Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 book 371

Rainbow Rowell's Attachments
After Lord of the Rings, I wanted to read something lighter and more contemporary, so decided to revisit one of my favorite books from 2011. (If a book set in 1999 can be considered contemporary, anyway.) Honestly, this book should not really work, but it somehow does, and I love it.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 book 370

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Return of the King
Sam really is the hero of these books, isn't he! He and Eowyn remain my favorite characters--though I will wonder forever why Peter Jackson didn't have Eowyn and Faramir get together in the movie, when he included so many other random things. I'd forgotten how funny this third one is--after all the intense drama, anyway. Great to revisit the series and now I need to rewatch the movies.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 book 369

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Two Towers
I've read before that Tolkien originally intended for LOTR to be six individual books, and nowhere is that clearer than in this middle one, which tells two completely different stories--the first, dealing with Aragorn and Pippin/Merry and Legolas and Gimli, and the second, with Frodo and Sam and Gollum. I'd forgotten how major the Ents are in the book, whcih was nice to revisit--all I remember from the movie is battle after battle, and maybe one scene with Ents. And Tolkien has a good sense of timing--as soon as I was getting tired of Frodo and Sam's sad journeying, they run into Faramir! Off to read the third!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

2012 book 368

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring
Seeing The Hobbit made me want to reread the Lord of the Rings books--and actually, seeing it has enhanced my reading experience slightly, in that I actually know who Balin is (the friendly and lovable white-haired one!) and care about what happened to him. I'd forgotten that Frodo and the gang don't get to Rivendell until like halfway through, but things are pretty action-packed from that point on (barring the MANY poems and songs, anyway). And Sam is even better than I'd remembered.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

2012 book 367

Alan Sepinwall's The Revolution was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers who Changed TV Drama Forever
I love Sepinwall's writing--I read his commentaries on all the shows I watch, some shows I don't watch, and when I marathon something new (like today's viewing of season 1 of Girls), I go back and read his stuff too. So it was inevitable that I'd read, and enjoy, his book on the changing TV landscape, with each chapter focusing on a different relevant show, like The Sopranos and Mad Men and Lost (for this reason, the book is unfortunately very dude-heavy, though there are a couple of women network executives featured). I loved the chapters on the shows I watch, and even some of the ones on shows I didn't watch were fascinating. In fact, I'm actually starting Deadwood season 1 as a direct result of reading this. A-/B+.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

2012 book 366

Kirsten Miller's Kiki Strike: The Darkness Dwellers
I've been waiting for a new Kiki Strike book for four years now, and was worried at first that this could never live up to my expectations--it's a little bit of a slow starter, the Irregulars are split up on separate adventures, and there are some thoroughly unlikable characters. But at some point my antipathy melted away and I was completely caught up in the story, which did in fact live up to the first two Kiki Strike books, and lays the groundwork for some new adventures (or so I hope!). There are some marvelous moments in the catacombs of Paris, a historical mystery involving spies, and even a touch of romance. And it all came together in a great ending with some really nice takeaways. A/A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in January.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

2012 book 365 (!!!!!!)

Lisa Lutz's Trail of the Spellmans
The fifth Spellman book is not my favorite, and not just because I'm annoyed that my favorite two characters finally got together in the last book, and then we skip ahead two years and never get to see them happy together! What a rip-off. OK, clearly that is actually why. It's also because Lutz's editors are NOT detail-oriented; names change spellings from book to book, and ex-boyfriends change numbers, and that is also annoying. Anyway, another funny outing with a solid plot, it just breaks my little 'shipper heart.

2012 book 364

Lisa Lutz's The Spellmans Strike Again
I think this is my favorite of the Spellman books--two engaging mysteries, absolutely ridiculous Spellman shenanigans, and my favorite characters finally get together! Plus all the best pop culture references. This book makes me want to rewatch the Martha year of Doctor Who.

Friday, December 21, 2012

2012 book 363

Lisa Lutz's Revenge of the Spellmans
The third Spellmans book is much stronger--and even a bit funnier--than the second one. The central mystery is low-key, but still compelling, and all of Izzy's personal drama is both relatable and hilarious. I love this series so much no matter how often I read it.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

2012 book 362

Lisa Lutz's Curse of the Spellmans
The second Spellmans book has my least favorite main mystery (because Isabel is so dumb about it), but there's plenty of good stuff to make up for it--plenty of Henry and Rae antics, the mystery of Mr Peabody, neighborhood vandalism, etc. And Doctor Who references!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

2012 book 361

Maria V. Snyder's Scent of Magic
The sequel to Touch of Power suffered a bit from middle-chapter syndrome, plus most of it takes place hanging out waiting for battles to start, which is less compelling than the story from the first book. I had forgotten how super creepy the villain is--a power-hungry magician with rapey tendencies and a zombie army. And the two main characters are separate for the entire book, longing for each other the whole time in an annoying manner. THAT SAID, this was still pretty entertaining, the world-building is interesting, there are fun new soldier characters, etc. I don't know, B/B+?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

2012 book 360

Lisa Lutz's The Spellman Files
I wanted to reread the most recent book in this series, but some anal part of me won't let myself read a series out of order--I have to start from the beginning (this may help explain why I've read the Harry Potter books so many times). Anyway, I have read this book something like seven times before, and it is still hilarious. I wish there were more mysteries like this one.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Favorite Books of 2012!

Without further ado--the books I loved, recommended, couldn't stop talking about, etc, presented alphabetically by author:

Ayad Akhtar's American Dervish
Chris Bohjalian's The Sandcastle Girls
Carol Rifka Brunt's Tell the Wolves I'm Home
Louise Erdrich's Round House
Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl
Rachel Hartman's Seraphina
Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child
Patrice Kindl's Keeping the Castle
Nina LaCour's The Disenchantments
Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies
Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles
Kate Morton's The Secret Keeper
Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette?
Elizabeth Wein's Code Name: Verity

And, for a bonus, here are my favorite comics of 2012.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

2012 book 359

Hannah Barnaby's Wonder Show
A book about a girl who runs away from a home for wayward girls to work at a traveling circus in the 1930s should have really floated my boat, but this one didn't. The plot was really thin, for one thing, and the constantly changing perspectives (from 3rd person omniscient to various 1st person chapters) kind of annoyed me. And there were not nearly enough details about the 1930s traveling circus! I just was not feeling this book at all. B/B-.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

2012 book 358

Victoria Strauss' Passion Blue
It's the 1400s, and a young woman, the illegitimate daughter of a recently deceased count, is told she's being sent to a convent (against her will). Attempting to circumvent her fate, she visits a sorcerer to get a talisman that will allow her to marry instead. But here is the thing: she is a moron. This book was enjoyable, don't get me wrong, but OH MY GOD. It took her the entire book to figure out what is immediately obvious to the reader (re: both her heart's desire and her love interest). It's hard to be too sympathetic to someone who is terminally idiotic. On the other hand, this is very different than most YA books and I have to give it props for that. B. (The terrible title actually refers to a color of paint, if you were wondering.)

Friday, December 14, 2012

2012 book 357

Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me
For the past couple of days I have been in a weird mood where I keep starting books and going "eh" and not liking anything. The only cure for this is to read a book you know you love (even if it's one that makes you cry and cry every time you read it). This is one of my very favorite books, and really the best book ever about friendship, families, game shows, books, and time travel. A+ forever.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

2012 book 356

Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine
I have read--and loved--all of Erdrich's books, but many of those readings predate this blog and I really wanted to reacquaint myself with her Ojibwe novels (all of which involve the same families). Lady Doctor Book Club is actually reading this next month, but I was tired of waiting to read it and finally just went for it. It's actually even better than I remembered, which is kind of silly, since it won a million awards and was highly acclaimed. It mostly centers on the Kashpaw and Nanapush families living on a reservation in North Dakota, and their many interrelationships over the years. And, particularly, how everyone is affected when one woman dies. I'll definitely be revisiting more of these in the coming weeks (unfortunately, several of the books aren't available as e-books, which makes me less likely to pick them up). Anyway, Love Medicine rules, as do all Erdrich books. A.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

2012 book 355

DD Barant's Undead to the World
The latest book in the Bloodhound Files series starts off in a whole new reality, and things aren't really explained till like a third of the way in, which makes it a really fun read. Everything is pretty bonkers and I am mildly annoyed at the cliffhanger ending, but I really enjoy this series and especially protagonist Jace. A-/B+.

Monday, December 10, 2012

2012 book 354

T.J. Brown's Summerset Abbey
I have to be at least a little bit cynical and assume that this book is trying to get in on the Downton Abbey craze, but I would still wholeheartedly recommend it to fellow DA fans. It's set a little earlier, in Edwardian England (the first decade of the 1900s), but has similar themes of young ladies chafing for new freedoms and lots of great stuff about the class divide. That's actually a prominent plot point, as the book mainly focuses on Prudence, daughter of a governess who was raised as basically a sister to the two girls of the house, especially after the death of her mother. When their father dies, the two girls are forced to move into their uncle's home--and Prudence is only welcome as their ladies' maid. Of course there's a big dark secret about her parentage that takes too long to reveal and is pretty obvious to the reader, but there's still a lot to like here--the three girls are all interesting characters, particularly Prudence, and my fascination with the upstairs/downstairs clash never does seem to die. A nice, quick, fun read, could be a good YA crossover (though I don't think is being marketed as YA). This is actually the first of a series, with the next one due out in March. A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on January 15th.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

2012 book 353

Diana Wynne Jones' Year of the Griffin
I found the second Derkholm book to be a MUCH more satisfying read--the youngest griffin from the previous book goes to Wizard University, where she becomes friends with a motley assortment of wizards, each with their own problems and/or secrets. And the head of the university is determined to be the first wizard on the moon. Great stuff, and pretty hilarious. A-.

