Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 book 331

Daniel Handler's Why We Broke Up
This was a much better book to end the year on--sweet story about a high school girl returning a box of stuff to her ex, along with a letter detailing the history of their (brief) relationship. Handler totally nails the teenage girl thing. The only downer here is that obviously my Kindle didn't do justice to Maira Kalman's illustrations (I love her!)--this might be better read in print or on a tablet or something. A/A-.

2011 book 330

Donna Leon's Death and Judgment
This Guido Brunetti mystery involved sex trafficking and was horribly dark and depressing. I'm not reading any more of this series.

Gonna try and squeeze in something light now--this is a terrible book to end the year on.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Favorite Books of 2011

Without further ado, and because I'm not expecting to read any more 2011 releases in the next couple of days, here are my favorite books of 2011! (Alphabetical by author.)

Josephine Angelini's Starcrossed
Kate Akinson's Started Early, Took My Dog
Libba Bray's Beauty Queens
Geraldine Brooks' Caleb's Crossing
Rae Carson's The Girl of Fire and Thorns
Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot
Tayari Jones' Silver Sparrow
Melina Marchetta's The Piper's Son
Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus
Haruki Murakami's 1Q84
Ann Patchett's State of Wonder
Rainbow Rowell's Attachments
Elissa Schappel's Building Blueprints for Better Girls
Amor Towles' Rules of Civility
Carrie Vaughn's After the Golden Age

I read a lot of really excellent books this year, but I think these were the standouts, the ones I kept recommending to everyone (or the ones that were just extra-awesome).

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 book 329

Nevil Shute's On the Beach
I've been on a Shute kick lately, so imagine my delight at discovering he wrote a postapocalyptic novel! Written in 1957, this is impregnated with Cold War fears--it's gradually revealed that there's been a nuclear war, but Melbourne, Australia wasn't hit and is functioning pretty normally . . . at least until September, when the radiation comes their way. Shute neatly shows the probably psychological effects of two groups of people--a bunch of American naval officers, who know their loved ones are dead, and the Australians who know their deaths are coming but are powerless to stop them. The protagonists are an Australian naval officer (and his wife, though she's not a particularly fleshed-out character), the American commander of a submarine, and the young Australian woman who befriends him. Also, her scientist cousin, who finds and exciting and reckless hobby. Shute beautifully illustrates how these characters come to terms with everything. Surprisingly un-grim. A/A-.

PS. Apparently this was made into a movie starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and Fred Astaire. I have GOT to see that.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 book 328

Rosemary Clement-Moore's Texas Gothic
Very well-done story about a girl who, with her sister, is housesitting for her aunt over the summer--but things aren't easy, b/c the whole family has supernatural gifts and a local ghost story is threatening to wreak some havoc. Not to mention the cute cowboy whose family owns the supposedly haunted land. The story unfolds at a nice pace, the romance feels organic, and I loved all the details of the quirky Goodnight family and their gifts--they are ripe for a series and it's one I'd read. A/A-.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011 book 327

P.D. James' Death Comes to Pemberley
I've been dithering for a while about whether or not to read this, both b/c it's gotten mixed reviews and b/c I find the cottage industry of Pride and Prejudice sequels/takeoffs to be off-putting and mildly distasteful. But James' books have been recommended to me a few times, and this NYT review convinced me. Unfortunately, I wasn't really feeling this AT ALL. Even ignoring the butchering of classic characters, there's a lot to dislike here--overly stilted dialogue, really clumsy exposition ("You know Mr so-and-so, you were there when blah blah blah and have met him a zillion times"), and really bad attempts to sound Austen-ish. Plus the mystery--involving that jerk Wickham as a murder suspect--is really boring and the big reveal feels blah. Very disappointing. C.

Monday, December 26, 2011

2011 book 326

Nevil Shute's Pied Piper
Shute's A Town Like Alice is one of my favorite books, but for some reason I'd never read any of his other works. This one has a similar structure to Alice--someone's harrowing 1940s wartime adventures are being told after the fact to some random English person (in this case, an old man is telling his recent adventures to a member of his club during an air raid--this book was actually published during WWII). Anyway, this is really a powerful story about an Englishman on a fishing trip in France who, as the Germans invade, prepares to return home--but is asked by a married couple to bring their children with him. As he makes his way across France, he somehow collects other children, but finds himself right in the war zone. How will they make it out???

As a side note, interesting commentaries on Jews here, especially considering it was published in 1942. Clearly Shute knew the Germans were targeting Jewish people/putting them in death camps of some sort and he thinks it's appalling (it's mentioned several times), though one of his heroes is very mildly anti-Semitic (well, there's one comment involving the Jews/money stereotype) and one Jewish child is completely bloodthirsty (understandable, in context). Still a very strong work though--I kind of wished for a sequel. A-.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

2011 book 325

Lisa Mantchev's So Silver Bright
Mantchev really packs a lot into the final book of her trilogy, so much so that it feels like something new and zany and/or dangerous is happening on every page. Like I said of the last one, I was REALLY not into the love triangle, which didn't work for me at all (the Ariel stuff rang really false) but that ended in a manner that was mostly ok. Really I just liked this series for the fairies. B.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

2011 book 324

Lisa Mantchev's Perchance to Dream
The second book in this series picks up right where the last one stops, with protagonist Bertie taking a motley crew to try and find a kidnapped friend--and maybe her father. I will say that this book is a little weird, or maybe "interesting" is a better word, since it doesn't follow the usual YA fantasy formula, and Mantchev packs a LOT of action into the story (which is kind of all over the place). It is the second installment of a trilogy, though, so the lack of resolution makes sense. I'm not going to comment on the love triangle, which is kind of silly and contrived. I like the characters, though, especially the fairies. B/B+.

Friday, December 23, 2011

2011 book 323

Lisa Mantchev's Eyes Like Stars
Very likable YA book involving a girl raised in a magical theatre where all of the characters from all the plays are hanging out (her friends are the fairies from A Midsummer's Night Dream). When she's threatened with having to leave her home, she has to suddenly find a place for herself . . . which obviously leads to craziness and secrets and stuff, since this is a YA fantasy book. A very likable one, though. A-.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

2011 book 322

Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys
I'm pretty sure I read this in college, but I didn't remember a thing about it, so when it suddenly became available for the Kindle this week (thanks, Mr. Chabon!), obviously I wanted to revisit it. And of course it's a solid, solid novel, though one that I still can't believe was made into a movie (with Michael Douglas as the protagonist, no less--I don't think I've seen the movie, is he still a total pothead? I kept picturing Jeff Bridges in the part while I was reading). Mainly I love this book for all the Pittsburgh mentions (including my high school, alma mater of the protagonist's brother-in-law!). Anyway, Chabon is basically the bestest, though I prefer his more overtly Jewish-y books (there is a pretty good seder in this one though). 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011 book 321

Sonia Taitz's In the King's Arms
 This book was so frustrating, and I can't figure out why it got so many great reviews (the writing is gorgeous, and it has a happy ending, so I guess that helps). It starts off strong, focusing on the daughter of Holocaust survivors who goes to Oxford to study--but when she falls for a classmate's brother the story bogs down in poetics. The author is apparently a playwright and actually it reads like a play--you have to infer all the emotions and motivations that the characters should be having. There's no meat to the story or to any interactions, it's all just facile talk. I think the two main characters were supposed to be actually in love, but they read like jaded hipsters, everything cloaked in layers of irony (and this takes place in the 70s, before there really were hipsters cloaked in irony). I never felt like I knew any of these people at all. In fact, I found the whole thing really annoying--it never breaks beyond that surface level and it had so much potential! B/B-.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

2011 book 320

Tamora Pierce's Mastiff
The third Beka Cooper book finds her and a special team on the track of a royal kidnapper. Pretty good conclusion to the trilogy, but I wasn't really interested in the romance that popped up (especially after a nice lack of romance in the first two books). Plus there was an epilogue involving some other Pierce characters entirely. A-/B+.

Monday, December 19, 2011

2011 book 319

Tamora Pierce's Bloodhound
The second Beka Cooper book is as strong as the first, as Cooper and her partner try to track down a counterfeiting ring that threatens to completely destroy the kingdom's economy. And this time there's an awesome dog to help! A/A-.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

2011 book 318

Tamora Pierce's Terrier: The Legend of Beka Cooper
Pierce is one of those authors whose books I always hear good things about, but for some reason had never read--and I'm glad I finally changed that, b/c this was a solid book. This really hit a lot of my buttons--it's a YA fantasy, but it's a mystery at its core (although I guessed the villain really early on, it was still a satisfying read). The heroine is a great character (though her shyness is made too much of early on), just out of training to be what is basically a junior police officer in a crime-ridden world. And she's driven to solve two sets of crimes--who's kidnapping small children for ransom, and one involving some missing men--with the help of her magical cat and the ghosts she can hear. Because she has a magical cat and can hear ghosts, of course! But Pierce's storytelling makes it all work (and made me cry more than once). A/A-.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

2011 book 317

Mal Peet's Life: An Exploded Diagram
I found out about this book through the Forever YA blog, and saw it on at least one YA best-of-2011 list . . . but I would argue vociferously that this is NOT a YA book (unless YA is super literary in England). I wonder if it's marketed that way because the main character is a teenager through most of it--a feature of pretty much all coming-of-age novels, which this is, DUH. Anyway, the novel traces young Clem from his birth at the tail end of WWII through this childhood with his eccentric family, his school years, and then his pivotal teenage meeting with Frankie, daughter of the local rich guy (if Masterpiece has taught me anything, it's that all small British towns have one rich guy), and how everything comes to a head during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Solid writing and story--I had some mixed feelings about the very end but otherwise liked this a lot. A-.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Favorite Music of 2011!

2011 was a pretty good year in music, so now I will commence with the annual Listing of the Albums I Liked.

In no particular order, except The Rosebuds is first b/c seriously, that album is GREAT, why isn't it on more end-of-year lists?

