Thursday, March 31, 2011

2011 book 81

Megan McCafferty's Bumped
OK, so I LOVE McCafferty (she wrote the Jessica Darling books, which if you haven't read, you really should get on that), and I'm a pretty big fan of YA dystopia-type stories, and thus I was very excited about this story. Now, it's a very readable and fun story, so don't let my upcoming comments dissuade you from reading it, but I found it a bit disappointing. The premise is that it's the near future and over 75 percent of people become infertile when they turn 18ish, so there are lots of pregnant teenagers being glorified in their culture (McCafferty has an author's note in the beginning talking about TV shows like Teen Mom and our own society). Our protagonists are Melody--who has contracted with a rich family to bear them a child, as soon as an appropriate match is found, but who clearly has feelings for her best guy friend--and her twin sister Harmony--who was raised in a religious family and thinks pregging ["pregging" and "negging" are two of the only pieces of near-future slang that McCafferty employs, which I frankly appreciated] for profit/out-of-wedlock is wrong, and wants to save her sister.

I think my problems with this book stem from the fact that I wanted it to go deeper. McCafferty is a great storyteller and I know she does teen angst and romance really, really well, and really, really believably. She notes that this is her first book intended for a YA audience (I guess the Jessica Darling books were supposed to be more coming-of-age/chick lit?) and that shows. It feels predictable, but not in an entirely satisfying way. I wanted to know more about the sisters' thoughts and feelings about their roles in society--there are a lot of interesting things that McCafferty does with this, but it feels very surface-level. It just reads like it's meant for a young audience. And part the end was a little confusing. But as I said, it's very readable--I read it quickly--and entertaining, and has plenty of nice little humorous bits. B.


An e-galley was provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

2011 book 80

Cara Hoffman's So Much Pretty
When I started this book, it seemed like it was going to be a fairly traditional mystery--one of the first scenes involves a reporter at a crime scene where the body of a long-missing girl has been found. But there are hints that something has happened with another girl, and much of the story (which flashes back and forth in time and focuses on a few alternating characters in each section) involves their family and its history. And then we start getting snippets of police interviews and statements to the reporter. Hoffman doles out information slowly at first--about halfway through I was really frustrated after reading an interview that sheds no light on what happened to either girl--but then the pace picks up and I couldn't put the book down. The end was, to my mind, a bit bittersweet--I wanted more justice, dammit!--but the story led there in a very well-done way. A-/B+.

Monday, March 28, 2011

2011 book 79

Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants
Last night I was looking for something to read that wasn't a YA book, since I read about six of those this weekend, and then I remembered I'd been meaning to reread this book before the movie comes out next month. I was much more interested in elderly Jacob's story this time around for some reason--though of course everything with Rosie is my favorite. And Bobo.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

2011 book 78

Diana Wynne Jones' House of Many Ways
The third Howl book is nearly as good as the first and better than the second--I'm just so sad there won't be any more of them.

2011 book 77

Diana Wynne Jones' Castle in the Air
The second book set in the world of Howl's Moving Castle has always been something of a slow starter for me--I'm not that interested in the (male) main character and the general take-off of the Arabian Nights stories--but once the earlier characters get into the mix, things are great fun.


Photo0133.jpg by wordnerdy
Photo0133.jpg, a photo by wordnerdy on Flickr.

Hello! Here is a blurry cameraphone shot of some of the 12ish dudes (well, 11 dudes and one girl in a lamb hat) performing for the Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise Tour. Which was more amazing than I expected. But really, how can you go wrong with like 8 guitars, trumpets, trombones, oboes, two drum kits, a keyboard, and a singing saw? Oh, and some kazoos. Julian doing a klezmer number on the saw was tops, but man, did that show rock.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

2011 book 76

Melina Marchetta's The Piper's Son
I had to take a break from my Diana Wynne Jones tribute reading because this book turned up in the mail (props to the publisher for sending me a copy when I emailed to ask why the e-book wasn't available). Marchetta just writes the most funny and heartbreaking books, and this one was no exception. It actually revisits the characters of Saving Francesca but it's like four years later and focuses mostly on Tom, who wasn't the main character of the last one. Anyway, his life has been going down the tubes since a family tragedy occurred a couple years previously, and when he winds up moving in with his pregnant aunt (with a moving and complicated story of her own), he finds himself back in the orbit of his old friends. Marchetta does such a good job of describing families and friendships that you just really, really want everyone to be happy and healthy. And they're, like, words on paper. God, she's good. A.

