Monday, February 28, 2011

2011 book 59

Franny Billingsley's The Folk Keeper
Middle grade book about a girl disguised as a boy whose job is to appease the bad local fairies and keep them from wreaking havoc. But things change when a dying lord sends his wife to fetch and employ her, leading her to an estate full of secrets. Pretty much everything that's going to happen is easy to discern, but the first person narration keeps things interesting. A-.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

2011 book 58

Kathleen Winter's Annabel
After reading a bunch of silly (but fun!) urban fantasy books, I was ready for something a little more thought-provoking and literary. And this novel--which has won a bunch of awards in Canada but not gotten a ton of critical attention here--did not disappoint. When a baby is born in a small town in Canada in 1968 with the genitalia of both genders, the father decides he should be raised as a son. But his wife and her friend encourage the child's feminine side as much as they are able, even as the child doesn't know any of the truth. Of course there are complications and lots of questioning of one's identity (on the part of several of the characters). The characters are solid and the story is gripping, but the real star here is Winter's writing. She's especially good when nature is involved, though her ruminations on middle-ages housewives are also pretty spot-on. A.

2011 book 57

DD Barant's Killing Rocks
This third book in this series involves a golem uprising, an evil sorcerer, buildings swapping places, and all sorts of crazy magic. Entertaining stuff. BTW, did you know the author is a man? I don't think I'd have guessed that, even with the lack of romance. Not really relevant to anything, just interesting in the light of all the discussion of how many women writers/reviewers/being reviewed there are (I read waaay more books by women but don't know what the significance of that is). Anyway, yeah, this series is fun. A-.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

2011 book 56

DD Barant's Death Blows
The second book in the Bloodhound Files series is perhaps even awesomer than the first, though maybe I'm biased since it's all about the magic of COMIC BOOKS. Serious Grant Morrison/Alan Moore references and discussion, plus superheroes and a villainous Wertham! But of course these things are even more serious in an alternate world full of magic, werewolves, vampires, and golems (I think I forgot to mention golems last time, but the main character's golem partner, the fedora-wearing Charlie Aleph, is totally one of the highlights for me). A.

2011 book 55

Thanhha Lai's Inside Out and Back Again
Lai's debut novel--which is inspired by her own childhood--focuses on a young Vietnamese girl who flees with her family to Alabama at the end of the Vietnam War, and then has a whole new series of hardships to deal with as she tries to fit in. It's a fast read--it's written in free-form poetry--but not an easy one. I did think it ended a bit abruptly, but it's a middle-grade book so I don't have a big problem with that. The blog that mentioned this (I don't remember which one) thought it was a strong contender for the Newbery, and I more-or-less agree. A-.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

2011 book 54

DD Barant's Dying Bites
Jace Valchek is a star detective and profiler doing the sassy and tough girl cop thing when she gets whisked away to a parallel world where humans are nearly extinct and werewolves and vampires are everywhere. A human serial killer is on the loose and they need her help to track him down, but things are more bizarre and complicated than they let on. It's amazing how Barant so easily transfers the trope of the tough girl detective to a paranormal world--and it's very effective. My complaints about this are minor--occasionally Jace's voice is a little too "yeah, I'm a tough girl cop" and way too many sections end with unnecessary ellipses, but the world-building is fascinating and Jace is a really fun heroine to root for. Plus there are two sequels to look forward to! A-.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

2011 book 53

Natalie Standiford's How to Say Goodbye in Robot
After reading a few too many disappointing books lately, I asked my Twitter people for book recommendations--books that satisfied them.* I just wanted to read something satisfying, dangit. Luckily the lovely Keri stepped up to let me know about the story of Robot Girl and Ghost Boy. Robot Girl Beatrice (not actually a robot) has just moved to Baltimore and is dreading her senior year of high school, but she befriends Ghost Boy/outcast Jonah (not actually a ghost), who introduces her to an insane late-night radio show populated with eccentrics (some lovable, some not so much). But when he finds out about a really big secret his father was keeping from him, things get a lot more complicated. Standiford completely veers away from the predictable and cliched with her characters, and manages to make a fully fleshed-out world full of heartbreaking and bittersweet moments for them. And yes, it satisfied me. Thanks, Keri. A/A-.

