Monday, April 30, 2012

2012 book 125

Joshua Henkin's World Without You
A year after their journalist son/brother/husband was killed in Iraq, a family reunites for his memorial and for the unveiling of his headstone. I love stories about mildly dysfunctional families reuniting for some reason or another, and this one didn't disappoint--there are all sorts of conflicts and secrets and disappointments to hash out. I had mildly mixed feelings about the portrayal of daughter Noelle, who randomly moved to Israel and fell into Orthodox Judaism (the family in theory is Jewish, but are exceptionally clueless even for Reform Jews--and I'm one, so I know) but her feelings of being adrift and apart from her sisters are pretty well drawn. There isn't a satisfying conclusion, but that's realistic too. B/B+.

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

Sunday, April 29, 2012

2012 book 124

Patrick Ness' Monsters of Men
I had seriously mixed feelings about this as a conclusion to the Chaos Walking series. For one thing, after reading all three books in a row, I was SUPER SICK of Todd and Viola yelling each other's names all the time. And also, Todd is a complete moron. I swear, every third chapter (ie, every Todd chapter), I said out loud at least once, "Todd, STOP BEING STUPID!!" And I didn't love the end . . . by which I mean the last third of the book. The villain was completely ridiculous and I just got tired of the endless warring after a while. This wasn't bad, I just found it really annoying for some reason. B/B-.

2012 book 123

Patrick Ness' The Ask and the Answer
Jezz, the second book in this trilogy is even more relentlessly grim than the first one! I mean, it's GOOD, just so hard to read. There's no hope at all and everything just gets worse and worse all the time. Of course I have to read the third one right now and see what happens. Now I'm kind of glad I waited to read these--I can't imagine having to wait months and months with all this in my head and no resolution. B+.

Friday, April 27, 2012

2012 book 122

Patrick Ness' The Knife of Never Letting Go
I've been meaning to read this series since the first one came out to rave reviews, but it just seemed so GRIM that I kept putting it off. But when all three books went on supersale for the Kindle a few weeks ago, I bought them, and when it was announced this week that Charlie Kauffman is on board to direct a movie version, it finally seemed like a good time to get started. But dang, it is GRIM. I mean, it's about young boy growing up in a world without women, where you can hear all the men's thoughts (and the thoughts of everything, actually, including crocodiles) and it's super super unpleasant. Second of all, there's a lovable talking dog you just know something terrible is going to happen to, and every scene you're just like "please let the dog be ok." Things start happening when the boy hears a spot of silence in a swamp and suddenly is on the run, without really knowing the reason why. It's a really really good book, and a quick read, but not at all an easy one. A-.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

2012 book 121

Natalie Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting
This is one of my all-time favorite books--I cry every time I read it--and I'm still really mad about that terrible movie they made starring Rory Gilmore. As an adult reading this book, I can't help but notice how evocative Babbitt's writing is--really impressive stuff for a children's book.

2012 book 120

Megan McCafferty's Thumped
The sequel to Bumped was less disappointing than its predecessor, or maybe my expectations were just lowered enough to find it less annoying. The writing is better this time, but it's still too short for any real character development--I'm just not really interested in either twin or their predicaments. And everything is super predictable. It's a quick read and more or less entertaining, but I really hope McCafferty goes back to writing contemporary stuff soon, b/c dystopias clearly aren't her strong point. B.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

2012 book 119

Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity
Guys, this book was SO GOOD. It's about a young Scottish woman in WWII who's been captured by the Gestapo as a spy, and is being forced to write her confession. But what she writes is primarily the story of two best friends, herself and an amazing lady pilot, and how they met in the war, and the events leading to her capture. And then Wein turns everything on its head (more so than I even expected, and I suspected stuff was up). I will say that I spent the last third of the book basically crying, but that is because it was SO GOOD. This is being marketed as YA for some reason but is a great read for all ages. A.

An e-galley was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on May 15.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

2012 book 118

Nell Freudenberger's The Newlyweds
Freudenberger's latest was apparently inspired by a Bangladeshi woman she met on a plane, on her way to marry an American. So yes, this is about a Bangladeshi woman who comes to America to marry a man she meets on some sort of mail-order-bride/internet-dating website. The usual culture shock is compounded by various family secrets--I love stories involving both of those things, so this totally worked for me. A few times the tension was so thick I was almost too nervous to keep reading and had to put the book down for a breather. I really enjoyed this, and think it'd be great for more literary-minded book groups (or literary-minded readers in general). A/A-.
An e-galley was provided by the publisher. This book will be released May 1.

Monday, April 23, 2012

2012 book 117

Louisa May Alcott's Rose in Bloom
I wouldn't have though it possible, but this was even more boring than its predecessor, and with even more annoying morals! Plus some extra-weird gender stuff--20-year-old Rose isn't allowed to read French novels; her somewhat naughty cousin's behavior is blamed entirely on his mother. As for Rose, she's so GOOD and PURE that she's completely boring. She doesn't have any kind of personality at all. And I found it kind of awful that everyone assumed she'd marry one of her first cousins and she doesn't have any other suitors. This book was SUPER ANNOYING. No wonder I never reread it as a kid! Rose is no Jo. She's not even an Amy or Meg!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

2012 book 116

Louisa May Alcott's Eight Cousins
I know I owned this (and the sequel) when I was a kid, but it wasn't one of the books I read over and over, and I didn't remember a thing about it. And now I know why! Alcott completely sacrifices plot for moral lessons on her pet topics--health, education, gender, whatever. Half the chapters are instructional and not entertaining at all. Even the hilarious ear-piercing chapter turns into a moral lesson little way down the line. I mean, there's still some great little stories and good characterization, but dang, take it down a notch, Alcott.