2011 book 75

Diana Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle
Diana Wynne Jones died this morning of lung cancer, which pretty much sucks, since she's one of my favorite authors. And I didn't even discover her till it was announced that Miyazaki was making a movie of this book! Which, frankly, never came close to being as awesome as this story is, because it is super awesome. This was my 6th time reading it and it's just as good as the first time. Now I'm off to read the sequels.

2011 book 74

Lauren DeStefano's Wither
Ah, the start of another YA dystopian trilogy. In this one, not only has there been a third World War, but experiments to cure cancer have actually had the opposite effect, and now all women die when they're twenty and men when they're twenty-five. Our heroine is Rhine, who is kidnapped to become the wife of a wealthy young man. Things I liked about this book: female friendships, sinister happenings, trying to guess what would ultimately happen in this trilogy (I have some theories). Even the romance elements didn't feel completely contrived. I am intrigued to see what will happen next, which is always a good thing. A-/B+.

Friday, March 25, 2011

2011 book 73

Sarah Vowell's Unfamiliar Fishes
Even Vowell's trademark dry wit can't hide the fact that the story of how Hawaii became a state is a really, really depressing one. Christian missionaries and greedy landowners ruin everything.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

links and stuff

OMG, the Forever YA blog takes on one of my very favorite 80s books. I feel just the same way that blogger does.

io9 interviews Mike Carey, who writes Unwritten, one of my favorite current comic book series. And here's one with Chris Roberson, who wrote the Fables Cinderella miniseries and who writes my other favorite Vertigo book, iZombie.

I tweeted this a couple weeks ago, but it bears repeating: Ron Weasley, Romantic Hero.

Love this Downton Abbey parody (with Kim Cattrall and both ladies from AbFab) which helps kill the time while we wait for season two of the show to start!

I love creme eggs but this scares me a little.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

2011 book 72

Sarah Addison Allen's The Peach Keeper
As soon as I was done with the new Kate Atkinson, I sat down and read this in one gulp. "Gulp" is an appropriate term, since Allen's books a) always feature food in some way, and b) remind me of some light and fluffy yet rich dessert--like good cheesecake. They're predictable, you know they'll end happily, but they're so well written that it's never silly or cheesy, just satisfying. In this one, two women in Western North Carolina--one the daughter of rich society types, who feels constrained by her life and longs for a home that smells of grass and fresh doughnuts [I found that image to be fairly evocative], the other from a formerly-rich family, who now owns a sporting goods store, but like a cool one with a coffee counter--are brought together by a gala, and by their grandmothers' secrets. Of course there are love interests, and a guest appearance by the magical caterer from one of Allen's earlier works (I always kind of like when authors do that). I've loved all of her books and this was no exception. A.

2011 book 71

Kate Atkinson's Started Early, Took My Dog
Yay, the fourth Jackson Brodie book finally came out in the US! I love these books so much I almost ordered it from the UK, but didn't, but it would have been worth it. I was a little worried it wouldn't be great--the first one is, the second one was pretty good, and the third one was stellar--would Atkinson have run out of steam? The answer is a big-time NO. This may be the best of the lot. The mystery isn't super intense--Jackson, while trying to find a woman's birth mother, gets tangled up in a decades-old murder that seems to be rearing its head again, plus there are some shady kidnappings--but somehow this story was the most satisfying of the four, I think. Of course, that's because the focus isn't on the mystery per se, but on what makes a family, and how aging can affect a person, and how life isn't really black and white. And there is a really, really awesome dog. A.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

