Tuesday, January 31, 2012

2012 book 27

Diana Wynne Jones' Cart and Cwidder
A whole slew of Jones' long out-of-print books came out for the Kindle this week (and more are coming later this spring). This one, the first in the Dalemark Quartet, centers on the youngest son in a family of traveling performers, making their way through a precarious political situation. This wasn't my favorite of Jones' works by a long shot, but was still very readable. B/B+.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

2012 book 26

Jacqueline Winspear's Pardonable Lies
I think it was my mom who recommended the Maisie Dobbs series to me, and I'm glad she did, b/c this was a very enjoyable mystery involving an intrepid woman detective/psychologist in 1930 investigating the deaths of two WWI soldiers, as well as trying to protect a young girl accused of murder. Great character and engaging storylines. A/A-.

2012 book 25

Cate Tiernan's Darkness Falls
The second book in the Immortal Beloved series starts off a little slowly, recapping the first book in a super-hyper-casual tone that is slightly grating. But once the action kicks in, and plots left hanging from the first book come into play, it's a quick and fun read like the first one. I'm only mildly interested in the romance angle, but watching main character Nastasya confront her past and learn about her powers is pretty interesting. Note for the interested: Tiernan apparently lives in Durham! B/B+.

2012 book 24

Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles
Now, this is the kind of book that is right up my alley--but also makes me think about stockpiling canned goods JUST IN CASE. Yes, it's a near-future dystopian-ish novel, but it's a literary one instead of YA, for a change of pace. The crisis here involved the earth's rotation slowing, so that each day gets a little bit longer--which maybe seems nice in theory, but causes all sorts of problems for the planet. Our protagonist is 11-year-old Julia, whose nice little life is thrown into disarray, and whose only fault as a narrator is the tendency to too often say "That was the last time I ever [ate pineapples/ate grapes/saw whoever]." It's a little over-dramatic. The rest of the book is fairly strong--the reactions to the planetary crisis seem pretty realistic, and I really wanted to know what would happen next (although all the things that happen are fairly small, I was still on the edge of my seat). The publisher is pushing this pretty hard, and with good reason. A-.
An e-galley was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in June.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

2012 book 23

Alan Shapiro's Broadway Baby
I think this book--described as being about a woman who loves the theatre and pushes her talented son into performing, but which is actually about the life of a super unsatisfied woman who is never happy and makes everyone around her miserable--wants to be an American-Jewish family epic, but the protagonist is too self-centered (or rather, the author is too centered on her) for any of the other characters to be more than thinly drawn figures (the daughter, whose few short sentences made her the most interest character, is sadly almost a complete non-entity). I have no idea what the point of this story is and really hope the protagonist bears little resemblance to the author's mother, b/c all I can think is that this is some sort of attempt to deal with childhood issues. As a side note, what I believe was the last line of the book on the Kindle version feeds right into what are apparently the acknowledgements, which was . . . jarring. This book was just depressing, but not in a good or interesting way. C-.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

2012 book 22

Joshilyn Jackson's A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty
Jackson writes books about ladies in the South beset by various crises and secrets, and this is a good example of that--keeping it vague so as to avoid giving away plot points, it's about three generations of women (who are 45, 30, and 15--the 45 year old is convinced a curse hits their family every 15 years and leads to teen pregnancy and other problems) who are currently in crisis due to the 30-year-old having a stroke--and due to a secret literally being unearthed in their backyard. Was that all once sentence? Sorry. Anyway, good characters, though adult authors REALLY need to stop with the forced teen-speak. I'm pretty sure no one now, or ever has, actually texted "hellz to the yeah" to anyone else. I mean, maybe ironically. But ugh, those parts are mildly painful to read. And some parts are pretty easy to guess, which isn't entirely a bad thing, and everything is revealed in a timely manner. Pretty good stuff. I may go see the author read at Quail Ridge on Feb. 15th. (But probably won't--due to laziness, not b/c of the author--I like her books.) B/B+.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

2012 book 21

Meg Rosoff's There is No Dog
This is one of those YA books that could easily be shelved in the sci-fi/fantasy shelves instead, alongside authors like Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. (I'm pretty sure it's being marketed as YA b/c Rosoff has written several YA books.) Though it is slightly less silly than those guys' books, the premise and characters would feel right at home with them--I mean, it's about God, who is an eternally selfish teenage boy named Bob (whose mother won the job in a poker game and passed it off on him), the administrator who actually runs things, and what other Godly dramas happen when Bob falls for a pretty young assistant zookeeper. This was really, really fun reading. A-.