1. The Rosebuds --  Loud Planes Fly Low
2. Des Ark -- Don't Rock the Boat, Sink the F----er (my Mom hates when I swear, hence the dashes)
3.  Mates of State -- Mountaintops
4. The Generationals -- Actor-Caster
5. Destroyer -- Kaputt
6. Real Estate --  Days
7.  Crooked Fingers -- Breaks in the Armor
8. Mount Moriah -- Mount Moriah
9. Wye Oak -- Civilian
10. Megafaun -- Megafaun

Also, you can listen to some of my favorite songs of 2011 on Spotify here (not all the albums listed above were available, hence no Des Ark):

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

2011 book 316

Kate Saunders' Beswitched
Ignore the silly title of this book, b/c it's actually a super cute modern version of Charlotte Sometimes (that book is awesome, if you haven't read it), where a bratty British twelve year old on her way to boarding school is suddenly whisked away to . . . a boarding school. But a boarding school in 1935! Now she has to deal with the crazy ways of the past and try to get back to the future with the help of her new friends (and of course she will learn Valuable Life Lessons, but not in an annoying way). This is an MG book so parts of it are pretty clearly telegraphed, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. And I enjoyed it quite a bit. A/A-.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

2011 book 315

Donna Leon's Death in a Strange Country
I was looking for a new mystery series to get into and Elizabeth recommended this one, about a police commissioner in Venice, saying that although the mysteries themselves were pretty standard stuff, the relationship between the protagonist and his wife was pretty great--and since I tend to like mysteries that are more about the characters than the crimes they solve (cf. the Spellman books and that series about cupcakes), that seemed promising. This is actually the second in the series (the first isn't available for the Kindle) but I didn't feel like I was missing anything major.  The crime here involves a murdered guy from a nearby American Army base who seems to have been a robbery victim--but the commissioner soon realizes there's much more to the story than that. It all plays out in a manner both compelling and melodramatic, but the main character is great and I did really enjoy his family dynamics. I'll definitely be reading the next one. B/B+.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

2011 book 314

Jessica Gregson's The Angel Makers
WWI has just started, and for once Sari--the oddball in her village, a learned girl who knows a lot about plants and healing, and is generally an outcast--finds herself part of a community, as the women band together to keep things going. But when a prisoner of war camp full of Italian men comes to town--and then the war ends and their own men return--things get a little messy, as most of the women preferred life when their men were away. Apparently based on a true story, this novel is full of a kind of dark humor that I found really enjoyable. This needs to be a movie, like, now. A-.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

2011 book 313

Megan McCafferty's Perfect Fifths
The only bad thing about this book is that there isn't more of it! (Oh, and that the middle section is a bunch of annoying haikus.) What can I read next that will possibly make me as happy as these books do?

2011 book 312

Megan McCafferty's Fourth Comings
Jessica and Marcus, you just keep on breaking my heart! Actually, for a lot of this book I was kind of thinking, "these books would be more effective if we ever really saw Jessica and Marcus together-together" but even that is addressed pretty well by the end. Which is why I love this series and am about to start the fifth.

And by the way, with this book, I just tied the number of books I read last year . . .

2011 book 311

Megan McCafferty's Charmed Thirds
Jessica is slightly less likable--but no less realistic or relatable--in the third book, which features her college years. Man, I love these books.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

2011 book 310

Megan Mccafferty's Second Helpings
I'm rereading all the Jessica Darling books b/c she and Marcus Flutie are the BEST. Teen drama has never been done as well as these books do it.

ALSO, I'm totally going to break my book record again this year. I read 312 last year. How many will I manage for 2011?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

2011 book 309

Megan McCafferty's Sloppy Firsts
Aaaahhhh Jessica Darling and Marcus Flutie, I love you. Some of the best characters ever, really, and well worth a re-read.

Which reminds me--I'm hoping to get into a new series over Christmas--like one year I read all these, and one year all the Percy Jacksons. What other awesome series might I have missed? Any genre (but I don't want to read Dance of Dragons, ok?), from any time period.  Help me discover something new!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

2011 book 308

Markus Zusak's Underdogs
So before Zusak wrote the incredible I Am The Messenger and The Book Thief,  he apparently wrote a trilogy about a couple of teenage brothers and their slightly downtrodden family. Now they're published in one volume in America--which is fine, b/c they're not very long, and the first two aren't particularly strong works. They're likable, and of course the characters are compelling b/c it's Zusak, but each book has these short interludes interrupting the story (in the first, the younger boy's dreams; in the second, his late-night conversations with his brother; and in the third, his attempts at writing, which are just excruciating to read and which I mostly skipped). It's possible to see the roots of Zusak's awesomeness here, but on the whole this is just good solid general YA. B/B+.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

2011 book 307

Emily Arsenault's The Broken Teaglass
This is not a great time of year for new books, unfortunately, and none of the samples on my Kindle seemed appealing. So I decided to reread this--it was one of my favorites of a few years ago, and I wanted to see if it held up. And it did! But I think I'm predisposed to like a literary mystery that's maybe more literary than mystery, and that's narrated by a young man who works for a dictionary company defining words.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

2011 book 306

Marie Lu's Legend
This is basically the buzziest YA book to come out in a while, but I wasn't sure if I'd read it--and then the NYT gave it a rave and I was convinced. Now, it's not perfect--the writing is occasionally heavy-handed, lots of telling-instead-of-showing (mainly in terms of the romance)--but it is a really fun read, about a future militaristic dystopia where a young (girl) prodigy is tasked with hunting down an infamous (young boy) criminal. But obviously things are more complicated than that--I mean, it's a dystopia, after all. I've read that the main characters were inspired by Javert and Jean Valjean but can't comment on any other parallels to Les Miserables, as I haven't read it in well over a decade. A-.

Friday, December 02, 2011

2011 book 305

L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero Lost: Prospero's Daughter, Book I
Blah blah characters from the Tempest blah blah immortal and powerful blah blah the father is in trouble and Miranda has to investigate and warn her siblings blah. For a book that has so many action-packed scenes, and features a 500-year-old businesswoman/magic-user, this was surprisingly slow and boring. Not to mention that Miranda is kind of a nimrod. And despite all the fight scenes, the plot doesn't progress much, and the end is taken up with some really stupid romance. The sequels to this seem to be better-reviewed, but I really don't care what happens to these characters next. I only finished this b/c I'd invested so much time in it already. C.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

2011 book 304

John Green and David Levithan's Will Grayson, Will Grayson
So this is the story of two teenage boys, both named Will Grayson--one is an awkward guy who's all into Neutral Milk Hotel (hilarious) with a large and awesome gay best friend called Tiny; the other is a superannoying depressed guy who never uses capital letters (oh god, I'm too melancholy to hit the shift key)--and what happens when they have a chance encounter, and Tiny falls for the depressed and annoying Will Grayson. But actually this book is pretty good--I loved Tiny and the musical he's writing--with realistic and mostly-likable characters, and I admit to getting a bit teary at the end. A-.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

2011 book 303

Carson Morton's Stealing Mona Lisa: A Mystery
So the title bills this as a mystery, and it appeared on more than one best-of-2011-mysteries list, but dude, this is NOT a mystery in any way. It starts in Paris in 1925, where a reporter is interviewing a guy on his deathbed who is narrating an increasingly ridiculous tale about his life as an art-related con man, leading up to how he and some confederates stole the Mona Lisa in 1911 (an actual thing that happened in history). But the narrative focus is sloppy--too much time is spent on the inner lives of other characters (especially a married woman who frequently thinks soppy things about the protagonist). And Picasso is brought into it in an entirely stupid way. And there are sitcom-level misunderstandings. And way too much melodrama. and NO MYSTERY WHATSOEVER. If you couldn't tell, this book pissed me off. I really don't get how it ended up on best of 2011 lists. And can someone explain what the mystery was supposed to be? F.

Monday, November 28, 2011

2011 book 302

Melina Marchetta's The Piper's Son
The sequel/companion to Saving Francesca picks up our gang five years later, but focuses more on one of the boys from the first book and his complicated, tragic family (and especially his aunt, who is really a wonderful character).  Seriously, no one writes like Marchetta.

2011 book 301

Melina Marchetta's Saving Francesca
Rereading Jellicoe Road made me want to reread more Marchetta, b/c dang her books are good. I love the characters and their friendships in this one (and its sequel, which I'm going to start right now).

Sunday, November 27, 2011

2011 book 300

Lauren Groff's Arcadia
Groff's first novel, Monsters of Templeton, was one of my favorite books of 2008 (she also has a book of short stories), so I was eagerly awaiting her follow-up and very pleased to find it waiting for me when I came home from Thanksgiving travel. Arcadia details the life of Bit, the first child born in a crazy hippie commune in the late 60s, from his childhood to his middle age (in what seems to be the near future). Much of his life is shaped by the commune and its politics--and by its leader's troubled daughter. Groff does a good job of fleshing out Bit's story, and her language is lovely, though I will say I felt less connected to and/or interested in him than I did in the protagonist of Monsters. The descriptions of the community, though, are stellar, and I did like the last section of the book and found the ending fitting. It's a strong sophomore effort, and I very much look forward to reading whatever Groff writes next. A-/B+

An ARC was provided by the publisher. The book comes out in March 2012.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

2011 book 299

Melina Marchetta's Jellicoe Road
After reading a bunch of generally unsatisfying books in a row, I wanted to read something that I knew I'd love, which meant rereading this! Marchetta writes such beautiful, complicated, crazy, real characters. Her books are never predictable. Which is why I love them!

2011 book 298

Emily St. John Mandel's The Lola Quartet
Interesting and likable story about a reporter who discovers he may have a ten year old daughter--and it's also about the very big mess her mother, his high school girlfriend is in--because she stole over one hundred thousand dollars from a drug dealer and has been on the run ever since. But it's not a thriller--it's really more of a story about relationships, about how high school dreams can die, and about whether or not we can escape our pasts. And it's about swampy, muggy, crazy Florida (Mandel nails the atmosphere). B+.

