Thursday, March 29, 2012

2012 book 92

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Man, do I love having these books on my Kindle! One thing that has always bugged me about this one--would Hermione really tear a page out of a library book? Come on, people.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

2012 book 91

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
The Harry Potter e-books came out this week, which means of course I have to reread them all on my Kindle! (That will make a nice change for the last few, which are unbearably heavy in hardback format.) The Kindle versions are great--the illustrations look nice and clear, and it's just so nice to be able to carry the whole series with me wherever I go.

Longtime readers of this blog know I ran out of things to say about this book ages ago, having reread it so many times, but it does hold up to multiple rereadings. I've been thinking more about Snape's portrayal this time around--such a fascinating character to dissect.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

2012 book 90

Maryrose Wood's The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place Book 3: The Unseen Guest
OK, this was another fun entry in the series, but I just wish I knew how many books there were going to be--this one raised a lot more mysteries without giving many more answers, and it's frustrating to wait another year till the next one knowing that one might not have answers either. But like I said, this series is really fun--I love Wood's narrative style in these, and there is some fairly amusing stuff involving an ostrich--so those frustrations are pretty minor. B+.

ETA: A thorough Googling revealed that there will be 6 books in the series . . . but I'm still frustrated about waiting for answers. :)

2012 book 89

Robin McKinley's Chalice
This is another McKinley that I'd completely missed, but found while looking for my beloved McKinley books on the Kindle store (seriously, where are they? Can't we at least have Beauty?). The premise is way too complicated to explain, but suffice it to say that a young woman is thrust into a position of spiritual/political power and must try and save her land. It's pretty affecting stuff in the end, but I would have liked to have seen more of the world-building/background to the action. B/B+.

Monday, March 26, 2012

2012 book 88

Jacqueline Winspear's A Lesson in Secrets
In this Maisie Dobbs book, our heroine is sent undercover to be a lecturer at a university and look for anti-British sentiment. I've said it before and I'm sure will say it again--authors can be really heavy-handed talking about politics when they're writing historical stuff set in the 1930s. Can Maisie really be that prescient, even if she is a super-intuitive genius detective? Not that any of that is really relevant to the story--that stuff is just hard to do subtly. This was another readable one. B/B+.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

2012 book 87

A.M. Dellamonica's Indigo Springs
When a woman's father leaves her a house, she moves in with two friends only to discover a bunch of magical blue goo in the chimney. And things pretty much go horribly wrong. I've seen this described as "suburban fantasy" as opposed to urban fantasy, since this is set in a small town, but it really doesn't follow the urban fantasy conventions either. I enjoyed this a lot--really fascinating take on magic. A sequel comes out in April and I'll definitely be reading it. A-.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

2012 book 86

Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day
I hadn't read this since college--I don't think I read it for class, but my old copy has a yellow "used" sticker on the spine that indicates I bought it at a university bookstore--and all I remembered was that it was about an old butler who secretly loved the housekeeper who worked with him for many years. Which is accurate enough, but leaves out a) the literary aspects, e.g. the unreliable narration, and b) Nazis! How could I forget the Nazis! It was a bit slow starting out, plus I couldn't help but imagining that Carson from Downton Abbey was the butler involved (this may have actually enhanced my reading experience, but was a little distracting), but eventually I settled into the story and remembered why I liked it and why it won so much acclaim. A.

2012 book 85

Deborah Harkness' Shadow of Night
I was pretty excited to read the sequel to Discovery of Witches, which was a very entertaining and only slightly silly book about a historian witch falling in love with a vampire.  I'd forgotten how Twilight-y the first one was in the interim (I mostly remembered the parts about libraries, apparently), and this one starts off in that vein as well. (Haha, vein. I didn't do that on purpose, even.) Anyway, the story starts with our mixed supernatural couple time-traveling to Elizabethan England for reasons that made sense in the first book, if I recall correctly (I might not). (That's not a spoiler, it happens on page 1.) The first third is kind of all over the place, but then things settle down nicely and the 1600s are pretty exciting as Diana and Matthew mingle with the famous names of the day (slight spoiler: my favorite historical personage from that era, Rabbi Judah Loew, makes a brief appearance with the golem!). Harkness did manage to surprise me with plot twists a couple of times, and even though I find Matthew mildly annoying, I really enjoy this series (especially Diana and her witchcraft and history nerdiness) and look forward to the third volume. B/B+.

