Tuesday, June 29, 2010

2010 book 167

Heather McElhatton's Million Little Mistakes
McElhatton's Pretty Little Mistakes--a choose-your-own-adventure book for adults--was one of my favorite books of 2007, so I was super excited to snatch an advance copy of her new one at ALA. In this companion book, the protagonist wins millions in the lottery--which paths will you choose to see what happens next? I followed all the possible storylines, which involve everything from tropical islands to salvage ships to George Clooney to conservation classes, and as with the first one, enjoyed every moment. More than one ending made my eyes well up a little, which my childhood CYOAs certainly didn't. I don't know why these books aren't more popular, b/c they're so much fun. A.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

2010 book 166

Emma Donoghue's Room
Narrated by a five year old boy who's never left the room he was born in--because his mother was kidnapped and is being held captive by a seriously creepy dude--the plot of this novel may feel a little bit ripped from the headlines, but that doesn't make it any less powerful, terrifying, or compelling. Now that Jack is five, his mother has a harder time explaining their lives, and eventually Jack learns about the outside world, leading the two to hatch a desperate escape plan.

I was sitting and reading this book while waiting for Arianne to meet me for Toni Morrison (who was completely amazing to hear, by the way) when a girl sitting in my vicinity said "I hate to interrupt you, but you look so engrossed in that book--what is it?" She was just one of the many people I talked to about it today. It's hard to explain in a way that doesn't make it sound dark or grim (though, at times, it is both of those things), but somehow Jack's narrative voice as he struggles to comprehend his world makes it a quick read. It comes out in September, so look for it, etc. A.

2010 book 165

Sara Gruen's Ape House
When an author writes a book as awesome as Water for Elephants, you know it's a hard act to follow, so I didn't have super high hopes for Gruen's new one (coming out in September). But seriously, once I started, I couldn't put it down--I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, dying to know what would happen! This amazing story centers on a woman researching language acquisition in bonobos (some of the best fictional animals ever, by the way), a reporter working on a story about the lab, and what happens after an environmental group blows up the lab and the bonobos mysteriously vanish. I don't want to give much away, except to say that this is going to be a much-deserved bestseller and you all should get ready to add it to your library hold lists. A.

Friday, June 25, 2010

2010 book 164

Guy Gavriel Kay's Under Heaven
Sorry for the radio silence--this book is very long, and I've been busy getting ready for/going to/hanging out at ALA! So what we have here is a historical epic set in an alternate version of ancient China; it's billed as a fantasy, but the fantastic elements mainly consist of ghosts and occasional shamanism. When a young man who's spent two years burying the dead of both sides of a long-ago battle is rewarded with 250 super-special horses, he gets caught up in imperial political intrigues and finds himself very involved in the future of his country. I especially liked the protagonist and his traveling companions (a young warrior woman and an aging poet), though found myself wishing this had been edited down a bit more. Digressions along the lines of "later, historians would say . . . " start cropping up halfway through and grow a little tiresome, and one section is narrated by a dancing girl who doesn't appear anywhere else in the book. Still, the main character and his siblings are fascinating, and the political intrigue is fairly compelling. A-/B+.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

2010 book 163

Emily St. John Mandel's Last Night in Montreal
When a young woman--who was abducted by her father when she was seven and spent her life on the road--leaves her grad student boyfriend, a mysterious postcard sends him to Montreal, where he hopes to find her and make sure she's ok. Gradually her complicated history unfolds, leading up to an unexpectedly dark conclusion. Very well-written, though I didn't feel like I knew any of the characters. A-/B+.

