Saturday, April 30, 2011

2011 book 99

Jenny Han's We'll Always Have Summer
I liked the first three books in this series well enough, and was hoping for a nice silly sunny day kind of read, but here all the characters are morons and the plot feels really contrived. D.

2011 book 98

Daphne Uviller's Hotel No Tell
The sequel to Super in the City is just as entertaining as the first one. Zephyr is now a detective for some NYC law enforcement agency and is assigned to go undercover at a hotel to find an embezzler. But of course things are never that simple. The mystery is interesting enough, but what I really like about these books are the friendships between Zephyr and her eccentric cohort, dealing with mostly-relatable issues (motherhood and ambivalence about motherhood, moving to the burbs, being cursed, etc). I really hope the author writes more books about Zephyr--she's just a really fun character to read about. A.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

2011 book 97

Francine Prose's My New American Life
Prose is one of those authors who always writes excellent books, and always writes very different kinds of books (a talent many authors don't have). For instance, her previous three books were an examination of Anne Frank's life as a writer, a novel about a girl whose older sister dies, and a novel about a white supremacist who gets a job at a human rights organization run by an Elie Wiesel type. Very disparate characters and themes--though I suppose there's a sense of otherness in a lot of her work, she really creates a whole new world each time.

Anyway, her latest is about a young Albanian woman who's working as a nanny for a teenage boy, half-pretending to be a writer, and getting involved with some possibly shady Albanian men. But really it's about starting over, about different kinds of relationships and friendships, and about storytelling. There was a bit of a deus ex machina that could have been more neatly integrated into the story, but still: excellent stuff. A.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.


Photo0140.jpg by wordnerdy
Photo0140.jpg, a photo by wordnerdy on Flickr.

Admire my new desk toy! Or he'll cut you with the power of love.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

2011 book 96

John Green's Looking for Alaska
Green is a well-known and well-liked YA author, and I remember really liking his book An Abundance of Katherines, but had never read this earlier book by him. Anyway, it's about a teenage boy who goes off to boarding school for his junior year, and he meets some likable smart friends, and the first half of the book is boarding school stuff--pranks, eccentric teachers, booze, and his infatuation with a manic pixie dream girl. And the second half of the book involves the aftermath of a tragedy. I dunno. B+.

Monday, April 25, 2011

2011 book 95

Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death
I enjoyed Akawa Witch so much that I decided to read Okorafor's previous novel, which was nominated for a Nebula Award this year. And it has many of the same themes as Akata Witch, but it's a much darker affair (it's for adults). Our setting is Africa, in a period we eventually realize is post-apocalyptic. But things are still really bad--there's a whole lot of genocide going on. Protagonist Onyesonwu is a biracial child of rape and an outcast based on her ethnicity; when she suddenly discovers that she has strange powers, things don't get any easier. But she's determined to bring the world's suffering to an end, and with the help of friendship, love, and teachers, she may be able to make a difference. But note where I said it was dark? And the mentions of rape and genocide? This is not a happy fun fantasy book. But it is an excellent one. A-.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

2011 book 94

L.M. Montgomery's The Blythes are Quoted
L.M. Montgomery's final work--and final Anne-related work--has never been published in its entirety (parts of it apparently became Road to Yesterday)--there's an interesting note in the beginning that suggests this was due to timing, as it was completed in 1942 but has a vague anti-war message (lots of talk of Walter's death in WWI, and then the grandsons going off to WWII). Most of the book is made up of stories about various townspeople (who have some very funny views of the Blythe family), and if you've ever read anything by Montgomery, you can guess the outcome of all of them. These are interspersed with poems ostensibly by Anne and Walter, followed by comments from the family. I confess to not reading the poems, b/c they were boring, but the commentary is mostly charming. Side note: it's funny to me that the grandchildren are also all named Anne and Di and Jem and Walterm etc. Doesn't that get confusing?

Friday, April 22, 2011

2011 book 93

Josephine Angelini's Starcrossed
I started reading this book and seriously couldn't put it down--I was so engrossed I almost missed getting ready to go out tonight. It's my favorite kind of YA fantasy--Helen's grown up on Nantucket feeling like an outcast, desperate to just be normal, but when a new family moves to town, things become even more abnormal than they were before--starting with some very realistic nightmares. There's a love interest but instead of being annoyed at teenagers in books who meet and are all obsessed with their soulmates or whatever, I was actually rooting for these two (and for all the side couples as well). Angelini brings in some interesting issues involving mythology and fate that really intrigued me, and even though this could be another silly YA paranormal/fantasy romance kind of book, I think there's more to it than that, and I REALLY enjoyed it. Apparently it's the first of a trilogy and I am practically in tears that I have to wait till god-knows-when to see what happens next. A.