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

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Comic Book Column

Hey folks, I know you must be all, "Alicia, you were reading a book a day, but it's been TWO days, what happened!" And what happened is:
a) The book I'm reading right now is pretty long, and
b) Other stuff is happening! Like Wednesday I had a crazy allergy attack and spent the evening in a benadryl coma instead of reading, and tomorrow I'll be seeing THE HUNGER GAMES MOVIE instead of reading.

Expect book bloggin' to recommence this weekend. In the meantime, I've been writing a column about comic books! It appears every Friday morning--there's a link down on the right-hand sidebar, but I figured now was an opportune time to officially announce it (which I have done repeatedly on Twitter and Facebook, but whatever).

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

2012 book 84

Jacqueline Winspear's The Mapping of Love and Death
One of the things I like best about the Maisie Dobbs series--besides the historical setting and the interesting protagonist--is how Winspear makes some part of the mystery easy to figure out, but withholds some information until the big reveal at the end. It's rare for an author to so blatantly keep secrets from the reader, and it does make me more excited to see how things will play out. Anyway. In this one, Maisie is hired to find out about the death of an American cartographer who volunteered for the British--and to find the woman with whom he shared a wartime romance. Plus there's all the other interesting stuff going on in Maisie's life (yet another reason I like this series). A-.

Monday, March 19, 2012

202 book 83

Tim Powers' Hide Me Among the Graves
I have to say, this book really would have been good if it was like a third shorter--instead, it's super repetitive and completely drags. It starts off interestingly enough, in a Victorian England plagued by ghosts and vampires (not the romantic kind of vampires, either), where the young poet Christina Rossetti is tangled up in something supernatural (I've always liked reading about her since that one Ellen Raskin book). And where a veterinarian is informed by a woman he knew seven years ago that they had a child, and she's tangled up in something supernatural as well. And these supernatural things are related and they must join forces! And every seven years they try and defeat some vampires and fail! It's a little ridiculous at a certain point, I don't know why the editor didn't pare things down at least a little. And I especially don't know why I bothered to finish this. C-.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

2012 book 82

Sara Gran's Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead
I've been meaning to read this pretty much since it came out, but just wasn't sure I was up for a mystery involving Hurrican Katrina and post-Katrina New Orleans, even though my friend Andy kept telling me to read it. Anyway, I'm glad I finally did, because it was excellent. Claire DeWitt is easily the most unconventional detective I've ever read about--she has a weird mystical type of detection going on, which was really interesting to read about, and was definitely not predictable. Gran does a great job evoking post-Katrina New Orleans, which means this book is often dark and depressing, but doesn't make it any less great. A/A-.

2012 book 81

Paula Danziger's Remember me to Harold Square and Thames Doesn't Rhyme with James
I'm counting these as one book b/c they're both only like 130-something pages and, frankly, aren't very taxing to read. Harold Square was one of my FAVORITES when I was a kid--I so wanted to go to all those museums in New York--but it really is striking how different YA books were in the 80s. And somehow I never knew its sequel existed until this FYA article--and man, I think even if I had read it as a kid, I wouldn't have liked it as much as the original, but reading it for the first time as an adult . . . it was unimpressive, I guess. These were good reading for a gross grey day, but now I want to read something substantial.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

2012 book 80

Sherwood Smith's Crown Duel
Serviceable (in a good way!) fantasy about a young royal girl embroiled in war, and then in court politics. The protagonist is pretty interesting, and Smith keeps the story full of plenty of twists. The romance angle is utterly predictable, but I didn't mind that too much. The Kindle edition has a bunch of short stories from the love interest's perspective that are completely unnecessary and that I'd generally advise skipping unless you REALLY want to know what he was thinking as events you've already read are rehashed. B/B+.