Monday, January 23, 2012

2012 book 20

Carol O'Connell's The Chalk Girl
For a fairly grim 'n' grisly mystery, this book was surprisingly heartbreaking. The plot has a huge amount of twists and turns that I don't want to hint at, but it involves bodies strung up in trees, a gifted little girl who knows an awful lot about rats (note: don't read this book if you're squeamish about rats, seriously, don't), and a probably sociopathic police detective caught up in a bunch of internal politics (this is part of a series, and of course I haven't read the earlier ones). The detective is a bit of a cipher, but her partner and other friends/colleagues (including a rabbi!) keep the story moving, and the little girl is entirely lovable. The end was kind of anti-climactic, but it totally worked for me (and is bound to bring a slightly wicked grin to some readers' faces). A-.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

2012 book 19

Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son
This book has been generating a HUGE amount of buzz (and getting a lot of rave reviews), so I was pretty eager to read it--though normally a novel about a North Korean soldier wouldn't immediately appeal to me. And I will say that I almost gave it up at first--there are some crazy things that happen in the first few chapters, like some kidnappings, that are hard to read. But then I found myself completely wrapped up in the young man's story, as he progresses from being an orphan to being a soldier to being caught up in the ludicrous world of North Korean politics. I've read that Johnson did a lot of research for this book, and if it's even fifty percent accurate, that country is kind of messed up (from my capitalistic American viewpoint, anyway). I mean, this reads like a post-apocalyptic dystopia in some ways. Maybe that's one of the reasons I liked it so much? A/A-.

An e-galley was provided by the publisher.

Friday, January 20, 2012

2012 book 18

Edward Eager's Knight's Castle
Sometimes you just want to reread something fun, and Edward Eager almost always fits the bill. This has always been my 3rd-favorite of his (after Half Magic and Seven Day Magic) and it holds up really well. It once inspired me to try and read Ivanhoe, since it talks about that so much, but man was that book boring to little kid me. Maybe I'll give it another try now that I know Rebecca was inspired by a real (Jewish) person from Philly.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

2012 book 17

Shannon Hale's Midnight in Austenland
I enjoyed Austenland quite a bit, so was eager to read this sequel/companion, where another woman goes on the Austen-themed vacation and meets a whole new cast of Austen-esque characters (with one memorable returnee from the previous book)--and was pleased that this one had a mystery thrown into the plot (a la Northanger Abbey). Look, these books are nice light reading and Hale's writing is really enjoyable--she really highlights the humor of the situations--so even though they're somewhat predictable, they're very likable. I know I tend to rail against the Austen spin-off industry, but these books are very well-done. A-/B+.

An e-galley was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on January 31st.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

2012 book 16

Carola Dunn's Gone West: A Daisy Dalrymple Mystery
Maybe it's my love for Downton Abbey talking, but I really enjoyed this mystery, about a sharp young(ish?) woman helping solve a crime in 1920s England. This is actually the most recent in what seems to be a long-running series--I haven't read the others (though now want to), but didn't feel like I was missing anything crucial. So our lead Daisy is approached by an old school friend, currently working as a ghostwriter for a successful author who's fallen ill--only she suspects he's being poisoned, and wants Daisy to come take a look. Since this is a mystery, things quickly get more complicated, and I enjoyed every second of it, was surprised by most of it, and loved all the characters (and the gender/class issues they raised--ah, 1920s!). Solid, solid read. I'll definitely be checking out the rest of the series. A/A-.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

2012 book 15

Ayad Akhtar's American Dervish
OK guys, this book is REALLY REALLY good. It's the story of Hayat, a young American-Muslim boy, and what happens when his mother's best friend Mina and her young son leave Pakistan to live with his family (which is complicated enough as it is, with a father openly cheating on his mother, who is interestingly [and somewhat hilariously] philo-Semitic), and what happens when Mina falls for a Jewish man. And it's also about Hayat learning about his Muslim faith from Mina--and from others in their community--and how his views of religion impact all their lives. But, you know, awesome? Really really great family/cultural drama here, great characters--I was totally engrossed in this and got weepy more than a few times. I know it's only January but this will probably be on my best of 2012 list. A.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

2012 book 14

Sere Prince Halverson's The Underside of Joy
This is the kind of book that almost seems to be written with book groups in mind--a big central issue to discuss (in this case, a custody battle) and lots of characters to dissect. But like with many book group/women's fiction type books, a lot of the characters are thinly sketched (all the protagonist's friends and especially her gay brother-in-law fall into this camp) and it all feels just a touch overwrought. And I only sort of appreciated the author's efforts to bring attention to Italians interned in camps in America during WWII. Anyway. When our story begins, Ella is living an idyllic life with her husband and his two children, whose mother left them years ago. But when her husband dies in an accident and his ex-wife turns up wanting custody of her children, things hightail into crazytown. I'm not even going to get into how ridiculous the end is--it didn't work for me at all, but like I said, this should be a strong book group book. B.