It comes out May 31st and is especially recommended to my sister. :)

An e-galley was provided by the publisher.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

water for elephants: THE MOVIE

So I was lucky enough to get to see the NC premiere of Water for Elephants tonight, thanks to the kind folks at Algonquin (and can I just say that it is SO AWESOME that a great local indie publisher that puts out GREAT books has such a high-profile movie of one of said great books???? SO AWESOME). Anyway, I liked it a lot, and here are some thoughts about it!

--I cried at least five times, including during the opening scene with Hal Holbrook before a single line had been spoken.
--It looked AMAZING--costumes and sets especially. And the last bits of the movie.
--Reese Witherspoon was really good, and Kristoph Walz was very creepy (I kept hoping Brad Pitt would come in and threaten to scalp him). Robert Pattinson was mostly very good (though sometimes his face looked amused when it seemed like it should have been troubled).
--I will say that the movie seemed really violent at times. I think reading about animal abuse is a lot less harrowing than WATCHING animal abuse--at least two of the times I cried were over the elephant (who rocked).
--Lots of great humor throughout, and I didn't even mind any of the changes! (OK, I did think Marlena's backstory was better in the book, but that wasn't really important to the plot.)
--Go see it!

Thanks again, Algonquin. :)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

2011 book 92

David Bezmozgis' The Free World
It's the 1970s, and a family of Latvian Jews are trying to emigrate from the Soviet Union to America--but end up stuck in Rome for bureaucratic reasons, flashing back to the paths that led them there. Bezmozgis manages to take a slew of Soviet archetypes and transform them into really believable characters, and their journeys through Italy are compelling. I did find the end a bit puzzling for some reason, but on the whole thought the novel was great. A-/B+.

my life in a nutshell

Ross nailed it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

2011 book 91

Nnedi Okorafor's Akata Witch
This is a really engaging contemporary YA fantasy centered on 12-year-old Sunny, who finds out she's one of the Leopard People (people with magical powers--all the shamans, wizards, etc in the world). She already feels like an outsider--not only is she an albino, she was born and raised in America until she was nine, when her Nigerian family returned to Africa. But learning about her powers brings her to a whole new world--though one that isn't always safe. Great characters and, like I said, very engaging. I'll definitely be checking out some of Okorafor's other works. A.

2011 book 90

Nicole Peeler's Tempest's Legacy
The third Jane True book finds Jane and her motley crew of mystical beings trying to track down and stop a bunch of labs running cruel experiments on various other mystical beings. I liked this one much better than the last one.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

2011 book 89

Timothy Schaeffert's The Coffins of Little Hope
This quirky small-town novel is narrated by an 83-year-old obituary writer, and also involves her grandson and great-granddaughter, a possible missing--or possibly fictional--little girl, and a series of famous children's books. Not much else to say besides that it was an enjoyable read. B+. Here's a recent NYT review if you still have free articles to read this month. :)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

2011 book 88

Nicole Peeler's Tracking the Tempest
More fairy mystery/vampire sex drama, as Jane and her cohort get involved with a case surrounding a crazy serial killer. I was a bit annoyed with the writing, but for new reasons this time--Peeler drops the word "lover" way too often (I hate that word; it just reminds me of those Will Ferrell/Molly Shannon SNL sketches) and also the vampire calls Jane "babe" or "baby" like every other line of dialogue, which just looks weird. But the plot intricacies were exciting and the ending redeemed everything for me. B/B+.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

2011 book 87

Nicole Peeler's Tempest Rising
After spending the past few days slogging away at a book I didn't enjoy, I wanted to read something that was just fun, and this seemed like it would fit the bill. It's kind of a cross between the Rosemary and Rue books and the Sookie Stackhouse books--a half-selkie girl gets sucked into a supernatural murder mystery and thus into the complicated fairy world, and also there is a lot of vampire sex. But the characters and story are interesting and entertaining (though the writing is peppered with a few too many clumsy and outdated pop culture references--MC Hammer, come on--and sometimes it takes too long to reveal information that's obvious to the reader) and I'll definitely check out the next book in the series. I want to see more of the awesome dog in particular. A-/B+.

partially read

Mary Horlock's The Book of Lies
The story of a teenage girl in the 1980s growing up in Guernsey, who just killed her former best friend, and also her uncle's experiences during the Nazi occupation are interwoven with her diary entries--well, it sounds appealing and/or interesting, right? And it starts off really strong, but it starts bogging down about halfway through, plus the protagonist starts to get really unlikable and unsympathetic. I've been reading it for DAYS and it's only like 300 pages. I give up. I don't even care what happens in the end.

links, etc

Here's a long piece on the major Haggadot in American culture (I grew up using the Maxwell House one, myself).