Monday, June 21, 2010

2010 book 162

Allegra Goodman's The Other Side of the Island
Somehow it had completely escaped my attention that Goodman--author of a ton of books that I like, mostly sorts of social commentaries--wrote a YA dystopian novel. Now you guys know I love YA dystopian novels, and since I also love Goodman, I had to check this one out. Interestingly, it totally reads like the first book of a trilogy, but it's a standalone novel with an ambiguous ending (a la The Giver?). The world this story takes place in has a menacing ruler, but instead of Big Brother, she's Earth Mother. Our protagonist is Honor, who moves to the city with her parents after an apparently unconventional upbringing. Desperate to fit in with everyone else, she's constantly dismayed by her rebellious parents. But when they disappear, she has to put her worries aside and face some harsh truths. The story is also notable for a sinister librarian. A-.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

robert duvall

In a great example of synchronicity, I discovered that TMC was playing the movie of "To Kill a Mockingbird" tonight for Father's Day (b/c obviously Atticus Finch is the best dad ever, excepting mine). Of course I was extra eager to watch it, having just read the book this week, though it's always worth watching. But not just for Gregory Peck and the amazing kid actors--did you know Robert Duvall played Boo? (I didn't till John Lithgow told us afterward, whcih was random, but whatever.) No wonder I cried at his slightest facial expression. He conveyed so much and didn't have one line of dialogue. Just a brilliant movie.

Such a good movie, in fact, that I almost forgot to say how great Toy Story 3 was! (Though perhaps a little too scary for the younger ones--but don't worry, it's Pixar, and I was laughing hilariously at more than a few parts.)

2010 book 161

Danielle Ganek's The Summer We Read Gatsby
Man, this book was AWFUL. Just awful. I don't know why I even finished it, except that I hoped all the lame romantic subplots and issues w/ stolen paintings would get interesting. But they never did. D.

Friday, June 18, 2010

2010 book 160

Melissa Marr's Fragile Eternity
The third Wicked Lovely book falls into the trap a lot of series seem to--this book was more about moving pieces into play and setting up new conflicts than being a solid story in itself. The end was not very ending-ish, which was a bit of a bummer as I really enjoyed the wrap-ups of the last two. Not to mention that this one focused primarily on Seth, who is likable enough but not fleshed out as a character at all. I mean, his defining traits are: piercings; loving his girlfriend; being abandoned by his parents; having a pet snake. Not really a lot to relate to there. B/B-.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

2010 book 159

Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird
It's been years since I've read this--my last reading predates this blog--but this summer is the 50th anniversary of its publication and I figured now was the time to get back to it. I still remember the first time I read it, struggling to understand the political undertones during breaks in ping-pong classes at art camp the summer I was 11. And I guess at some point I read it in school, since there are all sorts of hilariously un-astute comments in the margins (i.e., in the scene outside the prison "[Atticus] was scared [the kids] would be hurt") along with multiple doodles (most of big-eyes, wavy haired girls, but one is of Scout in her ham costume, only I didn't know what ham looked like so it sort of looks like a Pac-Man ghost wearing a hat. And this book also reminds me of my all-time favorite teacher, Mrs Kogut from 10th grade English, whose daughter was named Jean Louise (though, when I asked if she was named for Scout, Mrs Kogut replied that she just wanted a name no one would mispronounce, since she always felt bad about mispronouncing names).

Clearly this book steeps me in nostalgia. And also--it always makes me think. About society and the ills we do to each other, and about justice, and right and wrong. I've been thinking about that a bit lately anyway, following the closing arguments from the Prop 8 case in California and hoping my generation's battle for equal rights works out as well--or better--as the civil rights battles of the 60s and 70s (Loving v. Virginia happened in 1967--you'd think 40-some years would be enough for all people to be allowed to marry whoever they love. But anyway).

I'm not going to do even a shadow of a plot summary--we all know the story, and if we don't, we should remind ourselves. But coming-of-age doesn't get any better than this.

more scott pilgrim trailers

Here is the international trailer. To quote Kim Pine, this movie looks epic .I am seriously going to see it the day it opens and probably like 8 more times after that.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

2010 book 158

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
I'm rereading the HP books in the downtime between stacks of library books . . . Sometimes this one annoys me at parts but this time I just reveled in it like it was comfort food.