*If anyone reading this can recommend something that satisfied you, feel free.

Monday, February 21, 2011

2011 book 52

Jerry Spinelli's Milkweed
Look, there's no real way for me to grade or critically discuss a Jerry Spinelli YA book about the Holocaust. Here are the bare bones: it's 1939 and a small boy who thinks his name is "Stopthief" (because that's all anyone ever says to him) is taken in by an older Jewish boy and his gang. He's such a little boy that he doesn't really understand Nazis and admires their shiny boots. He's also so little that, when he ends up in the ghetto, he can escape to steal food through a hole in the wall. Spinelli pretty neatly encapsulates the Warsaw Ghetto experience, telling the horrible truth while not making it too grim for his young audience. Really well-done.

2011 book 51

Terry Pratchett's Soul Music
Oh my GOD, did I not like this book. I don't know why I even finished it, except that I wanted to know what happened to Death's granddaughter (I thought it was about her, which is why i read it, but she's barely in it, and it's all about rock and roll coming to the Discworld and wreaking havoc in a really annoying way). This book should have been like 200 pages shorter. I can't believe I disliked a Pratchett book this much, but I really, really did.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

2011 book 50

Maurissa Guibord's Warped
When Tessa and her father mistakenly get a tapestry of a unicorn in an auction, Tessa starts having weird dreams and experiences whenever she touches it. Then she pulls at a loose thread and a boy comes out! A witch imprisoned him there 500 years ago! And wants him back to maintain her youth and immortality! Actually, I was pretty into this for the first half--Tessa is interesting then--but then it gets all romance-heavy and they both turn kind of stupid. Of course, I'm not a fourteen year old girl, and was much more interested in the history, mythology, and magic at work. B.

2011 book 49

Elizabeth Stuckey-French's The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady
Before I got my copy of this, I spent a while trying to figure out why the author's name was so familiar. When it came, I saw that it was set in Tallahassee, and realized the author works in one of the departments I worked with at my former place of work. So, there's that. Anyway, this is about a woman who, when she was pregnant back in the 50s, was unwittingly given radiation as part of a scientific study. After her small daughter died of cancer, she blamed the doctor in charge--and now, as an old woman, is coming to get her revenge. But her ill-conceived plans of killing him start to backfire when she gets entangled with his family. Stuckey-French does a great job of bringing the characters to life--especially the dr's youngest granddaughter Suzi--and her writing is solid, but the story doesn't entirely make sense (in light of the ending, the first chapter from Suzi's POV is really weird) and while the ending is clearly designed to be satisfying, I didn't think it worked that well. B/B-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

2011 book 48

Cecilia Ahern's The Book of Tomorrow
I've never read anything by Ahern before--chick-lit isn't my thing--but her latest was being described as a kind of gothic-style YA book and darned if that didn't sound intriguing. The story centers on spoiled brat teenager Tamara, who, after her father kills himself, goes with her mother to live with her aunt and uncle in the country. Only everything is weird and there are a lot of secrets being kept. Oh, and her diary tells her what'll happen the next day. I liked this more than I was expecting to, actually--Tamara's transformation into less of a brat was believable, I love books with a hint of magic, there's a cool nun, and uncovering the secrets keeps the plot moving. I'm not classifying this as a fantasy since the only fantastic element is the diary--we'll count that as a form of magical realism and move on. A-.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

2011 book 47

Michael David Lukas' The Oracle of Stamboul
The summaries of this book are all like "A young Jewish girl becomes the adviser to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire" but that doesn't really happen till more than 2/3rds of the way through the story. Instead, it's the story of a young Jewish girl who is blessed with some particular gifts, like a massive intellect and a flock of hoopoe birds who follow her around, but she also has to deal with tragedy and political intrigue. No matter how you describe it, it's an excellent novel, and Lukas can really turn a phrase. A.