An e-galley was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in May 2012.

Friday, November 25, 2011

2011 book 297

Hannah Harrington's Saving June
After her older sister kills herself, a teenage girl decides to go on a road trip to California to scatter her ashes, accompanied by her own best friend and by a mysterious boy who mysteriously knew her sister. And pretty much from that description you can guess most things that will happen. Sigh. I just want to be surprised sometimes. Also, this weirdly read like it was written a few years ago (in terms of pop culture references), but it just came out. B.

2011 book 296

Kathy Mccullough's Don't Expect Magic
Cute but insubstantial book about a girl whose mom dies and she goes to live with her heretofore mostly absentee father, a famous motivational speaker (I feel like teens going to live with unknown fathers is a weird trope of YA lit that I've seen a lot lately). But her dad has a secret, and it's something that might make life a lot more complicated. This turned pretty predictable but the characters were likable. B/B+.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

2011 book 295

Jenn McKinlay's Death by the Dozen
The third book in this series about a cupcake bakery owner who is forever finding herself involved with murders is pretty good, actually, if you can pretend the first two didn't exist and that this character has gotten entangled with her third murder in a year, b/c honestly, how often do bakers deal with dead bodies? And the body here doesn't turn up till almost a third of the way through, since McKinlay is busy building up the characters and plot--and honestly, the characters are way more interesting than the mystery (which is pretty easy to figure out). These books are the fluffiest of fluffy cozy mysteries, but damn if I'm not a sucker for cupcakes. B/B+.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

2011 book 294

Moira Young's Blood Red Road
Pretty decent YA dystopia about a girl whose brother is kidnapped for heretofore unknown reasons and she vows to find him (with their little sister tagging along). But it's a dystopia, so things aren't that easy.  (Except that she keeps handily meeting people with helpful information.) Not a huge amount of world-building, but I think this is more about the character and her growth and her adventures, which are all well-done. I did like a lot of the sidekick characters that she collects--a fun motley assortment. And there was a romance, but it was pretty minimal in the grand scheme of things. B+.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

2011 book 293

Esther Freud's Lucky Break
Before you ask, yes, Freud is the descendent of that other Freud. Anyway, this novel involves a trio of British drama students and their travails in drama school and afterward. I do wish Freud had delved into their inner lives a bit more; I didn't feel like I knew them well or knew what they wanted really (the male character was especially lacking). It felt like it would be a satisfying movie, but there was no depth here. I mean, it's interesting enough, don't get me wrong, but I'm not sure what the point of it was. B.

Monday, November 21, 2011

2011 book 292

Jay Asher and Carolyn Macker's The Future of Us
I was excited about this book for a couple of reasons--Asher is the author of the EXCELLENT Thirteen Reasons Why, and this has a great premise (it's about a couple of teenagers in the 90s who find their future Facebook pages and start trying to alter their futures. I love this concept and of course it made me wonder--what would teenage you think of your current social media presence?). But it turned out to be even awesomer (for me) than I'd hoped--besides the premise and the very likable characters, it totally resonated with me b/c the girl character is just my age, and it's set in a small town near Pittsburgh. Plus the 90s-era references to Oasis and Dave Matthews (though actually, I don't remember Dave Matthews really getting huge till my freshman year of college, and this takes place two years earlier) and Discmen (is that the plural of Discman?) were pretty funny. The end is pretty obvious, but I really liked the future-changing shenanigans, and like I said, very appealing characters. Completely absorbing and entertaining, if a little silly. A.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

2011 book 291

Vicky Alvear Shecter's Cleopatra's Moon
Very well-done novel about Cleopatra's daughter and her exile in Rome--there aren't a lot of historical facts about Cleopatra Selene, so Schecter has the space to create a winning character and a whole world around her (plus, there are no intrigues like Roman intrigues in terms of sheer entertainment value). Schecter also does a really good job dealing with Egyptian religion (not surprisingly, I especially liked a scene where Cleopatra Selene has a philosophical debate with a rabbi). Even the requisite YA love triangle is interesting due to various political situations (though perhaps some of the romance was a bit farfetched). A/A-.

2011 book 290

Gregory Maguire's Wicked
I hadn't read this since college and was in the mood for a more grown-up fairy tale story. I remembered liking this a lot, but actually it's surprisingly boring at times (lots of long speeches about made-up politics and religions). I had planned on reading the sequels after this, but I don't really want to now. Have any of you read them? Are they worth checking out?

Friday, November 18, 2011

2011 book 289

Delia Sherman's The Freedom Maze
It's the summer of 1960, and young Sophie is sent to live with her (casually racist) grandmother and aunt in Louisiana after her parents divorce. But when she encounters a mysterious creature in a hedge maze, she gets whisked back to 1860 (just like her favorite book by one of my favorite authors, Edward Eager's The Time Garden), where she's mistaken for a light-skinned slave and sent to work in the Big House on the plantation. Sherman makes Sophie's experiences feel real without being heavy-handed--I think it would be really easy to cross that line, but she toes it gracefully.  Clearly a lot of research went into this, and it's especially satisfying to read it as a book and history nerd. I love books where contemporary characters go back in time and learn valuable historical lessons. A.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

2011 book 288

Y.S. Lee's The Agency: The Traitor and the Tunnel
I can't figure out why the Agency series isn't more popular--or am I the only person who likes books about an agency of girl detectives in Victorian-era England featuring a protagonist with a mysterious past? And speaking of Victorian England, the third book in the series finds Mary working undercover as a maid in Queen Victoria's palace (Victoria is one of my favorite historical royals and she is pretty awesome here, I have to say) to uncover a thief. But of course things are never that easy, and soon Mary finds herself involved in a murder case that hits close to home. Lee brings a light touch, humor, and romance to a story that could easily be over-the-top, and while things may resolve a bit too easily, I was pleased with the resolution nonetheless (and anyway, this is a YA book, things are allowed to wrap up neatly). A/A-.

An e-galley was provided by the publisher.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

2011 book 287

Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
My sister and I decided to both read this and have our own little book club meeting over Thanksgiving, and I'm glad we did; it's a book I've been meaning to read for a long time (but you all know I avoid non-fiction as much as possible) and there's a reason it was on so many best-of lists last year. Skloot does a really good job of weaving together the story of Henrietta and her family--and the story of her cells and the scientists who made them a crazy force in scientific research. And it's all very readable--normally non-fiction takes me a lot longer to read than a novel would, but I plowed through this with no trouble at all (at least until the afterword, which delves into Important Ethical Issues and loses the train of the story somewhat). Plus there are several points where Pittsburgh plays a part! I look forward to talking about it while in that awesome city. :) A.

Monday, November 14, 2011

2011 book 286

Diana Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle
After reading a string of disappointing books--and starting another that didn't seem promising--I decided it was time to reread one of my favorites as a palate cleanser. The Kindle edition of this is one of those ones full of weird typos, but that doesn't stop the story from being great. I still wish the Miyazaki movie had hewed closer to the book.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

2011 book 285

Ha Jin's Nanjing Requiem
After reading a bunch of light--and not very good--books in a row, I wanted something meatier and more satisfying, and the story of an American woman running a college/refugee camp in China in the late 1930s (after Japan has invaded) seemed to fit the bill. Only it's based on a true story and reads like a recitation of facts--you never get to know the characters, even the narrator. And horrifying things happen, but it's told so dryly that I hardly even felt it. I can't figure out why Jin would structure his narrative this way (if it was even deliberate). Most boring book about war crimes ever. B-.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

2011 book 284

Lauren Baratz-Logsted's Little Women and Me
With all of the books/miniseries about modern day ladies being super into Pride and Prejudice, I'm surprised there hasn't been a Little Women one until now (or have I just missed them?). Anyway, this is a YA book about a 14-year-old who gets sucked into Little Women, which is a great premise, right? Too bad it is the silliest book I have ever read. For one thing, the narrative voice needs to be toned down like three notches--it's all "OMG" and "Facebook" and "I'm a teenager squee!" Not to mention the protagonist is a total brat. Like, if she'd just been interfering trying to help Beth, I'd have been totally into it. But her macking on Laurie was just ridiculous. And don't even get me started on how WRONG the end is. Wrong, Wrong, Wrong. C.

Friday, November 11, 2011

2011 book 283

Nancy Jensen's The Sisters
This novel chronicles two sisters and their descendents from the late 1920s--when the sisters are separated by an annoying miscommunication--through the late 2000s. Pretty solid characters, though not all are fleshed out as much as they could be (particularly social climbing daughter Alma). And I think the last part was supposed to be a surprise but it was something I assumed from very early on, which didn't make for a compelling resolution. This book was kind of a downer for something that seems like women's lit. Maybe for the Jodi Picoult fans? B.

2011 book 282

Elizabeth Bunce's Liar's Moon
I feel like I've been slogging through this book for weeks--for a fantasy adventure murder mystery, it was INSANELY boring. The thief girl from the last book is trying to prove a friend innocent of murder, but the pacing or something is way off, and each new discovery is more boring than the last. (The eventual resolution is also extremely stupid.) I didn't care about any of the characters, and the murder victim remained a cipher. And don't even get me started on the romance, which thankfully didn't take up too much time, but was entirely wooden. I don't even know why I finished this, except I'd already invested so much time and wanted it to count toward my totals. F.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

2011 book 281

Elizabeth C. Bunce's StarCrossed
This is the second book called Starcrossed I've read this year, and it was also a strong story, about a young thief girl who, while fleeing the local police types, ends up becoming a maid to a sweet royal type and gets caught up in a whole mess of intrigue. What I found refreshing about this fantasy book is that there is very little romance at all--it's all about politics and magic and secrets (the sequel came out this month and looks like it's much more of a traditional romance, alas). I love books with strong heroines and the world-building here is pretty solid, too. A-.