Monday, June 14, 2010

2010 book 157

Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad
And this one's for all the music lovers in the crowd! No, really. It's a series of interconnected stories (I guess?) that tell the sprawling story of a bunch of interconnected people--Sasha, who works for a record label; her boss, Bennie; Bennie's former punk bandmates and friends; a vaguely slimy record producer and his family; a publicist and her daughter--and tons of other people they encounter from the 1970s till some unspecified future time. Plus one section is told in powerpoint. It flits back and forth in time, filling in the characters' lives in a completely unforgettable way. And it all seems to come back to music. Definitely recommended. A/A-.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

2010 book 156

Melissa Marr's Ink Exchange
The second Wicked Lovely book centers on a friend of the protagonist from the first book, who gets entangled in the fairy world herself after getting a magical tattoo. Weirdly, I am POSITIVE I've read another book where a girl gets a magical fairy tattoo that gives a fairy power over her, but can't figure out which book it is! I need to be more descriptive in these reviews, clearly. Anyway, this one has more of the romance and intrigue, but is significantly darker. I liked this way this one wrapped up and probably will read the third in the series immediately. B+.


Originally uploaded by wordnerdy
I know, I know, is there really such a thing as too many cherries? Sometimes the answer is yes, and the solution to this problem is clafoutis.

2010 book 155

Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely
Hey publishers, take note: I was able to get this book for free for my Kindle, and enjoyed it, and now I'm gonna buy the sequel. So make more books free for a limited time and watch profits magically soar! Or maybe I just like free books.

Anyway, here we have an urban fantasy about a girl who can see faeries and gets caught in the plotting between the Winter Queen and the Summer King, all while trying to navigate a relationship with her pierced and sexy maybe-boyfriend. Surprisingly satisfying and not at all predictable. Extra points for mentioning Pittsburgh a bunch of times. A-.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

2010 book 154

Joshilyn Jackson's Backseat Saints
I really liked Jackson's last book and was eagerly awaiting this one, even though she's known as a Southern Women's Writer whcih isn't my usual thing. It starts off strong, with a woman in an abusive marriage being told by a gypsy that she has to kill her husband or he'll kill her, but the last third was just . . . not great or realistic in any way. Sigh. Then, weirdly, at the very end is what seems to be the first chapter of one of Jackson's earlier books (Gods in Alabama), which ties in to this one. I'm not gonna read it. B.

Friday, June 11, 2010

2010 book 153

Justin Cronin's The Passage
Hey, check it out, I read the summer's big buzz book! And I mean big literally--it's 766 pages and apparently the first of a trilogy. Cronin was actually a literary fiction kind of guy till he dreamed up this big crazy vampire book and caused a bidding war amongst many publishers--and actually, it's a pretty good story. Every review compares it to Stephen King and Cormac McCarthy, which makes a certain amount of sense, as part of it is a big scary vampire story, and part a post apocalyptic road trip story. So anyway, things start off in the near future with the government doing experiments on vampires, but things go awry when they decide a 6-year-old girl should be their next test subject. Then we shoot 100 years into the future and see the terrible aftermath through the eyes of an isolated colony of humans.

Things I liked about this book: lots of cool female characters; variety of narrative techniques. Things I liked less about this book: not everything makes sense; despite the scary and deadly enemies, there's a surprising lack of narrative tension through a lot of it.

Yeah, I have some mixed feelings about it--maybe I wish things could have been a bit zippier? I still read the whole thing in a couple days, which I guess counts for something. I'm not sure if I'll read the other two, though I guess I'll feel less burned out by the time they're released.

So okay, if you feel like reading a 766-page book about a vampire outbreak, I recommend this one highly. A-/B+

Thursday, June 10, 2010

2010 book 152

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
I've probably read this book at least 15 or 20 times since my mom got it for me, so I'm running out of things to say about it, except that it's always a good read.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

2010 book 151

Katie Crouch's Men and Dogs
A self-destructive woman haunted by her father's disappearance when she was a child is shipped off to Charleston to visit her family after cheating on her husband and then falling off of a balcony while drunk. Which I think tells you pretty much all you need to know about that character. I didn't really enjoy this book at all. B-.

Monday, June 07, 2010

2010 book 150

Katherine Shonk's Happy Now?
Quiet little novel about a woman coping with life after her husband's suicide. I especially liked the relationship between the protagonist and her sister--one of the better sister-sets in recent literature. A-.

read this

GREAT New Yorker essay on dystopian YA lit!

