Wednesday, December 17, 2014

2014 book 305

Mary Balogh's The Proposal
I joked on Twitter recently that I was only going to read historical romances until new books start coming out again--but clearly it was only sort of a joke! I am burned out, man, and these books are easy and entertaining. In this series--the Survivor's Club series--there's a group of men and one woman who all survived hardships and horrors in war, and recovered together and bonded and now they get together once a year to hang out and basically be a therapy group (I mean that in a positive way). One of them, Hugo, is grousing about needing a wife for various reasons, when the others joke that he should just wander down to the beach and tell the first woman he meets that he's a rich war hero who was given a title for his service. And then when he DOES go down to the beach, he sees a pretty young widow sprain her ankle, and obviously has to help her before the tide comes in! But can a businessman make it work with a noblewoman? (Obviously yes.) I actually really loved the interplay between these two--lots of funny teasing--and how they were willing to share their grief with one another. The dialogue was awkward at times, but in general this was well-written, and forewent the fake-ish obstacles to romance. A-/B+.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

2014 book 304

Eloisa James' The Ugly Duchess
This is apparently part of a series doing a play on fairy tales--obviously this one draws from the ugly duckling story. The dude in question is a young earl whose father has gambled away most of their estate and started in on the accounts of his ward--our titular young girl, slim and boyish and still a teenager. The father insists the young dude (also a teenager) marry the girl to get her sizable inheritance and hide his crimes--and then the dude realizes he actually is super into her. Their marriage is great--at least until she overhears his father and learns she was married for her money (except not really), and promptly kicks them both out (she can run the estate better than they can, for sure). So her young husband obviously turns to piracy. Now, years later, he's returned, determined to win her back, and meanwhile she's become the most fashionable woman in Paris and London. It's rare that I feel this way, but I actually wanted to read more about them! I generally want the couples in romances to work out their issues and get together, but I was actively rooting for these two. Their early married days are just so sweet, I honestly felt sad for the years they missed. A-.

2014 book 303

Courtney Milan's Unraveled
The third in the Turner Series is pretty great--it focuses on cold and haunted middle brother Smite (as revealed in the earlier books, their insane mother named her boys after Bible verses) falling for a girl mixed up with a mysterious crime boss (she needs protection as a single woman raising a boy she grew up with--they were both raised by ACTORS). Anyway, we finally get the backstory on the abuse he suffered as a child, on his dealings as a magistrate, etc, as he basically hires Miranda to be his mistress for a month (with the promise of a hefty payout). Obviously they fall in love, have to foil the crime boss, hang out with his brothers, etc. There are also SEVERAL secretly gay guys, one of whom was a big jerk in the earlier books and now works on redeeming himself. It's nice. A-.

Monday, December 15, 2014

2014 book 302

Courtney Milan's Unclaimed
AH HAHAHAHAHAHA (insert more cackling here)--this was even better than I had guessed. So brother Mark has published his philosophical treatise on male chastity (it's a surprisingly lady-positive work) to great acclaim. He's gotten a weird cult following of young dudes who make hand signals and talk about how many days they've been chaste. He's even been knighted by young Queen Victoria! And now they're offering him a spot on some big important Commission. BUT a local asshole wants that spot, and is offering a reward to anyone who can seduce Mark! So a courtesan of his acquaintance (Jessica)--who wants to make enough money to never have to sell herself again--takes him up on it. But darned if Mark isn't super charming, and darned if Jessica isn't feisty and fun (and super pretty). There are some great bits here with a money-grubbing reporter and Mark's fame in general is pretty hilarious. There's too much flip-flopping around the central romance--it starts to feel padded at a certain point--but once again, the badass lady figures out how to properly solve things. Big ups for nice sibling relationships, too. B+.

