Sunday, February 28, 2010

2010 book 59

Kate Atkinson's When Will There Be Good News?
I found out recently that Atkinson has a fourth Jackson Brodie book coming out in August (yay!) which made me want to reread the last one--which, on rereading, I would totally argue is the best of the three. It's great how Atkinson sprinkles humor and literary references into what is otherwise a fairly grim story involving a guy murdering a family, a horrible train crash, a swimming pool accident, and seriously crazed domestic abuse. Plus Jackson Brodie, the hardened cop Louise Monroe, and awesome and intrepid mother's helper Reggie. I hope we get to see the latter two characters in the new book too.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

2010 book 58

E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
Sometimes you just want to reread a book you know you'll enjoy. And who can't relate to Frankie feeling like an outsider from her popular boyfriend's secret society, b/c she's a young cute girl? And who doesn't revel in how completely she outsmarts everyone? This was one of my favorites of last year and I still love it.

Friday, February 26, 2010

2010 book 57

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's One Amazing Thing
In the days before I had this blog, I read Divakaruni's novel Mistress of Spices, which was a perfectly enjoyable novel, but pretty much exactly the story you'd expect from a book called Mistress of Spices. So I wasn't in any big hurry to read this new novel by her, until good reviews started turning up in my Google Reader (I do think the NPR story mischaracterizes the story in a slightly Orientalist manner--one of the very first pages has a character reading Chaucer, and clearly the book is more of an homage to the Canterbury Tales as opposed to the Arabian Nights stories). Anyway, it's about nine people who get trapped in an earthquake, and one suggests they all tell a story from their lives to help pass the time and distract themselves while they wait for rescue, and all of the stories are surprisingly moving and interesting. A.

(A review copy was provided by the publisher.)

2010 book 56

Patricia Wrede and Carolina Stevermer's The Mislaid Magician, or Ten Years After
The third Kate and Cecy book, as the title indicates, jumps ten years into the future and returns to the epistolary style of the first book, as the cousins and their children get caught up in another mystery involving a mysterious prowler, ley lines, and a mysterious girl. Lots of mysteriousness (though the latter of those mysteries is way too easy to figure out, the rest is fairly satisfying). B+/B.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

2010 book 55

Patricia Wrede and Carolina Stevermer's The Grand Tour
In the second book about cousins Cecilia and Kate, the two are on a grand tour of Europe with their respective husbands, which creates a problem for the storytelling--they can't really write each other letters when they're together. Wrede and Stevermer instead decide to tell the story through one's diary and through a deposition the other is giving, which seems unnecessary really. Still, it's another satisfying historical/magic adventure with very likable characters. B+.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

2010 book 54

Sarah Blake's The Postmistress
Well, this book was a huge disappointment. It's been getting a ton of buzz--helped by a blurb from the chick who wrote The Help, and I had hopes it would be a good read--or at least, a cheesy-yet-satisfying one. But it was really not very good. It's about three women in 1940-1--one an American war reporter in London, one a postmistress in small-town MA, and one the small town's brand new bride. And their stories eventually come together, but none is compelling or satisfying in the least. The war reporter's story had potential--a novel just about her would have been a much better one--but the other two characters are poorly sketched and generally uninteresting. C.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

2010 book 53

Anne Ursu's The Shadow Thieves
Sub-par middle-grade fantasy where, yet again, the Greek gods are real, and two cousins have to stop a plot by a bad guy to overthrow the underworld. Honestly, the only reason I finished was that there was a really awesome cat character. Otherwise it lacked in terms of plot and narrative tension, and the human characters were fairly one-dimensional. C.

2010 book 52

Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer's Sorcery and Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot
Really, really fun YA told in letters between two cousins in 1817--one has gone to London for the season and the other left behind in their small town. They get caught up in a crazy plot and have to try and stop some evil wizards from carrying out their evil wizard plans--and of course there's some great romance along the way. Can't wait to read the sequel. A.

Friday, February 19, 2010

2010 book 51

Susan Beth Pfeffer's The Dead and the Gone
The second book in Pfeffer's disaster trilogy is, in some ways, even grimmer than the first. It starts off slowly, since readers of the first one are familiar with the moon-related chaos, but things pick up soon enough as we watch main character Alex struggle to keep his two younger sisters and himself alive when their parents don't return. Devout Catholics, they're helped along by the Church, but even the Church's resources can't save everyone. I find the portrayal of religion in these books interesting; the only church figure in the first book is a total asshole of an evangelical, but the Catholic authorities in this one are pretty cool and their faith is something that helps sustain the characters. Anyway, like I said, these books are grim; I had to take frequent breaks to watch cartoons or play bejeweled. Which, frankly, speaks to the power of the story. And my own sheltered life. A.

