Friday, February 05, 2016

2016 book 22

Gavriel Savit's Anna and the Swallow Man
The first thing I'm going to say is addressed to publisher marketing teams: don't compare a book to a really great and well-loved bestseller like The Book Thief, because the new book will not benefit from such heightened expectations. The second thing I'm going to say is that I definitely judge books set during WWII with a more jaundiced eye, because there are so many of them and they all want to be Important. So, I guess, take this review with several grains of salt. It's the story of a little girl in Poland in 1939, and what happens when her linguist father is taken away (they don't seem to be Jewish, so apparently for political reasons) and she encounters the mysterious Swallow Man and winds up accompanying him on his journeys. I feel like this is going for a dreamy fairy tale-ish vibe, but it also doesn't really shy away from the horrors of war, and particularly the horrors faced by a growing girl during war, so that didn't always mesh well for me. (Don't worry, the Swallow Man isn't rapey, but plenty of other men in this book are predatory, so warnings there.) I also kind of felt like the book just STOPPED, as opposed to ending. Seriously, what happened at the end? I was just left hanging. Ugh. Why was this book so over-hyped? It's not really satisfying at all. I mean, it's ok, but really. B.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

2016 book 21

Jacey Bedford's Winterwood
There is kind of a lot going on in this book, but it's all my jam, so let me bust into caps for a moment: MAGICAL HISTORICAL STORY ABOUT A WOMAN WHO IS A CROSS-DRESSING PIRATE CAPTAIN AND ALSO A SECRET WITCH! Like whaaaaaaat, that is amaaaaazing. Oh, ALSO, she is being haunted by the ghost of her beloved husband. And then she comes into possession of a magical mysterious box of a macguffin, not to mention a half-brother who's also half rowankind (sort of a magical person-like thing who is sort of enslaved?), and they're being pursued, and there's all sorts of magical stuff going on. Honestly, I liked this a lot, but I've already sort of forgotten half the things that happened b/c it's a bit meandering--like, this could have been a lot tighter and more effective. But there's some fun stuff going on, even if the heroine is a dope a lot of the time. She's still really cool and sympathetic, and the world-building here is really interesting. It looks like this is the start of a series, though this works perfectly well as a stand-alone. I'll definitely be checking out the next one. B+.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

2016 book 20

Tessa Hadley's The Past
Hadley's latest is one of those stories about a mildly dysfunctional British family--the four siblings, now grown, have reunited at their grandparents' house to decide what to do with it, and there are various relatives and hangers-on about the place. I /did/ wish that there wasn't so much involving a dead dog--like, I just could not deal with it, at all--and some of Hadley's writing is a little bit showy (plus she multiple times has people overhearing voices but not making out the words, it's a little repetitive). But the characters and their relationships are all compelling enough, and things improve when Hadley flashes back to the (titular?) past in the second half. This was interesting and enjoyable enough, it just feels like a lot of other books I've read before. B.

Friday, January 29, 2016

2016 book 19

Libby Cudmore's The Big Rewind
I finished this book a little while ago, and still can't decide what I think about it. It's the story of Jett, a 20-something in Brooklyn, temping instead of following her dream career as a music journalist, part of an extremely hipster-y community--when one of her friends/neighbors is MURDERED! But like, it's not a straight up mystery; it could just as easily be a sort of New Adult/women's fiction story, because so much of it is Jett thinking about old relationships, and music, and mix tapes (this book VERY MUCH nails young romance, music, and the connections therein). So it's sort of both of those kinds of stories, but also neither? Which is cool? But confusing? I definitely wished this actually had been more of a mystery. I want to see a series where Jett sets up as a hipster PI. I would read the hell out of that. B/B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on February 2nd.

2016 book 18

Jeffe Kennedy's The Talon of the Hawk
Before I even START writing about the story here, I want to say that the cover is like one thousand percent offensive. Ursula is a bad-ass, competent warrior princess and she would not be wearing a strapless top! Come on! Anyway. This is a disappointing follow-up to the first two--I hadn't mentioned this, but the characters have a religion with three sister goddesses, each an analogue for the three sisters of the story, and that is all pretty interesting. There's also a theme with each sister gradually losing her loyalty to their father, and I was interested to see how that would play out with Ursula, his heir. But the romance here actually kind of put a damper on the plot--it doesn't feel as natural as the other two, just the love interest constantly cajoling her about being into him (and it's not like she's not attracted to him, but like, after the first ten times she expresses her disinterest, maybe leave her alone a little). (I also admit to kind of hoping she'd be into the helpful librarian lady who's been hanging out for all these books, but heteronormativity carries the day.) Their mostly-bickering romance just takes up too much room in the story, especially compared to the previous books. And it turns out there is also a lot of troubling abuse in Ursula's past, and of course only the love and touch and reassurance of a man can cure the princess of her sadness and make her see her worth. It's like this fun series suddenly got super dark and I am not into it. And then all the political stuff I thought this series was building to is addressed in like five pages--very anti-climactic. Sigh. B/B-.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

