Wednesday, July 30, 2014

2014 book 179

Lori Rader-Day's The Black Hour
Oh man. This started off really strong and was super compelling--it's about a college professor who was shot by a student she didn't even know, and now she's returning to work, and about her new grad assistant--who's way too interested in her case. But about halfway through, just as it's revealing a bunch of clues, it somehow completely bogs down AND gets mildly ridiculous (various dudes are always grabbing the protagonist and "press[ing] his mouth hard to [hers]" out of nowhere). And the grad assistant does things he MUST know are stupid based on the available evidence. And I mean, it's not hard to guess what's going on. I did like how things wrapped up, but this definitely could have been a little shorter. B/B+.

Monday, July 28, 2014

2014 book 178

Carola Dunn's To Davy Jones Below
Sorry for the radio silence--I was busy MergeFesting it up and haven't read a word since Wednesday! Anyway, I'm back to the Daisy Dalrymple series. In this one, newlyweds Daisy and Fletcher are sent on a cruise from England to America for work purposes, accompanied by various characters from earlier books (Phillip and the Americans, and Dunn's dialect for them is ridiculous as ever) and a few new ones. Obviously murder and mayhem ensue, though I will say I did not at all guess the solution to this one, which made for a nice change. B+.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

2014 book 177

Elizabeth Peters' Crocodile on the Sandbank
I've been meaning to read the Amelia Peabody books for a while, since I loved Peters' Jacqueline Kirby mysteries so much, and this first one did not disappoint. Amelia is a rich spinster heiress (well, a 31 year old heiress, which makes her a spinster in the 1800s), off to travel the world--particularly Egypt--to see all the things she's studied over the years. Soon she's basically adopted an English girl (granddaughter of an earl) abandoned by her scheming lover and has taken everyone else in hand as well. I love her--she's stern and opinionated and hilarious. She's also kind of racist/Orientalist/paternalistic, though I am pretty sure that's the character's period-appropriate voice, and not the author's. I do wish there hadn't been a little description at the beginning describing her marriage and children--I mean, spoilers!! Not that her love interest can't be seen coming from a mile away. Oh yeah, and there's mysterious mummies threatening everyone and whatnot. The actual mystery takes a little too long to resolve and is VERY OBVIOUS, but I really enjoyed the characters here. This weirdly reminded me of the Gail Carriger books, except, you know, without werewolves and vampire. But the characters and the main couple are very similar. Anyway, fun read. B+.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

2014 book 176

Dylan Landis' Rainey Royal
This is one of those books that I feel like I didn't quite GET. It's somewhere between a novel and a novel-in-stories, all revolving around a young girl, the titular Rainey, an artist living in New York in the 1970s whose father is a womanizing jazz pianist and whose mother has abandoned them to go live on an ashram. All the characters are at least a little bit unlikable, and the men are wholly unlikable and entirely disgusting. Just disgusting. The sections with Rainey and her art are strong, and some of the sections with Rainey and her friends (particularly the one where we see the mysterious Tina's home life), but mostly this book just depressed me and left me wanting more. I'm not sure how intentional that is. B.

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

Sunday, July 20, 2014

2014 book 175

Robin LaFevers' Mortal Heart
The final book in LaFevers' His Fair Assassin trilogy (after Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph) centers on the third girl assassin mentioned in the first two books--the girl who was left behind at the convent while her friends were sent on dangerous missions. She wants a mission of her own, and when she learns she's intended to be the new seeress, and be isolated for the rest of her life, she decides to take fate into her own hands and goes on the run. Of course, her path eventually leads to her friends, making this a solid conclusion to their stories as well. And lots of insane secrets are revealed along the way. I once again had issues with the way the romance was written here--SO much telling instead of showing, at least at first--but at least her love interest is . . . well, interesting. And I'm really not sure how to feel about the author romanticizing a kind of sad political match (always a danger when writing about actual historical events, I guess, even if magic is involved). I mean, this was fine. The end is kind of bonkers in a good way? And I really like all the world-building involving the gods. There is a lot here that I want to talk about with someone! I dunno, B/B+.

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

Saturday, July 19, 2014

2014 book 174

Sally Beauman's The Visitors
Some historical novels feel overstuffed with the research the author did--and some feel like novels created solely by the author, where all the historical personages feel like real people and the details don't feel extraneous. This is one of the latter, focusing on a young girl who, after surviving a bout of typhoid fever that killed her mother, is sent to Egypt, where she befriends the daughter of an archaeologist--not long before King Tut's tomb is uncovered (there is a lengthy list at the beginning of the book of which characters were real people and which are completely fictional, but all the interactions are pretty seamless). This is interspersed with the girl in the present day--now a 90 year old woman being interviewed by a documentarian. Beauman subtly raises points about history erasing women and children, which I really appreciated. In general, I really liked this, though would have liked to see more of the romance that was heavily telegraphed (and which was kind of adorable), and thought the (also heavily foreshadowed) contentious relationship with the governess needed a lot more development/explanation (I found it mildly puzzling). Still--really an interesting book, especially for history nerds like myself. A-/B+.

