Thursday, March 05, 2015

2015 book 55

Sabrina Jeffries' What a Duke Desires
It looks like Jeffries has a bunch of interconnected series, but starting with one of the more recent ones was easier, and I didn't feel like I'd missed a bunch of backstory or anything. Anyway, our lady is the illegitimate daughter of a viscount and his French actress mistress; when her father died, her evil oldest (legitimate) brother burned a codicil to the will, leaving her, her brother, and their mother with nothing, and when their other legitimate brother tried to defend them, the evil brother disinherited him too!! DARK. Anyway, now she's a grownup, recently back from France, working for her half-brother's detective agency and longing to be a detective herself, when an angry Duke storms in looking for her other brother, saying that her brother found HIS long-missing older brother, kidnapped and presumed dead for years. Like, whaaaaat. Also, he has a FAMILY SECRET that is like super obvious to the reader but they didn't really have much science back then. So then she insists he take her along as they try and find her brother in France and get some answers, posing as a married couple along the way. The romance here is pretty cute and definitely sexy, and I liked how well they worked together in their investigations. I'm totally reading more of these, I like when my historical romances have MYSTERIES in them. A-.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

2015 book 54

Laura Ruby's Bone Gap
I think this is being marketed as a YA novel, but it's truly a novel I'd recommend for all ages (well, not little kids, teens and adults) and it reads just fine as an adult novel. It centers on teenage Finn, who saw his brother's girlfriend Roza get kidnapped--but no one believes him, because he can't accurately describe the kidnapper, and everyone assumes she just up and left town and he's trying to make his brother feel better. This is all interspersed with Roza's experiences, which have a very fairy-tale tinge to them that gradually envelops the rest of the story. It feels really . . . magical, as dumb as I feel saying so. Just really strong writing, and so much good stuff about first love, and family, and small towns, and people that just fall through the gaps. There are also SEVERAL awesome animals, including a cat, a horse, a goat, a bunch of bees, and a giant dog. I also really liked that Roza wasn't really the damsel in distress sort. High marks all around, even if the end is sliiiiightly cheesy. Ah, who am I kidding, I loved it. A/A-.

PS if you're curious, Petey's favorite book is Blankets by Craig Thompson.

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

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

2015 book 53

Seanan McGuire's Pocket Apocalypse
The fourth book in McGuire's Incryptids series finds brother Alex and his girlfriend Shelby heading to her hometown in Australia, where there's been a major werewolf outbreak. Things are action-packed and funny, as usual, though some of the writing is a bit awkward (McGuire does churn out like three or four books a year). Anyway, the presence of Aeslin mice makes up for a lot, and there are lots of new interesting creatures to learn about, so all in all, I enjoyed this a lot. B+.

Monday, March 02, 2015

2015 book 52

S.K. Tremayne's The Ice Twins
S.K. Tremayne is the pseudonym of a London travel writer, apparently. I spent too much of this book wondering whether s/he was a man or a woman (I eventually decided Tremayne is a man), not that it matters really, except that I'd rather spend my time supporting women authors and I resent this silly obliqueness. Anyway, this crazy book centers on a family with identical twin daughters, except one of the twins died over a year earlier, and now the other one is insisting SHE'S the one who supposedly died and her mother is like OH SHIT, did we seriously mix them up? (But like, wouldn't the living twin have corrected the identity error at some point in the previous year?) Not to mention that the parents' marriage is a bit rocky, and the husband definitely has a secret. And now they've all moved to a weird deserted island in Scotland! Now, I am not super into creepy books, but Tremayne really misses some opportunities to make this one creepier, i.e., stronger. It is mildly creepy at best when it wants to be SUPER creepy (some information mentioned toward the end needed to come a lot sooner). And Tremayne also does some stuff that pops up 3/4 of the way through that just feels way over-the-top and like a time-waster. I also had some major issues with the way the mother was portrayed. It's a quick read, though? I don't know. B/B-?

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

2015 book 51

Mike Thomas' You Might Remember Me
I've been putting off reading the Phil Hartman biography for a while, because I really loved him and just didn't want to know all the details about his death. But Thomas really makes an effort not to sensationalize things, and writes an actual biography, starting from his childhood (his siblings clearly contributed a lot to this--his brothers particularly had interesting things to say). Now, the writing is occasionally repetitive, and there are some minor typos (particularly missing quotation marks), but in general, things flow well and I thought it was very readable. And it made me really love Jon Lovitz. PLUS, I now know that Phil Hartman designed a bunch of album covers, including the one for America's Greatest Hits, one of the first two CDs I ever bought (I hoped there'd be something from the Last Unicorn soundtrack on there, and of course there wasn't, but Sister Golden Hair made it all worthwhile). Things are a little maudlin toward the end, but I don't know how that could have been avoided. I will be sad about Phil Hartman's untimely death forever. B/B+.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

