Tuesday, February 28, 2012

2012 book 60

Lisa Lutz's Trail of the Spellmans
Well, this was a Spellmans book, so I loved it, but I loved it slightly less than the previous ones--the usual low-key mysteries and their wrap-ups were entertaining, and I liked all the business stuff, but I'm kind of disappointed about what Lutz is doing with Izzy's personal life in this one (it makes sense in context, it just bums me out). Yes, maybe I am overly wrapped up in these characters! I will say that Demetrius is an excellent addition to the cast, and as usual I loved Lutz's narrative voice (though fewer footnotes next time would be appreciated). I guess there was no way this could top book 4 for me, and I can't believe I have to wait like two years to find out what happens next. A-.

Monday, February 27, 2012

2012 book 59

Meg Howrey's The Cranes Dance
Howrey--author of Blind Sight, which I loved--is apparently a former ballet dancer, which means she brings more than a little credibility to the story of Kate Crane, a soloist in the New York Ballet (or whatever it is), who has recently called her parents to rescue her more talented and very troubled younger sister, also a dancer in the ballet, who was apparently having a breakdown. And Kate isn't taking all of that very well, not to mention she's injured her neck during a performance. It's to Howrey's credit that this is a completely riveting story, even to someone who has absolutely no interest in ballet (me) (though I do like stories about sisters, and this is a doozy in that regard). Great characters and pacing--I seriously can't recommend this enough. A.

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

Sunday, February 26, 2012

2012 book 58

Jessica Spotswood's Born Wicked: The Cahill Witch Chronicles
Set in an alternate version of America where witches once reigned but now everything is run by a religious oligarchy called the Brothers and witches are punished severely, the story here focuses on Cate, the oldest of three sisters who are all witches. Cate just wants to protect them per their mother's dying wishes, but the political situation might interfere. This is YA so there is a romance, but it works really well in the context of the story, and doesn't take too much of the focus away from the fascinating world-building and characters. Parts of the plot are easy to see coming, but the story is interesting on the whole, the wrap-up is pretty intense, and I look forward to reading the inevitable sequel(s). A-/B+.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

2012 book 57

Lauren Fox's Friends Like Us
Pretty great novel about a twenty-something woman, and what happens when she reconnects with her (male) high school best friend--and he starts dating her roommate/new best friend. The reader knows from the beginning that things won't end well, and occasionally I got impatient waiting for the inevitable trainwreck, but I did really relate to these characters and felt for them. I was going to give this a B+, but went back and reread the prologue when I was finished and that somehow upped it to an A-.

2012 book 56

Megan Crewe's The Way We Fall
This reminded me a little bit of Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It, in that a teenage girl is chronicling a semi-apocalyptic event (in this case she's technically writing a letter to her estranged best friend, but it basically is a diary--though the verisimilitude here leaves a bit to be desired--I mean, would a teenager faithfully recount dialogue in a grammatically correct fashion? That's a minor point though). Anyway, the event here is a deadly virus striking down the denizens of an isolated Canadian island; soon they're cut off from the mainland and left to their own devices. For all the bad things that happen, this is a fairly tame book, and I thought the very end was a bit silly (and it really left me wanting more). The emotional depths were not plumbed--this is more akin to the less-serious YA I grew up reading. I mean, I liked it well enough, it just could have been a lot more harrowing. B.

Friday, February 24, 2012

2012 book 55

Shannon Hale's The Book of a Thousand Days
Hale has written a bunch of other fairy-tale themed books that I've enjoyed, so I was glad to read her take on the lesser-known Maid Maleen story, where a maid and her lady are bricked into a tower for seven years when the lady refuses her father's choice of who to marry. Even without knowing the original story, this is somewhat predictable, but Hale's writing keeps things going, and there's some great stuff with animals. B/B+.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

2012 book 54

Leah Stewart's Husband and Wife
This has been on my to-read list for a while, since I enjoyed Stewart's first two novels a lot, but I just wasn't that interested in the subject matter--a man confesses to his wife that he cheated on her. But I finally read it, and more or less enjoyed it--Stewart's writing is good, but I couldn't relate to the main character, a poet-turned-Duke-administrator (hilariously, the few bits about her job I totally got) with two small children, married to a jerk novelist. In the end, I didn't really care much about what would happen to their marriage. No fault of the book, it just wasn't my kind of thing at all. B.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

2012 book 53

Edward Eager's Half Magic
I've started and stopped reading a couple of books over the last couple of days, and probably could have gone on like that for a while, so I reread this awesome classic children's book as a palate-cleanser. Can't go wrong with magic charms and the 1920s (I think? They go see a silent movie and cars are a novelty).