2012 book 79

Sarah Rees Brennan's Unspoken
When I started this book, I was enjoying it so much that I had to keep putting in down for fear it would stop being awesome (it mostly didn't). It's about a girl, Kami, an intrepid journalist who's heard a boy's voice in her head for as long as she can remember, and what happens when the mysterious family that basically owns the town comes back--and she finds out that the boy is real, and the family has some secrets that need to be uncovered. Also there are some increasingly grotesque crimes that need to be solved. It's kind of a lot for a girl to handle, but luckily she has some pretty great friends to help (Angela and Holly 4-eva). I really liked the dialogue a lot, especially Kami's, though it does feel a bit artificial--but it was just snarky enough to work. Mysteries were revealed in a more-or-less timely manner, and the end COMPLETELY BROKE MY HEART. You moron teenagers! Stop being morons! ARG. When does the sequel come out? A-.

An e-galley was provided by the publisher. This book will be out in September.

Friday, March 16, 2012

2012 book 78

Cat Hellisen's When the Sea is Rising Red
This story--about a rich young girl in a magical world whose best friend kills herself to avoid an arranged marriage, and so our main character fakes her own suicides to avoid her own arranged marriage, and then must make her way with all the poor unmagical people--starts off really strongly. I was engaged in the characters' actions and didn't even mind the romantic elements (which were more realistic than most YA fantasy books). But the end felt completely underdeveloped, and the ultimate conclusion was predictable. I ended up not liking it that much. B/B-.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

2012 book 77

Tiffany Baker's The Gilly Salt Sisters
I liked Baker's first book pretty well,  but this one--about a pair of sisters who grew up in a salt marsh, and various small-town dramas and bitter feelings between them--wasn't nearly as good. The writing was often overly dramatic, secrets took too long to be officially revealed (and thus were very anticlimactic), and the end felt like an easy out for the writer and was troubling to the reader (well, to me, anyway). It's almost like Baker couldn't decide whether to write a quirky literary book and a heartwarming women's fiction book, and then meshed them together unsuccessfully. B-.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

2012 book 76

Robin McKinley's Spindle's End
I went through a HUGE McKinley phase in middle school after reading Beauty for class, but this was published long after she was totally off my radar. Which is a shame, b/c I could have read this retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story--which bears little resemblance to the original and is full of really interesting women characters, particularly fairy Katriona, and animal characters--years ago! I had mixed feelings about the somewhat anti-climactic (and somewhat too easy) ending, but enjoyed the characters so much that I loved this book anyway. A-.

Monday, March 12, 2012

2012 book 75

Jean Webster's Dear Enemy
I had no idea there was a sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs until I read Webster's Wikipedia page (linked a couple entries down)--in this one, Jerusha convinces her best friend from college to run the orphanage where she grew up (mentioned frequently in the first book). The romantic element is predictable, but the look at 1910s childcare and society in general is completely fascinating.

2012 book 74

A.S. King's The Dust of 100 Dogs
King's first YA novel (I've read her more recent two) was weirdly high-concept--a lady pirate in the 1600s is cursed to live as 100 dogs, before she's finally reincarnated into a human girl. Now that human girl is determined to reclaim her buried treasure (which is slightly less interesting than the flashbacks to her pirate life). This book was kind of hard to read b/c a rich villainous dude is constantly beating his dog, and cruelty to animals automatically knocks a book down, grade-wise. So, B/B-.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

2012 book 73

Jean Webster's Daddy-Long-Legs
I found my old paperback copy of this tonight and had to reread it--it's just such a sweet and funny story (plus, without too much effort you could argue that it's an early feminist work--check out Webster's Wikipedia page).