2012 book 352

Diana Wynne Jones' Dark Lord of Derkholm
This book was just too  . . . weird, ridiculous, I don't even know. Not my favorite of Jones' stuff by a long shot. BUT I am still going to read the sequel, because I really liked the griffins in this one and apparently one of them is the main character in that one. B/B-.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

2012 book 351

Rilla Askew's Kind of Kin
Trying to summarize the plot of this one might sound convoluted (though when you're reading it, it works)--it's about what happens when an ambitious young state representative gets a law passed making it illegal to harbor or transport illegal aliens, and then a elderly Christian man is arrested under the law, throwing his family--and eventually, the town--into turmoil. Really strong characterization, especially of the man's harried daughter and his little grandson. I was totally caught up in the plot, too.  Normally I'm not into books that have a ripped-from-the-headlines feel, but this story was contemporary and relevant without feeling cheap or pandering. I'd imagine this would be a hit with book groups. A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on January 8th.

Friday, December 07, 2012

2012 book 350

Libba Bray's The Diviners
It seriously took me four tries to read this book, because the first chapter creeped me out so badly that I kept stopping. But since it made so many best-of-the-year lists, I figured I should plow through and finally managed it. And I can see why it made so many lists--it's a very ambitious cross-genre start to a series--but I didn't really love it. There's a lot going on here to like-- a bunch of young people in the 20s with special gifts (some of which turn out to be ridiculously bonkers) are all sort of milling around (presumably eventually they'll band together and form a super-powered posse) while a serial killer's ghost is murdering people for obviously nefarious purposes. Things I liked: flappers, the gay pianist, the black poet. Things I didn't like: general atmosphere of terror, sinister adults, people doing really dumb things all the time, awesome half-Jewish daughter of radicals is sorely underused, too many characters and not enough answers. This is a solid book if you're into creepy weirdness, don't get me wrong, but I'm just not interested in where this series is going to go. B/B+.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

2012 book 349

Bel Kaufman's Up The Down Staircase
This is one of the books I picked up for my Kindle on Cyber Monday and I am just ridiculously pleased to own it (even though I am pretty sure my mom's old copy is still on one of my bookshelves upstairs--don't worry, she bought it on Cyber Monday too! Side note: the charming illustrations and hand-written notes are all preserved in the Kindle edition). I just love what a time capsule it is for the early 60s--somehow I'd totally forgotten the death-by-illegal-abortion and all the discussion of integration. Even though it almost reads like a progenitor of those books where a white lady teacher inspires and saves a class of surly multicultural students, it's based on Kaufman's own years teaching and you can tell how heartfelt it is. PLUS Kaufman is Sholom Aleichem's granddaughter and totally inherited his abilities with characterization.

Look, I can't grade this, it's a classic that my mom gave me to read during those formative years.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

2012 book 348

Kendare Blake's Girl of Nightmares
I guess I should confess that I'm sick and cranky, which may be coloring my feelings about the sequel to Anna Dressed in Blood. But I just wasn't feeling it. Everyone talks too much. The whole thing is just like blah blah we have to rescue this ghost out of Hell and also there's like a secret society but it's all really boring and anti-climactic. I mean, stuff happens, but it's not as good as the first one. B/B-.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

2012 book 347

Melanie McGrath's White Heat
I have to say, the mystery in this book is overly convoluted--but everything else is completely fascinating. It's set in a small Inuit community in the far Canadian north, where the local schoolteacher--who also works as a hunting guide--gets caught up in a series of deaths. Like I said, the mystery is kind of all over the place, and the protagonist does some absolutely ridiculous things, but the setting and the characters are so strong that it almost doesn't matter. I really loved all the details of their lives. A-/B+.

Monday, December 03, 2012

2012 book 346

Patricia Wrede's Talking to Dragons
After reading the first three books, the fourth feels pretty predictable, but it's no less enjoyable, and ties up basically all the loose ends. B/B+

2012 book 345

Patricia Wrede's Calling on Dragons
The third book in this series focuses more on hilarious witch Morwen and her many (talking) cats, as our heroes try to foil yet another wizard plot. I admit that my respect for them is falling a little since those annoying wizards keep managing to cause trouble. This one has kind of a cliffhanger ending, though, which is interesting. B+.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

2012 book 344

Patricia Wrede's Searching for Dragons
The second book in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles finds the young King of the Enchanted Forest joining with the princess from the first book to find a missing dragon and figure out just what those shady wizards are up to now. These books are adorable and very funny. A-.

2012 book 343

Patricia Wrede's Dealing with Dragons
I'm finally reading the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and the first one is a super cute story about a princess who's uninterested in proper princess things, and instead wants to learn fencing, Latin, cooking, etc. When her parents attempt to marry her off to a boring prince, she runs away and volunteers to be a dragon's princess. Obviously (completely charming) adventures ensue. A-/B+.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

2012 book 342

Christian Moerk's Darling Jim
It's been a few years since I'd read this--it was one of my favorites of 2009--but I'd been thinking about it recently and decided to revisit it (even though I remembered most of the details). You really can't go wrong with a delightfully creepy novel about stories, families (especially sisters), wolves, and murder most foul, all told through the lens of a wannabe graphic novelist who discovers the diary of a murdered girl. I recognize that this story isn't perfect but I still love it.

2012 book 341

Hilary Mantel's Bring Up The Bodies
I have to say, I almost didn't read this--but I liked it a LOT more than Wolf Hall. For one thing, it's shorter, and the writing feels tighter and less stylized in general. Plus, the plot is great--not that Cromwell's rise to power wasn't fascinating (sometimes, anyway), but this one all takes place in like a year and features the downfall of Anne Boleyn--juicy stuff, even from Cromwell's perspective. I don't think this one would work as a standalone, unfortunately, because it was a lot more readable than Wolf Hall, and 1000+ pages is a lot to get through to get to the beheadings! A.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

2012 book 340

Janet Fox's Sirens
A YA historical mystery set in the 20s involving mobsters, bootleggers, a faked suicide, and flappers should have been right up my alley, but this book just plain annoyed me. For one thing, ALL the answers were in a journal that the protagonist was forever not managing to finish--completely unrealistic--and for another, ALL the answers were completely obvious, but she was too dumb to see them! Plus the end was completely bonkers, but not in a fun way, in a stupid way, and the romance is completely bland. I am actually angry at how this could have been an awesome book, but wasn't. Maybe it's because it's YA, but it's not like kids need to have every clue served to them on a silver platter, and I know that YA mysteries can be just as compelling as grown-up ones. C.

Monday, November 26, 2012

2012 book 339

Tarquin Hall's The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken
The third Vish Puri mystery involves the poisoning of a cricket player's father, with a secondary case involving a mustache thief. There's also something about diamond smuggling, but I already forget what it was related to and if it had any conclusion. I will say that Vish's mother is one of the more fascinating characters I've encountered recently, and every scene with her was absolutely great. B/B+.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

2012 book 338

Tarquin Hall's The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing
The second Vish Puri mystery involved a famous skeptic who is apparently murdered by the goddess Kali (or perhaps by a vengeful swami using an illusion); meanwhile, Vish's mummy and wife are secretly trying to solve a robbery. This was just as funny as the first one. A-.

2012 book 337

Tarquin Hall's The Case of the Missing Servant
The first book in the Vish Puri series reminds me a little of the Precious Ramotswe books, at least in terms of tones/sense of humor--the mysteries are certainly a little bit more intense here. In this one, Private Detective Puri and his motley crew try and find out just what happened to a missing servant, who may have been murdered. They also have some smaller cases, and Puri's Mummy is on the case as well. I really did love the humor here, as well as the characters and their fleshed out world in Delhi. I'm definitely going to read the next one, this one was such a delightful read. A-.

Friday, November 23, 2012

2012 books 335 and 336

Jessica Day George's Dragon Flight and Dragon Spear
More crazy adventures as a girl and her dragon friends get embroiled in more politics--and more intense dragon wars. The first involves a war with a nearby land; the second, a crazy dragon kidnapping plot. Both are fun reads and both get a B+.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

2012 book 334

Jessica Day George's Dragon Slippers
A nice light YA fantasy involving a girl seeking her fortune, some dragons, and a pair of special slippers was just what I needed after reading Wolf Hall! Like all of the other books I've read by George, the characters are completely likable (except for the jerks), there are plenty of adventures, and girls get to save the day. Super cute. A-.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

2012 book 333

Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall
Well, I finally read this, and can say two things about it: it absolutely deserved the Booker, and it is NOT an easy read . . . which is weird, because everything that happens is pretty fascinating. For the first half, I kept wavering between thinking "this is GREAT" and "this is super boring" because the historical-style writing can really be a slog at times. And the story of Thomas Cromwell's rise to power under Henry VIII, and his efforts to make Anne Boleyn Henry's legal wife, should not feel like a slog (especially to someone who majored in History like myself). Plus, history led me to believe that Henry divorced his first wife without too many problems; this book shows that there were a LOT of problems and explains them all in great detail. Once all that is past, the story feels like it's moving forward more quickly (I liked the last quarter without any reservations). I actually feel like there is something wrong with me for not liking this more than I did (I did like it), but this book required much more effort to read than I normally expend. I wish this book had come out when I was a history major and would have unabashedly loved it, but reading it now felt just a teensy bit like doing homework. B/B+.

Monday, November 19, 2012

2012 book 332

Jessica Day George's Princess of Glass
In the second Princess book, one of the younger princesses, visiting relatives abroad, finds herself caught up in someone else's twisted Cinderella story. Again, great characters and a great sense of humor (and adventure) in the writing. A-.