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

2012 book 52

John Irving's A Widow for One Year
With Irving's new novel coming out later this year, I've had a few conversations about his other books, especially about this one, which is definitely one of my favorites. I'm always sad more people don't feel the same way, but I really do find this much more appealing than most of his other works. Maybe it's the rare woman protagonist, maybe it's the way Irving weaves about eight different books into one. It does have a few of the Irving Themes--infidelity, dead child, Exeter, writers--but really takes a much different approach than his earlier works, I think. It's compelling stuff--I stayed up way too late to finish a book whose ending I already knew.

And I still can't believe they made the first chunk of this book (about a marriage dissolving in grief and infidelity) into a movie starring Kim Basinger, Jeff Bridges, and what must have been a very tiny Elle Fanning. Anyway, I hadn't read this in years and was pleased that it still held up, especially since I couldn't get into his most recent one at all. But it looks like they're releasing more of his backlist for the Kindle, so I imagine I'll be revisiting more of his stuff soon (I reread and reread his books in high school and college but haven't really read them since).

Sunday, February 19, 2012

2012 book 51

Lisa Lutz's The Spellmans Strike Again
I can see why so many people (me included) thought this was the last book in the series--it ends on such a great note--but I'm thrilled that there will be at least three more. No other mystery series floats my boat as much as this one.

2012 book 50

Lisa Lutz's Revenge of the Spellmans
The third Spellmans book really, really holds up on multiple re-readings, I have to say. Interesting low-stakes mystery and more hilarious family interactions. 9 days till the new one comes out, and I'm off to reread the fourth right now.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

2012 book 49

Lisa Lutz's Curse of the Spellmans
I've said a few times that I find the mystery in the 2nd Spellmans book to be the weakest, but actually, it's a pretty solid story--it's one that just is a bit frustrating to reread, knowing the outcome. I think the humor balances that out--and this book is what made me want to watch Doctor Who. :)

2012 book 48

Lisa Lutz's The Spellman Files
This is at least my fifth time reading this book, but a) The new one in the series comes out in ten days! and b) It never stops being awesome. I really wish I could find another mystery series with such a hilarious bunch of characters and non-stop pop culture references, but Lutz is really the only one who does it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

2012 book 47

Nina LaCour's The Disenchantments
I loooooved LaCour's first book and so was super-excited about her second YA novel, which was getting a lot of pre-publication raves--and it totally lived up to my expectations.* LaCour does these heartbreaking stories so well--though this one isn't nearly as heartbreaking in a serious way as her first one was, it's heartbreaking in a more typical teenage way. It's about a boy who's coming on a small tour with his best friend and her terrible girl band after their high school graduation, and of course he's secretly completely in love with her. And they're planning on spending a year traveling through Europe together, but, you know. It's also a great road trip book. It just feels so authentic! All the kids were great characters (best friend Bev is perhaps overly mysterious, but that mostly works in context) and I loved all their conversations about music, and LaCour makes all the people they encounter feel real too. I really loved this. A.

*I did spend wayyyyy too long trying to figure out when this was set based on the music they listened to--the main character and his friend go to a Sleater-Kinney show at some point in the past, but Sleater-Kinney haven't played together in like 6 years, and they also listen to Bon Iver on their road trip, and that first album came out in 2008, so I guess a few years ago? Not that it's at all relevant to the plot or anything else, it just was bugging me.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

2012 book 46

Deborah Henry's The Whipping Club
God, this book was just DRAMA heaped on DRAMA. I have no idea what the point of it was, except to show how much the 1950s SUCKED. It's about a young woman in Ireland in 1957 who gets knocked up by her Jewish boyfriend, and her priest uncle convinces her (b/c she is a moron) to give the baby away, even though she and the boyfriend are planning on getting married. And then they do get married and have another baby, but this TERRIBLE SECRET is driving a wedge between them. And then everyone does everything wrong that they possibly can do wrong, and everything gets WORSE and WORSE till a weird and unresolved ending and it is all just unbearably annoying. And the writing keeps flashing back in this weird way, and quickly switching POVs, and you're just like, wait, is this now, or ten years ago, and who is thinking what? ARGH. This book was really awful and I have no idea why I even finished it. F.