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

Thursday, July 17, 2014

2014 book 173

Charles de Lint's Seven Wild Sisters
The sequel/companion to The Cats of Tanglewood Forest is pretty much as charming as the first one. This one centers on Sarah Jane, the middle of seven sisters, who's befriended an elderly Lily and accidentally gets caught up in fairy affairs--dragging all her sisters in after her. I really liked all the girls, and the story is suitably fairy-ish, but again, it's the Charles Vess illustrations here that are tops. Must be read in print or as a color e-book to be fully appreciated. B+/A-.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

2014 book 172

Phoebe North's Starbreak
The sequel to Starglass (the Jewish sci-fi spaceship book) was kind of a slow starter for me--partially because I didn't remember a lot of details from the first one, and partially because the protagonist is almost solely motivated by her desire to meet the boy (of another species) (HE'S A PLANT!) she's got a psychic connection with (or something? I didn't remember ANYTHING about him from the first one). I mean, she's on this whole new planet, and her life is in danger from a variety of things, and she still is just thinking about this random dude ALLLLLL the time. Be more interesting!! The second half is stronger--interesting political stuff is going on, and I do like how it ended--but in general I liked this less than the first one. B.

Monday, July 14, 2014

2014 book 171

Carola Dunn's Rattle His Bones
This is a fairly exciting outing in the Daisy Dalrymple series, involving a gemstone theft and a murder at a natural history museum (so much antiquated talk about dinosaur fossils!). I will say that I was really put off by the narrative referring to Jews as "Hebrews"--it's not clear that it's a /character/ referring to them that way (which would be historically accurate, if still offensive) or the author (in which case it's just offensive). I mean, that's not relevant to the story, it just made me angry. Anyway. B.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

2014 book 170

Carola Dunn's Styx and Stones
In the 7th Daisy Dalrymple book, Daisy's brother-in-law asks her to figure out who's been sending him a slew of nasty letters. Which inevitably leads to a MURDER! And there are plenty of suspects, for a change. Plus we get more of Daisy's relatives/Alec's daughter, which is nice. I find this series so enjoyable! B+.

2014 book 169

Emily St John Mandel's Station Eleven
I'll admit to not having really looked at the description before I started this--something about an actor?--but having enjoyed the author's other works (particularly Lola Quartet and Last Night in Montreal), I was gung-ho to read it no matter what it was about. And sure enough, it starts with a production of King Lear where the actor playing Lear suddenly has a heart attack on stage. BUT THEN! A flu pandemic hits! And to my complete delight, it suddenly turns into a post-apocalyptic story! Things mainly focus on a group of traveling performers--an orchestra and a troupe of Shakespearean actors that includes a little girl who was in the production of Lear that started things off--but we flash back to the actor's life before his death, along with the pre-pandemic lives of others who knew him. Maybe it sounds like a mish-mash, but it isn't at all, it's wonderful! Seriously, I loved this--really, really strong writing, amazing characters, a fair amount of post-apocalyptic action, a creepy prophet, comic books, etc. I really hope this is a hit because I thought it was amazing. A and a strong contender for my favorites-of-the-year list.

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

Friday, July 11, 2014

2014 book 168

Carola Dunn's Dead in the Water
Boy, this is an easy series to breeze right through, thanks to the deft writing and likable characters. Likable except for the murder victim here, that is! The 6th Daisy Dalrymple book finds Daisy and Alec in the midst of a murder investigation when they're just innocently trying to have a weekend enjoying some boat races (and hang out with more of Daisy's relatives). Then a super nasty and rude crew-man suddenly dies! I actually liked how this one ended, and the nice thing about historical mysteries is that they can't help their shoddy police work, b/c it was like a hundred years ago and they barely had forensics (fingerprints are the new hotness in these books). Anyway, more of the same if you're into that sort of thing, which I am.

2014 book 167

Carola Dunn's Damsel in Distress
The fifth Daisy Dalrymple book finds Daisy being enlisted by one of her friends to help foil the kidnapping of an American heiress (and boy, if you thought the old-timey dialogue was bad before, wait till there are AMERICAN characters!). This isn't really a mystery per se--eventually they figure out who's behind the kidnapping, but it's not like there are a lot of suspects or anything--but it's well-plotted and action-packed. And all the romances finally start getting somewhere. We also get to meet some of Daisy's relatives, which is highly entertaining. Solid entry. B/B+.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

2014 book 166

Merritt Tierce's Love Me Back
Oh man, I'm not sure where to start with this one. First--the writing is AMAZING. Really strong, really evocative. But man, it's one of those books where you want to give the protagonist a shake and scream, "Get your life together!" Said protagonist is a young waitress, a teenage mom, working at a fancy steakhouse and living a life full of sex and drugs. I have never worked in a restaurant, but have heard stories from friends who have, and it seems like Tierce really nails that atmosphere. She also totally nails the experience of watching a girl with all the potential in the world just kind of fall apart. There's a lot of sex, but most of it isn't sexy in the slightest--it's all so seedy and sad. And yet I really liked this! But boy, did it make me glad I'm not a teenager/early twentysomething anymore. A-.