Monday, November 07, 2011

2011 book 280

Jessica Day George's Tuesdays at the Castle
Very cute MG book about a royal family living in a magic castle, where the youngest daughter is trying to map all the new corridors and rooms that appear, and what happens when the royal parents are ambushed and apparently dead, and the three royal children must protect themselves, their castle, and their kingdom. A-.

2011 book 279

Shannon Hale's Austenland
I basically hate chick lit (because it's so formulaic and boring) but thought I'd give this book a chance for the following reasons:
--Hale is the author of a bunch of YA books I like a lot.
--They're filming a movie of this, starring Keri Russell and Jennifer Coolidge (who is perfectly cast)!
--It was one of those $1.99 Kindle book deals.
And if you want to read a cute book about a 32-year-old New Yorker who's obsessed w/ Mr. Darcy and whose aunt wills her a trip to England for an Austen-themed role-playing adventure, you really can't go wrong with this. Like all chick lit books, it's totally formulaic and you know exactly what will happen (actually, Hale did surprise me with one plot point), but her narrative, as always, is fun to read. I was a little annoyed that the protagonist was all "Why can't he be more like Mr Darcy?" about the guy who is EXACTLY like Mr Darcy, who is totally a stuffy crankypants in the book. Anyway, I didn't dislike this, which is frankly surprising. B+.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

2011 book 278

Kate Atkinson's Started Early, Took My Dog
Another strong contender in the Jackson Brodie series--though it is hard to sympathize with one of the main characters here, since she buys a kid. Jackson's part of the story is still great though. And I love the dog!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

2011 book 277

Kate Atkinson's When Will There Be Good News?
The third Jackson Brodie book just might be my favorite--mainly b/c of teenage Reggie, but the storylines are also really strong, and Atkinson doles out information at the perfect intervals.

Friday, November 04, 2011

2011 book 276

Edward Eager's The Well-Wishers
I've started and given up on a couple different books in the past few days (but it's ok! They're library books! On my Kindle!) and just wanted to read something I knew I'd like--and you can't go wrong with a classic Edward Eager book. Except that this is a sequel to another one called Magic Or Not?, which weirdly is NOT available for the Kindle. Get it together, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

2011 book 275

Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn
I remembered the second Jackson Brodie mystery as the weakest of the four, and it does start off reallllllly slowly (I almost quit reading it b/c I was bored), but like a quarter of the way through, the pace picks up as the disparate stories (a man in a coma whose wife is befriending his dominatrix; an assault after a car accident; Jackson finding a dead body; some sort of theater festival) start to collide, and eventually things get pretty exciting. B/B+.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

2011 book 274

Alan Bradley's I am Half-Sick of Shadows
The fourth Flavia de Luce mystery is a really strong entry in the series, involving Flavia's plots to trap Santa Claus while an A-list film is being shot on their estate. Flavia is always such an interesting mix of intelligence (about chemistry, anyway) and innocence (I doubted that a science-minded 11-year-old would believe in Santa, but it was the 1950s, so who knows). It's not a super-long book so things move swiftly, but I thought it worked. A-/B+.

Monday, October 31, 2011

2011 book 273

N.K. Jemisin's The Kingdom of Gods
First I just want to say that a) I'm glad Jemisin can crank out solid books so quickly, and b) I'm glad her publisher doesn't set the publication dates a year apart (this entire trilogy came out in under two years). Anyway, the third/final book in the Inheritance Trilogy picks up something like a hundred years after the last one left off, and while it wasn't quite as awesome as the second one (I really loved that one), it was a fitting end to the story. It focuses on one of the godlings who appeared in the earlier books, and what happens when be befriends two mortal children. But because it's Jemisin, it also deals with politics, love, family, and war. The end was a bit kind-of-insane, but not in a bad way. I'm looking forward to her next series, which starts in 2012. Busy bee! I love it! B+.

Locas -- The Love Bunglers

I've been thinking a lot about Jaime Hernandez's conclusion to his Locas story "The Love Bunglers" (from L&R New Stories vol. 4)--mainly b/c it was such an incredible piece that I cry every time I read it. I even recently threatened to force a friend to read all the Locas stuff, because it's so freaking good. But then I started wondering--is it as awesome if you read it all at once? I discovered Love and Rockets when I was like 19, thanks to the fine folks at Comic Swap in State College, PA, and that's when I totally fell for Maggie (and Ray). So this story, for me, was 13 years in the making. I grew up (into adulthood) with these characters--is it the same if you read it as a 30-something?

I'm going to reread all the little Locas omnibus volumes in the next few weeks, I think. Let me know if I can lend them to you and see if you're an L&R convert too. :)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

2011 book 272

Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races
Stiefvater has written a couple of YA fantasy series--I read the first one in her werewolves series and liked it pretty well, but never felt the need to read the others--but the premise of this standalone novel intrigued me. It's about a boy and a girl who are entering a super dangerous annual race involving super dangerous magical water horses. And I have to say, I liked it a lot--the relationship felt like it developed organically (as opposed to most YA fantasy relationships) and Stiefvater kept the tension ratcheted up. I really had no idea how it would end and was surprised throughout. A-.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

2011 book 271

Haruki Murakami's 1Q84
I don't want to say too much about the plot, b/c all I knew going in was that it was the story of a man and a woman, told in alternating chapters (and of course, what I read in the New Yorker excerpt, which interestingly comes from at least three different parts of the book). And I liked being surprised at every turn, trying to guess what would happen next. I think I agree with the assessments that this is Murakami's strongest work--it takes a lot of the themes he's touched on before and goes someone totally different and outlandish and awesome with them. I mean, there are some really weird things in this book (weird in a good way), more so than even in his earlier stuff (which is also pretty weird). Ah, but Tengo and Aomame. GREAT characters. My only problem was minor--too much of the third section was spent on another character entirely, and while I get why that was, I just was not super interested in his inner life when I could have been reading about Tengo and Aomame instead. But still just a great great great book. A, and best of the year list for sure.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

some book links

Sorry for the lack of updates--the new Murakami book is long! Have some book-related links to make up for it.

The Millions on Dumas.

The NYT on Lynda Barry!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

2011 book 270

Kate Atkinson's Case Histories
Masterpiece has put together movie versions of the first three Jackson Brodie books, which of course made me want to reread them! (And they've done a fairly good job--or maybe I just like watching Jason Isaacs play Brodie--so much cuter than when he's Lucius Malfoy! It is really interesting to see which parts of the book they felt like including, too.) Anyway, this one holds up really well--Atkinson deftly weaves together stories of lost girls and Brodie's adventures as a PI. This is one of my favorite series for a reason.

2011 book 269

Sara Zarr's How to Save a Life
This is the story of two teenaged girls--one, whose father has recently died and whose mother has decided to adopt a baby; and the other, who's pregnant with said baby. The former is a pretty great character; the latter is a bit more of a stereotype (mom obsessed w/ her boyfriends and her looks, and one of those boyfriends abuses the daughter--I feel like I've read this character before). Plus some other characters. And it's all just heartwarming as hell. B+.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

2011 book 268

Colson Whitehead's Zone One
I know I swore off zombie-related stuff a while back (zombies give me nightmares), but Whitehead's book has gotten a lot of positive buzz, and I always like when literary authors throw a little genre into their works. Zone One is the story of Mark Spitz (not his real name) in the days after a zombie apocalypse; he's part of a team hunting down the last few zombies in a certain part of NYC in an effort to make the city livable again. Though the action takes place over three days, Whitehead weaves in Mark Spitz's story and the bigger-picture story of the zombies. The writing here is outstanding, and for the most part the plot moves along at a nice clip. And it avoids overt horror (though I am still pretty creeped out, and will henceforth go back to avoiding zombie-related media). B+.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

2011 book 267

Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers
Hoffman's books tend to be hit or miss for me--either I like them pretty well, or dislike them with a strong passion. But this one--about four women living in Masada just before the Roman siege--intrigued me. And I will say, it's one of Hoffman's stronger works. Each woman's story is compelling and Hoffman clearly did her research. The end is a bit overly dramatic, but I don't think it could have been any other way (Masada, ya know?). B+.

Monday, October 17, 2011

2011 book 266

Maile Meloy's The Apothecary
You really can't go wrong with a YA book set in Cold War London, where a 14-year-old girl and her parents move after having some trouble with the whole anti-Communism thing. And then she gets involved in something even more dangerous and magical (like, literally magical, there is magic, but it's, interestingly, alchemy and so sort of science-based). Plus there's a cute boy. And a hilarious boy. And adventures. And strong writing, b/c it's Maile Meloy. Great read and I hope there'll be a sequel. A.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


photo.JPG by wordnerdy
photo.JPG, a photo by wordnerdy on Flickr.
I moved this weekend, hence the complete lack of reading. Here is a picture of JB examining his new surroundings.

Friday, October 14, 2011

2011 book 265

Gemma Halliday's Deadly Cool
In the midst of last-minute packing (come on, you know I'm a procrastinator), I read this fun YA mystery, about a girl whose awful ex-boyfriend is a murder suspect, and she agrees to clear his name. Otherwise it's a pretty typical YA book, though I will say that the protagonist's narrative voice is likably wry. I think this would have been a satisfying mystery if I was a kid reading it; as it was, it was entertaining enough that I'd probably read the sequel (I think this is the start of a series). B/B+.


photo.JPG by wordnerdy
photo.JPG, a photo by wordnerdy on Flickr.