2012 book 331

Jessica Day George's Princess of the Midnight Ball
So here's the first book in George's Princess series, basically a straight-up version of the 12 Dancing Princesses (though the girls get to be /slightly/ more proactive than in the traditional version). Really enjoyable writing and characters, still. I love that the main guy--a soldier turned gardener--is so into knitting! B+.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

2012 book 330

Jessica Day George's Princess of the Silver Woods
This book is actually the third in a series, which I didn't know until after I finished it, so thought it was a stand-alone with a great premise--what happens to the Twelve Dancing Princesses when the fairy kingdom tries to steal them once again. And also there is a bandit band that dresses like wolves that accidentally kidnaps the youngest princess, and realizes that she has bigger problems. I really loved all the characters here and was totally caught up in their story (even though I was mildly annoyed at a couple of plot points they were slow to figure out). I actually liked this so much that I'm going to go back and read the first two books. Bonuses: knitting (the book includes patterns), girls with guns. A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on December 11th.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

2012 book 329

Tanya Huff's The Silvered
I think I've only read one book by Huff before, but that might have to change, because this one was pretty great. It's got complicated--but really fascinating--world-building, but basically a country of werewolves/wolf shapeshifters (only some aren't shapeshifters, some are Mages and can control different elements, I don't know) is at war with The Empire, a country all about science and determined to stamp out the abominations. And to that end, they kidnap five powerful lady-Mages for their own (creepy) purposes, leading one young wolf and a young lady-Mage who hasn't done super well at Mage School on a fantasy epic road trip (lots of fantasies involve epic road trips) to rescue them. We also get to know a few soldiers on the Empire's side who are tasked with dealing with all these Mage ladies. I really enjoyed the characters here and Huff keeps things moving along at a good clip. I believe this is the start of a series, but for once things do actually wrap up, which was SO SATISFYING. I think I'll give it an A just for having a proper ending! (And lots of badass ladies.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

2012 book 328

Cheryl Strayed's Wild
Last year my sister and I started a new annual tradition--Thanksgiving Sister Book Club, where we read a book before Thanksgiving and then go and talk about it over froyo (or whatever). I like to pick a book I wouldn't normally read, and Strayed's memoir about hiking the Pacific Coast Trail after the death of her mother and after a divorce is definitely on that list. But it had gotten some great reviews, and I liked her writing on Dear Sugar, so it seemed like a good choice. And  . . . it's a good book, I guess? Great writing, totally evoking the experience of hiking the trail when COMPLETELY UNPREPARED TO HIKE A TRAIL. I mean, this book is like Annie Dillard meets Stephen King, seriously. I honestly wanted to shake Strayed and be like "stop being a moron already" more than once. It's frustrating how stupid she was! I don't even know how to rate this, I mean it's a solid book, but I don't feel enlightened or inspired or even particularly glad I read it. B/B+?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

2012 book 327

Annabel Pitcher's My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece
Sooo this book is basically a huge bummer. It's about a ten-year-old boy whose older sister (one of a set of twins) was killed in a terrorist bombing in London, and now it's five years later, their mother has left them, their dad is a racist drunk, and his poor anorexic pink-haired sister is trying to keep everything together. And then he starts a new school and the only person nice to him is a Muslim girl, so things are obviously going to go badly. The characters are fine (I obviously loved pink-haired Jas, and Sunya was great as well) but the beats of the story feel pretty predictable. A reality show is shoe-horned in, and (spoilers) something terrible happens to his cat, which sucked to read. It does end on an up note but man was it depressing. B.

2012 book 326

Rhys Bowen's The Twelve Clues of Christmas
The latest Royal Spyness mystery finds Georgie at a country house for Christmas, where an extremely large number of accidental deaths in the village is starting to look suspicious. Plus her love interest and Noel Coward are there. You have to suspend a little bit of disbelief for everything to hold together, but this series is a lot of fun--the characters and setting are actually more interesting than the mysteries. A-.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

2012 book 325

Cate Tiernan's Eternally Yours
The third book in the Immortal Beloved series is more of the same--snarky, insecure immortal protagonist dealing with immortal stuff and trying to be good, not evil. I like that there is a romance here, but it's not the focal point--the learning and improving (and occasionally battling) is. I think this is the last book in the series--at least all the major plotlines have wrapped up--but I honestly would read more of them, because they're very entertaining. A-/B+.

Monday, November 12, 2012

2012 book 324

Jessica Warman's Beautiful Lies
This is kind of a YA thriller, I guess, set just outside Pittsburgh, involving two super special twins who have a super special twin connection, and when one vanishes, the other knows something terrible has happened to her--because suddenly she's getting injuries out of nowhere. Interesting concept and a quick read, but most of the characters aren't that well-developed (besides the protagonist) and Warman leans a little too heavily on the mystical stuff. But like I said, a quick and entertaining read. B.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

2012 book 323

Lauren Groff's The Monsters of Templeton
I wanted to reread this--because it's been a few years since I last read it--so I convinced Lady Doctor book group to give it a go. I only hope they like it as much as I do (or at least not actively dislike it). This was one of my favorites of 2008 and I still love it.

2012 book 322

Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamour in Glass
The second book in this series is more action packed (and less straight-up Austen-y) than the first, as our protagonist and her husband take a belated honeymoon to Europe--just as Napoleon is about to return from exile. Most of the major plot twists were easy to see coming, but this was still a very enjoyable, light read. A-/B+.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

2012 book 321

Mary Robinette Kowal's Shades of Milk and Honey
This has been described as basically a Jane Austen novel with magic and . . . it's basically a Jane Austen novel, with magic. Nothing wrong with that! A-/B+.

Friday, November 09, 2012

2012 book 320

Rachel Joyce's The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
This is the story of what happens when a retired man receives a letter from an old friend dying of cancer and decides that if he walks to visit her, he can save her. But it's a 500 mile walk. Really lovely writing and characterization--I can see why it's gotten so many stellar reviews, even if the plot summary seems a little weird. Harold and his wife are both fascinating and sad, and this is well worth reading. A/A-.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

2012 book 319

Juliet Marillier's Flame of Sevenwaters
The latest Sevenwaters book features yet another Sevenwaters daughter getting into crazy adventures, though she's really likable (if very annoyingly manipulated) and has a bunch of awesome animal friends. I was not as keen on this for a while--stuff that's obvious to the reader but that the characters are clueless about is frustrating--but I did really like the wrap-up. B+.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

2012 book 318

Laini Taylor's Days of Blood and Starlight
I can't really say anything about the sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Blood without giving massive spoilers for the first book, so I'll just say that a) it was pretty great, b) it was at times very hard to read, c) I'm still not super interested in the main romance, and d) BUT this had a pretty crazy ending and I'm really looking forward to the 3rd book. A-.

Monday, November 05, 2012

2012 book 317

Jane Yolen's Briar Rose
After reading that Patricia Wrede book the other day and getting mad that this isn't available for Kindle, I dug out my old paperback copy. It's the first time I've read it in YEARS--since before this blog existed, maybe?--though I read it over and over in middle school and high school. Only Jane Yolen would take the assignment to write a new version of a fairy tale and turn it into a (fairly haunting) Holocaust story. I didn't remember much of the story going in (though it really all came rushing back) but I do think it still holds up.

2012 book 316

Sarah Jio's Blackberry Winter
This book was just terrible. It has a pretty good premise-- a reporter who lost her child in an accident is investigating the story of a little boy who disappeared in a snowstorm in 1933--but everything that happens is predictable and, honestly, stupid. It's like, she meets one old lady who's like, I have a friend whose dad was a lawyer, and OF COURSE he was the very lawyer she needed to track down and his 80 year old papers are conveniently still around. And her story is alternated with the missing boy's mother, which is an even worse bundle of cliches--poor girl meets kindly rich guy with an interfering family, blah blah. Plus all of the absolute ridiculous drama with her husband that could be solved with one conversation. I could rant about the awfulness of this book for a while longer, but don't want to waste any more time thinking about it. F.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

2012 book 315

Elizabeth Wilhide's Ashenden
So this novel is basically the history of a house (or even, the history of England as viewed through one of those big fancy houses) and its residents over two hundred years. The problem is that two hundred years of residents means a lot of characters--each chapter is basically its own vignette with its own characters, though some do recur.  Obviously, some parts are much stronger than others, and the more modern stuff is better than the historical stuff, in general. It's apparently kind of based on the story of a real house, which appeared in the Keira Knightly Pride and Prejudice. I'm not entirely sure what the point of it was, though. B.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in January.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

2012 book 314

Patricia Wrede's The Far West
The conclusion to Wrede's alternate-American-magical-historical series is perfectly fine--more adventuring, more magical discoveries, more learning, etc. I did get annoyed at all the fake names for everything after a while, but Eff is likable and I always like when romance in a YA book is on the back-burner and not the central plot. This isn't really my favorite series of Wrede's, though. I just didn't feel that invested in it. B.

Friday, November 02, 2012

2012 book 313

Tamara Ireland Stone's Time Between Us
This was a perfectly serviceable YA version of The Time Traveler's Wife (I actually hate to even say that, because mysterious boy's deal isn't confirmed till more than a third of the way through, but it's in the official descriptions, so . . . ). Actually, the writing was pretty good, the main character was decent, and I enjoyed it until the end, which I was really hoping would go somewhere else entirely. Because it was sooooo stupid! (I am, like, angry about the end.) Plus, there are hardly any details about the 90s besides occasional references to Pearl Jam (the guy time-travels from 2012 to 1995) and many questions are left unanswered. Actually basically every question is left unanswered. Like, the guy just decides to be a time traveler? How does that work? Can't you at least give him a weird gene like every other author? BUT if you like YA romance this might be for you. B/B-.