2016 book 17

Jeffe Kennedy's The Tears of the Rose
The second book in the Twelve Kingdoms trilogy takes on the story of the youngest princess--the famous beauty--and picks up where the first left off, with that princess mired in grief and pregnant. At first, she's not as interesting as her sisters, but she's still fairly compelling. I liked that the story is sort of how she learns to wield political power, though wish that wasn't spurred on by a dude being kind of mean to her--and of course he's her love interest. Like the first book, I actually liked the romance here--I think these books are billed as romances but the romances aren't the main thing--there's so much else going on!--and so it's nice when things sort of work out. This one ends on a doozy of a cliffhanger and so of course I'm going to immediately read the third one (I admit to also being curious about the romance intended for the warrior sister). Side note, these books have a fairly silly narrative voice that is trying to meld "old fashioned" sort of writing with modern slang. I'm not sure how on purpose any of that is, but it does sometimes knock me out of the story, and it was especially egregious in this one. Still, it's a FUN read, so that goes a long way. B/B+.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

2016 book 16

Jeffe Kennedy's The Mark of the Tala
The first book in Kennedy's Twelve Kingdoms series is your typical epic fantasy--three princesses, each more beautiful than the last, the oldest is a strong warrior, the youngest beloved, and the middle one feels invisible. At least until she meets a mysterious man and finds out there are a bunch of family secrets to uncover, not to mention a lot of political intrigue and romance at hand. I did like the romance here, actually, though the sex scenes have some laughably bad terminology (the stuff we all like to make fun of in torrid romance novels). Oh, and there are shapeshifters! It's all just on this side of goofy but I liked it a lot anyway. And it's just $2.51 for Kindle right now!  B/B+.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

2016 book 15

Jacqueline Winspear's Journey to Munich
I've been thinking a lot about the last book in the Maisie Dobbs series, and I almost wish Winspear hadn't burdened Maisie with so much personal tragedy--it would have been interesting to see her try to balance her crime-solving abilities with a more traditional/happy life. Instead, this book finds her traveling to Munich in 1938 to try and get a British industrialist out of Dachau (on behalf of the British secret service, no less), which of course gets complicated. I found a lot of this to be implausible, wish Maisie would give fewer monologues, and was surprised by where Maisie is when the book ends--but I'll probably keep reading. B.

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

Saturday, January 23, 2016

2016 book 14

Jacqueline Winspear's A Dangerous Place
The eleventh Maisie Dobbs book features s bit of a time jump, as we find Maisie in Gibraltar during the Spanish Civil War, trying to recover from a plethora of personal tragedies. (This book is definitely on the downer side--not recommended if you're looking for a fun cozy.) And of course, she has almost literally stumbled on a dead body--a young Sephardic Jewish man, a photographer. Did he see something he shouldn't have? And are things ever that simple for Maisie? All of this needs to be taken with like twelve grains of salt, but it's pretty entertaining and I definitely still enjoy the characters. B/B+.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

2016 book 13

Susan Dennard's Truthwitch
I feel like this book has gotten a ton of positive buzz, but I was not super into it? It's the start of a four-book series and there is a LOT going on: there's interesting world-building, where people are different kinds of witches/have different kinds of powers (over wind, water, iron, and more esoteric things), and the main character is the titular rare and valuable truthwitch, who can sense when people lie. There's also a lot of political stuff going on, some magical prophecy stuff, some GREAT friendship stuff (the protagonist's best friend is very interesting and I especially liked their partnership), some romance/burgeoning romance, family stuff, etc etc etc. It felt a lot longer than it was, somehow, and the writing was a little awkward (definitely needed one more pass with a proofreader--a few comma errors, and, more egregiously, confusing "elicit" with "illicit"). I was a little more into it by the end but maybe that was just pop culture Stockholm Syndrome (as per Alan Sepinwall). B.