2015 book 50

Stacey Lee's Under a Painted Sky
It's 1849, and two teenage girls--one Chinese, one a slave--are on the run, headed West, dressed as boys. I mean, how good a premise is THAT? I was mildly dismayed when they almost immediately encounter a group of cute teenage boys and our narrator (the Chinese girl, Sam) finds one /very/ cute, but their journey is still really eventful and interesting, and the romance isn't a huuuuge part. Mainly because she's supposed to be a boy. :) I was way more into the descriptions of Chinese culture and cowboy-ing than her mooning over the dude (who, hilariously, is actually named West), though. Not to mention the awesome friendship between the girls. Things are a bit predictable, but in general, this was a cute read. Plus, if you grew up playing Oregon Trail like I did, you'll recognize all the landmarks mentioned! B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on March 17th.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

2015 book 49

T. Kingfisher's The Seventh Bride
T. Kingfisher is a pen name of local author Ursula Vernon--I guess she writes more adult-oriented fairy tale fare under this name. This book was excellent, a dark, creepy, funny fairy tale sort of story about a young girl, a miller's daughter, who is betrothed to a mysterious local noble very much against her will--but things are even weirder than she imagined. On the other hand, a super awesome hedgehog befriends her. I really enjoyed this and want to read like twenty more books where she hangs out with that hedgehog. A-.

2015 book 48

Elizabeth Haynes' Behind Closed Doors
The second book in Haynes' series on British police detective Louisa Smith (after Under a Silent Moon) is pretty gripping stuff. Ten years ago, a British girl was kidnapped while on vacation with her family--a victim of sex trafficking. Now she's been found--in the middle of a police investigation into the local drug trade/various other criminal stuff. Lou worked the case ten years ago, and is one of the officers in charge of the current investigation, but pretty soon things are getting complicated. This was not as grim as it could have been, given the subject matter, and I really appreciate Haynes' emphasis on the importance of good police work. This is a series I really enjoy, highly recommended for mystery lovers. A-/B+.

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

Thursday, February 26, 2015

2015 book 47

V.E. Schwab's A Darker Shade of Magic
Schwab's latest (after the very awesome Vicious) is set in an alternate London--actually, three alternate Londons, each with varying levels of magic (and none resembling our own, much). Our protagonist is a guy with the very rare ability to move between worlds (and our other protagonist is a young woman he encounters, a pickpocket in drag who wants to be a pirate, great in every way).  Really interesting world-building and even better characters and action. This works just fine as a stand-alone, but it looks like a sequel is coming, and I'll be there in a heartbeat. A-.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

2015 book 46

Judith Claire Mitchell's A Reunion of Ghosts
Now THIS was right up my alley, dealing as it did with history, family, Judaism, tragedy, and sisters. The whole book is actually the suicide note of a trio of forty-something sisters, but it also tells their family history--and all about the curse on their family, since after all, the sins of the father will be visited unto the fourth generation. And their great-grandfather's actions as a German Jew during WWI were definitely pretty sinful. The three sisters are just great, great characters, and I loved their relationships with each other. I wasn't sure how things would wrap up, but found the ending very satisfying--I won't say anything more so as not to ruin things for anyone else, except: I really, really liked this. A/A-.

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

Monday, February 23, 2015

2015 book 45

Laura van Den Berg's Find Me
Ooh, it's a pandemic story! So it's the near future, and there's a pandemic, some form of Creuzfeldt-Jakob disease, where people get weird skin lesions and lose their memories and motor functions and then die. Our protagonist is a young woman living in a hospital with other people exposed to the virus, quarantined for the 10-month incubation period, undergoing scores of medical tests. It's the sort of story that relies more on atmosphere than a strictly logical plot, and terrible things happen to children, which I am really not into reading about. If I'd known this was another strong-writing-with-disturbing-content kind of books, I wouldn't have read it. I mean, it has its good points for sure--the ending was pretty good, though I wondered how, like, adopted children/adoptive parents would feel about it. I don't know, this had SO MUCH buzz and wasn't at all what I was expecting. B.

Friday, February 20, 2015

2015 book 44

Jane Austen's Persuasion
I was thinking about this book the other day--that Mary Balogh one reminded me of it, a little--so figured I was due for a re-read. I don't think I noticed before how perfectly judgmental and bitchy the narrator is about everyone who isn't Anne! And it's obviously not Anne thinking disparaging thoughts about all the other characters--she's much more of a Jane than a Lizzy. Jane Austen is so snarky. I love it.

