Tuesday, July 28, 2015

2015 book 178

Mary Balogh's First Comes Marriage
I had planned to save Balogh's Huxtable Quintet for vacation, but heck, there's five of them, why not get an early start? There's not much to the plot of this one, but it was very sweet. I liked watching the main couple fall in love, and I liked that the heroine was a cheerful sort who is admired by everyone for her good nature. The guy is your typical stuffy rich snob, at least until he meets said cheerful lady and learns to relax a little. I mean, other things happen, but not enough for me to write a lengthy paragraph or anything. This one was definitely on the cozier side of the historical romances (as opposed to some of the crazier ones). B+.

Monday, July 27, 2015

2015 book 177

Genevieve Cogman's The Invisible Library
Well, this was a mostly entertaining and interesting book about a young (sort of?) woman, a Librarian at the titular Invisible Library, which exists outside of time. Her job is to enter different versions of the world to collect rare books. It's pretty cool. And then she gets a mentee and a weird new assignment--in an alternate London full of Fae and on the brink of chaos--that quickly turns dangerous, and it's all pretty fun, if occasionally overdone.  It looks like this might be the start of a series, but not the one I want to read! I'm super interested in the Library, not in a detective solving crimes in an alternate version of  London. That's been done, you know? I mean, this certainly hints at a greater mythology for the Library, so I assume we'll get some of that in the midst of magical historical crime solving, but still. B/B+.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

2015 book 176

N.K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season
Jemisin's latest--the start of a new trilogy, yay!!--is another complicated, amazing, bonkers piece of fiction. It's set in a world where, periodically, major natural disaster extinguish large swathes of life on earth. There are also people who can control rocks/the ground, considered very dangerous (though some are discovered as children and taken to a central sort of facility where they are trained and controlled and their powers are hopefully used for good). I don't want to say anything else for fear of spoilers, except that, as always, there are powerful and moving characters (ladies and men!), a very interesting universe, and a compelling storyline. I'm not actually sure if it's fantasy, sci-fi, or some hybrid, but it doesn't really matter--it's AWESOME. A/A-.

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A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on August 4th.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

2015 book 175

Maggie Lehrman's The Cost of All Things
Teenagers already do some really insane and stupid things--so imagine how much worse it would be if they had access to magic spells (that are semi-legal, at best). This book is being marketed as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets We Were Liars, and that . . . is somewhat accurate. It's narrated from the POV of four characters--Ari, who gets a spell to forget her dead boyfriend; his best friend; a friend of Ari's who has purchased a pretty intense friendship spell (interesting issues of consent here); and the actual dead boyfriend. Everyone lies and everyone's magic has side effects and interactions, and I thought this was amazingly realistic considering the premise. Teenagers gonna teenage, and these ones sure do. The end is crazy/melodramatic but this was a very fun read. B+.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

2015 book 174

Natasha Pulley's The Watchmaker of Filigree Street
I am pretty sure this is Pulley's first novel, and it's kiiiiinda of a great one? It's set in Victorian London, where a young government telegraph operator receives a mysterious pocketwatch--which eventually saves him from a huge bombing. This leads him to its Japanese creator, who has an unusual ability (I mean, besides clock-making), and eventually to a young woman who wants to be a physicist, but stupid sexist society is not cooperating! I feel like Pulley does a good job with the Japanese-people-in-London aspect of thing, and the relationship between the clockmaker and the young man is really excellent. I did have some mixed feelings about the physicist, but really liked how Pulley ended things (I almost used a clock pun there but refrained, are you happy?). Yes, this was right up my alley, very good stuff. A-.