2011 book 70

Christina Meldrum's Amaryllis in Blueberry
It's the 70s, and Dick and Seena Slepy have four daughters, all of whom have Mary as part of their names. But the youngest, Amaryllis, doesn't look like the others, and can feel emotions (this is not explained or explored to my satisfaction at all--does synesthesia really work that way? And why is this at least the third book I've read involving synesthesia?). Anyway, family drama leads their father to drag them all to Africa so he can be a missionary, but things go haywire once they're there butting up against the local culture. I liked the first half of this much more, but maybe that's b/c I was so tired when I read the second half? The end was pretty good though. A-/B+.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

2011 book 69

Lisa Gardner's The Neighbor
Gardner has a new book out that's getting pretty positive reviews, so I figured I'd read an earlier one featuring the same character (I like to start from the beginning). Unfortunately, this really wasn't my thing. The characters were all interesting, but the pacing is off--some bits really drag out and are predictable, while other parts cram way too much in. And the end was a pretty big mish-mash (and was, again, predictable). Interesting stuff on computer forensics though. B-.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

2011 book 68

Patrick Ryan's Gemini Bites
Very cute book about a pair of boy-girl teenage twins who pretty much hate each other, and what happens when they both get interested in a classmate who comes to stay with them (who may or may not be a vampire). The chapters alternate between the twins' perspectives and both are snarky, likable characters. The end wraps up a bit neatly, but this is a YA book after all. A-/B+.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

2011 book 67

Sheri Holman's Witches on the Road Tonight
Holman's latest flickers back and forth in time to tell the story of a family and some of the lives they touch. Eddie--who grows up to be a late-night tv horror show host--is central to everything, growing up in the mountains during the Depression with his eccentric mother, who may or may not be a witch. His daughter, who grows up to be a well-known tv news anchor, is still haunted by something that happened when she was twelve. Her mother is interesting in the few bits we see of her (I wish there had been more). Then there's Tucker and Sophie, on the road writing a travel guide in 1940, who encounter Eddie and his mother. And there's Jasper, a teenage fan of Eddie's horror show. If it seems weird that I'm just listing characters, that's because they're much more vivid than the plot (Holman over-explains some things and leaves some mysteries unsolved, which is a bit unsatisfying, though I did like the end). I very much enjoyed the way she weaved Appalachian folklore into everything, even if I'm still confused by some of it. B+.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

links, etc

I love Aaron Renier's stuff, but he is dead wrong--Matilda would LOVE an e-reader.

And don't forget to check in on The Tournament of Books.

Hey, the NYT finally noticed the e-book battle between HarperCollins and libraries.

You know, I've been thinking about YA paranormal romances lately--spurred by my disappointment at Demonglass and its sudden turn toward the cliched (in the first one, it seemed like the usual romance wouldn't happen, which is why I liked it so much) and I think I'm annoyed by how many heroines and the guy they're dating end up as like Destined Loves. I know high school romance is crazy and it feels like the world revolves around the guy you like, but sometimes I'd just like to see something a little more realistic (note: I am totally okay with the end of the Jessica Darling books, because it feels earned).

Sorry for the slow posting lately. I just haven't had the time to read as much.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Photo0122.jpg by wordnerdy
Photo0122.jpg a photo by wordnerdy on Flickr.

Been to a bunch of awesome shows lately so I figured I'd brag about it here! It's been Merge Madness as a bunch of bands are making their way down to SXSW--last Friday Superchunk rocked the cradle, and this weekend I got to see Wild Flag Friday (very cool) and Wye Oak Saturday (perhaps the best show of theirs I've seen yet). So, yay.

2011 book 66

Kirsten Hubbard's Like Mandarin
In this book, the typical smart kind of outcast girl is befriended by the older bad girl at school, while also having to deal with her pageant-obsessed mother and her talented little sister. I didn't buy the friendship at all--the bad girl was such a crazy brat that no one would ever actually be friends with her--and thought the end resolved much too easily, but I did like the little sister character a lot. Kind of a disappointing read when it was blurbed by Melina Marchetta, though. B-.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