2012 book 72

Meg Wolitzer's The Position
If it wasn't for my book group, I'd never have read this book--I remember reading good reviews when it came out, but a book about a married couple in the 70s writing a how-to sex manual featuring illustrations of themselves, and the effect said book had on their four children just didn't appeal to me. But actually it was a really good book, with Wolitzer visiting each family member in turn, showing how the family changed in the wake of the book and the years after its publication. Eldest daughter Holly was something of a cipher, but the two sons were particularly interesting, and Wolitzer does a great job evoking the 70s. A-.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

2012 book 71

Nathacha Appanah's The Last Brother
I've had a sample of this on my Kindle since it came out months and months ago, but other things seemed more pressing. But since it was entered into the Tournament of Books, I figured I should finally read it. And I get why it got so many great reviews, I guess, but a) it's TOTALLY a downer, about an elderly man reminiscing about when he was a bereaved and abused boy who befriended a Jewish boy prisoner during WWII on Mauritania, and b) it's too short to really let too much develop, story- and character-wise. This book was GOOD, but also very DEPRESSING. I predict that 1Q84 is gonna crush it. B/B+.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

2012 book 70

Libba Bray's Going Bovine
I've avoided reading this for years, b/c a book about a kid dying of mad cow disease and hallucinating a grand adventure just sounded kind of depressing. And I'll say that it's not actually depressing, and I see why it won lots of acclaim and awards, but I just wasn't into it. And I think the slightly alternate reality world worked better in Beauty Queens (which was about a reality tv show) as opposed to this story about a regular kid. I just wasn't feeling this, but it wasn't bad or anything. B.

2012 book 69

Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles
The book world has been buzzing about this for months and months, and I was eager to read it, but didn't think a reworking of the Iliad could really be that awesome. But man, was I wrong, b/c this book is STELLAR. Told from the point of view of Patroclus, known as the companion of Achilles, this was a surprisingly moving epic and love story. Sure, there's the Trojan war, but it's not the focus here--the characters, and their rich lives, and their struggles against fate, are. I can't really explain how much I love this, but I did, and it made me cry. Solid A.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

2012 book 68

Seanan McGuire's Discount Armageddon
McGuire--author of the Rosemary and Rue series and the Feed series (under the name Mira Grant), both of which I've enjoyed (though the zombie one gave me nightmares)--apparently decided that writing two series wasn't enough, and threw a third into the mix. This one is an urban fantasy about a young woman from a family of monster-hunters-cum-supernatural-beastie-peacekeepers who is unfortunately also a ballroom dance enthusiast (waaaaaay too much of the first half of the book is spent mentioning her dancing. It's "I like this kind of fighting b/c it's like dance!" "Dancing makes my legs strong!" "Dancers are flexible!" I swear the word "dance" and its derivatives appear like 5000 times in this book. Plus she keeps talking about wanting to make Dancing Regionals, and the talk about Regionals just made me think about that episode of Community about the Glee Club and I couldn't help smirking).

ANYWAY. The romance aspect feels kind of phoned-in at first but eventually gets more organic, I liked what McGuire did with the various supernatural creatures (especially the dragon princess concept), and I hope to see more of the protagonist's family in later volumes, b/c there is a lot of promising stuff there.  This would have gotten an A/A- except the dance stuff was so egregiously annoying that it's been downgraded to a B. OK, a B/B+. The second half really was pretty strong.

Monday, March 05, 2012

2012 book 67

Jacqueline Winspear's Among the Mad
In this Maisie Dobbs mystery, the psychologist-investigator teams up with Scotland Yard to combat a threat against London. Winspear is increasingly heavy-handed with her "war is bad" message (which I obviously agree with, she just really hammers it home in this one) and things do get slightly grisly, but it was a pretty good read. B.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

2012 book 66

Jacqueline Winspear's An Incomplete Revenge
The next Maisie Dobbs novel after whichever ones I've already read involves petty crimes in a small town where a band of gypsies are hanging out--and a bunch of wartime secrets. The reader is able to pick things up pretty quickly, but Maisie does too so it's not too frustrating when things are revealed a little later. I will say that there are some grim goings-on in this one, but the mystery has enough pieces that it's not too terrible to read. And I like how clever Maisie is. B+.