Monday, July 20, 2015

2015 book 173

Erin Bow's The Scorpion Rules
I accidentally read a sci-fi-ish book and I LOVED IT. OH GOD, HOW I LOVED IT.  The premise here is that it's several hundred years in the future, after the polar ice caps have melted and a bunch of wars have been waged over water, so an AI from the UN was like "eff it" and bombed a bunch of cities and TOOK OVER EVERYTHING. Now world leaders have to send their kids off to be hostages--and if they get involved in a war, their kid DIES. Our protagonist, Greta, a princess from Halifax, has grown up as a hostage and not really thought much of it--at least until a cute boy who doesn't understand the rules becomes a new hostage, and war between their countries seems to be looming. (This boy is kind of a dud, and is really the only weak spot in the book for me, even though he is Jewish, which I appreciated. I did like that Greta seems to be canonically bisexual, though.) I also kind of loved all the mentions of my hometown Pittsburgh, even though most of them are offhanded threats to blow it up. Anyway! This was great, and went in a lot of unexpected directions. I was a pretty big fan of Bow's first two books, but this was a pretty interesting leap forward, and I can't wait to see what she does with this world next (apparently a companion novel is in the works). A/A-.

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

Sunday, July 19, 2015

2015 book 172

Elly Griffiths' The Zig Zag Girl
I really enjoy Griffiths' Ruth Galloway series, and was excited to read this new stand-alone from her, but it was pretty disappointing. It's 1950, and a young police detective gets involved with a case that he's SURE relates to his work during WWII, when he was part of a unit mainly made up of magicians, working on illusions to trick the Nazis. And that's all really interesting, and all the magicians are great characters! But I guessed the killer really early on, and the motive was amaaaaazingly stupid. Like, so stupid. I /did/ like that the detective's best friend magician is way smarter than he is and figures out a lot more, but seriously, the solution to this one was DUMB. B-.

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

Saturday, July 18, 2015

2015 book 171

Jacqueline Kelly's The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate
The sequel to The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is more of the same--it's early 1900s Texas, and a little girl, taught by her grandfather, longs to be a scientist, but everyone is sexist! Your feminist hackles will be raised! In this one, a major storm in Galveston sends a cousin to stay with the family, but she's not really as much a character as a plot device. The foreshadowing here is seriously heavy-handed, too, though maybe that's to be expected of a middle-grade book? So they'll like, notice it. I like Calpurnia and her brother Travis a lot though, and find their animal-saving adventures to be pretty entertaining. B.

Friday, July 17, 2015

2015 book 170

J. Kathleen Cheney's The Shores of Spain
I believe this is the final book in Cheney's Tales of the Golden City series (after The Golden City and The Seat of Magic), and it's a pretty good wrap-up. It mainly involves the two main couples trying to solve the murder of the women's mother, or at least to track down the stolen journal that holds the key to the mystery. As always, there are politics (both fantasical and real) to deal with, along with some poor li'l children and whatnot. Marina and Joaquim's story definitely takes center stage here, or at least is more interesting than Oriana and Duilio's. I dunno. I think the very end just left me feeling a little bit flat. Still a fun series though! B+.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

2015 book 169

Patrice Kindl's A School for Brides
Kindl's latest, a sequel/companion to Keeping the Castle, had me in RAPTURES OF DELIGHT. One of the stepsisters from the previous book is now running a finishing school in their tiny Yorkshire town, and all the girls there are worried they'll never meet any eligible men to marry. So it's very convenient that a young man breaks his leg nearby, and then several of his friends come to visit! We only get to know a few of the girls, but they're all interesting and likable (one, a budding scientist, is even named Rosalind Franklin!) and I was definitely rooting for all their respective romances to work out. There is even a touch of mystery and intrigue. It was just so easy to get caught up in this book and completely lose track of time. And I was FURTHER delighted to discover that Kindl plans a trilogy set in the town, and cannot wait to see what happens in the third one. These books are so charming and fun, while lightly pointing out that sometimes being a woman in olden times was a trial. A!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

2015 book 168

Patrice Kindl's Keeping the Castle
A new Patrice Kindl book is out today--and it's a sequel to THIS Patrice Kindl book, so of course I had to reread it so it would all be nice and fresh in my mind. It's a sweetly silly Jane Austen-y sort of book about a young woman who HAS to marry for money to save her family and their crumbling castle (there's always a crumbling castle), and there are various stepsisters and suitors and puppies and new friends all in the mix. I found it just as enjoyable on this second read, and look forward to reading its companion.