2012 book 312

J. Robert Lennon's Familiar
So the premise of this book is: a woman is driving home from visiting her son's grave, when suddenly everything changes--the car, her clothes, even her weight. And suddenly she's in a world where both of her sons are alive, and everything is different. Very well-written and compulsively readable, but I'm not entirely sure I understood it. I have to think about it more. A-/B+.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

2012 book 311

Patricia Wrede's Snow White and Rose Red
Entertaining retelling of the fairy tale set in Elizabethan England, where John Dee's magic sets events in motion. The characters aren't that well-developed but the story moves along quickly. This is part of that fairy-tale series Terri Windling edited, and seems to be the only one available for Kindle--a bummer, because I'd like to revisit Jane Yolen's Briar Rose (I read that over and over again in middle school/high school and have no idea if it holds up). B.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

2012 book 310

Wiley Cash's A Land More Kind Than Home
Beautifully written novel about a small town in Western NC, and what happens after a mute boy is killed during a laying on of hands in church, as told by an elderly woman who disagrees with the pastor's methods, the sheriff, and the boy's little brother. It all feels kind of inevitable and depressing, and while I liked the older woman's story a lot, parts of it felt like a different book entirely. But like I said, gorgeous writing. B.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

2012 book 309

Jo Walton's Tooth and Claw
Jo Walton is a remarkably versatile author--everything I read by her is completely different than the thing I read before, and this was no exception. It's basically a Victorian novel--or really, a Jane Austen-style novel--except all the characters are DRAGONS. The world-building here is kind of amazing, and you really end up rooting for these dragons to make good and happy marriages. With lots of treasure. Hee. A/A-.

2012 book 308

Kerstin Gier's Sapphire Blue
So the sequel to Ruby Red is finally out, and it's a good follow-up (though it spends waaaay too much time on the romance considering both books have taken place in about a week). There's still a great sense of humor and plenty of time-traveling adventure, though I kind of wish the characters would start to figure out the obvious stuff already.  The addition of a gargoyle/demon to the cast is handy for both plot and humor purposes, so thumbs up for that. Of course I am dying to read the third one despite how silly this one was, siiigh. A-/B+.

Monday, October 29, 2012

2012 book 307

Leah Stewart's The History of Us
Stewart is one of those reliably good authors--you know a book by her will have complicated relationships, a good story, and great writing, and this one is no exception. It centers on Eloise, a young professor at Harvard who suddenly finds herself the guardian of her sister's children after an accident, and who has to give up her career to move back to Cincinnati. But this isn't the start of a Kate Hudson movie, because then the action moves forward 17 years and we see Eloise and the three now-adults (a grad student, an indie rocker who's quit his band, and a ballerina) grappling with life changes, relationships, and conflicts around the family home. Maybe that sounds boring, but I just read the whole thing in one sitting--it's really compelling stuff and Stewart absolutely nails the characters, particularly Eloise and the two older children. This could be a good choice for book clubs--lots of meaty family stuff and romantic strife to discuss. A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on January.

2012 book 306

Diana Wynne Jones' Archer's Goon
I'm still making my way through the Diana Wynne Jones books that have only recently come back into print in the US, and this was a fairly enjoyable one, involving a family getting caught up in some craziness involving the seven kind-of-immortal siblings who run the town, with each in charge of different parts of it (ie, one is in charge of crime, one of music, etc). It is a weirdly similar concept to Neil Gaiman's Endless, though on a much smaller scale, and obviously this was written first. Gaiman is known to be a big fan of hers. JUST SAYING. Anyway, very funny sibling relationships here (both the humans and the other ones). A-/B+.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

2012 book 305

Mal Peet's Life: An Exploded Diagram
Had to reread this for FYA book club, though I still don't understand why they think this is YA and not a coming-of-age novel. What teenager wants to read so much about the politics of the Cuban Missile Crisis? I liked it a little less this time--the end is cheap, and I don't know why it keeps changing from first person to third person narration. Still a good story about first love with a bunch of other stuff--the Cold War, class, etc--crammed in. B/B+.

2012 book 304

Ben Fountain's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
I wasn't interested in reading this book--I'd get as far as "Iraq War" in the description, think "dude book," and my interest would just shut off, but one of my friends' husbands really wanted someone to talk about it with and I hate letting people down, so . . . I mean, it's a good book, I totally get why it's gotten so many raves, award nominations, etc, but it is the dude-iest of dude books. It's about a 19-year-old soldier whose squad has done some heroic thing (not entirely explained) and now they're on a two-week Victory Tour (it's the Bush years) before being sent back to Iraq (which the titular Billy has very mixed feelings about). Basically all the action takes place at a Dallas Cowboys game, though, except for occasional flashbacks to Iraq and a brief flashback interlude involving Billy's two-night family visit. I was into it at first--Billy is very vividly drawn--but like halfway through, their interactions with the football players, and the movie producer trying to make a deal for their story, and the gross rich Texans they can barely tolerate, and all the macho posturing dude-talk about Beyonce just got to be a little much for me. And that's not even really getting into the gender stuff (especially the cheerleader that Billy has a thing for--is it supposed to be romantic?). It's very well-written and deserving of awards, but this is a manly book for men. B/B+.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

2012 book 303

Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park
Rowell's second book (after the awesome Attachments, one of my favorite books of 2011) is another awesome story, this one a mildly heartbreaking tale of first love between two outcasts in 1986: Park, half-Korean in the very white Midwest, and Eleanor, a weirdly-dressed redhead from a very unhappy family. They first bond over X-Men comics, then Watchmen and 80s alternative rock, obviously the best things ever! (Though I was a little sad when Eleanor dissed Kitty Pryde, though her feminist angle on the X-Men is a very legitimate one.) And Rowell ABSOLUTELY NAILS first love. I had to keep putting this book down because the emotions were so raw--and because I was so terrified something bad was going to happen to Eleanor and Park. I think I fell for them as much as they did for one another. Really, really great. A.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on February.

Friday, October 26, 2012

2012 book 302

Rhys Bowen's Murphy's Law
I really liked that other series by Bowen, so thought I'd delve into this one, about a young Irish woman who comes to New York in 1901 and of course gets involved in one murder after another. I liked all the historical detail and the main character was interesting enough, but everything was sooooo contrived. I'm not sure I'll continue with this series, it's really not as entertaining as the Royal one. B.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

2012 book 301

Helen DeWitt's The Last Samurai
I have been meaning to read this book for a couple of years now, but almost wish I'd read it much earlier, because the (awesome) first chunk involves a young woman from an eccentric family who somewhat inadvertently teaches her small son several languages, including Hebrew and Greek, and there are some interesting grammatical conversations I'd have loved even more when I was in grad school. (I still loved them a lot.) Unfortunately I was less into the second half, when the son, now 11, goes on a bizarre quest inspired by The Seven Samurai. I'm sure it's all very meaningful but I didn't get as much out of it. B/B+.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

2012 book 300

A.S. King's Ask the Passengers
Really, really lovely book about teenaged Astrid, who's questioning her sexuality--all she knows is that she really likes kissing her coworker--but is afraid to say anything, even to her best friends--who are a lesbian and a gay guy acting as each others' beards to maintain the status quo in their small town. And her home life isn't great--her mom isn't really interested in her and her dad is always stoned, so she spends a lot of time lying in her backyard and sending love to airplanes passing overhead. The protagonist is a great character, and I love her interest in philosophy--some of the other characters are more sketchily drawn (and Justin disappears for like half the book). King really nails all the emotional stuff, though. A/A-.

Monday, October 22, 2012

2012 book 299

Juliet Marillier's Cybele's Secret
The sequel to Wildwood Dancing involves one of the sisters from the previous book accompanying their merchant father on a trip to Constantinople to try and buy a mysterious ancient artifact. Also there is a pirate. This one is kind of a slow starter--the real action doesn't start till halfway through--and as usual the characters are too clueless to pick up on plot points that are obvious to the reader. But I liked the inevitable happy ending despite myself. B/B+.

2012 book 298

Juliet Marillier's Wildwood Dancing
Interesting version of a fairy tale using elements of the dancing princesses, the frog prince, and Eastern European folklore. It was a little frustrating that everything is pretty obvious to the reader, but the (otherwise likable) protagonist doesn't figure things out till the end. I really like Marillier's writing though, so was still entertaining. B/B+.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

2012 book 297

Justin Cronin's The Twelve
The sequel to The Passage is a slow starter--and not just because of the LENGTHY recap of the first book that's all bible-style, which was clever in a way, but awful in another way. But it picks up eventually and moves right along, with a good mix of characters from the last book, new characters, all sorts of interrelationships between the two, etc. I was not thrilled about the whole concentration-camp/feeding-camp-for-vampires analogue, and I was REALLY not thrilled about how much rape there was. Honestly, it started to feel a little lazy at a certain point. Oh, let's show how terrible this camp is with the rapey guards, and let's bring our otherwise "strong women characters" down a notch and also let's dwell on how one of the evil vampires was super into raping ladies. Echhhhhh. I mean, this book was fine or whatever, that just bugged me. Other stuff happens too, lots of excitement and action scenes. And magical vampire girl Amy goes through puberty! B.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

2012 book 296

Lisa O'Donnell's The Death of Bees
This is getting a lot of early buzz, and with good reason--the story of two girls (one fifteen, brilliant and troubled, and one twelve, gifted and beyond eccentric) whose horrible parents die, and who bury them in the backyard because they don't want to be taken into foster care, and whose elderly/lonely/gay next door neighbor thinks they've been abandoned and wants to help them . . . well, it's all wonderful and a little bit devastating. A/A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in February.

Friday, October 19, 2012

2012 book 295

Rhys Bowen's Naughty in Nice
Parts of the action in this one are a result of a stupid misunderstanding, which is my far my pet peeve in all fictional universes. Have a freaking conversation, people. But the mystery itself is pretty solid, and I liked seeing glimpses of the luminaries of the day like Coco Chanel. This series is really enjoyable--the next one comes out in two weeks and I can't wait! B/B+.

2012 book 294

Rhys Bowen's Royal Blood
In the fourth Lady Georgiana mystery, Georgie is sent off to a royal wedding in Romania that's taking place in a spooky old castle in what used to be Transylvania. Obviously there's a murder, and mysterious goings-on, and possible vampires! Plus an incompetent new maid and other hilarity. B+.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

2012 book 293

Rhys Bowen's Royal Flush
The mystery in this one doesn't hold water at all, but this series is still really fun to read. I especially like the protagonist's relationship with her (unlikely) Cockney grandfather and the general sense of humor. B/B+.

