Tuesday, November 24, 2015

2015 book 270

Robin Stevens' First Class Murder
The third book in Stevens' Wells and Wong series (about two fourteen year olds solving mysteries in the 1930s) is a straight up homage to Murder on the Orient Express, as Hazel's father comes from Hong Kong to take the girls on a tour of Europe on the famous train--and of course there's a murder. BUT there are also several other amateur sleuths on board getting in their way! And it's hilarious. I really appreciate Stevens' take on the racism of the day (and how Hazel reacts to it), as well as the period-appropriate anti-Semitism. And the friendship between the girls is very well-done. These books are just DELIGHTFUL. A-.

Monday, November 23, 2015

2015 book 269

Robin Steven's Arsenic for Tea
The second book in Stevens' Wells and Wong mystery series (after A Murder Most Unladylike) is just as charming as the first, but ramps up the tension with its plot--Hazel accompanies Daisy to Daisy's family home (manor? fancy house, anyway) for the holidays/Daisy's birthday, and when a most unpleasant guest is murdered, a bunch of relatives are suspects. This series reminds me of what I liked about the earlier Flavia de Luce books, but already is willing to expand its horizons much more than that series ever was. Plus the characters are a lot more fun and slightly more realistic. It's not too hard to guess the end, but Stevens lays it all out nicely and does keep some red herrings in the mix--and anyway, this IS aimed at a younger audience, but manages to entertain this adult as well. A-.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

2015 book 268

Heidi Heilig's The Girl from Everywhere
The concept of this book is GREAT--a girl has been raised on a ship where her father is the captain, and he has the power to navigate anywhere, anytime, even fantasy worlds, as long as they have a relevant map. Unfortunately, her father is also a heroin addict, obsessed with returning to a time before her mother died in childbirth, hoping to prevent that sad end--but will it also erase his daughter from existence? This book gets super bogged down in Hawaiian politics (interesting, but there's too much of it) and a love triangle that is a total waste of space, but the way it ends makes me intrigued to see where the series is going next--it looks like all the stuff I found annoying might be done with! B.

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

Friday, November 20, 2015

2015 book 267

Eloise Jarvis McGraw's Greensleeves
I'd never heard of this book or this author before (though she apparently wrote some of the later Oz books), but it's one of the ones Nancy Pearl had reissued, which was enough of a reason to check it out (another reason: it's $1.99 for Kindle right now). Originally published in 1968, it's the story of an eighteen year old girl completely at loose ends--she's the child of divorced celebrity parents who have raised her all over Europe, and she has no idea who she is, where she belongs, or what she wants to do with her life. So when a family friend enlists her help in determining if an elderly woman's will--with a number of odd bequests--was tricked out of her, she's happy to go undercover as a beehived waitress in Portland, Oregon, and get to know the locals. And it's all super sweet and funny and a little bit sad and endlessly charming. It's also an interesting look at 60s culture, particularly regarding relationships. Really, just wonderful. A/A-.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

2015 book 266

Marissa Meyer's Winter
The conclusion to Meyer's Lunar Chronicles series is action-packed and fairly gripping, as the characters from the first three books band together with the Snow White character to start a revolution to topple the evil queen (the rebellion has more than a few shades of Mockingjay). Despite being OVER EIGHT HUNDRED PAGES LONG, this book did leave me with a lot of unanswered questions. Like, the first 815 pages are all action and whatever (which starts to get a little exhausting at page like 700), and then the last ten are wrap-up. The balance is just a little bit off. Maybe if someone had edited out some of the awkward romance scene between the four couples (yes, there are four couples!), things would have been a bit more streamlined. I mean, I found this as engrossing as the first three, but these books are pretty goofy. B/B+.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

2015 book 265

Mindy Kaling's Why Not Me?
My sister picked this for Thanksgiving Sister Book Club, and I was pleased b/c I like Mindy Kaling and her first book was pretty good. This one is also pretty good--more personal stories, lots of pics, etc. I mean, if you like Mindy Kaling, you'll like this book, presumably? Actually, my favorite part was the chapter where she imagined her life as a high school Latin teacher, and it was a very sweet romantic comedy! I was all like, I wish she would write a novel! And then realized I should probably just give her tv show another chance, haha. I did think it was interesting that she mentions a lot of men she works with or has worked with--but only once mentioned a woman coworker by name. Give your lady writers some props, Mindy! B+.

Monday, November 16, 2015

2015 book 264

Elsa Hart's Jade Dragon Mountain
Here's something a little unusual, at least in America--a mystery set in China during the early days of the Qing Dynasty. It features an exiled librarian, who finds himself at the edge of the kingdom--just days before the Emperor is supposed to visit. And THEN he finds himself trying to solve the murder of an elderly Jesuit priest. Really interesting stuff here on culture, religion, astronomy, storytelling, etc, and there are a few good red herrings. Although the author is a white lady, things don't seem to veer too much into Orientalism (though I am not an expert and may just not have noticed). Definitely an enjoyable and entertaining read. A-.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