I'm moving to a new apartment tomorrow! As you can see, JB is enjoying the mountains of boxes.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

2011 book 264

Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot
Until maybe halfway through this book, I kept thinking I'd end up blogging things like "This is a solid story, but the angsty 80s college characters feel like the kind of thing that any of the Great White Males could have written, and not as special as I'd expect a book by Eugenides to be" or "Yeah, that one character is totally a David Foster Wallace type of guy." But at a certain point I got so caught up in things that I stopped thinking "What do I think about this book?" and was just racing through it. Not to say the first half is bad--I loved all the stuff about academia, religious studies, the burgeoning literary theory field, and the Jane Austen mentions--but things get much more engaging once the trifecta of characters (Leonard, the DFW type; Madeline, the rich girl who loves him and loves novels; and Mitchell, the Eugenides analogue, who loves her and is about to spend a year backpacking around Europe and India) are out of college and trying to make their way as adults in the first year after graduating. It may sound like a small story the way I'm describing it, but Eugenides' writing is as epic as ever. I worried I'd be disappointed after seeing some mixed reviews, but I loved this. A.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

2011 book 263

Alma Katsu's The Taker
So this book starts off really strongly--a murder suspect is brought to the ER doctor in a small town in Maine, and she has a crazy story for him about how she's immortal and killed her friend at his request, and then she goes on to tell him her story, starting in that same small town 200 years earlier. The modern day interludes are weak but the girl's story is compelling--at least until a third of the way in, when things take a turn for the oversexed (none of it is sexy, and much of it is nonconsensual). Things do pick back up for the last third but I still found the doctor really boring and the end was a little dumb. B.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

2011 book 262

Anne Ursu's Breadcrumbs
I've read a few of Ursu's earlier books, and I believe they are more straight-up fantasy books--but here, magic collides with the real world (I love books like that). In this one, an eleven year old girl's friend gets taken away by a Narnia-like White Witch (but of course there's more to the story than that). I loved all the literary references here (at one point the protagonist starts to read a book that goes unnamed, but I recognized it as Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me, one of the awesomest books ever). Very readable MG book. B+.

2011 book 261

Denise Mina's The End of the Wasp Season
I'm pretty sure there are earlier books in this series, but it wasn't necessary to have read them for this one to make sense.* It involves a murder case in Scotland and the pregnant police detective trying to solve it. Parts were predictable, parts threw me for a loop, and I had a big question about the end. Pretty satisfying to see all the pieces come together though. B+.

* Hilariously, I actually have read the first (and only other) book in this series, but didn't remember it, or anything about it.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

2011 book 260

Leila Sales' Past Perfect
Aaaaaahhhh this is the CUTEST YA book about a girl who spends her summers working as a historical reenactor at a Colonial village, but the summer before her senior year might be traumatic because her ex-boyfriend is working there too. And then she meets a new boy . . . but he works at the RIVAL historical reenactment village. I loved the characters here (the new boy isn't fleshed out as much as I might have liked, but the rest are great) and it was just such a fun situation to read about. A.

2011 book 259

DD Barant's Better Off Undead
The fourth book in the Bloodhound Files series (about a criminal profiler who gets kidnapped to a parallel Earth populated mostly by vampires, werewolves, and golems, and forced to work for their government to solve crimes and whatnot) has protagonist Jace dealing with a case involving the werewolf mafia. I was less interested in a medical calamity that I knew would just lead back to the status quo. Still, Barant does a great job of reminding the reader of salient plot points, without drowning the story in exposition. Really a fun series, and great characters (I especially like sullen teenage werewolf Xandra and Jace's nattily-dressed golem partner Charlie). B+.

Friday, October 07, 2011

2011 book 258

A.S. King's Everybody Sees the Ants
I liked King's previous novel pretty well, and this one was pretty good too, about a bullied boy from a slightly troubled family. But it's weirder than that. I liked the characters a lot, and King did a good job doling out revelations. Not much else to say, gotta get ready for services and fasting! B+.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

2011 book 257

Michael Ondaatje's The Cat's Table
Strong book from Ondaatje, about a young boy traveling more-or-less alone from Sri Lanka to England in 1954, and how the events of that boat ride stay with him through adulthood. Great characters and descriptions--I especially liked how Ondaatje portrayed a child's fascination with, and lack of understanding of, adults, as well as the easy friendships between children. A/A-.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

2011 book 256

Lauren Oliver's Liesl & Po
Oliver--author of the AWESOME Before I Fall (one of my favorites of 2010) and the pretty-great Delirium--has written an MG book basically out of nowhere (well, not really, as an author's note at the end explains). It has a very old-fashioned kind of voice (except in one instance where someone says "Sheesh"), centering on a young girl, the ghost and its pet she befriends, an alchemist's apprentice, and various villainous adults (and one nice adult). And a cat. It almost feels Dickensian in theme if not in scope (it's an MG book, it's not that long). Oliver weaves her threads together satisfactorily and the illustrations are gorgeous and add to the fairy-tale feel (even in the Kindle version). A/A-.


Photo0165.jpg by wordnerdy
Photo0165.jpg, a photo by wordnerdy on Flickr.

It's been a long time since I've posted a kitty picture! Here is JB helping me unload the dishwasher, as only a cat can.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

2011 book 255

Rick Riordan's The Son of Neptune
Look, I don't read these books with a critical eye, I read them b/c they are super fun. The second Heroes of Olympus books puts us right back with Percy Jackson (which is awesome, b/c I'd forgotten most of the details of the other guy) as he makes his way to the Roman camp, picks up two new companions (who are pretty great), and of course goes a-questing. Action-packed and with a romance, as always, but also with a lot of sly humor. I have to say, I'm pretty excited for the next one to come out. A.

Monday, October 03, 2011

2011 book 254

Anne Enright's The Forgotten Waltz
Enright's (winner of the Booker for The Gathering) latest centers on a young Irish woman embroiled in an affair with a married man who has a daughter; she recounts how they got together, interspersed with her fascination with and ruminations on his child. The writing is lovely but I wished the end had more resolution. A-/B+.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

2011 book 253

Meg Donahue's How to Eat a Cupcake
Anyone who knows me knows I'll read any book involving cupcakes, no matter how inane it may be. Luckily this one manages to stay away from inanity for the most part, though it is fairly fluffy. It involves two women--Julia and Annie--who grew up together, because Annie's mom was Julia's nanny. They haven't spoken in ten years (since their tumultuous high school years), but after Julia returns home before her wedding and tastes one of Annie's cupcakes, she insists they open a cupcakery together. But with various love interests, lots of secrets, and lots of past hurt feelings, can they make their business a success? I will say that the dialogue sometimes feels really stilted, one secret is dragged out way too long, and one reveal feels like it comes out of nowhere. But I was in the mood for a nice, light read and this totally hit the spot. It comes out in March--add it to your to-read lists if you like cute books about cupcakes!

An e-galley was provided by the publisher.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

2011 book 252

Michelle Hodkin's The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer
So teenager Mara has survived a terrible accident that killed her best friend and some other people, and now her family has moved to a new town and she's starting at a brand new school, but she keeps having crazy hallucinations and things get weirder from there. And of course there's the requisite cute bad boy. Plus great brother characters and an unusual school friend (whose plotlines completely trail off, unfortunately). I mostly liked this--certainly I kept reading b/c I wanted answers to various mysteries to be revealed--but the end was fairly ridiculous and didn't really make me want to read the inevitable sequel. B/B-.

Friday, September 30, 2011

2011 book 251

Edward Eager's Seven-Day Magic
Eager's books were some of my favorites when I was a kid (and still are, really)--I think they laid the groundwork for my love of books where magic comes into the real world.  I've been waiting and waiting for Kindle versions to come out (my copies are pretty worn) and was pleased to discover last week that three were available. Of course, they're a motley assortment; Eager wrote seven kids' books, and these three aren't connected at all (four of his books take place in the same universe, two in their own, and this one is a stand-alone that sort of relates to the first four). Anyway, my point is that all of them should be available.

If you were curious, this one is about a group of kids who check a magical book out of the library, except it's way funnier than that description makes it sound.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

awesome comics

Some awesome awesome awesome comics came out this week and I've been busy reading them, hence the lack of book posting. First up, Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant book--I mean, ok, you can read all those comics online but the book format is great, just a really attractive package, and it's so nice to giggle over jokes about history and literature. And mystery-solving teens.

But what I am REALLY excited about is that Love and Rockets New Stories vol. 4 came out this week. Jaime Hernandez is just blowing my mind these days, between the stuff in here and the stories from vol. 3--moving along Maggie's story especially, but filling in these huge gaps in the story of her childhood as well. I cried three times while reading and am already reading the whole thing again. I can't wait till these stories come out in one of those cute little Locas books.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

2011 book 250

Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone
This much-hyped debut centers on a young art student in Prague, only it's a YA fantasy so she was raised by these weird demon creatures and can make wishes to like turn her hair blue (man, if it was only that easy!).  She doesn't really know anything about her past and is dealing with ex-boyfriend angst and hanging with her art school friends when an angel dude starts coming after her. I will say that I appreciated that, although this book is being touted as an epic romance type of deal, the author spends the first chunk of the book on world-building and developing the character of our blue-haired protagonist. And the romance rings pretty false at first, but as the story goes deeper and secrets are revealed more or less in a timely manner (hooray, I correctly guessed most of them), I was completely caught up. And then of course, it ends, and I have to wait till god knows how long for a sequel. A-.

Monday, September 26, 2011

2011 book 249

Jennifer Castle's The Beginning of After
I didn't mean to read two pretty sad books in a row, but this one was a real weepy, about a teenager whose parents and little brother are killed in a car accident, and like that's not enough to cope with, she's suddenly becoming closer to the neighbor whose father was driving the car. Also there are some awesome cats and dogs. Things aren't entirely believable but they are thoroughly engrossing. A-.

2011 book 248

Leah Hager Cohen's The Grief of Others
Lovely, lovely book about a broken family a year after their newborn son died from birth defects (the mother knew the child had no chance to live but didn't disclose that to her husband or older children).  Of course, they were kind of broken before that happened too. But with the passing of time, and the entrance of new people (and dogs) into their lives, can they be repaired? I loved the writing here, and especially enjoyed the character of ten year old Biscuit, who searches for answers in books. A.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

2011 book 247

Shannon Hale's Forest Born
The conclusion to the Books of Bayern is a satisfying one, though perhaps not as compelling as the previous three, with its brand-new protagonist who spends a lot of time being insecure about everything. Still a good read though. A-/B+.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

2011 book 246

Shannon Hale's River Secrets
Another great entry in the Books of Bayern series, as several characters from the past couple books travel to a neighboring kingdom to prevent another war. Action-packed with romance = always a good read. A.