2014 book 301

Courtney Milan's Unveiled
Since I enjoyed Milan's Brothers Sinister so much, I decided to check out one of her earlier series, the Tuner Series. In this first one, Ash Turner (a brilliant man who's made his money in trade but is SECRETLY ILLITERATE, oh my god, I can't even), gets revenge on a family that's wronged /his/ family by proving they're illegitimate, making him heir to the duke-dom. BUT they have left pretty daughter Margaret there, pretending to be her father's nurse, to spy on him! Too bad he's SO CHARMING and she's a big ol' softie. This is somewhat less interesting/funny than the other Milan books I've read, but I really like how Margaret is kind of a bad-ass by the end. Plus there's a GREAT subplot about Ash's younger brother writing a hilarious philosophical work about chastity (I fully expect that to be a whole thing in one of the later books when he inevitably meets a tempting woman). B/B+.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

2014 book 300

Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment
I one hundred percent read this book b/c of this piece on The Toast--I love Pratchett's books about the witches, but have been less enamored of the other Discworld books I've read. This one had its very funny moments, and I very much enjoyed reading a silly novel about a girl who pretends to be a boy to enlist in the army to try and find her missing brother . . . only to discover she's not the only secret girl. But I mean, you could just as easily read that Toast article and get the gist. B/B+.

Friday, December 12, 2014

2014 book 299

Tessa Dare's Any Duchess Will Do
Tessa Dare writes the CUTEST and funniest historical romances--even if they don't really hold up to much scrutiny (how many romance novels actually do?). In this fourth Spindle Cove book, a (formerly) dissolute duke (he is clearly nursing a dark and tragic secret) is dragged by his mother to Spindle Cove and she demands he pick a girl to marry, and she'll train her on how to be a duchess (she is desperate for grandchildren). He chooses the serving girl, making a side deal with her that if she fails the training, he'll give her a bunch of money so she can start a business (she wants to run a lending library!) and have freedom for herself and her sister. All in a week! Obviously they fall in love, blah blah blah. Dare doesn't really shy away from the class issues here, though obviously it's going to work out neatly (especially with the help of the couples from the first two books). Who cares, half their romance revolves around BOOKS and I am on board for that. A-.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

2014 book 298

Isabel Quintero's Gabi: A Girl in Pieces
I've read a couple of positive reviews of this book, but I was actually actively avoiding it, because I hate the cover so much. Seriously, it is VERY off-putting (and yet it's actually relevant to the book). But then it came in as a library e-book, so, what the heck. And it's pretty enjoyable--it's about Gabi, a Mexican-American girl about to start her senior year of high school, dealing with one best friend who's pregnant and the other who's a gay boy whose parents have kicked him out of the house. Not to mention school stuff, and her meth-addict dad, and her first boyfriend. I was not really into the narrative voice--it's told as a diary, but some sections strain credulity--I just can't believe that she'd explain so much about herself and her life circumstances to her own diary. (Some parts are better than others at seeming like actual diary entries.) I also could have done without the high-school poetry--I can never tell if poetry in YA books is supposed to be good or bad, but either way, I'm not particularly interested in reading it. I mean, it's great to read a book about a girl achieving her dreams while dealing with a lot of drama, but it just didn't come together for me. I think I would have really related to this in high school, but as an adult, I feel more critical. B.


Yes, here it is, the eagerly anticipated list of my favorite books from 2014! (Note that I say "favorites" and not "best books I read"--there is a distinction.) I know the year isn't over yet, and there were 3-4 books I planned to read before putting this list out, but man, it started to feel like homework! So the rest of the year will probably be light reading and rereads.

This was a great year for women--there was really only one book by a man I even /considered/ putting on this list. (There are some male authors on my list of favorite comics/graphic novels--see below.)

Presented in alphabetical order with links to my reviews!

Favorite books of 2014!
--Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor
--Corrine Cuyvis' Otherbound
--Tana French's The Secret Place
--Shari Goldhagen's In Some Other World, Maybe*
--Erika Johansen's Queen of the Tearling
--Nina Lacour's Everything Leads to You 
--Lydia Millet's Mermaids in Paradise
--Jaclyn Moriarty's The Cracks in the Kingdom**
--Lauren Owen's The Quick ***
--Brigid Pasulka's The Sun and Other Stars ****
--Kate Racculia's Bellweather Rhapsody
--Rebecca Rotert's Last Night At The Blue Angel
--Jane Smiley's Some Luck
--Emily St John Mandel's Station Eleven
--Genevieve Valentine's The Girls at the Kingfisher Club
--Gabrielle Zevin's The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry 

Favorite Comics/Graphic Novels of 2014!
--Emily Carroll's Through the Woods
--Keiron Gillen and Jame McElvie's The Wicked and the Divine
--Jaime Hernandez's The Love Bunglers
--Raina Telgeimeier's Sisters
--Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples' Saga