2015 book 263

Ursula Vernon's Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible
Vernon's latest is in the model of her Dragonbreath books--mixing comics/illustrations with text, aimed at like the 8-10 year old crowd. It is also a super cute and funny take on the Sleeping Beauty story, with hamsters! Hamster princess Harriet is cursed to prick her paw on a hamster wheel on her 12th birthday--but she realizes that means she has to REACH her 12th birthday, and is thus INVINCIBLE, and thus can go on all sorts of crazy adventures. Of course, the curse does catch up with her eventually, and it's all full of Vernon's trademark wit. Great stuff. A-.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

2015 book 262

Sarah Vowell's Lafayette in the Somewhat United States
It seems like Vowell has been working on this book for a few years, but I'm sure that she's happy it was published during Hamilton-mania, when everyone is extra interested in America's Favorite Fighting Frenchman! Of course, this book isn't really a biography of Lafayette; being a Sarah Vowell book, it's also about the Revolutionary War, French-American relations, and the fact that the United States have never really been "united," per se. It jumps around a lot. I wonder if this would work better as an audiobook, since it reads like having a very long conversation with a very chatty friend who is prone to digressions (I liked the one on the Touro synagogue!). With an audiobook, though, you'd be missing the adorable illustrations (I am particularly partial to the one of Franklin in a fur hat). B/B+.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

2015 book 261

Rebecca Podos' The Mystery of Hollow Places
I love a good YA mystery, and this was a pretty good one! It centers on a teenage girl who looooves mysteries (her favorite book is Rebecca and her father writes medical mysteries), and she gets a doozy to solve. Her mother left when she was small, and she's been raised by her father (and lately a stepmother)--but now her father has vanished, leaving behind only a stone that's part of her favorite bedtime story--the story of how her parents met. So she's off to solve both disappearances, with the help of her best (only) friend and her friend's cute older brother (no worries, the romance here is both realistic and not at all a focus, so refreshing in a YA book!).  The ending is maybe a little bit too cheesy, but I liked the characters and pacing here a lot, and there's nothing wrong with a solid wrap-up. B+.

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

Monday, November 09, 2015

2015 book 260

Ilana C. Myer's Last Song Before Night
Look, this book has a lot going on and I'm too tired to even BEGIN to explain it, so I will just say there is magic, music, action, romance, evil dudes, good dudes, and some pretty okay ladies. I think things would have been a lot stronger had things focused specifically on the young woman who's fled her home and longs to be a poet (a bard sort of role, highly honored in this world, but only men are trained), especially considering the way things progress. There are like 7 characters here splitting things up, which is fine, because they're mostly interesting, but it kind of diffuses the story for me. I ended up not really being invested in any of them. The writing here is strong, otherwise--this is a first novel, and I am curious to see what Myer does next. B.

Friday, November 06, 2015

2015 book 259

Patrick Ness' The Rest of Us Just Live Here
Patrick Ness' books are sometimes hit or miss for me, but this one was pretty aces. It centers on the normal kids in a town where crazy things are always happening--the kids who AREN'T the chosen ones, having to deal with the disaster, the kids who are just trying to make it till high school graduation. The protagonist has some complicated stuff going on--severe OCD, a lifelong crush on a girl friend, a politician mother, a recovering anorexic sister, an alcoholic dad, etc--and he just wants to make it out. But because all of his (and his friends') stuff is intermixed with some frankly hilarious summaries of what the "indie kids" are getting up to in their battle against the Immortals, it never feels too cliched (and I have read a LOT of cliched YA books lately). Most of the characters are pretty well drawn--I particularly loved his best friend for a variety of reasons, which you will understand immediately if you read this, as well as the relationship between the protagonist and his sisters--and the pacing is good.  Even the horny teen boy stuff was at a minimum, for which I am extremely grateful. Entertaining stuff. A-/B+.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

2015 book 258

Elizabeth Strout's My Name is Lucy Barton
Strout's latest (after, most recently, The Burgess Boys and the Pulitzer-winning Olive Kitteridge) feels like a smaller book than her earlier ones, but it still manages to touch on motherhood (and complicated mother-daughter relationships), the AIDS crisis, marriage, poverty (the class stuff here is VERY strong), and writing itself, as the writer protagonist reflects back on her time in a hospital after an appendectomy. The writing here feels really incisive, to me, and Strout says a lot in a slight space. A/A-.

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

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

2015 book 257

Gail Carriger's Manners and Mutiny
The final book in Carriger's Finishing School series--a prequel series to her Parasol Protectorate books--is a great finish, full of action, romance, spying, social justice, secrets, great friendships between women, and a lovable mechanical dog. What more could you want from a book, really? Seriously, this was great, just super fun. A/A-.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

2015 book 256

Lisa Lutz's The Passenger
Lutz has really been breaking away from her Spellmans mystery series (my beloved!) with her last couple of books, and although this one does have some mystery elements, it's really more in the thriller vein. It centers on a woman whose husband is laying dead at the bottom of the stairs, and though she seems to be innocent, she goes on the run, adopting different names and identities as she crosses the country. It's all very exciting and interesting, but a lot of it rings kind of false--the character Blue, as fun as she would be in a movie, does not at all feel like an actual human, and the big reveal at the end was pretty easy to see coming. Still, it moves quickly and has Lutz's trademark wit, so it's entertaining throughout. B/B+.

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