An e-galley was provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

2012 book 45

Gail Carriger's Heartless
Haha, this series is the best. This one involves our heavily pregnant heroine trying to foil a plot against the Queen. But, you know, with vampires and werewolves and ghosts involved. Carringer has done a really excellent job of fleshing this world out from book-to-book and still writing insanely entertaining stories. A/A-.

2012 book 44

Gail Carriger's Blameless
As Arianne noted in a comment for one of the earlier books in this series, the world-building here is really interesting--not the usual vampire and werewolf stuff. I love how action-packed these are, and how they maintain a sense of humor throughout. But enough with the dumb steampunk devices! I am so not into fake old-fashioned science. A-.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

2012 book 43

Gail Carriger's Changeless
Man, this series is so right up my alley. In this second volume, there's all sorts of crazy werewolf politics going on, plus something is taking away the supernatural beings' powers--not to mention poisonings and other murder attempts. But who (or what) is behind it all? I love the characters here--the central romance is just great--though one major plot point will be very obvious to a reader and annoyingly hard to figure out for the protagonist. I did wish there was less steampunk in this one--I really didn't need the pages of descriptions of dirigibles and ancient fax machines. Still, great fun. A-.

Monday, February 13, 2012

2012 book 42

Gail Carriger's Soulless
I've meant to read this series for ages--does anything sound more appealing than a Victorian-era fantasy series involving vampires, werewolves, and a woman with the ability to negate their powers with a touch? Or is that just me? Well, if that didn't convince you, let me assure you that the writing is full of sly humor, the inevitable romance is actually well-done (and somewhat swoon-worthy), and the whole thing is entirely entertaining. A/A-.

2012 book 41

L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables
Sometimes you just have to reread a book b/c it's awesome. I can't tell you how many times I've read this, and I laugh and cry and am delighted anew every single time.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

2012 book 40

Julie Schumacher's The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls
Fairly cute book about a teenager whose mother organizes a summer mother-daughter book club full of disparate personality types (though you just know by the end they'll all be friends, b/c it's that kind of book). I did like that the story was told through the protagonist's AP English essay. The end annoyed and surprised me in equal measure, and I really wished there had been some satisfying answers to the several large lingering plot points. But like I said, it was cute. B.

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

Saturday, February 11, 2012

2012 book 39

Diana Wynne Jones' Power of Three
Another fun fantasy from Diana Wynne Jones, this story involves the middle child of two royal parents, whose people are constantly in danger from nearby Dorig and Giants, and whose siblings both have special gifts. Jones takes this in a great direction, with her usual sense of humor. A/A-.

Friday, February 10, 2012

2012 book 38

Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child
A childless middle-aged couple has moved to Alaska in the 1920s to try and start a new life together, but their marriage and their farm are both struggling--until they start to see a little girl in the woods outside their cabin. Because this is based on a Russian folktale (where a childless couple builds a snow-girl who comes to life, and they love her, and no matter how the story goes, she ends up melting), I thought I knew how things would proceed, but I must admit that Ivey took the story in some unexpected (and some inevitable) directions. Really strong characters here, and the descriptions of Alaska, the woods, and the wildlife are outstanding. The book is well worth the praise it's been receiving, and almost has a timeless feel (perfect for a reworking of a folktale). A.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

2012 book 37

Natasha Solomons' The House at Tyneford
I saw this book recently on a list of "What to read if you like Downton Abbey" and since I already had a sample on my Kindle (you'll see in a second why I'd want to read it), I decided to give it a try. And, interestingly, it actually is more of a book to read if you were sorely disappointed in the Upstairs, Downstairs update that aired last year*, but were intrigued by the plot point about the upper-class Jewish refugee who became a maid. Because this book is about an Austrian Jewish girl in 1938, the daughter of an opera singer and a novelist, who's sent to England to be a maid (b/c her parents clearly have some foresight). While she desperately waits to hear news that they've gotten their American visas and are sending for her, she has to learn to be a maid--and to deal with other complications that soon arise. Most of the plot points are easy to see coming, and some of the characters aren't as fleshed out as I'd like (though the protagonist is stellar), but this was a very, very enjoyable read--and yes, I'd recommend it to fellow Downton Abbey fans. A-.