2012 book 292

Rhys Bowen's A Royal Pain
The second book in this series is just as much frothy fun as the first (despite several murders), as Georgie is forced to play hostess to a German princess and attend some house parties. These books make me giggle. A-.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

2012 book 291

Rhys Bowen's Her Royal Spyness
If you've been reading my blog for a little while, you'll know I love mysteries set in the 1930s starring sassy young women--this is a weirdly large subgenre, for whatever reason. So here's the start of another series along those lines, but EVEN BETTER, because this sassy young woman is a minor British royal! Only slightly impoverished and with a scandalous mother. She and her brother (a Duke) get caught up in a murder, and also the Queen wants her to spy on her son and his American mistress (Wallis Simpson, of course). Anyway, the mystery is on the lighter side but this was a super fun read. B+.

2012 book 290

Lois Lowry's Son
Look, I can't really judge this in any way, because it's so clearly the book Lowry wrote for her dead son. If you like the other books in this series, it's a fine wrap-up; if you think they proceed too neatly, you'll feel the same about this one. B+?

Monday, October 15, 2012

2012 book 289

Janice Steinberg's The Tin Horse
An aging lawyer, while preparing her papers to be donated to a library, discovers evidence about her twin sister (who ran away, never to be heard from again, when they were 18) and decides to try and track her down with the help of her archivist. Most of the book is made up of flashbacks to their childhoods in a Jewish neighborhood of LA in the 1920s and 30s, and that stuff is STELLAR--lots of family drama, economic drama, romantic drama, Jewish drama--I loved it. Really great details--the neighborhood came alive. The end of the book is a bit schmaltzy, but that just means I can recommend it to my mom in good faith. :) A-/B+. (Get it, in good faith! Ha.)

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in January.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

2012 book 288

Scarlett Thomas' Bright Young Things
I'm a pretty big fan of Thomas' writing, but this book has been out of print for years and so I've never read it . . . until now! It's about a group of six young people who are basically kidnapped while applying for a mysterious job, and find themselves stranded in a well-stocked house on a deserted island. It's an entertaining read, but I wished the bigger picture had been made more explicit. B/B+.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

2012 book 287

Jo Walton's Half a Crown
The wrap-up to this trilogy isn't really a mystery, more of a book of crazy political machinations--coups, plots within plots, and Carmichael (who's been blackmailed into heading a British version of the Gestapo) at the heart of it. Walton has created an absolutely realistic--and terrifying--alternate version of history. A-.

2012 book 286

Jo Walton's Ha'penny
The sequel to Farthing is less distressing and more entertaining on the whole, as Inspector Carmichael (the cop from the first book) tries to solve a bomb plot that went awry, interspersed with the story of an actress caught up in a similar plot. The actress is from a family that is so clearly based on the Mitford sisters that it made everything just deliciously fun, plus there are no Jewish characters at risk of hanging, so I could enjoy the book a lot more easily (there's still plenty of casual--and not-so-casual--anti-Semitism, but the stakes for the beloved characters were a bit lower this time). Great second chapter and I'm on to read the third. A/A-.

Friday, October 12, 2012

2012 book 285

Jo Walton's Farthing
I've been meaning to read more of Walton's work since I loved Among Others so much, and this one seemed tailored to my tastes based on a quick glimpse of the description--in the late '40s, a noble (or whatever, I don't know the terms, her dad is a Viscount) girl marries a Jewish man, to everyone's chagrin (especially her mother's), and when they're at her parents' for a house party, a prominent politician is murdered, and it looks like her husband is being framed for it. Awesome, right?! British class issues, post-war stuff, Judaism, AND a mystery--perfect!

But it turns out that I hadn't read the description closely enough, and it took me a little while to figure out that this all takes place in an ALTERNATE version of history, where Britain accepted peace with Hitler in 1941--so he's still in power, ruling over all the Continent, and anti-Semitism is rampant in England even more than usual. And frankly, I found this all very upsetting and often painful to read. The casual and cruel anti-Semitism of some of the characters--and the sense of impending doom for the Jews--it stressed me out. (Side note: like in Philip Roth's Plot Against America, Charles Lindbergh is the president of the US! His was published first, but I don't remember enough about it to say whether they're set in the same universe or not.) I got weepy with anger during at least one scene.

Anyway, the story moves along at a good pace--it's alternately narrated by the woman mentioned above and the (secretly gay) Scotland Yard inspector investigating the murder--but it's just so . . . disheartening. And it's the first of a trilogy! I'm almost afraid to read the next one. A-, because it's very effective and well-written, but too upsetting to be a full A.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

2012 book 284

Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity
I was very happy to have to reread this for lady doctor book group--it's one of those books that almost demands to be reread once you know the whole story. And I still loved it, and still sobbed through the last twenty percent. This will definitely be on my favorites-of-the-year list in December.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

2012 book 283

Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown
This is kind of a weird followup to The Blue Sword, and I'm actually not sure I've ever read it before. It's a prequel detailing the early life of the legendary queen mentioned in the earlier book, but like there's no dramatic tension, b/c we know she grows up to be a legendary queen (and we know who she marries). Things feel a little slower, too; one climactic battle has a ridiculous amount of lead-up and then ends in like a page. And I found the end really depressing somehow, which I don't think was intentional. I mean, it's still a good book! Just not as awesome as the Blue Sword. And I forgot to say--both books have GREAT animals. McKinley is clearly a horse girl. B.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

2012 book 282

Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword
I hadn't read this in probably close to two decades, and it was much awesomer than in my vague recollections. For one of the OG girl-becomes-a-badass fantasy novels, and especially for a book published in like 1982, it holds up really well. And is frankly better than most current YA fantasy novels. A.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

2012 book 281

Susanna Moore's Life of Objects
So this is about an Irish girl who ends up moving to Berlin in 1938 to be a lacemaker for a fancy lady, or something, but then OH NO WAR. And they go to their country house and hang out? I don't know, this is basically like every other historical WWII coming-of-age sort of thing, complete with the requisite soldier rape, but I'm just not sure what the point of it was. At the end I actually said "What??" out loud because it was just sort of over. I mean, sure, yeah, her journey is just beginning blah blah but her journey so far was kind of boring. And it's really hard to write a kind of boring WWII book. C.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

2012 book 280

Suzy Cox's The Dead Girls Detective Agency
Cox--the deputy editor of Cosmo UK--has written an entertaining and funny book about a teenage girl who's murdered, then whisked away to a hotel in limbo where she has to solve her murder with the help of other murdered teen ghosts. I was not super enthralled with the brooding hot ghost it's obvious she'll fall for, but this is a YA book and apparently romance is obligatory these days. But all of the mystery-solving and spying and ghosting was pretty fun. B.

2012 book 279

Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
This book--about a guy who gets a job as a clerk at the titular bookstore, which has a mysterious purpose--is, weirdly, a love letter to typography and Google. It's also surprisingly adventure-filled, as well as filled with lovable eccentrics. Definitely a fun read, though maybe it wraps up a bit too neatly. B+.

2012 book 278

Kerstin Gier's Ruby Red
The sequel to Ruby Red finally comes out this month, so I had to reread the first one! It's just as good as I remembered and I can't wait to read the next one (and then presumably wait in despair for the third).

Friday, October 05, 2012

2012 book 277

Molly Ringwald's When It Happens To You
Yes, THAT Molly Ringwald. She wrote a novel (in stories) and it's actually pretty good. The writing is mostly consistently fine (the story in 2nd person grated a little, and her depiction of 6-year-old Charlotte is a little weird), and some of her characters really shine. At the center of these stories are a couple separating after an infidelity, and I was into some of the parts about them way less than others, but fell in love with the story about the woman with a transgender child, and enjoyed the hints at a life lived beyond the pages. I was less enthused about the plotline involving the protagonist's husband trying to win her back--never get back with a cheater, fictional ladies, I don't care how much history you have. Anyway. Surprisingly solid. B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book is available now.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

2012 book 276

Patrick Ness' A Monster Calls
Ah god this was just as sad as I expected--it's based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd, who died of breast cancer early into writing it, and so Ness finished it, and it's about a boy whose mom is dying of cancer, and then a monster comes and  . . . tells him stories? But soooo sad. A-.

2012 book 275

Alan Bradley's Speaking from Among the Bones
This is seriously one of my favorite mystery series--somehow, I have no problems believe that a 12-year-old girl with a knack for chemistry can solve her 1950s English village murders . . . and yet I constantly wonder just how a small English village HAS so many murders. No matter, Flavia is awesome! The fifth book in the series involves the un-tombing of a long-dead saint and a newly dead church organist--and plenty of plucky girl sleuthing. And surprisingly, it ends on a kind of big cliffhanger that has me more than eager to read the next one. A/A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in January.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

2012 book 274

Rick Riordan's The Mark of Athena
I've enjoyed all the Riordan Percy Jackson and affiliated demigod-related books, but this one didn't seem as strong as the earlier ones. Maybe seven protagonists is too many, because Percy and Jason are the most boring characters ever, and Frank doesn't have much of a personality either (plus every description of him compares him to, like, the Buddha, it's all very weird). Luckily there are some pretty good girl characters (though why is Annabeth like the BEST child of Athena ever? Does that make sense in this universe?) and the end is intriguing enough to make me care about what happens next. B.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

2012 book 273

David Benioff's City of Thieves
I can't believe I'd never read this book before--it's exactly the kind of book I'm drawn to, about a young Russian Jew trying to survive the siege of Leningrad, who ends up on a kind of bizarre quest for a dozen eggs accompanied by a charismatic army deserter. I seriously love books like this, full of adventure and plotting and dark humor and a little romance and sinister Nazis and badass ladies. Apparently Benioff is a big-time Hollywood screenwriter and runs the Game of Thrones tv show, but I wish he'd write another novel like this one. A.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

2012 book 272

John Stephens' The Fire Chronicle
The second in the Books of Beginning series, after The Emerald Atlas, is super action-packed, but feels a little more derivative of Harry Potter (a kindly super-smart elder wizard, a super-powerful kind-of-immortal evil wizard) and I just wasn't as in love with it as the first one. B.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released October 9th.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

2012 book 271

Deborah Levy's Swimming Home
Super melodramatic story about the family of a famous poet that encounters a troubled young woman in their pool while on vacation and invite her to stay. It's too short for any real character development, so none of the motivations/plot makes much sense. I found this book to be more than a little bit annoying. C.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on October 16th.