Monday, February 14, 2011

partially read

Amanda Hocking's Switched
Some thoughts on this:
--Hocking is the author who's gotten a lot of press recently for self-publishing her books and selling thousands of copies of e-books.
--Because her books are self-published, they don't seem to be edited well, if at all. The writing is stiff and clumsy.
--Also, she puts apostrophes where they don't go. Like in "Kennedy's" when she means "Kennedys."
--This was an experiment in Kindle lending--my sister let me borrow it. Pretty cool system, I have to say.
--Unfortunately, I'm not into it at all. The story's all overwrought and predictable and melodramatic. I made it more than halfway through and realized I didn't care about any of the characters or what would happen to them.
--So, I'm going to go read something else.
--Thanks for the loan anyway, Jamie!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

2011 book 46

Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin's Jenna & Jonah's Fauxmance
Cute YA book about a pair of teenagers who star on a somewhat popular teen show and fake a real-life romance to keep the media and the fans interested. But when a scandal--and rumors of cancellation--strike, the two find themselves in unknown territory. Like I said, cute. B+.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

2011 book 45

Laura Lippman's No Good Deeds
This was by far the worst Tess Monaghan mystery. Lippman clues the reader in on who the bad guys are early on and we're just waiting for Tess to uncover the whole boring story. And it does turn out to be boring. C.

2011 book 44

Deborah Harkness' A Discovery of Witches
Diana Bishop was born to two of the most powerful witches in recent times, but has grown up shying away from her power and has become a historian instead. When she finds a weird ancient manuscript in the Bodleian Library, however, she can't deny what she is any longer--especially not when other creatures begin looking for her, most notably a handsome vampire scientist. OK, so I mostly liked this book a lot--the characters are all fascinating and I was intrigued by the world-building--but it did have some flaws. For one thing, some of the writing is weirdly awkward (first-person sections will suddenly turn third-person for a sentence) and the book would be at least 50 pages shorter without all the talk about wine (so boring). And parts of the book read way too much like Twilight (if Twilight was written for an adult audience and was more intellectual). What is with all these old-fashioned (read: chaste) male vampires? I'm a grownup, dammit, I'm not afraid of fictional characters who are in love sleeping with each other. Frankly, it's weird that they don't, and makes it harder to suspend disbelief in anything else going on (plus, I think it gives too much of the sequels away, or so I assume). Still, it was entertaining and I look forward to the next one in this series. B+.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

adorable outer space graphic novels

I'm trying to do a better job of keeping track of and talking about the graphic novels I read, so let me tell you about two of them that are slightly similar! The first is Dave Roman's Astronaut Academy, which is pretty much what it sounds like--a bunch of pre-teens in space, and it's adorable. It's all told in short pieces that focus on the different characters in turn, which makes for excellent world-building but a not entirely engaging story. But the cover is shiny, so yay!

There's also Ben Hatke's Zita the Spacegirl, which is about a girl who finds a mysterious device in a meteroite, presses the button, and opens up a portal that sucks in one of her friends. So of course she has to follow and rescue him, with the help of some awesome new friends (I especially liked the giant mouse). This is one of the cutest books I have ever seen--the art is GREAT--though the story sometimes moves more quickly than I'd have liked, but this is a kids' book and I think it works fine for that age level. Very highly recommended.

2011 book 43

Allison Pearson's I Think I Love You
It's 1974 and Petra is a 13-year-old Welsh girl who's madly in love with David Cassidy and dealing with the usual 13-year-old friend and home-life dramas. Then there's Bill, a recent college grad whose job is to write articles about and as David Cassidy for a UK fan magazine. And of course their lives intersect in a predictable way, but the characters are likable enough that I didn't mind at all (or perhaps just best friend Sharon is likable enough for the rest of them). I will say that I had a strong sense of dread reading the first half of the book, b/c I got curious about Cassidy and looked him up on Wikipedia, where I read about the chaos and tragedy of the White City concert, which of course our characters are planning to attend. There's a lengthy interview with Cassidy at the end of the book, but I got bored of it halfway through. Cassidy-mania was way before my time. A-.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