An e-galley was provided by the publisher. This book comes out on Tuesday.

2012 book 13

Matthew Kirby's Icefall
It's back in the day when people worshipped Odin and the other Norse gods, and a king at war has sent his three children to a stronghold in the mountains for safety. Later, a group of his strongest warriors come to protect them, but bored warriors isolated in a mountain during winter can make for trouble. And it looks like a traitor is in their midst. Our protagonist, Solveig, the ignored middle child, has to try and keep everything together--while also training to be a skald, an awesome storyteller. Great characters here--Solveig is especially likable, as is the warrior chief--and I really couldn't wait to see what happened next. A/A-.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

2012 book 12

Kathryn Harrison's Enchantments
Novels based on actual history often sort of flounder as the author attempts to stay true to the facts while still making the story his or her own--and make it compelling. With the story here, which focuses on Rasputin's daughter, her friendship with poor little Alexei, the stories she tells him about their families, and her adult life working with large animals in a circus--well, it should be something really exciting to read! But Harrison leans too heavily on the literary side, and somehow such an insane story ends up reading really slowly. Masha, Rasputin's daughter, is a fairly fleshed-out character, as is the tsarevich, and their interactions were interesting, but this wasn't at all the engaging, immersive novel I was hoping for (such a book would have been a huge bestseller, I think). I mean, come on, Rasputin's daughter went on to work for circuses and it's just not interesting to read about here. The Wikipedia article is more absorbing. B/B-.
An e-galley was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on March 6.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

2012 book 11

Daniel O'Malley's The Rook
I'm not sure I can summarize this effectively, but here goes: a woman finds herself by a bunch of bodies wearing gloves, and there's a letter in her pocket explaining that her memories have been taken--she works as a high-up admin type for a super secret British organization that deals with supernatural stuff, and someone within the organization is a traitor! So of course she has to try and find out what the heck happened--as well as dealing with all the other crazy crazy crazy things her job entails. It makes for a delightfully weird and interesting story, with some highly entertaining characters. I REALLY liked this. Great world-building. A/A-.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

2012 book 10

John Green's The Fault in Our Stars
Sooooo the new John Green book is here, and it's about a Cancer Girl. Cancer Girls are a fictional trope wherein a teenage girl has cancer and is lamenting her soon-to-be-lost life and is sarcastic but secretly longs for love. Since it's Green, this character is actually likable and something of a departure from the cliche, even though she meets a cute boy who's lost a leg to cancer and this book is about their relationship. Things don't go the usual route and I loved reading their conversations, especially the ones about books (a great fictional book/author are part of a major subplot). They're unrealistically articulate, but hey, great reading. I did get a teensy bit teary more than once, but there was no straight-up sobbing, which I guess merits an A-? Side note for music fans, John Darnielle is thanked in the acknowledgements. Are all creative dudes named John secretly friends?

Monday, January 09, 2012

2012 book 9

Sarah Ockler's Bittersweet
Long-time readers of this blog know I'll read anything involving cupcakes, hence my excitement for this book, about a teenage ice-skating star who found out her dad was cheating on her mom right before a big competition, which she throws. Three years later she's baking cupcakes at her mom's diner. Then all sorts of teenage drama involving the hockey team and various current and ex best friends starts, making me want to scream "just make UP already" and/or "just make OUT already" at the very whiny protagonist. Who sucks at life, seriously. I was very impatient for all the stuff that was obviously going to happen to just happen already, and was relieved when it was over. Good descriptions of cupcakes though. Oh, and the cover of this book has a cookie on it for some reason, which is just silly. B-.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