Friday, September 23, 2011

2011 book 245

Shannon Hale's Enna Burning
The sequel to The Goose Girl departs from the world of already-existent fairy tales and focuses more on the previous protagonist's best friend, a girl who learns to control fire (handy and/or dangerous during a time of war). I have to say, Hale writes some badass heroines, and I like that there's romance but it's not the main plotline in either of these. Can't wait to read the next one (though I think that one's main character is a guy, but he's a likable guy from the previous two books, so that's okay). A.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

2011 book 244

Shannon Hale's The Goose Girl
I was in the mood for more fantasy-ish stories, and it turns out Hale has also written a series called the Books of Bayern that seemed interesting. The first is a reworking of the goose girl fairy tale, but really the only resemblance is that a princess becomes a goose girl for the kingdom of the prince to whom she's betrothed, and there's so much more to the story than that. There's some really interesting intrigue here, and our protagonist can talk to birds and her horse, which is always entertaining, and Hale even manages to touch on the iniquity of the feudal system (or whatever system this is, I mean, it's a fairy tale and not historically accurate). Anyway, A, and I'm off to read the next one.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

2011 book 243

Shannon Hale's Princess Academy
Amazon kept recommending books by Hale to me, and I knew I recognized the name but couldn't find any record of her on this blog. So a click on Amazon and I realized--she (along with her husband) wrote the awesome graphic novel Rapunzel's Revenge! And since this was also a Newbery Honor book, it seemed worth a read. And it was a super cute MG book where all the girls in a small rock quarrying village are sent to Princess Academy to be trained on lady-ship, since some priests have decreed that the prince is destined to marry a girl from there. Our protagonist, Miri, has always felt small and useless, but discovers some of her talents while there. I definitely saw some of the plot twists coming, but hey, this is an MG book. And it was entertaining enough that it really didn't matter anyway. A.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

2011 book 242

Ann Patchett's Bel Canto
I've been meaning to reread this since I read State of Wonder, and the yen suddenly hit me strongly tonight. Patchett is one of those writers who can create completely individual worlds, peoples, circumstances, in each of her books, and really, her masterful language is the only thing that ties them together (especially her most recent few). Anyway, this one definitely holds up, and it's broken my heart every time I've read it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

2011 book 241

Kirsten Miller's Kiki Strike: Inside the Empress' Tomb
The second Kiki Strike book is even awesomer than the first one.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

2011 book 240

Kathleen O'Dell's The Aviary
Wonderful, wonderful MG book about a little girl growing up in a big ol' falling apart mansion--her mother is the caretaker for the elderly woman who lives there, the widow of a famous magician, a kindly woman who loves her roses and her birds. When the girl hears a story about the woman's baby son being kidnapped many years ago, she decides to solve the mystery (with the help of a new friend). O'Dell doesn't drag out plot points that are easy for an older reader to figure out; the pacing in general is pretty strong. Great characters (especially the birds) and great resolution. A.

2011 book 239

Anna Solomon's The Little Bride
So it's the 1880s and a young Russian-Jewish girl is getting ready to get sent to America to be some random dude's bride (a deeply unpleasant process, if this book is accurate at all), but things are even weirder than she expected, as she suddenly has two stepsons who are right around her age. And it's South Dakota, and farming is hard, and winters are awful, and the story moves really slowly (though, to its credit, not always where you'd expect). B.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

2011 book 238

Kirsten Miller's Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City
I love this series and hadn't revisited it in a while, but according to Miller's blog, a third one will be coming out in 2012 (5 years since the last one! But she's been busy writing a YA paranormal epic romance series or whatever). Anyway, great, interesting, and very funny group of heroines here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Sorry for the fewer-than-usual number of book updates this week--I've been busy exploring Pottermore while listening to new music (Wild Flag, Girls, Mates of State, etc) (plus Hopscotch was this past weekend) and have been less focused on reading. Plus fall tv season is starting which cuts into reading time. I was psyched to be managing a book a day for a while there, but that might be unrealistic.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

2011 book 237

Sarah Beth Durst's Drink, Slay, Love
Here is how I described this book earlier this evening, more or less verbatim: "So there is this vampire girl, and she's doing like vampire things with her vampire boyfriend, when a unicorn stabs her and suddenly she can be out in sunlight, so her vampire parents make her enroll in high school so she can lure a bunch of students to a feast for the vampire king of New England, only she kind of has a conscience now and is accidentally making friends and stuff, and there's a cute human boy who is way better than her douchey vampire boyfriend." Durst's writing is for the most part knowingly tongue in cheek and funny (there are a few too many instances of spelling out just what the protagonist is feeling, but it is YA) and the second half of the novel is especially entertaining. A-.

Monday, September 12, 2011

2011 book 236

Sebastian Barry's On Canaan's Side
Barry writes readable novels where past secrets are revealed and sometimes things are a little over-dramatic. This one isn't any different--elderly Lilly, in the aftermath of her grandson's suicide, recounts her life story (including her immigration from Ireland to America just after World War I). Barry's prose is lovely and like I said, it's readable, but the big plot twist is heavily foreshadowed (I couldn't tell if it was meant to be a surprise or not) and the sorrows piled on sorrows are a little much at time. B/B+.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

2011 book 235

Gabrielle Zevin's All These Things I've Done
So it's the near future (2083, by my reckoning) and it's a kind of dystopia where chocolate is illegal but otherwise things aren't too different for teenagers. Though maybe 16-year0old Anya isn't really typical--she's the orphaned daughter of a mob boss (chocolate mafia!) and her mother, who was killed in a failed hit on the mob boss. Anya and her dying grandmother are trying to hold the family together, but soon Anya is distracted by the new boy in school (who happens to be the assistant DA's son). I'm realizing that this sounds like super dramatic angsty YA and it's not--Zevin is a solid writer (I've liked all of her books) and Anya is a great character, trying to be tough. I especially liked her relationship with her sister. Anyway, the way it ends makes me think there's a sequel in the works--or at least I hope so, since I really want to know what happens to these characters next. A/A-.

Friday, September 09, 2011

2011 book 234

Heather Dixon's Entwined
This is just a delightful book--and at times, scary, intense, romantic, and hilarious--reworking the twelve dancing princesses fairy tale. Azalea (all the girls are named after plants) is the oldest of eleven--soon to be twelve--sisters living in a castle with remnants of magic in it. When their mother dies, and their strict father forbids dancing, and then they find a magical dance pavilion with a mysterious Keeper, well of course they go dancing every night. But obviously you can't just hang out with a mysterious Keeper all the time and expect things to go okay. Some plot points are easy to telegraph, but since this is a fairy tale kind of story, there's really nothing wrong with that. And I loved the ending. A.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

2011 book 233

Elissa Schappell's Blueprints for Building Better Girls
I'm not into reading books of short stories--I like something meatier, that I can really get into--but make exceptions for books of interconnected short stories like the ones in this book. In these stories, Schappel delves into the inner lives of women--well, the inner lives of troubled young girls and the women they become. And sometimes their moms. And maybe I shouldn't say troubled young girls, since these girls are actually pretty normal in my experience--aren't all young girls troubled to an extent? Aren't all moms sometimes frustrated with their children (even as they wholeheartedly love them)? Well, it's not like I'm an expert, but I am a woman and I give this an A. Very realistic and interesting characters. I'm going to reread it sometime soon so I can map out all the relationships better. Also, someone should make a personality quiz. "Are you a Paige? Are you a Heather?" (I am not serious about that.)

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

2011 book 232

Seanan McGuire's One Salt Sea
The fifth October Daye book is a little bit of a slow starter but heats up about 1/3 of the way in as Toby has to find two missing boys and stop a fairy war. The romance angle was pretty boring, but at least they finally mention her daughter again after forgetting she existed for a couple of books. I'm not really sure where the series is going from here--I think there are two books left--but I'll keep reading. B.

Monday, September 05, 2011

2011 book 231

Tricia Springstubb's Mo Wren, Lost and Found
The sequel to What Happened on Fox Street is a stronger book, though still on the light/heartwarming side, as Mo tries to deal with moving away from her beloved Fox Street so her father can pursue his dream of opening a sports bar. B+.

2011 book 230

Cate Tiernan's Immortal Beloved
OK, straight off I need to say that this book has a TERRIBLE title, the kind that makes you think it's some ridiculous paranormal romance about soulmates (I hate books like that). But actually, it's about an immortal girl who has gone through some dark stuff, and now she's fled to like a halfway house for immortals, where she's going to deal with her past and have some self-discovery while farming and meditating. There is a love interest, but the romance isn't really a main part of the book (such a relief). It does end really abruptly, but it's the first of a trilogy so I guess that's ok. Anyway, interesting world-building and I look forward to the sequel. A-.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

2011 book 229

Scarlett Thomas' PopCo
This is one of my all-time favorite books, and I'm not entirely sure why, since I've never been super into math and there is a fair amount of math talk. Of course, there's also codes, mysteries, toys, marketing, and a little romance. And some hilariously outdated tech talk (Hotmail! Being shocked by wireless!). I bought it for my Kindle since it was only like 6 bucks--some of the charts get cut off a bit but most of the non-text parts are intact. I just love this book.