Monday, July 13, 2015

2015 book 167

Melanie Sumner's How To Write a Novel
Well, this was just an absolutely charming, moving, and hilarious book about a girl who's determined to write a novel and make a million dollars for her family (her widowed mother and her eccentric, maybe on-the-spectrum? brother). But REALLY it's a novel about family and love and loss and friendship and the power of writing! I thought the mother-daughter relationship was really interesting, too--one of the best I've read in a long time. Now, is this book perfect? Probably not. IS the end a serious deus ex machina? Totally. Does the narrative voice really sound like a twelve-and-a-half year old's? WHO CARES? I loved this.  It gets an A.

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

Sunday, July 12, 2015

2015 book 166

Corey Ann Haydu's Rules for Stealing Stars
In this middle-grade novel, four sisters dealing with a mentally ill mother discover that the closets in their house each have a sort of magic, and the youngest sister--the narrator, who longs to be accepted by her older sisters as an equal--has the most magic of all. There's also a whole fairy-tale thing woven through (their father is a folklore professor). In general, I liked this a lot, though sometimes the protagonist's decisions didn't make a lot of sense and seemed to be just to build plot. And I think some of this would be kind of scary for younger kids (I found a lot of it to be somewhat creepy). But the stuff with the sisters and their relationships was pretty well-done, and the writing is strong. B/B+.

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

2015 book 165

Val Brelinski's The Girl Who Slept With God
The titular Girl of this novel is the older sister of our protagonist--they're a pair of teenagers growing up in an extremely devout family in Idaho in 1970. Middle daughter Jory is mildly rebellious, but her older sister believes herself to be a servant of Christ--and when she comes home from a mission trip pregnant, she claims an angel from God impregnated her for holy reasons. And then their parents sort of exile the two girls, leading Jory to befriend normal (non-churchy) local high school students--and an ice cream man. Plus a very awesome elderly neighbor. Grace . . . has some other stuff happen. I did have some mixed feelings about the ending--mainly because it didn't go the way I wanted it to go. But isn't that the mark of a good book--that you care so much about and are so invested in the characters that you get actually angry when things don't go their way? I think I really loved this, even though I'm mad about it? The writing is beautiful and Jory is pretty realistic. There is also an adorable kitten. A-.

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

Friday, July 10, 2015

2015 book 164

A.J. Rich's The Hand That Feeds You
Look, I admire the backstory to this book, but this book is . . . not great. It centers on a young woman, a grad student, whose boyfriend dies (apparently mauled by her dogs), at which point she realizes everything she knows about him is a lie--and that the other women in his life are being murdered. The thing is, she is an amazingly stupid person, so you don't really sympathize with her for being fooled by a charismatic sociopath. I mean, really, she does all the dumb things amateur detectives in mysteries do, and then some. Plus there is way too much other stuff going on--romantic drama, etc. OK, there are some great dogs in this, but the heroine is a real idiot about everything, so it's a very frustrating read. The writing is also a little awkward at times, and there's a rape plot that I'm not sure is necessary, especially when her therapist characterizes it as part of a pattern of self-destructive behavior! I almost didn't finish this b/c it annoyed me so much, but then it was like, I'd already sunk so much time in, I might as well make sure I'm right about everything. And I was.  C-.

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

Thursday, July 09, 2015

2015 book 163

Scarlett Thomas' The Seed Collectors
Thomas's latest (after Our Tragic Universe, The End of Mr. Y, PopCo, and others) features more of the themes she works with so well--religion, enlightenment, academia,, mysteries, etc. The story here focuses on a complicated family and their connection to a mysterious plant whose seed pods grant you enlightenment--but then immediately kill you. Almost every character in this book is sort of horrible, but also sort of sympathetic, making for some compelling reading. I personally enjoyed that some sections are from the point of view of a robin. Nobody writes such weird, wonderful, interesting books as Thomas, and this one was no exception. A-.