2015 book 43

Claire Fuller's Our Endless Numbered Days
Fuller's debut novel centers on a girl whose father takes her away to live isolated in the middle of the woods, telling her everyone else is dead (he's a survivalist type), though things flash back and forth between her childhood in the woods and her time after returning home nine years later (dealing with her mother as well as the younger brother she never knew). Slowly the stories converge until we find out how she made it home, but not before some crazy stuff happens. Really strong and beautiful language here, with an ending that I'm still processing but that made me want to cry. I never know how to grade a novel that's unquestionably GREAT but that traumatized me. Let's call it A-/B+ on this one.

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

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

2015 book 42

Mary Balogh's Beyond the Sunrise
I've enjoyed the other Balogh books I've read, so figured I'd check out this one--a recent reissue of a book originally written in the 90s. And I'm so glad I did, because it was awesome! It centers on a couple who meet and fall for each other as teenagers--only her father is VERY disapproving, because her love interest is the illegitimate son of a nobleman, and not a proper heir, and she's the daughter of a (French) count. Ten years later, they encounter each other again, in Portugal, during the Napoleonic War, and he recognizes her immediately--but doesn't realize that she's a SPY!! (He is also sort of a spy.) And not only is she a spy, but she has a vendetta for a mysterious French officer who brutally murdered a bunch of her relatives. Things are super action-packed and intense and GREAT and they just spend one hundred percent of their time bickering and I love it. I wish more romance novels were like this. A-.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

2015 book 41

Sandra Newman's The Country of Ice Cream Star
This was one of those books that I enjoyed while I was reading it, but was never in a big hurry to pick up again once I'd put it down. I mean, it's set in the future, in an America where a plague kills everyone once they turn like 20, so bands of children have to make their way however they can. Ice Cream is 15, and her older brother now has the plague, and she's determined to find a cure--especially once they run into a man who claims to be thirty. But meanwhile, there's a fair amount of rape, violence, and other mayhem. It's not super pleasant reading, even though I was pretty invested in Ice Cream's story. Newman is doing some great things with language here, and her character names especially are pretty inspired. On the other hand, I definitely feel like this could have been shorter--things move really slowly until the second half of the book, which soon becomes even more relentlessly grim. I'm not sure about this one. It has a GREAT narrative voice, but it's really, really bleak. B.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

2015 book 40

Margo Rabb's Kissing in America
Rabb's latest (after Cures for Heartbreak and a super cute mystery series) centers on a teenage girl coping with the sudden death of her father, falling hard for a cute mysterious boy at school, and getting into romance novels. When her love interest ends up in California, she convinces her best friend to enter a scholarship battle/reality show in LA so she can secretly go see him. A crazy (and pretty crazy entertaining!) road trip ensues. There's a lot here about family, grief, friendship, poetry, love, and so on--really good stuff. The protagonist is kiiiind of annoying about the boy she likes, but in a VERY realistic teenage way. And the writing towards the end was a little clunky--but despite that, I really liked how things wrapped up. There are some really, really great adult lady characters too, always appreciated in a book aimed at teens. A-.

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

Thursday, February 12, 2015

2015 book 39

Camille DeAngelis' Bones and All
YES, folks, it's time for a new entry in the annals of the monsters of YA--teenage Maren is afflicted with a condition that occasionally turns her into a cannibalistic monster (it all started when she was a baby and ate her babysitter) (an author's note explains that she is meant to be a ghoul). Every time she accidentally eats someone, she and her mom have to flee the area, and her mom is over it (and super afraid of her own child), and leaves Maren behind. Now Maren has to go road tripping--maybe to find her absent father and get some answers? This book is very very darkly funny, and there's minimal romance, mainly b/c Maren only gets the uncontrollable urge to eat people who are really nice to her (mainly dudes trying to make out with her).  Turns out there is nothing I love more than a teenage girl eating dudes trying to get into her pants. Amazing. A-.

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

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

2015 book 38

Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life
I've been reading this book for several days--it's looong (but moves quickly!)--and just couldn't wait one more day to find out what happened. Instead I stayed up way past my bedtime because I was so engrossed in this world--and worried about these characters. The story more-or-less centers on four college friends--Jude, Willem, JB, and Malcolm--who all end up in New York in their 20s, and it follows them for several decades thereafter, touching on issues like race and class and art and success--though eventually some disturbing secrets are revealed. Mainly, to me, it was the story of the steadfast love and friendship between Jude and Willem (the other two fade out of the story at a certain point, replaced by a professor/father figure of Jude's) and it was incredibly moving. Now, some super bad sh*t is discussed in the book, so be forewarned about that, and I do feel like there is some stuff here that people could criticize (it is like INSANELY tragic, almost over the top). But I don't want to criticize it. I spent like the last two hundred pages reading with tears streaming down my face because I was so involved in the story. This is Yanagihara's second novel--after the also dark-but-excellent People in the Trees--and I really can't wait to see what she does next. A/A-.

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