2012 book 270

Helen Keeble's Fang Girl
Very cute and silly story about a teenage girl who gets turned into a vampire and gets thrust into some pretty crazy situations. I love when these things are a little bit self-aware/meta, and this one particularly had me chortling one more than one occasion. A-.

2012 book 269

J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy
OK, so, the JK Rowling Book for Grownups. I totally see why this is getting better reviews in England than in America--I mean, it's a contemporary British novel. Maybe Americans were expecting something different? It's full of small town family and political squabbles, and I love that kind of thing. I will say that it was kind of a slow starter--I had trouble keeping some of the characters and their interrelationships straight till like halfway through--but I was totally engrossed by the end. And I kept forgetting that Rowling wrote it, b/c obviously it's so different than the HP books (she still has a way with writing teenagers, though this honestly seems more polished). All this rambling is to say that I actually liked it a lot, to my great surprise. A/A-.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

2012 book 268

Howard Anderson's Albert of Adelaide
Albert of Adelaide is a platypus who escapes from his zoo into the Australian desert, searching for the mythical Old Australia, meetings friends and foes and having adventures out of the very best Westerns. Weirdly cute and compelling. A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

2012 book 267

Meg Cabot's Princess in Waiting
Mia is by far the most annoying character on the planet, but I enjoy the little glimpses of early-2000s pop culture in these books. Remember Roswell? Haha! Anyway, four of these is enough, my brain might melt if I read any more of them. B-.

2012 book 266

Meg Cabot's Princess in Love
I would like these books a lot more if I was twelve and not 33. Also, does this whole series take place in like a year? I swear these first three have taken place in like two months. A princess who wasn't 14 might be more interesting. B.

2012 book 265

Meg Cabot's Princess in the Spotlight
This book was slightly less annoying than the first one--the writing is toned down a smidge--but Mia is still a total nimrod. Perfect distraction though. B.

2012 book 264

Meg Cabot's The Princess Diaries
I like to read really distracting, but not-mentally-taxing, books on Yom Kippur, so this seemed like it would fit the bill--it's really the fluffiest book ever, and I'd never read it before. And it's funny to read something set in the era of dial-up modems. The only problem is that Mia is terminally stupid and is super annoying. On the other hand, being annoyed is GREAT distraction from fasting! I might as well read the sequel! B/B-.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

2012 book 263

Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys
This book is kind of completely insane, involving a girl from a family of psychics whose true love is destined to die once she kisses him who encounters a motley group of boys from the local private school who are searching for ley lines and an ancient king. Obviously, hijinks ensue. Actually, I don't mean to be facetious, this is a pretty solid story with interesting characters and concepts, but seems to be the first of a series, judging by the plot-holes left dangling. Can't anything just be a stand-alone these days? I hate waiting a year or more to find out what happens next! A-.

Monday, September 24, 2012

2012 book 262

Toni Morrison's Home
Morrison's latest is really more of a novella than a novel (which has the absurd Kindle price of 11.99 even though it came out in May, which is why it took me so long to read it, had to wait for a library copy) and I did find myself wishing it was more of the latter than the former. I mean, there's so much that could be fleshed out. It works well as a spare story though--protagonist Frank, home from the Korean war, has to deal with racism and PTSD. His sister is a pretty great character too, though again, I wished for more of her story. GREAT writing though. A-.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

2012 book 261

Gabrielle Zevin's Because It Is My Blood
The sequel to All These Things I've Done is pretty solid--I really enjoy the characters and all the business/legal/mob/chocolate drama. I just wish there was less focus on the romance, though of course there's not much you can do about that when you're reading YA. I'm intrigued to see where the story is going next. B+.

2012 book 260

John Banville's Ancient Light
Banville is a great writer in terms of his prose, but I wasn't particularly interested in the story here: an older actor, dealing with the loss of his daughter and being cast in a kind-of-weird movie, reminisces on his sexual coming-of-age with his best friend's mother. There is literally not a plot I am less interested in reading than that one--it is a quintessential Man Book for Men. Still, like I said, the writing is beautiful, and there are some interesting points about memory. B.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on October 2nd.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

2012 book 259

Ilsa Bick's Shadows
Even though I didn't like Ashes at all, I decided I did want to read the sequel just to find out what happened to one character. But it's even grimmer and grosser than the first one! Plus, it focuses on like six characters, instead of just one, and EACH has something terrible in their plotline. And that's not even getting started on the threat of ZOMBIE RAPE, which is totally a thing now. AND the character I wanted to find out about? NOT EVEN IN THIS BOOK. I hereby promote the grade of the last one to a C, because it is so much better by comparison. D-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on Tuesday.

2012 book 258

Lish McBride's Necromancing the Stone
The sequel to Hold Me Closer, Necromancer is full of just as much goofy fun as the first one, and I love seeing this world develop. In this one, the gang of misfits is trying to solve a murder (though the reader knows who did it) and come to terms with the brand-new status quo. I really enjoy these characters and McBride's sense of humor, so I hope there will be more in this series. A/A-.

Friday, September 21, 2012

2012 book 257

Stephen Tobolowsky's The Dangerous Animals Club
Normally it wouldn't really occur to me to read a book of autobiographical essays by a Hollywood character actor (Tobolowsky has basically been in everything--look him up on imdb!--but I am forever fond of him as Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day), except that after he guest-starred on one of my favorite shows, Community, he wrote an essay about it, so I knew he could really write. And his stories of his life--his childhood in Texas, his relationship with a long-time girlfriend (who won a Pulitzer), adventures with his wife and children, and many stories about acting--are sometimes surprisingly philosophical, often bittersweet, and even more often COMPLETELY HILARIOUS. I was actually, like, guffawing at some parts. Very entertaining stuff, especially for the pop culture junkies. A/A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on Tuesday.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

2012 book 256

Ilsa Bick's Ashes
Ugh, FYA chooses some of the worst books for book group. I HATED this. It's a YA zombie apocalypse book, basically Teen Drama Walking Dead, and it's completely grotesque. Plus the characters are idiots--like, if you have a nice shelter with supplies, why would you wander off into the wilderness? It's a freaking ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. Then somehow even though it's a zombie apocalypse, there's a love triangle. I actually have a copy of the sequel (out next week) from the publisher but don't think I'll read it. D.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

2012 book 255

Rae Carson's The Crown of Embers
Very satisfactory follow-up to Girl of Fire and Thorns, one of my favorite books of last year. The political stakes are even higher, and I'm still completely fascinated by the religion of Carson's world. Elisa continues to be a compelling heroine (and I very much look forward to her increased bad-assery in the next volume) and her romance and friendships develop fairly organically--or at least much more so than the usual YA fantasy books. I just seriously love this series. A/A-.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

2012 book 254

Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace
I didn't remember a thing about this book, which meant it was time for a re-read! Atwood's based-on-a-true-story novel involves a woman convicted of murder in the 1840s, and the doctor determined to find out what really happened. Classic unreliable narrator and a very compelling story. A-.

Monday, September 17, 2012

2012 book 253

Natalie Standiford's Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters
Cute YA book about a family whose very wealthy family threatens to disinherit them all unless the one who offended her confesses--so her three wayward granddaughters (Norrie, who's fallen in lofe with an older man; Jane, who's written a blog about the family secrets; and Sassy, who thinks she might be immortal) each write their confessions. Really interesting characters/family and a nice light quick read. B+.

2012 book 252

Michael Koryta's The Prophet
Two estranged brothers--one, the beloved local high school football coach, the other a kind of sketchy bail bondsman--are drawn into a mystery when a girl both knew is murdered. Complicating things is the murder of their own sister over twenty years earlier. Great characters and plot, though I personally wasn't super into all the football talk. B/B+.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

2012 book 251

 Sarah Beth Durst's Vessel
I've liked all the books I've read by Durst, and this was no exception. Great concept here--a world where, once in a hundred years, the gods/goddesses of the desert people each inhabit a vessel from their clan. Our protagonist is one such vessel, having prepared her whole life to become the goddess--only the goddess doesn't come and her people exile her. And then a young man--the trickster god--comes to tell her that something has trapped five of the gods/goddesses. And it gets crazier from there. I really enjoyed this, though the end was kind of crazy and I'm still a little bit mad about it. A-/B+.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

2012 book 250

Mark Helprin's In Sunlight and in Shadow
Ah god, this book. It might have been great if it was half as long--it's 700 pages, and while the writing is beautiful, the plot can best be described as plodding. It's kind of Winter Tales-ish, in that it revolves around a love affair in New York in 1946, complicated by wealth, Judaism, and the Mafia, but it just moves so slowly. And then halfway through, we suddenly get the guy's WWII experiences, which takes almost a quarter of the book (I admit to skimming this, having lost patience long before). And then the last quarter . . . I can't even.  This book defeated me. B-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released October 2nd.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

2012 book 249

S.A. Bodeen's The Raft
I weirdly like books where survival is at stake (hence my love of post-apocalytpic dystopias), so this YA book about a girl stranded on a life raft after a plane crash seemed right up my alley. Unfortunately, it's too short to get to any sort of harrowing point, and I absolutely hated everything to do with the copilot stranded with her. I also wished we'd seen more of the reaction of the protagonist's family--who didn't know she was on the plane in the first place. Great nature stuff--I really liked all the information about birds--but could have been a lot stronger. B/B-.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

202 book 248

Caitlin Moran's How To Be A Woman
I read this selection for lady doctor book group very much against my will, having bogged down in despair during the early chapters on menstruation and body hair. But after randomly running into a fellow book club member in Anthropologie (as one does), I figured I should finish. To be fair, it did pick up a little from there--I enjoyed every story about Moran's sister Caz and the ones that involved members of Blur and The Fall--but I am just not interested in Moran's view on handbags. I honestly wish this had been a straight-up memoir instead of a book of essays about life from a feminist perspective (or whatever this was supposed to be), b/c she has had a fascinating life! More about being a teenage rock and roll journalist in the 90s*, less on giving birth from a feminist perspective, please. B-.