Check out this comic by two Americans who were in Cairo during the uprisings--the first seven pages are up so far.

I think I need this.

Sorry for the delay in book postings; the book I'm currently reading started off strong but I don't like it at all anymore. But I'm almost 3/4 of the way in and it seems like I should finish it. Also, I've been really busy playing Angry Birds and other games on my new iPod Touch, which eats into reading time but is totally worth it.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

2011 book 86

Meg Howrey's Blind Sight
A teenage boy--raised in a house of women--goes to spend the summer with the father he's never known. And the father is a famous actor. And the son is trying to write his essays for college applications. Very, very well done in both characters and writing.

Sorry, I don't have much to say besides that this book was EXCELLENT. A.

Friday, April 08, 2011

2011 book 85

Lisa Lutz and David Hayward's Heads You Lose
I LOVE Lisa Lutz's Spellmans series, so of course I picked up her new, non-Spellmans book immediately. Descriptions indicated that it was co-written by another author, and is about a brother-sister pair of pot growers trying to solve the murder of a decapitated man who shows up on their property. Except the first thing you read is an editor's note explaining that Hayward is actually Lutz's ex-boyfriend, they alternated chapters, and increasingly snarky and angry letters between the two follow each chapter. The editor's note goes on to say that neither the chapters nor the letters have been edited in any way. I have no idea how real this is or if it's an experiment in meta-fiction, but either way it's damn entertaining. It's a study in hilarious passive-aggressiveness, with plot points designed to annoy the other author (one footnote reads: "We both know you're doing this just b/c you know I hate cat mysteries"). I can't think it's entirely accurate--what kind of writer starts a mystery without knowing who the killer will be?--but as an experiment in storytelling--and as a story about storytelling--it works really well. I giggled a lot. A.


I have been busy having a life this week--it was my birthday!--and have not had time for reading. So, here are two articles about David Foster Wallace and his new book to tide you over.

DFW's editor talks about editing/assembling The Pale King.

And here are some authors discussing DFW and the book.

I haven't read it yet--I'm waiting for the Kindle edition to come out.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

2011 book 84

Lori Roy's Bent Road
This is a book primarily about family--and family secrets. And small-town secrets. It's the 1960s and Arthur moves his family from Detroit back to Kansas where he grew up (for vaguely racist reasons), but where he hasn't been in twenty years, since his older sister died. His oldest daughter is barely a character at all for some reason, his son is trying to learn to be a man, and his youngest daughter looks just like his dead sister, her namesake. His other sister is married to the man who was supposed to marry the dead sister--and is a suspect in her death. When a little girl goes missing, the drama goes up a notch, like things weren't complicated enough. None of which explains what a good book this is--nothing turned out like I expected, and Roy kept me hooked the whole time. A.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

2011 book 83

Jennifer McMahon's Don't Breathe a Word
Oh my goodness, do not read this book at night, or every little noise in the house will make you jump. It's that creepy. The story centers on Phoebe, who is haunted by nightmares from her childhood, and her boyfriend Sam, whose sister Lisa disappeared when she was twelve. Lisa was obsessed with fairies and wanted to run away to be with the fairy king, but of course fairies aren't real. Fifteen years after her disappearance, Sam and their cousin Evie begin receiving messages, supposedly from Lisa, but nothing is what it seems, and their family has more secrets than most. Until the last scene this would have been a solid A-/B+ book, but the last part was so over the top (and upsetting) that it's been downgraded to a B/B-.

An e-galley was provided by the publisher.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

2011 book 82

Ruta Sepetys' Between Shades of Gray
God, was this heartbreaking, and not in the usual YA novel way (I'm really not sure why this is being marketed as a YA novel, except that the main character is a teenage girl). Anyway, it's 1941 and teenage Lina and her family are deported from Lithuania by the Soviets, and she's really not sure why (frankly, there is no good reason why). Separated from her father, she, her mother, and her little brother must find a way to survive in Siberia. There is a hint of romance but it doesn't feel shoehorned in, and Sepetys doesn't shy away from the horrors of history. I did think the end felt a bit abrupt, but I can see how it was a logical stopping point to the story--I just wasn't ready for the story to end. A/A-.