2012 book 8

Naomi Benaron's Running the Rift
I always feel a sense of moral obligation to read books about genocide, even if I don't really want to read them. But this is getting stellar reviews and so I decided to just dive in (I actually typed "bite the bullet" there but that just felt inappropriate). Anyway, Benaron's novel involves a young boy in Rwanda who has dreams of running in the Olympics--at least until the Tutsis start to be targeted. We follow his experiences as things get worse and worse, even as he gets closer to attaining his dreams. I will say this was not as harrowing a read as I was expecting, since almost all of the violence happens off the page and is never discussed in great detail, though the scale of the genocide is pretty clear. And I'm not going to comment on white ladies writing books with African protagonists; Benaron's historicization and characterization are pretty solid and I do think the world needs more good books about terrible things that most people don't really know about. The resolution of the story itself is a little iffier for me. A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

2012 book 7

Stef Penney's The Invisible Ones
Penney (author of The Tenderness of Wolves) does one of my favorite genres--literary mysteries! This one involves a half-Gypsy private eye who is hired to find a Gypsy man's missing daughter--except that she disappeared seven years ago, as a newlywed, and he's sure her husband killed her. The story is also narrated by a fourteen-year-old boy, a cousin of the missing woman's husband, providing extra insight into their family (and culture). There's all sorts of intrigue and secrets and poisonings afoot, and Penney surprises at every turn. Really excellent--though I'd expect no less. A.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

2012 book 6

Myla Goldberg's Bee Season
So a friend of mine started a book group and I was like YAY because of course there are few things I love more than talking about books while sitting in a circle. I was slightly less excited that this is our first book--I read it when it first came out like ten years ago, and all I remembered was the brother's subplot--and that I didn't like it at all. But I figured, hey, ten years, maybe this time I'll be into it!

And then I spent a LOT of time bitching to anyone who would listen about how slow this book was, how flat the story and the writing felt (despite the use of present tense), how it's not really a story about a Jewish girl competing in spelling bees (ah, now you see why I read this in the first place) at all, but about how a couple of completely insane married people screw up their children through neglect and general looniness. And their daughter participates in spelling bees and is pressured by her father to get into Jewish mysticism, and their son joins the Hare Krishnas (interestingly, I looked up the movie version, and the guy who introduces the son to the cult is played by Kate Bosworth in the movie).

Actually, towards the end things get interesting for a little while, and then get super super weird. At least there are plenty of things to discuss. C.

I think the theme of the group is books that were turned into movies--so if you have suggestions of GOOD books that might fit the bill, please let me know, so I don't have to feel like book group is homework.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

2012 book 5

Kristin Cashore's Fire
The companion novel to Graceling, Fire, is a sort of prequel set in the same universe but in a faraway land, with an even more complicated mythology and powers and whatnot. I think I liked it more this time around, since I wasn't disappointed that it didn't feature the characters from the first book, and it's a fairly strong adventure/romance/fantasy story on its own (though the end borders on cheesy).

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

2012 book 4

Kristin Cashore's Graceling
This was one of the 99cent Kindle deals recently, and since I loved it, but didn't own it, I snapped it up. And since it's still a little bit slow in terms of new books this time of year, it seemed to merit a re-read (especially since I no longer remembered most of the details). It's definitely as good as I remembered and I am super excited that the third one is coming out in May.

Monday, January 02, 2012

2012 book 3

Jennifer E. Smith's The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight
On her way to her father's wedding in England, where he's marrying the woman for whom he left her mother (and her, by proxy), a teenager meets a cute boy on the airplane and they bond. It's a sweet book that occasionally veers over the edge into cheesiness (with a premise like that, how could it not?) but is, on the whole, well done. I fully expect this to be turned into a movie where people kiss in the rain a la all Nicholas Sparks movies. B/B+.

2012 book 2

Nina Hoffman's Past the Size of Dreaming
Weird but enjoyable book involving various people involved with magic, and a haunted house. Trying to explain the plot any further would take longer than I care to spend on that. :) It's a bit of a meandering story leading up to a fairly bizarre (but mostly satisfying) climax, but the characters are actually very interesting, and Hoffman gives them powers that I haven't seen much in fantasy fiction. B+.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

2012 book 1

Marie Phillips' Gods Behaving Badly
I wanted to start the new year's reading on a positive note, so reread this book, a cute story about the Greek pantheon stuck in London and wreaking havoc on a young couple's lives. I'm pretty sure this was one of my favorites of whatever year it came out, and it's still an entertaining read. Plus, soon to be a major motion picture starring Christopher Walken, Alicia Silverstone, and other assorted stars. B+.