*One time U2 shot a video in her house, that doesn't even get a mention!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

2012 book 247

Junot Diaz's This Is How You Lose Her
Normally I don't read short stories--they're just too darn SHORT--but I love Diaz, and heard this was a novel in stories, and I make exceptions for those. And for the most part that's true--all but one of the stories are about Yunior (narrator of Oscar Wao) and the women in his life (primarily the women he cheated on, but others too).  These stories are great, of course, but I just wish there was more meat to everything. I need another Diaz novel! A-/B+.

PS. Diaz is speaking at Motorco next Thursday!

2012 book 246

Kerry Greenwood's Cocaine Blues
There are, weirdly, a lot of mysteries starring sassy ladies set in the 1920s, but I like that sub-genre and figured I'd check this series out. It involves the aforementioned sassy lady, a bored rich titled woman in England, who gets sent to Australia to try and solve a possible poisoning, but ends up involved in trying to bust a cocaine ring instead. The plot is ok, pretty predictable, and I hate the "shiny black cap" description of 1920s hair (whyyy is it always a cap), but it was a nice light mystery and I'd read more in the series. B.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

2012 book 245

Siobhan Dowd's Solace of the Road
No one makes me get all teary-eyed like Dowd, and this is no exception, as a fourteen year old girl runs away from foster care to try and find her mother in Ireland. But as always when the story involves a journey, there's a lot more to it than that. A/A-.

2012 book 244

Katherine Catmull's Summer and Bird
Summer and Bird are sisters who wake up one morning to find both their parents suddenly gone, and they decide to set off in search of them. But this isn't the adventure-laden middle-grade book I expected; it's a slow, and very lonely, story. I honestly don't know why this is for ages 10 and up--not that a ten year old couldn't read it, but I don't think too many ten year olds would. It's one of those stories about stories, and identity, and has almost a philosophical feel to it. I'm glad I read it--I liked the last quarter a lot--but still haven't decided what exactly I think about it. B/B+?

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on October 2nd.

2012 book 243

Hanna Pylvainen's We Sinners
Really lovely novel-in-short-stories about a family living in the Midwest who belongs to a small, restrictive branch of Christianity, and the effect it has on the nine children. Each section is narrated by a different member of the family (though not all have a turn), giving a multiplicity of viewpoints on the age-old struggle between tradition/religion and modernity/secularism. I loved all the characters and was totally wrapped up in their crises, large and small. A/A-.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

2012 book 242

Alethea Kontis' Enchanted
Cute book about a seventh daughter of a seventh daughter living in a fairy tale world who befriends a frog prince. Basically the whole book is waiting for them to fiiiinally get together, but there are some interesting subplots involving her many sisters as well. B/B+.

Friday, September 07, 2012

2012 book 241

Gennifer Albin's Crewel
It's another post-apocalyptic YA dystopia, with a pretty decent concept--super misogynistic society, but some women ("Spinsters") have the power to weave the threads that make the world (very Greek mythology) and thus have a slightly more prominent role in society. Our protagonist is chosen to be one of these select few--against her parents' wishes, mysteriously enough. It's all very Katniss-goes-to-the-Capitol. Then a bunch of other stuff happens, there are political machinations and the requisite love triangle.  There's actually a lot here of interest, but the protagonist was really frustrating, and the plot didn't have an overarching story to give it structure or narrative tension. The writing felt kind of clumsy in general. But the end was kind of intriguing, if a bit formulaic for these trilogies. I think this will be very popular, it just didn't thrill me. B.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in October.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

2012 book 240

Ian McEwan's Sweet Tooth
An excerpt of this novel--most of the first chapter--ran in the New Yorker recently, and you had better believe I couldn't wait to read a novel about a young British girl recruited into being a spy in the early 70s. But things get complicated when she falls for her target, an aspiring writer. One of the things I liked most about this was that it was primarily a novel about a girl who loves novels, which is one of my favorite things to read. I mean, the spy stuff is great too, but characters waxing rhapsodic about books really makes me happy. And I have to say, the one thing I would have complained about while reading, too much focus on the love interest's writing, comes to make perfect sense. And I absolutely loved the ending. Really an enjoyable book and a quick read. A/A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in November.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

2012 book 239

Seanan McGuire's Ashes of Honor
I think this is like the 6th book in the October Daye series, and it's one of the stronger ones--here, Toby is after a missing, possibly kidnapped, changeling girl, with the usual cast of awesome characters as backup. Totally compulsively readable. I love this series and miss when they came out twice a year--darn McGuire and her many many other series! A-.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

2012 book 238

Jenn Ashworth's Cold Light
I think this is the book all the reviews wanted Megan Abbott's Dare Me to be--an excellent, if mildly troubling, story about young girls, toxic friendships, and the secrets they keep from each other and from the adults in their lives. Twenty-five-year-old Lola is looking back on the death of her best friend ten years earlier, as a memorial is being erected in her honor--at least until a grisly discovery is made. It's sort of a mystery, but much more a psychological portrait of a town in the late 90s.  Gripping stuff--very enjoyable. A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in October.

Monday, September 03, 2012

2012 book 237

Laurie R. King's Garment of Shadows
I generally have enjoyed King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series a lot, but couldn't get into the last one at all--I'm tired of books where Mary and Holmes have separate adventures--they're much better together. And this one didn't start off strong--for one thing, they're separate again, as Holmes is trying to track down a missing Mary (who has amnesia, of course, because why not) in Morocco on the verge of a civil war. And the first third is all jsut VERY BORING exposition about Moroccan politics. It picks up a little after that, but the plot is still pretty weak (it's all just people talking, and Mary only gets to be awesome in one scene) and the resolution unsatisfying. I wish King would wait to write another one of these till she actually has a good story in mind. B-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released tomorrow.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

2012 book 236

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
I still think this is a great end to the series, and one of the best books in the series as well--though I haaaaate the King's Cross/Dumbledore scene, and think the whole Harry's-Invisibility-Cloak-is-EXTRA-special-magical thing is a copout compared to discussions of such cloaks earlier in the series. Good stuff otherwise, though.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

2012 book 235

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
It seemed silly to read the first five Harry Potter books and not finish the series off, plus what better way to spend a long weekend than by watching Doctor Who and reading Harry Potter? Parts of this one make me cringe a little for whatever reason, but the awesomeness totally outweighs the awkwardness.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

2012 book 234

Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient
My brain was kind of overloaded on Harry Potter, so I took a break to read something more on the literary side--I'd actually never read this before (nor seen the movie). Anyway, it's about Hana, a Canadian nurse in Italy in 1945, living in a villa and caring for a badly burned patient whose identity is unknown (but is presumably English, as the title indicates). Soon they're joined by a friend of her father's and a young Sikh bomb disposal expert, and they basically all hang out waiting for the war to end while the English Patient talks about his past in the Egyptian desert and his affair with a married woman. The writing is beautiful, though too oblique at times (maybe b/c the titular character is on morphine? The flashbacks to the Sikh's life are much clearer).  I think parts of this book are supposed to be tragic, but I didn't feel enough for the characters and the writing didn't always draw me in. Great atmosphere though. B/B+.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

2012 book 233

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
I like this one more every time I read it--though I still wish Rowling had had a lighter hand with the caps lock key. :)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

2012 books 230, 231, 232

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Still making my way through these (again). And I have to say, book 2 REALLY is the weakest of the series by far. 3 and 4 still rule though.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

2012 book 229

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
It's probably too soon for me to reread these--it's only been like 4 months since last time--but I've been called into service for a Harry Potter-themed trivia night and wanted to brush up. :) So expect a bunch of super short entries over the next few days. I ran out of things to say about these books a long time ago--but I still love them.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

2012 book 228

Mal Peet's Tamar
I really enjoyed Peet's Life: An Exploded Diagram and this was sort of in the same mold--a coming of age/humanity in wartime sort of story. Except here, they're actually two stories--the first takes place during WWII and involves two British spies in Holland, and the interspersed second takes place fifty years later and involves one of the men's granddaughter. There's a lot of foreshadowing and it's easy to guess where the 1944 plot will go--I'm honestly not sure whether that's on purpose--which makes it very hard to read at times. It's a /good/ book, but not entirely an /enjoyable/ one. Granddaughter Tamar is great, though, and I wish we'd gotten to see more of her journey. And this is another Peet book that is theoretically YA, but isn't really YA at all, especially since only one of the four main characters is even a teenager. Coming of age and YA are different categories, people! B+.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

2012 book 227

Goce Smilevski's Freud's Sister
Translated from the Macedonian (which is really cool for some reason), this novel centers on Sigmund Freud's sister Adolfina--one of his four sisters he failed to take with him when he left Vienna in 1938 (even though he took not only all his children/grandchildren, but his wife's family, his doctor and his family, and two housekeepers), and all four elderly women were of course gassed in the concentration camps. Nice one, Freud. Anyway, all of that is covered in the first (brief) part of the book, and then it flashes back to tell his sister's life story (and her friendships with other famous people's sisters, like Klara Klimt and Ottla Kafka) But little is known about her, so Smilevski has free rein to turn her life into what's almost a psychological study (a large chunk of the book involves a mental institution of some sort). That fits with the whole Freud thing but isn't always entertaining as a novel. Reading it reminded me, at times, of the literary theory class I took in college. This book is by no means bad, it just wasn't the book I wanted to read about Freud's sister. B.