2011 book 228

Chelsea Campbell's The Rise of Renegade X
Sometimes you just have to reread one of your favorite books about a teenage boy, raised by his supervillain mother, who finds out his father is a superhero. And there's romance and adventure and rayguns. So awesome.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

2011 book 227

Lisa McMann's The Unwanteds
This is one of those MG books with an interesting premise--it's a dystopian society where, at the age of 13, kids are divided into Wanted, Necessary, and Unwanted, and the Unwanteds are sent to be eliminated, only really they're taken to a secret world of creativity and magic NO REALLY THAT IS WHAT THE WORLD IS LIKE--but that's written in such a way that it's cheesy and obvious to adults (and I read--and love--a fair amount of MG/YA books, so I know they can be done well). The writing just feels sloppy sometimes, with a third person omniscient narrator focusing mainly on one kid, but very occasionally breaking into the thoughts of another character out of nowhere (this seems like it must be a shortcut to get to know the other characters, but it doesn't really work, and they all remain ciphers). Plus, like I said, cheesy and obvious. Too bad. I almost didn't finish but wanted to see if my predictions were right, and they all were. B/B-.

2011 book 226

Diana Abu-Jaber's Birds of Paradise
I've read a couple of Abu-Jaber's earlier books (though really only remember her memoir and how sumptuously she described food) so was looking forward to this one--it's about a family in Miami that's been falling apart at the seams since daughter Felice ran away when she was thirteen. It's told primarily from the POVs of the parents and daughter--I think the book could have benefited from more with the older brother (owner of a successful organic market) and with less of the father's work drama (development deals are boring) but I was very happy with how much there was of the mother's baking. Anyway, this didn't really disappoint--speedy plot and winning characters, and lots of delicious-sounding desserts. A-.

Friday, September 02, 2011

2011 book 225

Stephanie Burgis' Kat, Incorrigible
Very charming MG book about an early 1800s-era girl who discovers she's inherited her mother's magical powers--there's also lots of Austen-lite plot going on, as her detested stepmother is trying to marry her older sister off to a rich jerkwad, and her other older sister is trying to find her true love. And some other stuff. Very likable characters--the three sisters are especially great together. A-.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

2011 book 224

Kendare Blake's Anna Dressed in Blood
Cas is a teenage boy who, since his father died, travels around with his mother hunting--and slaying--ghosts. But when he heads to Canada to stop the famous Anna Dressed in Blood, he gets more than he bargained for--she's much stronger, and more aware, than any ghost he's faced before. OK, so the premise sounded a little silly to me, but the first chapter totally hooked me and it stays fairly strong from there (occasionally characters do idiotic things that no one in real life would ever do, but mostly the plot is good). It's pretty grisly at parts and something bad happens to a cat, so fair warning there. B+.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


I don't count graphic novels toward my book totals, so I usually forget to mention the ones I'm reading (and most are volumes of the series I love--20th Century Boys, Unwritten, iZombie, Fables, etc). But I want you guys to know that Americus exists--it's an awesome story about a teen boy and a librarian teaming up to stop their favorite books from being banned! And some other stuff too. You can even read the whole thing online here (though the last few pages aren't up yet).

I also recommend the adorable new Sara Varon book, Bake Sale.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

2011 book 223

Colin Meloy's Wildwood
I'm not at all a Decemberists fan and probably would have avoided lead Decemberist Meloy's MG book out of spite if not for three things: 1) his big sister is Maile Meloy, and I love her books (she has an MG book of her own coming out in October); 2) the charming illustrations by Carson Ellis, who also did the Mysterious Benedict Society illustrations and who is apparently married to Meloy; and 3) a sample chapter given out at Midwinter was just intriguing enough to make me put my reservations aside.

So, with all that said, was it worth it? Actually, yes, it was a pretty great MG fantasy/adventure book! (And the illustrations do add a lot.) It's the story of 12 year old Prue and what happens when her baby brother is kidnapped by a bunch of crows and she goes into the Impassable Woods to find him--with one of her classmates (a Jewish comic book geek!) tagging along. And since I knew nothing more than that, pretty much everything that happened next surprised me. It's very much in the tradition of classic books like the Narnia series, and the writing is occasionally stilted, but there are some really fun characters, some interesting grey bits (as opposed to black/white good/evil stuff), and a nice subtle pro-environmental message. Gotta say, it's a solid A-.

Monday, August 29, 2011

2011 book 222

Miriam Toews' Irma Voth
Toews has written a whole bunch of really great novels that I loved, and luckily, this one was no exception. It reads a little bit different than the earlier ones--it feels more dreamy, somehow, though the plot has a fair amount of action. Our titular Irma is a young Mennonite girl whose family has immigrated from Canada to Mexico, but she's been more-or-less cast out after marrying a local boy. Things only get more complicated when she's hired as a translator on a film about Mennonites, and the film is causing an uproar in the community (well, mostly an uproar with her father). And that's only the first half of the story. Irma's journey--and the gradual revelation of past family secrets--isn't an easy one, but as always, Toews has created a world of sympathetic, complicated, and ultimately lovable characters. A/A-.

An e-galley was provided by the publisher.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

2011 book 221

Vanessa Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers
I swear I read a review of this where the author talked about encountering a book on the language of flowers (I actually own a book like that and have always found it intriguing myself) and how that inspired her (though this article kind of denies that--as a side note, also check out this fairly negative review of the book, also from NPR). Anyway, it seemed an interesting enough read, even though I hate when things are overly heartwarming (and yet I like happy endings--sorry, authors). So it flashes back and forth in time between protagonist Victoria's liberation from the foster care system and how she tries to make her way as an adult, and her brief time with a particular foster home in her childhood and how that is still influencing her life . . . I didn't find it as saccharine as the NPR reviewer did, though some of the dialogue was overly cheesy and the love interest was perhaps too perfect. I don't know, B+?

2011 book 220

Jackson Pearce's Sweetly
I was super excited to read the companion novel to Sisters Red, and was intrigued by the premise of a Hansel/Gretel reworking. See, when Ansel and Gretchen were little kids, they were in the woods and something took Gretchen's identical twin. Now that they're young adults, they've been kicked out and make their way cross-country, ending up at the home of a pretty, young chocolatier. Sounds cool, right? But while I liked Gretchen, I just felt like Pearce left too much of the reveal for the very end, so the whole time I was reading I was just like, what is the point of anything they're doing? It wasn't nearly as satisfying as its predecessor. B/B-.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

2011 book 219

Laura Lippman's The Most Dangerous Thing
I've loved pretty much all of Lippman's books, so it was kind of a bummer to find this one so . . . disappointing. The characters are ok, more or less, but the story and the reveal are just not very interesting. There's a guy who gets really drunk and dies in a car crash, and something happened with him and his friends when they were kids, and now they're all annoyingly troubled adults . . . Even the flashes back and forth in time, while giving a sense of dread to things, don't propel things forward much. I feel a little bad for thinking so, since at the end an author's note says that this is Lippman's most autobiographical novel. I just wasn't into it. Even a brief appearance by Tess Monaghan couldn't save it. B-.

Friday, August 26, 2011

2011 book 218

Terry Pratchett's I Shall Wear Midnight
The fourth (and presumably final) Tiffany Aching book involves various romances, lots of witches, and something spreading dissent about those witches. I actually had completely forgotten the plot of this one and so was a little surprised when it took such a turn for the dark (not in a bad way! I only remembered the romance). Still, Tiffany is a remarkable bad-ass, so it's still a fun read.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

2011 book 217

Sorry for no post yesterday, I went to see Richard Buckner and David Kilgour (both of whom played several of my favorite songs and generally were awesome).

Terry Pratchett's Wintersmith
Oh, Tiffany Aching, what scrapes you get into! But somehow you always are awesome anyway. And the parts with the kitten make me giggle. Off to start the fourth (and final?) Tiffany Aching book, then on to something non-Pratchett.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

2011 book 216

Terry Pratchett's A Hat Full of Sky
I don't have much to say about this Tiffany Aching book, except that this series is really some of Pratchett's strongest writing.

Monday, August 22, 2011

2011 book 215

Terry Pratchett's The Wee Free Men
Well, after reading all the regular Discworld witches books, of course I had to restart the Tiffany Aching series, b/c she is just the best little witch! It's interesting that, though this is technically a YA book, it seems much more serious than the other witches books (which do tend toward the silly). Not that there isn't humor here, b/c it's a Pratchett book, so of course there is. I'd forgotten that the main witches are only briefly in this one--it really is Tiffany's story. And, of course, the Nac Mac Feegles.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

2011 book 214

Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why
After reading all those slightly silly Discworld books, I was in the mood for something more serious, and there are few things more serious than a book about teen suicide. Not to sound flippant; this was my third time reading this and I still cried more than once. I still don't know how they're going to make a movie of this--it's about a girl who records tapes telling the story of how she decided to kill herself, and it's about the boy who's listening to those tapes. I really wonder how they'll translate it to screen (probably not very well).

2011 book 213

Terry Pratchett's Carpe Jugulum
Witches vs Vampires, hahahaha!! This Discworld book is great--fewer fat jokes than the previous one, and it features the Nac Mac Feegles (from the Tiffany Aching books). Love those witches.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

2011 book 212

Terry Pratchett's Maskerade
It's really just a pleasure to read a book about the Discworld witches for the first time--especially one that involves an opera ghost. :)

Friday, August 19, 2011

2011 book 211

Terry Pratchett's Lords and Ladies
So it turns out I HAD read this one before but completely forgotten it, which is a shame b/c it's pretty awesome--in this one, our three witches have to deal with elves coming back. And there's a wedding, and some Shakespeare references. And the witches are awesome, as always.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

2011 book 210

Terry Pratchett's Witches Abroad
I've decided to read all the Discworld Witches books, since I've only ever read the first two (Wyrd Sisters and this one) and, of course, the Tiffany Aching books. I may take a break if the Pratchett starts to overwhelm me though (sometimes such arch narration can). Anyway, I love this one--as the witches get tangled up in fairy tales--and am curious to see how the later ones compare.

shelf awareness

Check it out, there's a new thingie on the right sidebar there where you can sign up for the Shelf Awareness newsletter--it's pretty awesome, lots of reviews and book news--and if you sign up for it you can be entered for giveaways and whatnot.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

2011 book 209

Terry Pratchett's Wyrd Sisters
I'm clearly on a rereading fantasy books kick--and there are few characters I like more than Pratchett's witches.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

2011 book 208

Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys
I remembered even less of this one than I did of American Gods, so it was really a joy to rediscover these characters and their world. Why doesn't Gaiman write grown-up books anymore?