2010 book 50

Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life as we knew it
Pfeffer wrote a bunch of YA books in the 80s (remember The Year Without Michael? Or the various sisters at 16?) but her 2008 novel is a much grimmer affair. It's all told in diary format, starting off with the usual 16-year-old girl worries, but then an asteroid hits the moon, causing scores of natural disasters and throwing life totally off-kilter. I think part of the reason I found this so distressing was that, since my tv died today, I spent the afternoon reading in my bedroom with my little tv on (I like the noise) and so everything felt all out of wack anyway. But I had to keep reassuring myself that there wasn't a moon-related apocalypse and my microwave still worked! Pfeffer does a great job with the atmosphere and with the protagonist and her family relationships--I was almost scared to get toward the end, wondering what would happen. Apparently there's a companion novel out and another on the way, and I'll definitely be reading those too. A.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

2010 book 49

Paul Tremblay's The Little Sleep
Readable but ultimately unsatisfactory mystery about a PI plagued by narcolepsy and hallucinations, told in the usual hard-boiled style. B.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

2010 book 48

Heidi Durrow's The Girl who Fell from the Sky
A beautiful, sad, but somehow hopeful book about a biracial girl growing up in the 80s who's sent to live with her grandmother after a family tragedy. I can't think of anything else to say about it except that it's an early contender for my best of 2010 list and you all should read it. A.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

2010 book 47

Belinda Bauer's Blacklands
A dark and disturbing novel about a boy whose uncle was murdered by a serial killer as a child and left his family totally dysfunctional. When he strikes up a correspondence with the killer in an effort to find his uncle's body, things don't go according to his plan. The library has categorized this as a mystery but it isn't really, though it is really suspenseful. A-.

Monday, February 15, 2010

2010 book 46

Alexandra Bullen's Wish
This is one of those YA novels that I probably would have liked when I was 14, but doesn't appeal to me now. It's the usual stuff about a girl whose twin sister died in an accident and now she's moved to a new town, made friends w/ the popular girl, and fallen for a cute guy who happens to be the popular girl's boyfriend, and her guy friend neighbor likes her. Only there are some magical dresses and wishes involved. B.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

2010 book 45

Shirley Damsgaard's Witch Way to Murder
My mom has recommended this series to me a few times--it's about a librarian and her grandmother, both witches, who get involved in mysteries--and since I like librarians, magic, and mysteries I figured I'd give it a go. Unfortunately this first one is pretty weak--the main character is traumatized by a tragedy in her past which isn't ever explored and makes her really surly, the romantic subplot is completely trite, and the villains are totally cartoonish. Plus some of the librarian stuff is just silly. The characters have potential, though, and I especially liked the perky and observant assistant librarian. B/B-.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

2010 book 44

Kristin Cashore's Fire
The second Graceling book is actually a sort of prequel that takes place in a neighboring land. It feels a little more cliched/trite, as a half-human woman, mistrusted by most who meet her, ends up helping out an army or whatever. The romantic subplots were especially predictable and not entirely well-done, but it was still a good read, and I hope the third one comes out soon! B/B+.

Friday, February 12, 2010

2010 book 43

Kristin Cashore's Graceling
So the second book in this YA fantasy series came out recently, and was getting good reviews, and I was all, oh I should read those, but then it seemed like they were about a girl assassin or something and I was like eh, but then Emma was like, no seriously it's good and you should read it, so I did and it was awesome!

Anyway, it's a fantasy land where some people are graced (with a capital G) with various gifts like cooking, only our protagonist is graced with killing and her uncle the king uses her as an intimidation device, siccing her on various people he wants punished. Of course she has her own secrets, and meets a prince from a neighboring kingdom with his own graces, and they go on a mission together and it's all surprisingly moving and sinister and great. And I'm getting the second one for my Kindle right now! A.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

2010 book 42

Louise Erdrich's Shadow Tag
When I heard this book was coming out, I thought, yay, a new Louise Erdrich book, they're always good, and so I added it to my library hold list immediately. And then the reviews started coming out and they all mentioned that this novel, primarily about a troubled marriage, clearly referred to Erdrich's own marriage to Michael Dorris (cf. the NY Times review, p. 2). They of course were famous collaborators--I read their joint novel The Crown of Columbus, when I was in middle school and it was one of my favorite books for years, probably b/c it was the first I'd read that was an academic/literary mystery type of book--who famously divorced amidst accusations of child abuse, and then Dorris killed himself.