An e-galley was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on August 28th.

Monday, August 20, 2012

2012 book 226

Beth Kephart's Small Damages
Normally I wouldn't read a YA book about a pregnant girl who gets shipped off to Spain to have the baby and then give it up, and the probably-sentimental experiences she has there. But this has gotten good reviews and I was in the mood for something on the lighter side (which, actually, a book about a pregnant teen being forced to give up her baby shouldn't be, but this kind of was). I did like the protagonist's relationship with the aging cook, but was super annoyed that OF COURSE there was a teenage boy there for her to hang out with/fall for, and that her mother is a one-dimensional villain, and that most of her relationship problems (with everyone) go unresolved. On the other hand, great descriptions of Spain. It's like reading a YA version of one of those movies where Diane Lane or someone goes abroad and everything is pretty and she goes to markets and eats fresh fruit and finds love or whatever. And I don't like those movies, but lots of other people do. If you are one, you might like this book. B/B-.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

2012 book 225

Kate Morton's The Secret Keeper
Kate Morton writes these great books where people (women) in modern times investigate Secrets Of The Past. And this is another GREAT one in the genre--it may be my favorite of hers, but I'll have to reread them all before I decide! In this one, Laurel is 16 in 1961 when a strange man approaches her house and something completely bonkers happens. Now it's 50 years later, Laurel is a famous actress, and she's determined to figure out her 90-year-old mother's secrets before it's too late. That's all interspersed with flashbacks to her mother's life during WWII, so the reader gets the whole story. And the whole story is completely riveting. And of course it made me cry. A.

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

2012 book 224

Mette Jakobsen's The Vanishing Act
Twelve-year-old Minou lives on a tiny island with only three other inhabitants--her father, a priest, and a magician. When she finds the body of a boy, she hopes he can provide clues to her mother's disappearance a year earlier. But this isn't a mystery, and so things aren't that easy or clear-cut. Lovely atmosphere--it's gotten blurbed by Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus, and I think it has a similar dreamy-cum-literary quality. A-.

An e-galley was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on September 17th.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

2012 book 223

Robin McKinley's Sunshine
This is another McKinley book that I somehow missed, but everyone is always all "Oh, THAT is a GOOD vampire book" and I like vampire books sometimes so figured I'd try it. It's a little slow at times--McKinley wants to throw every detail of her world-building into the story--but I liked the characters and most of the plots/concepts. Unfortunately, it doesn't really have an ending. I honestly thought I had a defective copy, missing the last few chapters, but apparently it just kind of . . . ends. No plots are resolved at all, and apparently McKinley is adamant about there not being a sequel. Very weird. I think it would have been an A-/B+ kind of book, but I really can't get past the fact that it just stops. B/B-.

Friday, August 17, 2012

2012 book 222

Caroline Cooney's Fog
I have a soft spot for book by Cooney, because hers are some of the ones I read when I was actually the age for YA. (I know I'm not the only one--Face on the Milk Carton was pretty popular.) Anyway, her latest is about a seventh-grade girl who's grown up on a small island off the coast of Maine, and now she and three other students are coming to board on the mainland for school. But everything is weird and creepy, and the oldest student is acting very odd. Very strong atmosphere, but the end was  unsatisfying. Apparently this is the first of a series, and I do actually want to know what will happen next, but I wish it hadn't ended so abruptly. B/B-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

2012 book 221

Laura Lippman's And When She Was Good
Lippman's latest stand-alone revolves around a Baltimore-area madam juggling her double life, trying to be a good suburban mom while hiding her criminal lifestyle. It's sort of a mystery in that how she came to have that life is revealed slowly, and there are some murders later on in the story. Pretty solid character work, but not as compelling as some of her others. B.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

2012 book 220

Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette
I have been eagerly awaiting this book for MONTHS--it's gotten tons and tons of great buzz, and Semple is a former sitcom writer (including for Arrested Development) so it seemed like it'd be entertaining if nothing else. But it was SOOO entertaining!  It's about Bernadette Fox, wife of a high-powered Microsoft guy, who goes missing just before Christmas, and her (awesome) eight-grade daughter is now piecing together emails and other documentation to figure out what the heck happened. And it's all just a really, really fun read. Nice light book, perfect for summer (too bad it didn't come out two months ago). A.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

2012 book 219

Rebecca Serle's When You Were Mine
Ah, FYA book group, some of the books you make us read are so crappy! I wasn't exactly enthused about reading a modern-day retelling of Romeo and Juliet told from the point of view of Rosalind, the girl Romeo's hung up on before he meets Juliet. And this managed to be even worse than my expectations--the narrator/protagonist is super annoying (I wanted to strangle her sometimes), and the entire plot (I mean, besides the parts we know from Shakespeare) was telegraphed in the first eight percent. Not to mention how silly the updated names were! Caplet and Monteg, seriously? Couldn't Serle have found names that sound like actual names? I picked up the phone book and found two better names (Capelli and Montana, totally catchy!) within ten seconds. And don't even get me started on anything to do with Juliet, who doesn't even show up till like halfway through and whose only character trait is "bitchy," and cardboard cutout bad boy Len, who is kind of a creepy stalker in a certain light. When I was in seventh grade, my class read Romeo and Juliet, and for homework we had to rewrite a scene and set it in some other time period. I am still haunted by how terrible mine was, but some of my classmates' were more realistic than this book. C-.

Monday, August 13, 2012

2012 book 218

Alix Ohlin's Inside
The cover of this book features a snow globe and for some reason has a contemporary sad YA feel to me, but it's actually a literary novel about a Canadian therapist, a man she saves while skiing, a troubled teenage girl who's one of her patients, and her ex-husband (also a therapist) across a fifteen year period. The three main characters are all vividly drawn and very likable, and this book was all-around solid and enjoyable. A-.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

2012 book 217

Tracy Hickman's Wayne of Gotham
You'd think a novel about Batman (DC-approved, even) would be right up my alley--I mean, I write a column about comic books and Batman is one of the few superheroes I'm actually into. Or maybe that's exactly why I didn't like it, because it didn't do Batman justice at all. If I can see exactly how he's being played and he never catches on . . . well, he's not supposed to be a moron. Yet in this book, he's not just moronic, but incompetent (why does he keep leaving his Batsuit in the Batmobile?). I actually had a lot of problems with this book, which finds Bruce investigated some shadiness his dad was involved in (actually, he doesn't ever really investigate, people just give him information). Half of the story is from his dad's perspective, and that's even worse--Thomas Wayne vacillates between being whiny and being creepy (I, for one, am grossed out that Martha ended up marrying him because of the way their relationship is portrayed).

Other issues:
--WAAAAYYY too much detailed fake comic book science. Four pages describing the Batmobile is three and a half pages too many.
--Hickman tries way too hard to shove all the iconic Bat-characters into this story when they really don't fit. And Joker is pretty lame.
--Grandpa Wayne's only characterization is that he's an asshole.
--Bruce yells at Alfred way too much--their relationship is one of the best things in the Bat-universe and it's all weird here.

I wanted to like this book but obviously it wasn't for me. Batman honestly works better in the comic book format, I think. D.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

2012 book 216

Siobhan Dowd's Bog Child
Another excellent book from Dowd set in Ireland in the early 80s--this one centers on the crazy unrest and hunger strikes of 1981, and a teenage boy who finds an ancient body in the bog. And soon he's dreaming all about her, like his life wasn't getting more complicated already. A-.

2012 book 215

Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)
Keri was saying again last ngiht that this book is good and I should read it, and since it was available free for my Kindle through my local library, I figured why not. Actually it is pretty good--obviously some parts of a memoir made up of personal essays will be funnier than others, but I did laugh out loud a couple times. Though I did wonder what happened to her best friend/writing partner after Kaling moved to LA and got all famous. B+.

2012 book 214

Siobhan Dowd's A Swift Pure Cry
Beautiful and sad book about a teenage girl in Ireland in 1984, trying to make things work for her family after her mother's death. I don't want to say any more than that so as not to spoil the plot for anyone else. But this was GREAT. A.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

2012 book 213

Lawrence Norfolk's John Saturnall's Feast
A historical novel set in the days of Cromwell about a boy whose mother dies after being accused of witchcraft, and then he and his gifted palate go on to work in the kitchen of the manor nearby--well, it should have been right up my alley. But the novel's description is very misleading: "Orphaned when his mother dies of starvation, having been cast out of her village as a witch, John is taken in at the kitchens at Buckland Manor, where he quickly rises from kitchen-boy to Cook, and is known for his uniquely keen palate and natural cooking ability. However, he quickly gets on the wrong side of Lady Lucretia, the aristocratic daughter of the Lord of the Manor. In order to inherit the estate, Lucretia must wed, but her fiancé is an arrogant buffoon. When Lucretia takes on a vow of hunger until her father calls off her engagement to her insipid husband-to-be, it falls to John to try to cook her delicious foods that might tempt her to break her fast." That encompasses maybe one chapter of the book and it happens more than halfway through. Really, this book is a mish-mash of stuff--GREAT chapters on life in the kitchen, not-so-great chapters set in battle/dealing with Cromwell's goons, and kind of annoying chapters involving a completely unbelievable romance. I read the whole thing but didn't enjoy it that much. B-.

An e-galley was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on September 4th.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

2012 book 212

Robin McKinley's Beauty
Sometimes when you're home sick, you just have to read something comforting (the book equivalent of the comfort food you're too sick to eat?). It's been a couple of years since I've read it, but it's still weirdly delightful. I actually read this in class in middle school; as I noted last time I read it, one of its themes was apparently "Don't judge a book by its cover" which I had written in the inside front cover with an exclamation point. Hee hee.