! ANYWAY, in this latest Sebastian St Cyr mystery, Sebastian is called in to help investigate a murder in which a man was beheaded--and the murder may have ties to Charles I and Oliver Cromwell! (Thanks to both Monty Python and AP Euro, I understood these references.) Or not, who knows, there are a million suspects and Sebastian just ping-pongs around between them. I still love Hero and Sebastian though. I even was into Jarvis for this one. Entertaining enough. B.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

2015 book 69

Gail Carriger's Prudence
The long-awaited sequel series to Carriger's Soulless books is finally here, hooray! And it's as charming as its predecessors, focusing on Prudence and Prim and basically all the other baby characters from the other books, grown up and being sent on a tea-related business trip to India. Now, there was definitely waaaaay too much about how their ladybug-looking dirigible was getting from place to place (I hate steampunk and have little patience for discussions of fake science like aetheric currents), but otherwise this was super cute. Prudence and Prim are great and their friendship is great, and it was awesome getting to see glimpses of the characters from the earlier books. And there are some exciting new were-creatures and lots of other crazy things and political drama going on. I was a little eh on the romance (it doesn't hold a candle at all to the one in Soulless) but it wasn't a huge part of the book or anything. Looking forward to the sequel. A-/B+.

Monday, March 16, 2015

2015 book 68

Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game
I'm rereading this for YA book club--NOT that I mind, since it's one of my all-time favorites and it's been a few years since I last read it--so long that I'd forgotten just how good it was. I love the sort of arch narrative voice, the remarkably diverse cast for a book written in 1979 (though it feels timeless), how no one is what they seem, how Raskin clearly has great affection for all the characters, and basically everything else about this. I mean, I am totally weepy now about it! I recognize that some of the epilogue part is a little bit awkward but I don't even care, this is seriously the best book. Turtle Wexler is my patronus.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

2015 book 67

Marie Brennan's Voyage of the Basilisk
The third book in Brennan's Lady Trent series was more enjoyable than the second, which I found a little dull--this one has a sea voyage and more encounters with new cultures to recommend it, plus some hilarious side business with wives, more scientific discovery, a possible future love interest, some good stuff with Lady Trent's son, etc etc. I do find the thinly fictionalized geography to be a little bit silly/unnecessary, and wish the awesome plot/action stuff would happen before, like, the last quarter of the book, but on the whole, find this series to be a lot of fun. B/B+.

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A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in March 31st.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

2015 book 66

N.k. Jemisin's The Awakened Kingdom
This novella serves as a sort of epilogue to the awesome (in the literal sense of the word) Inheritance Trilogy. It features the first new godling born in thousands of years, as she attempts to find her purpose while living in a matriarchal community of humans. (There is some really interesting/slightly heavy-handed gender stuff going on here.) I thought the narrative voice was super cute and likable and in general enjoyed this a lot. I should really reread all these books. A-.

2015 book 65

Lorraine Heath's Once More, My Darling Rogue
Guys. GUYS. This is the historical romance version of OVERBOARD. (Shut up, I like that movie. I saw it ten million times on cable as a child and it has imprinted on me. "Tofutti, where are you when I need you?") I am not even exaggerating, if the guy had a bunch of rowdy sons it would be EXACTLY THE SAME. I mean, he totally tells an amnesiac snobby rich pretty lady that she's his housekeeper!!!!! She's even rescued from the water, and her relatives are plotting against her! And he's just like Kurt Russell's character, he manages a gambling hall but dreams of something bigger!!! (OK, Kurt Russell's character is a carpenter/handyman who wants to own a mini-golf course, but, same difference.) Plus, they are both jerks who lie to and manipulate vulnerable women!

As things moved toward the end, I was really annoyed that there was a whole victim/savior thing layered over what otherwise was a very enjoyable and silly story. The whole a-man's-love-equals-self-worth kind of thing--I'm not into it. Trauma is dealt with in a very perfunctory way. I also found the diary framing devices in this series to be a clumsy and corny way of wrapping things up. SIGH. I really wanted to like this one more than I did. Starts strong, ends badly, I guess that nets a B.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

2015 book 64

Lorraine Heath's When the Duke was Wicked
This was a fairly interesting historical romance. Our girl is just nineteen and has a huge dowry, so she goes to an old/friend neighbor for assistance--how can she know who truly loves her, and who just wants her money? Of course, she has an ulterior motive--she's loved him since she was a little girl. Meanwhile, he's tormented by the loss of his young wife and daughter to typhus several years earlier, and now lives a very scandalous lifestyle, determined never to fall in love again. That's all fine, and it's fairly obvious how things will go, even when it's hinted that she has a SECRET (the secret is fascinating!!). Plus, her family is also fascinating! I felt like this book was the sequel to a book I hadn't read (though it's the first in this series) b/c her parents' lives/courtship is referred to a bunch and it's crazy! (Her mom grew up in a den of thieves and somehow married a nobleman, she also totally owns a gambling hall.) (OK, I just looked this up, and it IS a sequel series--I gotta go read those earlier ones b/c they sound like they're also full of DRAMA. Look, the author has a chart explaining!! http://www.lorraineheath.com/character-guide.html) There's also some very funny business with the girl and her friends keeping a list of how to tell if a man truly loves them (they also totally sneak smoke breaks). Things get super hilariously crazy toward the end, and even it's all kind of cheesy, I still liked this a lot. A-/B+.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