So this book broke my heart, both from its excellent writing and from the thought that their marriage could ever have been that exquisitely awful.

It's a definite departure from Erdrich's other novels, and definitely refers, if not specifically to her marriage, then to the difficulty of being married to an artist and serving as his muse, while trying to raise a family and not go crazy when you realize he's been reading your diary. So yeah, it's pretty dark. And like I said, heartbreaking. A.

2010 book 41

Tash Aw's Map of the Invisible World
What starts off as a story about two orphaned brothers, adopted by different families in 1960s Indonesia, quickly becomes a story of those turbulent political times, as the younger brother's Dutch-born father is hauled away by the police and he tries desperately to track him down, with the help of an American woman from his father's past. This wasn't quite as good as Aw's first novel, The Harmony Silk Factory, but did a good job of vividly portraying Indonesia and its revolutionaries. B+/B.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

links and whatnot

Links to stuff I've shared on Google Reader (and now, Google Buzz):

Part 1 of an interview w/ Jim Rugg, who had an awesome signing Saturday at Chapel Hill Comics (and is from Pittsburgh!). He rules.

Sweet Valley High: The sequel??

I am eagerly awaiting the Powers tv show.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

2010 book 40

Tanya Huff's The Enchantment Emporium
Urban fantasy about a young woman who comes from a large family of people with powers of some sort, who inherits a shop from her grandmother and moves to Calgary and finds romance and danger and has to save the city (with some family help). This more-or-less held my attention, but I didn't love the jumpy narrative style. B.

Monday, February 08, 2010

2010 book 39

Gabrielle Zevin's Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac
I loved Zevin's novel Margarettown (it was one of my favorites of whatever year it came out) but hadn't kept up with her to know she was still writing books. A recent review of her latest novel (which I'm still waiting for the library to order) made me check out her other stuff--this was a YA novel about a girl who hits her head in a fall and forgets the past four years of her life and all the accompanying teenage drama. Things go pretty much as you'd expect in terms of family and romance, but Zevin's characters are (for the most part) solid (the exception being the troubled boy who rescues the main character), and she manages to inject some humor into the proceedings. A-/B+.

percy jackson

The Guardian has a great piece on the Percy Jackson books, the author and his son, and the inevitable Harry Potter comparisons (I love this series even more now than I know the author is a HP fan). Can't wait for the movie!

Sunday, February 07, 2010

2010 book 38

Charles Todd's The Red Door
Todd is actually a mother and son writing team, and this is their 11th mystery about a Scotland Yard Inspector--I haven't read the first 10, which wasn't a huge detriment to enjoying this one, but I did wonder what exactly happened to this guy in WWI that causes him to be haunted by a Scottish soldier. Anyway, a missing persons case involving a wealthy family gets tied into a small-town murder of a woman who never stopped hoping her husband would come home from the war. It was readable enough but I doubt I'll read the others. B.

2010 book 37

Sarah Beth Durst's Into the Wild
Fairy tale characters have escaped their stories and Rapunzel and her daughter are in charge of guarding the last remnants of the wild. Unfortunately the daughter is an angsty teenager and somewhat annoying. Anyway, when someone makes a wish in the magic well, the wild escapes and Rapunzel's daughter has to try and make things right. The concepts here were entertaining, but it was thoroughly predictable (especially the very end). B. If you want to read about fairy tale characters chilling in the modern world, hit your local comic book store and start reading Fables.

Friday, February 05, 2010

2010 book 36

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Man, the Harry Potter books never stop being awesome.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

2010 book 35

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
It's easy to choose a book you know will be a good read over an unknown quantity sitting in your library pile.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

2010 book 34

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
I know I've always said this is my least favorite of the HP books, but it's really grown on me the past few re-reads. Once you reconcile yourself to Harry's all-caps temper tantrums and Dumbledore's trickling tear, it's really a good story that expands the whole HP universe.

Well, I think day 4 of the snowpocalypse will be my last one--now to decide if I want to read the last two HP books or take a break and try something from my library pile. I still haven't decided if I want to read the new Joshua Ferris book--have any of you read it, and is it worth a go?

And yay, Lost comes back tonight!!

Monday, February 01, 2010

2010 book 33

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
I'll say this for Rowling--she knows how to write an entertaining story. I hate sports, and yet reading her recountings of her imaginary sport is somehow riveting. This book is also crucial for setting up future plotlines and introducing the awesome Bill Weasley. OK, now I'm off to try and dislodge my car from the snow.