* This one is out in January, but I worried it would get lost in the shuffle by next December.
** This is actually the second in a trilogy, so read the first one first!
*** If you decide to read this one, avoid reviews b/c it's better to be surprised about the big twist!
**** I technically read this in 2013, but it came out in 2014.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

2014 book 297

E.K. Johnston's The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim
I feel like a book with a title like this could go either way--in this case, it turned out to be awesome! It's set in Canada, in a world that is basically like ours, except dragons are real and plentiful. The titular Owen is the nephew of a famous dragon slayer (and also the son of a less famous one--he's been raised by his dad and his ridiculously cool lesbian aunts), who's recently moved to a small town, but the main character here is really narrator Siobhan, who is hilariously practical and matter-of-fact, and gets recruited to be Owen's bard. There are also a couple of other really cool high school girls. I loved how much this focused on friendship and hard work and bravery, and how there was basically no romance to speak of. And there's so much about history and society and industrialization, it really warmed my history major heart. Who has time to date when there are dragons flying everywhere??? The end is a real whopper, and I am very much looking forward to the sequel, out in March. A.

Monday, December 08, 2014

2014 book 296

Courtney Milan's The Suffragette Scandal
The fourth book in the Brothers Sinister series picks up ten-ish years after the last one, as the younger sister of the guy from the second book, having graduated college, is now running a women's newspaper. Her love interest has a complicated backstory that I won't get into, except to say that he finds out about a plot against her (from a jerk she rejected), and decides to thwart it for his own purposes (REVENGE!) and also b/c he thinks she's tops. AND all their flirting involves punctuation, so I was super into it. Meanwhile, there is a secretly gay long-term couple AND a pair of adorable lesbians falling in love (minor characters from the earlier books)! Plus sisters and suffrage! Milan's books are great because the romance feels like more of a slow build while the couple involved are working on some other project (ie stopping plots against feminist newspapers), as opposed to the insta-love with complications of some other romance novels. It just feels (slightly) more realistic. I mean, the end is fairly silly, and it didn't have quite the same spark as the other ones, but punctuation flirtation makes it an A-.

Friday, December 05, 2014

2014 book 295

Sara Raasche's Snow Like Ashes
I feel like I've seen this on a couple end-of-year lists, but it was just okay to me. The worldbuilding is complicated (and mildly silly), so I'm not even going to start trying to explain it. Our protagonist is a teenage girl, one of only eight exiles/refugees from a conquered kingdom (most of the people were slaughtered, a few thousand are in work camps), all determined to find the broken halves of a magical MacGuffin to restore their young king to the throne. There is a little bit of a love triangle here--and I was WAY more into the foreign prince than the young king--but mostly it's got some nice action and adventure. The writing is serviceable, though drags a bit at times, and one fairly obvious plot point takes way too long to be revealed, but it ends on a pretty strong note. This is the first in a trilogy (ooofffffff course), and I might read the next one? B.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

2014 book 294

Helen Rappaport's The Romanov Sisters
Now THIS is the book I wish we had read for Thanksgiving Sister Book Club--it has that nice narrative style going on, as opposed to the drier/more textbook-like tone of the Candace Fleming book.* It seems to be just as meticulously researched (there's hundreds of footnotes), though it absolutely downplays Nicholas' anti-Semitism. So if you're looking for a nice, rosy look at the Romanovs, this is your book. I liked it for how deep it got into the four girls (particularly Olga), obviously major objects of fascination in the western world. Parts of it are dull, and it doesn't delve into politics at all, but it nails all the gossip for sure. I also find it fascinating that Rappaport--like many other writers--calls the girls "the children" up to the end, even though the older two were in their twenties. The end is a bit of a letdown, but I'd say this is a solid work of popular history. B+.