2015 book 63

M.E. Kerr's The Son of Someone Famous
The back copy of the Lizzie Skurnick reissue of this book totally deceived me. It made it seem like it's a book about a teenage boy, secretly the son of someone famous, who comes to a small town and befriends an outcast girl (maybe she's a lesbian? But probably not) and they're awesome outcasts together, when REALLY what happens is they both use each other to try and further their own popularity. Everyone in this book is a huge jerk, teens and adults alike. I did like how the girl's story ended up, I guess? B/B-.

2015 book 62

Lauren Oliver's Vanishing Girls
Lauren Oliver is one of my FAVORITE writers, and I was super excited on starting this one, because it seemed so much in the vein of her Before I Fall. It centers on Nick and Dara, two sisters whose formerly close relationship has been torn apart by a bad car accident (there's also a whole thing with a local little girl going missing). The story flashes back and forth between the past and the present, but what is probably supposed to be a big twist becomes VERY obvious VERY quickly, which is amazingly frustrating. This one just didn't really work for me. Strong writing and characterization though? I hate giving a bad grade to Lauren Oliver. :( B/B-.

Monday, March 09, 2015

2015 book 61

Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan's The Royal We
Look, if the Fug Girls are going to write a book inspired by Kate Middleton, I am THERE, ok? And this did not disappoint. They've created a more-or-less fictional version of the British royal family (all of whom are great and/or hilarious), and the royal bride in this case is a Midwestern girl who meets the prince while studying abroad at Oxford (they bond over a crappy supernatural tv show, naturally). And of course he has a playboy brother, and she has a twin sister who causes DRAMA. I actually really, really liked this. It was amazingly readable--I didn't want to put it down--and the writing is mostly really strong (there are a couple of slightly cheesy parts, but nothing too terrible). I loved both these characters and was psyched to see them together. Plus, since it's the Fug Girls, there is some great stuff about all the clothes, and a very sly sense of humor. Well done all around, a super fun and entertaining read. A-.

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

Sunday, March 08, 2015

2015 book 60

Cherie Priest's I am Princess X
As is often the case when an author who usually writes for adults writes a book aimed at a younger audience, this doesn't feel as fleshed out as it could have been. The bones of the story are there, and they're GREAT--protagonist May and her best friend Libby created a character named Princess X, writing and drawing tons of stories and comics about her. Then Libby dies in an accident. Three years later, May starts to see stickers around town showing Princess X--and discovers the character is the star of a cult webcomic. May soon becomes convinced that Libby is actually alive, and determines to find her, with the help of a handy computer nerd in her building. That's all really interesting and well-done, though things get increasingly implausible and crazy as the story goes on, and everyone but May is really thinly drawn (I was sure a mysterious dude would turn out to be evil because he had no characterization whatsoever). On the other hand, the illustrations are super cute, and I really loved May. The end is mildly ridiculous, but whatever, I think kids would be pretty into this. B/B+.

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

Saturday, March 07, 2015

2015 book 59

Sabrina Jeffries' If The Viscount Falls
The conclusion to the Duke's Men series has been coming since book one--it centers on brother Dom and the fiance (Jane) who supposedly jilted him when his brother disinherited him, but of course they still secretly love each other even though it's been twelve years, only now she's engaged to someone else! I can't say much about the plot because it'll spoil book three, except to say that she comes to Dom for help with an investigation, etc etc. As usual, Jeffries' villains are NOT subtle, and I was not as into the plot this time, but I liked Jane a lot, and liked that her whole thing was a hatred of men who try and control her. Be your own boss, girl. B.

2015 book 58

Sabrina Jeffries' How the Scoundrel Seduces
The third book in Jeffries' Duke's Men series centers on brother Tristan and an intriguing lady from the previous book, who hires him to investigate her parentage after her aunt tells her she's actually a Gypsy's baby (!!!). This is primarily interesting b/c she's one of the few women in England who can actually inherit her father's title/estate, so she wants to be sure she's legitimate--and if not, she plans to marry her cousin, the next in line after her. Too bad Tristan is super into her, and vice versa. I liked this one a lot, because the obstacles felt realistic and I really wanted to see how Jeffries would work everything out--which didn't at all go how I expected! Maybe there are a few too many coincidences, but it actually all worked in context. I also really like the way Jeffries writes families. Good stuff. A-.