2011 book 207

Neil Gaiman's American Gods
It's been years since I read this, and since the only thing I really remembered were the Zorya, I figured I'd give it a go and see if I still liked it. Plus apparently Tom Hanks is making a tv version for HBO, which clearly demands a refresher. Anyway, I did still like it, and I'm off to read Anansi Boys now.

Monday, August 15, 2011

2011 book 206

Yannick Murphy's The Call
Great great great story about a country vet (who mostly works on horses) and his family and what happens after his young son is involved in a hunting accident. I really enjoyed the writing style and descriptions of animals and of the woods. Sorry, not feeling well today and not up for any kind of analysis, but after reading--and deleting--the samples for five or six Kindle books, I was pleased to find this one. A/A-.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

2011 book 205

Nina Revoyr's Wingshooters
I really liked Revoyr's The Age of Dreaming so figured I'd check this book out--it's about a half-Japanese girl in the 1970s who ends up living with her grandparents in a very white Wisconsin town, and what happens when a black couple moves to the area. There is an extremely awesome dog--an English Springer Spaniel, like the awesome dog I had when I was a kid--and of course something terrible happens to it (I HATE when bad things happen to animals in books--it always feels like a deliberate choice by the writer to make readers cry, and not at all natural). Anyway, it's fairly over-written--too many emotions and things spelled out by the narrator looking back on her childhood--and the end is more than a little melodramatic. And I just can't get past the dog thing. B/B-.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

2011 book 204

Kathryn Miller Haines' The Girl is Murder
Great little noir-ish story about a fifteen year old girl in 1942 whose life has been upended--her father lost a leg at Pearl Harbor, her mother killer herself, and now she has to start at a whole new public school after going to private school her whole life. Money is a problem, since her father's obvious limp is affecting his business as a private eye. So of course she decides to assist him with his caseload. I loved the narrative voice and atmosphere, but the whole thing was well worth reading. A/A-.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

2011 book 203

Lisa Goldstein's The Uncertain Places
It's Berkeley in the 70s, and Will has just been introduced to Livvy, who comes from a large and somewhat mysterious family. And weird things keep happening. But when Livvy falls into an enchanted sleep, Will has to do some pretty crazy things to get her back. And that's just like, the first third of the book! Goldstein's book defies easy categorization--I guess it's urban fantasy, but set in the past? And it doesn't really have the usual urban fantasy tropes. And it's really more of a growing-up story/novel about people than one about fairy tales being real. Well, clearly I'm having trouble articulating anything about this book. I'll just say that I liked it a whole lot and found the end thought-provoking. A-.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

2011 book 202

Martha Brooks' The Queen of Hearts
Short but compelling novel about a young girl in a TB sanitorium in the early 1940s. It ended a bit abruptly, though--Brooks really could have told more of the story. B+.

Monday, August 08, 2011

2011 book 201

Lara Zielin's The Implosion of Aggie Winchester
After slogging through the 2000+ pages of historical epic and star-crossed romances of the Tea Rose trilogy, I was ready for something more contemporary and this seemed like it'd fit the bill. And it starts off strong--goth outcast teen Aggie finds out on the same day that her mom (who is also the principal of her high school) has cancer and her best friend is pregnant. But then things get really annoying. Aggie is terminally stupid and kind of a brat, and the end is a) completely predictable, and b) full of overly emotional and unrealistic dialogue and activities. Ughhhhh I disliked it so much. C-.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

2011 book 200

Jennifer Donnelly's The Wild Rose
The wrap-up to the Rose trilogy is grossly unsatisfying, mainly b/c the couple at its core, with their supermagical special timeless looooooooove, are total jerkwards. I think I was supposed to like and/or sympathize with them, but they were terrible and selfish people. Also, there was one final twist at the end that was just silly. Which isn't to say the book is all bad; the other characters are still interesting, and it's a fairly strong WWI epic (featuring Lawrence of Arabia, no less). But wow. I had enough problems with the superspecial magical love of the previous two couples, but these ones were the worst. B-.

2011 book 199

Jennifer Donnelly's The Winter Rose
The sequel to The Tea Rose picks up a few years after the last one left off--it's now 1900 in London and we're back in the thick of things with Fiona Finnegan and her family (though a likable lady doctor and a Jewish nurse and her relatives have been added to the mix). At times, these books are frustrating to read--Donnelly keeps adding all these artificial obstacles to various people getting together and dragging it out--it's like a bad romantic comedy half the time with everyone falling in love at first sight but then beset by miscommunications and bad timing. I mean, this book is 720 pages long, and it's a lot to slog through to get to the inevitable happy ending. Still, I loved the characters (except for the ones who were assholes) and really did want to know what would happen to them--and Donnelly threw in a few surprises toward the end (as a reward for her diligent readers?). I'm off to read the third one now, b/c dammit, I need to see how things end up. B/B+.

Friday, August 05, 2011

2011 book 198

Jennifer Donnelly's The Tea Rose
I've enjoyed Donnelly's YA books, but somehow her historical adult trilogy had completely escaped my attention. The first, The Tea Rose, centers on a young girl in London at the time of Jack the Ripper. She dreams of starting a shop with her love interest, but of course things are never that simple, or else this book would be a lot shorter. Despite patently unbelievable plot points, incorrect history, and a whole lot of sometimes unnecessary drama, I found this story to be entirely engrossing. Donnelly populates her world with likable (ok, not all likable) and realistic characters, and really brings the late 1800s to life. A-/B+.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

2011 book 197

Nicole Peeler's Eye of the Tempest
More fantasy fighting and shenanigans as Peeler spends most of this book setting things up for whatever will happen in the next one--and once again, interrupting the protagonist every time she's about to get with her love interest. Peeler's narrative is firmly tongue-in-cheek most of the time, which makes reading such a silly book work. B.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

2011 book 196

Patricia Wrede's Across the Great Barrier
The sequel to The Thirteenth Child features more magical alternate-Wild-West adventures. The protagonist is very likable, but the story just wasn't that exciting this time around. B.

Monday, August 01, 2011

2011 book 195

Emily Arsenault's In Search of the Rose Notes
Arsenault's The Broken Teaglass was one of my favorites of 2009, so I was eager to read her second novel-slash-mystery. Rose Notes is slightly more traditional but no less compelling, centering on Nora, and her childhood best friend getting back in touch because a body has been discovered--their babysitter, who went missing sixteen years earlier. Nora returns to her hometown to see her friend and talk about the missing Rose, but gets sucked into some investigations amidst flashing back to the fall when Rose disappeared, when the younger girls were obsessed with books about paranormal activity. Anyway, really interesting characters (I won't say "likable"--Nora's friend, in particular, is a super major brat) and I found the resolution satisfying. A/A-.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

2011 book 194

Dana Reinhardt's The Summer I Learned to Fly
The life of a thirteen-year-old girl changes one summer when her widowed mother opens a cheese shop and when she meets a new boy with the help of her pet rat. Reinhardt has written a few other solid YA books and this was no exception--the cast of characters was really likable, especially a Vespa-riding surfer who works in the shop and an Irish busker. A-.

2011 book 193

Shirley Jackon's We Have Always Lived in the Castle
This is one of those classic books that somehow I'd never read, and of course there's a reason it's a classic. Maybe a few too many shades of "The Lottery" but excellent atmosphere and characters.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

2011 book 192

Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus
When a book gets as much buzz as this one has for months before it comes out (and it doesn't even come out till September), I'm always a little leery--how can it possibly live up to the hype? Well, it turns out people are buzzing so much about it because it's just THAT GOOD. Seriously. It's the story of a mysterious night-time circus full of wonders--but really it's the story of two rival magicians (actual magic, not just stage magicians) who each train a student to defeat the other's in a mysterious contest--and how the circus ties into that. And there's romance, and beauty, and a hint of creepiness. Also, there are lots of kittens.

Morgenstern's writing is nearly impeccable and completely draws you in--I started this during dinner and planned to finish it tomorrow, but couldn't wait that long to see what would happen. Morgenstern didn't disappoint. A+.

An e-galley was provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

2011 book 191

Hillary Jordan's When She Woke
So this book is basically The Scarlet Letter meets The Handmaid's Tale. Hannah lives in a near-future dystopia where, after having an abortion, she's arrested and dyed red (criminals are dyed different colors; red = murder). Then some other stuff happens to her--she makes a friend, she falls in with a mysterious group, she's ostracized from society, and through it all, she's still in love with the man who knocked her up. Jordan is occasionally heavy-handed with her world-building (I completely agree with what clearly are her political views, but this book isn't going to convince anyone who doesn't) but the story is engrossing and moves quickly (I read it all in one sitting) and Hannah's struggles with religion make her even more sympathetic. A-.

A galley was provided by the publisher.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

2011 book 190

Amor Towles' Rules of Civility
I'm just going to flat-out say it: this is going to be on my best of the year list. Doesn't matter about all the awesome books by great writers coming out this fall. This is tops.

I read a review that summarized it as "Mad Men in the 1930s" and that's accurate enough; our protagonist, Katey, is a young secretary with a madcap best friend whose world changes thanks to a chance encounter on New Year's Eve 1938. Towles nails a variety of New York cultures and populates the city with a myriad of believable and likable characters. And the writing is impeccable and beautiful. Great, great story--completely absorbing. A+.

Monday, July 25, 2011

2011 book 189

Randy Russell's Dead Rules
A teenage girl dies and ends up in Dead School, a sort of weird purgatory boarding school afterlife. With the requisite cute bad boy ghost, of course. But she's still madly in love with her boyfriend and wants to figure out how they can be together forever. Russell doles out information to the reader so that s/he's all antsy waiting for the protagonist to figure everything out, but in a good way. A-.