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

2014 book 165

Carola Dunn's Murder on the Flying Scotsman
The fourth Daisy Dalrymple book features a murder on a TRAIN! And there are tons of money-grubbing horrible relatives to suspect! Now, I did find it hard to believe that so many people would casually chat about their horrible plans to get an old man to change his will to a perfect stranger on a train (ok, Daisy knows two of them, but there are like twelve), but whatever, maybe they're supposed to be extra-gauche? At least we get to know the Chief Inspector's adorable daughter, who's running away from her racist grandma and comes to hang out with Daisy on the train. These mysteries are pretty silly/light in terms of plotting, but I really enjoy them and hope Daisy and the Chief progress to making out soon. B+.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

2014 book 164

Miriam Forster's Empire of Shadows
The second book in the Bhinian Empire series (after City of a Thousand Dolls) has almost a completely different cast of characters, though readers of the first will realize quickly why some of them are so familiar (I can't tell if it'd be a spoiler to say why! I think it's obvious from early on, but I read the first one really recently). Anyway, it centers on a young woman, cast out from her shape-shifting tiger people, who's joined an order of elite bodyguards and has been hired to protect a noblewoman who's at the center of Imperial affairs. Meanwhile, there is a super cute nomad boy chafing against his own responsibilities--and chasing after his more irresponsible brother. I really loved everything about this--the characters, the setting, the writing, the different ways women wield power--and am seriously excited to see where the series will go next. A/A-.

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

2014 book 163

Mary E. Pearson's The Kiss of Deception
First of all, this title is TERRIBLE. Just getting that out of the way. Don't judge this by its terrible title. Actually, the description could go either way, too-- a princess, on the day she's supposed to marry a prince she's never even seen, runs away with her ladies' maid to make a new life for herself. Only the prince AND an assassin both come looking for her, leading to an inevitable love triangle. (This is the part of the description that worried me, but the material mostly rises above it.) Pearson does a clever thing here, not revealing which dude is which right away, which adds a layer of tension to the story. And it's a pretty solid princess-coming-of-age-and-learning-stuff story, for sure. There's also a whole thing with does she or doesn't she have a magical gift that looks like it'll come into play more in later volumes. I do wish the maid had become a POV character before the last 30 pages (it just feels awkward at that point, and she's interesting enough to have carried more of the story), but the other three balance each other pretty well. I mean, the assassin's motivations are dumb as hell, but it's still an entertaining read, and I really liked where it ended. I'll definitely be reading the next one. A-.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

2014 book 162

Carola Dunn's Requiem for a Mezzo
The third Daisy Dalrymple mystery takes a break from weekends at manor houses for a murder at the opera! Lots of artistic temperaments and affairs mean plenty of suspects when a singer is poisoned on stage. I mean, it's not hard to guess what actually happened, but it's still pretty satisfying. Plus, the romance between Daisy and the Chief Inspector seems to be coming along nicely. There is some historically-accurate anti-Semitism here, but the "good" characters talk about how wrong this is, so I guess it's ok? B+.

2014 book 161

Rainbow Rowell's Landline
At last, it is here, the long-awaited (by me) return to adult fiction for Rainbow Rowell! And obviously it was charming and delightful. It features a sitcom writer named Georgie whose marriage is not doing great, and whose husband takes to kids to Omaha for Christmas while she stays in LA to work. The, while staying at her mother's, she uses the old landline phone to call her husband--only she's calling him in the past. Basically, this is the portrait of their relationship/family, and I spent a LOT of it wondering how autobiographical it is. There are some great side characters--I especially liked Georgie's sister and mom and everything with their pugs--though Georgie's writing partner is a real weak point. And the writing itself feels a bit awkward at times. BUT is is still all super cute and I am glad it exists. Side note, there are discussion questions--really goofy discussion questions, like "Are you old enough to remember talking on a landline?"--on the very next page after the book ends, which is kind of jarring. Give us a couple pages to digest an ending, book designers! B+.

Monday, July 07, 2014

2014 book 160

Carola Dunn's The Winter Garden Mystery
The second Daisy Dalrymple book is in the same mold as the first--Daisy goes to write a story on a fancy old house, and stumbles onto a MURDER! It's a very different cast of characters, though. I really like the writing in these, even if this particular one doesn't have enough realistic suspects to be super compelling. There is, however (spoilers!), an adorable secretly gay couple (this is revealed toward the end, officially, but is telegraphed pretty early on). Anyway, I like this series a lot, even if the plotting here isn't super tight. B/B+.