2011 book 65

Ken Jennings' Brainiac
Man, why does it take so much longer to read non-fiction than fiction? Even fun non-fiction, like Jennings' chronicle of his Jeopardy experience meshed with a general history of trivia (ok, some of that was less fun for me--I'm clearly not as hardcore a trivia nerd as some people out there and could have done without some of those chapters). I've been reading Jennings' blog for a while and he's very funny, so it seemed high time to check out this book, which I did enjoy. It made me nostalgic for my quiz bowl days (ok, day, to be accurate--I played a game once with my friend Andy and two other dudes in our dorm when they needed a fourth. The only thing I even remember is correctly answering a question about The Princess Bride. I still expect to see Andy on Jeopardy any day now). Jennings' writing in this is just as funny as I expected, but like I said, the topic didn't always enthrall me. B+.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

2011 book 64

Tea Obreht's The Tiger's Wife
When you read something that's been hyped for like a year before it was even published (or whenever it was Obreht made the New Yorker list of awesome writers under 40), you never know if it'll actually be THAT good. But all the early reviews were positive (actually, I saw one review, in the New York Observer, that disparagingly noted this book reads like YA due to Obreht's youth--I'm sure you can imagine the problems I had with that one) and so I went for it--and was not disappointed. The book isn't perfect--few are--but it's really, really good.

Obreht weaves the story of a young doctor after a war in Central Europe (it's never explicitly labeled as Yugoslavia, but the history and the references to divisions make it pretty clear anyway) who's on her way to give medical care to orphans when she finds out her adored grandfather has died. While she's struggling to deal with that--and with other unexpected complications--she reflects on the two strange stories of her grandfather's life--the story of the deathless man, and the story of the tiger's wife (which must have been excerpted in the New Yorker at some point, because it was very familiar), all of which leads the reader to reflect on the damage caused by war. Obreht cleverly works these disparate elements into a solid story, one that will make every young woman (and man) long for her own beloved grandfather (maybe that's just me). Oh my goodness, so many parenthetical notations. Solid story, great writing, and great look at post-war Yugoslavia (something I haven't seen much of in literature lately). A.

ETA: I completely agree with this NYT review, which states my feelings much more eloquently than I usually manage.

Monday, March 07, 2011

2011 book 63

Rachel Hawkin's Demonglass
I enjoyed Hex Hall quite a bit when it came out, and was pleased that it subverted a lot of the cliches of the genre. So when the sequel came out, of course I was excited to read it. And just when I was about to write it off as a cheesy and stupid follow-up, the end got all exciting and interesting! Still, most of it was cheesy, especially the parts involving forbidden romance. I'm not sure whether I'll read the third one. B/B-.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

2011 book 62

Patrick Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear
I didn't remember much of the first book in this series, The Name of the Wind, but Rothfuss does a great job of reintroducing the world and its characters without annoyingly referring back to past events too much. He just flings us back into the story--in a good way--and keeps the momentum going. Kvothe's adventures are just as exciting and interesting this time around (though a few of his offshoot adventures could have been a bit shorter for my taste--I mean, this book is like a thousand pages long, no, LITERALLY). But as expected, it was an excellent read, and I look forward to the third book (whenever that comes out). A/A-.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

2011 book 61

Manuel Munoz's What You See in the Dark
Munoz deftly weaves two stories together--one about a love affair that has everyone in town talking, and one involving a famous actress and director coming to town to scout locations--into something bigger than the sum of its parts. He especially does atmosphere well--I could feel the heat and the dust and the gossip and the quiet of a small California town--and I also liked that part of the story is narrated by a jealous rival of the local girl. His refusal to name the actress and director could be off-putting, but I thought it worked in light of the larger story (especially b/c I figured out the movie at the end of chapter two, which I was delighted to have Algonquin confirm on Twitter. It's easy to figure out through the course of the book even if you're not any kind of movie buff). Anyway, great read. A-.

(A review copy was provided by the publisher.)

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

2011 book 60

Seanan McGuire's Late Eclipses
I really enjoy the Toby Day books--about a half-fairy PI--and this one was no exception. The stakes are higher here--Toby's friends are in danger and whoever is behind it is framing her for the crimes, plus there's even more fairy political intrigue than usual. I just really enjoy the characters here--Toby, the sly King of Cats, all Toby's puppy-like young men followers . . . McGuire manages to keep things lively and fresh even in the fourth book in this series. A-.