Monday, January 18, 2016

2016 book 12

Jessica Chiarella's And Again
Well, this was a excellent and entertaining novel about four people in Chicago, members of an experimental medical study wherein terminally ill patients are provided cloned--and cured--versions of their bodies, and their memories are implanted in those new bodies. But fresh starts aren't easy, and the four--a young painter, a congressman, a woman who's been paraplegic for eight years, and an actress with HIV--all have complicated lives made more complicated by their situation. This was a really fun and interesting read, very well-written--I mean, the publisher compares it to Never Let Me Go which may be on point thematically, but I don't think this story is trying to be a literary tour de force or anything. Anyway, I liked it. A/A-.

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

2016 book 11

Jenny Downham's Unbecoming
Downham's latest (after Before I Die, among others) centers on three generations of women in a complicated family in England, and what happens when teenage Katie's estranged grandmother is diagnosed with dementia and comes to live with Katie's family. And I mean, Katie has a lot going on--she has recently kissed her best friend, and while she's trying to figure out if she's gay, she's being ostracized at school, plus her newly-divorced mother is majorly stressed out, and her brother has an undiagnosed disorder. It's mainly the story of Katie and her grandmother, their burgeoning relationship, and how Katie is helping record her grandmother's memories--which in turn reveals the life of Katie's mother. It's all pretty beautifully written and moving, and if the end is a little bit too neat, well, these characters deserve it. A/A-.

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

Sunday, January 17, 2016

2016 book 10

Deanna Raybourn's The Dark Enquiry
The latest book in Raybourn's Lady Julia Grey series finds Julia and Brisbane and the usual crew on a case that involves her oldest brother--and a murdered medium. I really, really wish that by this point, Brisbane and Julia could just be badass partners solving crime together, and not fighting about it every five minutes, but I still liked this one better than the last one. Lots of fun twists and turns. B+.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

2016 book 9

Deanna Raybourn's Dark Road to Darjeeling
It hadn't come up in my little reviews of the previous books in this series, but one of the things I liked about it was the main character's relationship with her favorite sister, who happened to be a lesbian. Anyway, her partner has decided she wants to be a mother and live a conventional life, and gone to India to get married--and then her husband dies and she's worried it's murder, and she and her unborn child are in danger! So the whole motley crew heads to India to figure out what's up, and there are suspects and period-appropriate Orientalism galore. I do wish that the main couple would work together a little better at this point, and stop bickering--sometimes it felt like it was there just to pad out the plot. And I am a little leery of Raybourn's treatment of her gay characters between this one and the first one. There's only one book left in the series, so of course I'll read it, but this one was a little disappointing. B/B+.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

2016 book 8

Deanna Raybourn's Silent on the Moor
The third Lady Julia Grey mystery is just as delightful as the first two (I mean, if you can call a series delightful that deals so much with murder and the seedy underbelly of society), as our cast of characters finds themselves at a crumbling manor on the moor in Yorkshire--it seems our love interest now owns the place, but the previous occupants are still there, and everyone has a whole lot of secrets. And mummies. I have been rooting hard for the romance here, so this was a little bit heart-in-my-throat, but lots of action, intrigue, Bronte references, etc. Good stuff! A-.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

2016 book 7

Deanna Raybourn's Silent in the Sanctuary
I was in the middle of a book I was quite enjoying when I read the first book in the Lady Julia Grey series, and I was feeling it so hard that I immediately bought the second, which was just as enjoyable! In this one, Julia and many relatives and friends are all together at her father's converted abbey for a house party and for Christmas when there is a MURDER. I like that Raybourn takes her time setting the scene and introducing the characters and their dynamics before then, though. It makes things much more engaging. I am really into this series and glad my mom recommended it to me! And I'm sure I'll get back to that other book . . . when I've read all of these. A-.

Monday, January 11, 2016

2016 book 6

Deanna Raybourn's Silent in the Grave
This was a Kindle daily deal a couple of days ago, and my mom thought I would like it. And I did! It's a mystery set in Victorian England, first in a series, centering on a young woman whose sickly husband has died, and she assumes it's his heart ailment--at least until a private detective hired by her husband tells her he thinks it may be murder. I really liked the writing here, and only correctly guessed some of what was going on, which was all pretty interesting. I also really loved the protagonist's large and eccentric family, and found the romantic tension between the protagonist and the detective to be well-handled. I am definitely going to read more of this series. A-.