*To be fair, the Fleming book is a MUCH better work of history. Maybe I shouldn't want it to be chatty.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

2014 book 293

Rachel Hawkins' Rebel Belle
This is not a book I'd have chosen for myself--Hawkins is the author of the Hex Hall series, and while I liked the first one, the second was dumb and I never finished it. But, it's the FYA pick of the month so. . . sigh. First of all, it reads like a parody of the South. Now I am pretty Pennsylvanian, but I've lived in the south for 13 years, so I think I can say that it rings kiiiiiinda false. There's also some weird Asian stereotyping (a minor character who never has any lines is always described as a "pretty, petite Asian girl"). And the narrative voice is amazingly terrible/unrealistic.That said, once the plot actually gets moving, it's more or less entertaining. Our main character, Harper, is suddenly gifted with paladin powers (whatever, go with it), and discovers she has to protect the hipster-glasses-wearing editor of the school paper, who she does NOT get along with.(Obviously he's a cute boy.) It's all VERY silly but in an early Buffy-ish sort of way. I mean, not to overstate it. It's fine, not great. There's way too much drama about Harper's lovelife and not at all enough crazy supernatural action, and the end is ridiculous (but kind of awesome? But ridiculous). UGH I DON'T KNOW. B?

Monday, December 01, 2014

2014 book 292

Julia Quinn's Just Like Heaven
Yes, it's another cute historical romance thanks to the public library! This one was charming and funny, though there was not a lot to the plot, mainly a couple realizing they're in love over a medical crisis and a London season, with thankfully few dumb miscommunications. It was a lot less, shall we say racy, than the Courtney Milan and Tessa Dare books I've read (I would describe the one brief sex scene as "perfunctory"), but the writing was strong and all the characters were likable. It looks like this is the start of a series involving a family that puts on a famously horrible musicale every year, which is easily one of the most hilarious concepts I've ever read, and it's used to great effect here. B+.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

2014 book 291

Laura Lippman's Hush Hush
The latest in Lippman's long-running Tess Monaghan series is all about MOTHERHOOD, and there is a LOT going on. Tess and her PI partner Sandy are hired by their lawyer friend/uncle to work on security/do some investigating for an old friend of his, Melisandre, who ten years ago was acquitted of murdering her baby daughter on grounds of insanity. Now she is back in Baltimore, filming a documentary and trying to reunite with her other two daughters, who she hasn't seen in a decade. Meanwhile, Tess is dealing with parenting a three-year-old, and is receiving increasingly upsetting notes. I'll say that the story is entertaining and moves along at a good pace, but Melisandre is amazingly unbelievable as a character. Her ridiculous name is the MOST plausible thing about her, which makes this book unsatisfying in a lot of ways. Also, the past secrets that were revealed were not nearly as earth-shattering as I expected, and, again, everything with Melisandre feels a little . . . off. I kind of need to dissect the ending of this with someone else, because I can't decide what I'm supposed to take away from it. B.

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

Saturday, November 29, 2014

2014 book 290

Rachel Joyce's The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy
Joyce's latest is a sequel/companion to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and it's just as excellent. And made me cry on an airplane. As Harold walks 500 miles to see Queenie again for the first time in twenty years, she writes a letter recounting her own life story--including her secret love for him, her odd relationship with his troubled son, and her friends in hospice. I think this would work just as well as a standalone, but it's just GREAT to see these two books make up two halves of a lovely (and sad) whole. A/A-.

Friday, November 28, 2014

2014 book 289

Tessa Dare's A Lady By Midnight
I liked this one so much that I stayed up to finish reading it, b/c I couldn't wait till tomorrow to see how things worked out! So the attraction between Colonel Thorne and orphaned music teacher Kate Taylor has been building for a couple of books, and when a bunch of aristocrats show up claiming to have information about her past, he immediately claims to be her fiance--just to protect her, of course. Butttttt he also knows some stuff about her past that he's been keeping hidden! The mystery element definitely adds a lot to the plot here, and I really liked how Dare plotted this one. A-.

2014 book 288

Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train
I like books in the Rear Window/Girl in the Green Raincoat mystery/thriller subgenre, and this was a pretty solid example. The titular girl on the train is Rachel, who observes a couple every morning while on her train commute--a couple who lives just a few doors down from where she lived, before her husband kicked her out to be with another woman--when she one day sees the woman with a man who is not her husband, and then finds out the woman disappeared the next day. Rachel is an alcoholic, and definitely one of the overzealous types of amateur investigators (seriously, she does soooooo maaaaaany dumb things), which is not a great combination. The novel is also narrated in turns by the missing woman and by Rachel's ex's new wife. Things build pretty well, and the end was really strong and suitably creepy. B/B+.

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