2010 book 149

Jackson Pearce's Sisters Red
A great modern fairy-tale about two girls who, after a childhood attack, have become hunters of scary werewolf-like beasts. However, their relationship is tested when a childhood friend may suddenly become more than a friend to the younger sister. I found one plot point way too easy to pick out and wish it had been officially revealed a bit earlier, but otherwise really enjoyed the story--the sisters are totally bad-ass and great. A-.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

2010 book 148

Kimberly Pauley's Sucks to be Me
Although this book has an interesting premise--a teenage girl whose parents are vampires has to decide whether or not to become one herself--and a fun new take on the vampire mythos, it was really a chore to finish. Seriously, the author is trying waaaaay too hard to write in a teenager's voice and it all just feels false. B/B-.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

summer read-along?

We've done a couple of book groups here in the past--the Harry Potter books, the Anne of Green Gables books--anyone interested in another online reading project? Maybe the Betsy-Tacy books, or some non-series stuff? I miss having book discussions!

2010 book 147

Before I get into the latest book commentary, some housekeeping: it's been suggested that I refine my tagging system to be more helpful to ppl looking for lists of books. I have YA, mysteries, fantasy, Judaism, nonfiction . . . what else should I be using for tags? Suggestions welcome!


Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells
Since I enjoyed Allen's other two novels so much, as soon as Arianne recommended this one, I sought it out. And, just like the others, it's a great read. It felt especially appropriate as I've been discussing literary sisters this week, and the two here exemplify a certain literary trope of estranged sisters coming together. One sister (along with her very likable daughter) returns to her childhood home, fleeing an abusive husband, and reunites with her repressed sister, who runs a catering company specializing in edible flowers--which, as per Allen's type of magical realism, have special powers. Love interests come into the picture and things wrap up just as you'd want them to, which is not a bad thing. Some points off for referring to UNC as "Chapel Hill University"--Allen, an NC native who sets all her books in our awesome state, should know better. A-.

2010 book 146

Terry Pratchett's Witches Abroad
I believe this is the first Discworld book I read, and it's still my favorite--I love the interplay of the witches' relationships as they travel to foreign lands to try and stop a girl from marrying a prince. Pratchett's twisted take on fairy tales always entertains, and the witches are easily my favorite Discworld characters (which reminds me, there's a new Tiffany Aching book coming out this fall--yay!).

Thursday, June 03, 2010

2010 book 145

Laurie R. King's The God of the Hive
The latest Mary Russell book picks up where the last one left off, which is unfortunate as a) I barely remember that one, and b) What I remember, I remember not liking much. Once again, Russell and Holmes are apart for most of the book, which makes things much less fun. The previous mystery turns out to be even more mysterious and sinister, and some interesting new characters are introduced, so I got caught up in things despite myself. One minor quibble: the jacket talks about a lady doctor "with a secret" only we don't see her much and she didn't seem to have any secrets whatsoever. Is making things seem EVEN MORE exciting really necessary? Anyway, this was ok. B.

2010 book 144

Theresa Rebeck's Three Girls and their Brother
I know that this isn't a great book and the narrative voices are totally derivative of Salinger, but I love it anyway. Here's my original review.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

2010 book 143

Andrea Levy's The Long Song
I loved Levy's Small Island (which, after seeing the miniseries on Masterpiece Theater, I need to reread) and didn't really like her next book, but figured I'd give her newest one a chance. It's about a young woman growing up as a slave in Jamaica just as slavery is about to end, and what happens to her and her mistress once she's freed. Things change when a new overseer comes to town, and that's where the story falls apart a little--some actions just aren't very believable. Still worth a read for the sly narrative but not particularly great. B.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

2010 book 142

Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
This is one of the big buzz books of summer--I've seen it on just about every summer reading list from every newspaper/magazine--which I find a little surprising actually. Not that it's not awesome, b/c I LOVED it--just, it's fairly unconventional at parts. It's about a girl who, just before her ninth birthday, discovers she can taste the emotions of whoever prepared her food--and learns that her mother is desperately unhappy. As you can imagine, this is a hard skill to live with, and Bender somehow makes it believable and relatable. Seriously a great read, up to the hopeful and heartbreaking ending. A.