2012 book 65

Maria V. Snyder's Touch of Power
I read and mostly enjoyed Snyder's Study trilogy, but wasn't too interested in the last couple of series she put out--but I may have to rectify that, b/c with this one she has stepped up her game like crazy (plus she's a fellow Penn Stater and I should support her). It's a great start to an epic fantasy, where lots of people have died from a plague and blamed the healers for it, and now one of the last healers is living life on the run so she's not executed like her colleagues. Except that she's just been sort of kidnapped to heal a prince she hates, and now finds herself caught up in the crazy politics (and I do mean crazy) of this fascinating world. And the best part is that the romance is slow-burning and thus not a focus at all. I liked this a lot. A/A-.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

2012 book 64

Edward Lazellari's Awakenings
So there are two guys in New York (one a respectable cop with a wife and kid, one a douche who takes pictures for porn magazines) who lost their memories thirteen years ago . . . and it turns out that's b/c they're from an alternate universe and were part of a team trying to escape with an important baby, but things went wrong. Now good guys (an awesome centaur!) and bad guys from that universe have come to NY to try and track that baby down for important political reasons . . . and there are like eight thousand brutal fight scenes. Seriously, like every chapter has a crazy fight. I will say those aren't nearly as bad as what the important baby, now a teenager with an abusive stepfather, is going through. And of course this is the first book in a series so it has all sorts of cliffhangers. I'll probably read the sequel. B/B+.

2012 book 63

Catherine Chung's Forgotten Country
The description of this book, copied and pasted from Amazon, reads: "On the night Janie waits for her sister, Hannah, to be born, her grandmother tells her a story: Since the Japanese occupation of Korea, their family has lost a daughter in every generation, so Janie is charged with keeping Hannah safe. As time passes, Janie hears more stories, while facts remain unspoken. Her father tells tales about numbers, and in his stories everything works out. In her mother's stories, deer explode in fields, frogs bury their loved ones in the ocean, and girls jump from cliffs and fall like flowers into the sea. Within all these stories are warnings. Years later, when Hannah inexplicably cuts all ties and disappears, Janie embarks on a mission to find her sister and finally uncover the truth beneath her family's silence. To do so, she must confront their history, the reason for her parents' sudden move to America twenty years earlier, and ultimately her conflicted feelings toward her sister and her own role in the betrayal behind their estrangement."

Which sounds great, right? But it seemed to me that it wasn't about that at all.  The description makes it sound almost mythical, but it's just a story about a mildly dysfunctional family and what happens when the father is diagnosed with cancer. The Korean immigrant stuff was interesting, but Chung didn't do too much with that, and one big reveal just feels cheap and sad. Everything feels . . . unresolved. Maybe it was all the hype this book was gotten or my own expectations, but either way, I was sort of disappointed. Don't get me wrong, this is a strong enough story (though, like I said, nothing feels resolved), just not what I wanted to read. B.

Friday, March 02, 2012

2012 book 62

Gail Carriger's Timeless
The fifth--and apparently final--Parasol Protectorate book finds Alexia and her entourage on a voyage to Egypt to meet an ancient vampire queen and solve some old family mysteries (I might need to reread the end, b/c I had some questions on that latter point). Things wrap up pretty well, and I'm looking forward to the spin-off series that's set to start in 2013. B+.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

2012 book 61

Lauren Oliver's Pandemonium
It's rare for the second book in a YA trilogy to surpass the first, but I have to say, this one kicked Delirium's butt. I mean, I liked that book a whole lot, but Oliver really surpassed herself here. I can't really say anything about the plot without giving away major spoilers for the first book, but this one packs in a lot more adventure and romance, and Lena is a lot more interesting. I will say that some of the plot twists (especially the one at the end) were completely obvious, but it's a testament to Oliver's writing that I didn't mind at all, b/c I was so caught up in the action. A.