*I was clearly one of these people--they tried to cram way too much story into three hours, and since it aired so soon after season one of Downton Abbey, it seemed extra-lame by comparison.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

2012 book 36

Melina Marchetta's Froi of the Exiles
Marchetta is a reliably awesome author, and the sequel to the much-lauded Finnikin of the Rock is no exception. The action this time focuses on a secondary character from the first book, an orphaned thief turned badass warrior who's sent to a neighboring kingdom to assassinate its king--and deal with the king's mad daughter. There are also scenes featuring the main characters from Finnikin interspersed throughout. Lots of politics, secrets, plots, and adventures ensue, all leading to an INSANE cliffhanger ending--yup, Marchetta busted out a YA fantasy trilogy, it seems. All I have to say is that the next book had better come out soon, b/c I am dying to know what'll happen next. A/A-.

An e-galley was provided by the publisher. This book comes out in March.

2012 book 35

Melina Marchetta's Finnikin of the Rock
I had to reread this so I could read the sequel and really get it! I'd forgotten what a great story this was, and how it was kind of a departure for Marchetta, whose other books are all contemporary YA, whereas this is a straight-up fantasy epic--though still full of the strong characterization and sly humor that marks her other books. And I'd also forgotten how awesome the women in this book are--not just the mysterious Evanjelin, who drives the plot (along with the titular protagonist), but all of the small women characters too. Really strong stuff and I am starting the sequel right now!

Monday, February 06, 2012

2012 book 34

Daisy Whitney's The Rivals
The sequel to The Mockingbirds (which I liked a whole lot) unfortunately spends way too much time floundering around in an overly silly plot involving a cheating ring. Things get really awesome and interesting right at the end . . . and then end. Very disappointing follow-up. B-. Also, I looked at the author's site to see if there's a third book planned (I'd read that one) and it weirdly looks like the site of someone who spam follows you on Twitter--all marketing and whatnot. Kind of off-putting.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

2012 book 33

Jacqueline Winspear's Messenger of Truth
The next Maisie Dobbs book after the one I read already (I think this is the 4th in the series) finds Maisie investigating a possible murder in the art world. It's interesting to me how sly Winspear is with her narration--obviously we know what's coming after this time period (1930s), but she drops in references to European Jews selling their art (never mentioning the word "Jews," weirdly) and to that Fascist jerk Oswald Mosley (I know a lot about that guy b/c he was married to one of the Mitford sisters). None of that is relevant to the plot, but I found it noteworthy. As for the story itself, it's a bit slow in the middle but still worthwhile. B.

2012 book 32

Ramona Ausubel's No One is Here Except All of Us
It's 1939, and an isolated Jewish town in Romania decides to remake the world to try and fend off the war.  And the rest of the book proceeds like that, feeling entirely unreal and almost like you're underwater. I didn't really understand protagonist Lena's journey, maybe because she just seems to float through life and I really wanted her to be more proactive. And one part of the end really pissed me off. Nothing in this story is straightforward, really, but if the Holocaust doesn't lend itself to weird fairy tale-like stories, what does?

Look, I have no idea what I thought about this book. It was a little too . . . literary-cum-atmospheric for me. B.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

2012 book 31

Paula McLain's The Paris Wife
Our book group decided this book--about Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson, and their years in Paris--should be its second selection, and I really wonder how discussion is going to go. I mean, it's a perfectly fine book and the mentions of various literary expats is interesting, but mostly it's just the story of a kind of depressing marriage. I mean, what are we going to say:

"I felt pretty bad for Hadley. "Yeah." "Hemingway was kind of a jerk, huh?" "Yeah." "I wished she would have left him earlier and not been such a sap." "Yeah."

I enjoyed this book but am more excited about the madeleines I'm making for discussion than I am about discussing it. B/B+.

Friday, February 03, 2012

2012 book 30

Diana Wynne Jones' The Crown of Dalemark
The final book in the Dalemark Quartet brings together characters from the three previous books to great effect, as well as introducing a new character--a girl from 200 years in the future who gets sent back in time.  This was a great conclusion to the series and the end made me smile. A/A-.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

2012 book 29

Diana Wynne Jones' The Spellcoats
The third book in the Dalemark Quartet takes place in the world's ancient times and centers on a very interesting family. Plus the whole story is ostensibly woven onto coats! I liked this one much better than the previous two. A/A-.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

2012 book 28

Diana Wynne Jones' Drowned Ammet
The second book in the Dalemark Quartet has completely different characters than the first one (though it does refer to those events) and is more-or-less as satisfying; one main character, a young revolutionary, takes a while to become interesting, but his counterpart, a princess-type, is pretty great. I especially liked the magical elements here. It ends a bit abruptly, but that made me more eager to read the next one. B.