Originally uploaded by wordnerdy
Today I had a behind-the-scenes tour of Duke's Lemur Center and it was AMAZING. I got to talk to some trainers and watch them in action--and saw the lemurs, aye-ayes, lorises, and more up close! Their new facility is great and I can't wait to go back in spring when the lemurs are roaming the forest!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

2011 book 42

Alan Bradley's A Red Herring Without Mustard
The third Flavia de Luce mystery finds our young scientist heroine involved with some Gypsies, a smuggling ring, and a long-missing child. I loved the first book in this series and was somewhat disappointed in the second, but this one was really strong--which is difficult to do when the protagonist of your mystery series is a child. Of course, this is one of those series that's more about the characters and the setting than solving crimes (though Flavia's interest in forensics helps move the story along), which is why I like it so much. A.

Monday, February 07, 2011

2011 book 41

Joan Bauer's Close to Famous
Super, super sweet middle grade book about a girl who loves to bake, especially cupcakes, inspired by her favorite tv chef. (I'm sure you can see why this appealed to me.) After her mother's boyfriend turns abusive, they go on the run and end up in a small town in West Virginia, where the motley assortment of locals--including a boy who wants to make documentaries and a formerly famous actress--more-or-less welcome them with open arms, with the help of some yummy baked goods. I teared up more than once, but this manages to stay heartwarming while not veering into total cheese territory. Plus the cupcake descriptions were aces.

2011 book 40

Alison Espach's The Adults
Emily Vidal is 14 years old, it's the 1990s, and on the day of her father's big fiftieth birthday party, she's told her parents are divorcing and her father is moving to Prague. Then she catches him kissing their next-door neighbor, whose son Emily has a crush on. Soon after all that, high school starts, along with an affair with one of her teachers. And then we see post-collegiate Emily with her father in Prague, and other glimpses of her adult life. Things happen in a somewhat jarring way because of the skips forward in time, but while the characters aren't always likable, they are always interesting. Pretty good read. B+.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

2011 book 39

Laura Lippman's By A Spider's Thread
When the wife and children of an Orthodox Jewish man go missing, he hires Tess Monaghan to track them down--with the assistance of her new internet group of girl PIs. Lippman changes things up here, flipping back and forth between scenes of Tess and scenes of the family, and things heat up as the stories start to converge. Another excellent entry in this series.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

2011 book 38

Sherwood Smith's A Posse of Princesses
I wanted something fluffy after reading Swamplandia and this story--about a bunch of princesses who all go to a ball to meet an eligible prince, and one girl gets kidnapped so some of the others go to rescue her, and there's intrigue and whatnot--was predictable but satisfying.

2011 book 37

Karen Russell's Swamplandia!
This first novel by Russell--who wrote a very popular book of short stories a few years ago, which I didn't read--had gotten tons of buzz and seemed like it'd be a pleasantly quirky read, about a girl growing up with her older siblings in the swamps of Florida whose family owns an alligator-themed attraction. But damn, this was really dark. Almost immediately things go downhill--the kids' mother (and the star attraction) dies of cancer, and a Hell-themed amusement park opens up nearby, leading to serious financial problems. Not to mention that older brother Kiwi is desperate to escape their island and go to college, and older sister Osceola communicates with ghosts. Ava just wants everything to stay the same, but her journey is the most troubling. Something in the writing and the atmosphere made me feel like my brain was slogging through a swamp while I was reading--I'm not sure how purposeful that was. And I had some mixed feelings about the ending. But I guess a book has to be good to make me feel so upset. Now I'm going to find something completely cute and silly to read. A-.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

feminist YA books?

So Bitch published a list of 100 YA books for the feminist reader. I glanced at this list, saw a lot of books I liked, and didn't think about it again. But . . . censorship and drama ensued. Bad Bitch!