2012 book 115

Jennifer Nielsen's The False Prince
A very satisfying story about an orphan who unwillingly becomes part of a plot to impersonate a missing prince and take over a kingdom. I have to assume this is the start of a series, because it's ripe for a sequel, and I'd definitely read one. A/A-.

2012 book 114

Francesca Segal's The Innocents
It's pretty ballsy to rework a literary classic, let alone set your reworking of Age of Innocence in the insular London Jewish community. So I figured this had to be pretty great, or extremely terrible. I should say at this point that regarding the original novel, I'm in the minority in not seeing it as a tragic love story, but as a book about two complete jerkwads. Seriously. Archer and Countess Ellen Olenska suck. Team May! (Age of Innocence is still a great book.) Clearly I went into this prepared to be horrified, or at least annoyed. But Segal's writing is strong--occasionally heavy-handed, but she does a great job of evoking the nature of a Jewish community (and its many food-filled parties)--and her Ellie is slightly more sympathetic than the original. Her Adam is even more of a wishy-washy jerk than Archer was, though, and her Rachel is even more of a non-entity than May. I didn't think the GREAT LOVE between Adam and Ellie felt at all realistic or natural, which is a bigger problem (it happens more organically with Wharton). None of that is to say the book is bad--it's completely impossible to judge on its own merits, after all. But I'm never going to feel for a guy who's engaged to a woman who makes him happy, and then decides to cheat on her with her cousin, no matter how great the writing is. And it's just pretty solid here. B/B+.

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

Saturday, April 21, 2012

2012 book 113

Rosamund Lupton's Afterwards
Lupton--author of Sister--manages to largely avoid a sophomore slump with her second novel, about a woman and her daughter badly injured in a school fire. As their bodies lie in the hospital, their disembodied selves (I don't know, just go with it) invisibly follow their family members and attempt to figure out who set the fire (a sister-in-law who's a police officer helps with this quite a bit). The premise completely strains incredulity, but I liked the characters and the mystery/plot twists enough to get pretty into it. I was WAY less into the ending, which veers into almost Jodi Picoult territory (that's a very bad thing in my book, but should help this one be popular). B.

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

Friday, April 20, 2012

2012 book 112

Nalo Hopkinson's The Chaos
So things start out almost completely normal--our protagonist is a teenage girl dealing with strict parents, a dance competition, and boy and friend drama. There are a few hints that things are weird but nothing too insane--and then the Chaos comes. And everything is SO WEIRD and makes no sense and there is no resolution to anything! None of my questions were answered at all! I felt like I was missed a chapter that contained key information. Yeah, I was not too into this. Props for featuring Baba Yaga and having a bunch of minority characters--too bad none of the characters were very well developed. B/B-.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

2012 book 111

Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl
Flynn is one of my favorite writers--if you like dark dark dark stories and haven't read Sharp Objects or Dark Places yet, get on that--and I've been looking forward to this book for ages. Luckily it doesn't disappoint, because it's Flynn! Anyway, this is about one Nick, whose wife has gone missing after an apparent struggle. And the husband is always the primary suspect, right? I had about three theories about what had happened, and was pleasantly surprised to get some answers halfway through--but since it's Flynn, things just get more twisted from there. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, on the verge of freaking out for a great portion of it. I did call some of it, but Flynn laid the ground so nicely that I didn't even mind. Deliciously dark. A/A-.

An e-galley was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on June 5th.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

2012 book 110

Elizabeth Bear's Range of Ghosts
This fantasy book, set in a land that seems based on historical Mongolia, has gotten some great reviews. It focuses on a young man who's barely survived a great battle between the armies of his brother and his uncle over the throne, and a princess-turned-wizard going through some super boring rites of wizardry. The boy's story is pretty riveting; I was less into the woman's until they met up and things got more interesting. And then the end came, and I was not super into it, and of course it was all leading up to an inevitable sequel because no one writes stand-alone books anymore. I probably won't read the sequel b/c I honestly don't really care what happens to these characters and it seems like it'll all be war and annoying relationship stuff anyway. Though I did love the awesome horse. B-.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

2012 book 109

Carol Rifka Brunt's Tell The Wolves I'm Home
It's 1987, and a fourteen-year-old girl's beloved uncle has just died of AIDS--which was still a super weird and scary thing back then. Feeling bereft, she finds herself secretly befriending his heretofore unknown boyfriend, the only person who understands her loss. Interesting family dynamics at play here--I really liked the stuff with the girl, her older sister, and a portrait their uncle painted of them. The plotting and writing is occasionally a tiny touch overwrought (especially at the end) but I loved this and totally cried. I think this'll be a big one for summer reading and book groups--not to make it sound less literary, but I think there's a lot to discuss. A.

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

Monday, April 16, 2012

2012 book 108

Stephanie Burgis' Renegade Magic
I do love all these fantasy-historical combos--Victorian vampires, regency magic, etc. This sequel to Kat, Incorrigible is more of the same--very fluffy and entertaining, like YA magic story meets Jane Austen. The villains are way too villainous and there are a few too many stupid miscommunications, but I like the characters and the world-building pretty well. B/B+.

2012 book 107

Matthew Gallaway's The Metropolis Case
This book tells the story of four individuals who are all connected by their love of opera (and by other things that are REALLY EASY to figure out, and also GROSS at one point): two women singers in more-or-less present times, and two gay men, one in 1800s Europe and one in NYC right around 9/11. I was much more interested in the women's stories at first, and the men's were only occasionally compelling (I did get teary at one part involving a cat), but it all led up to an absolutely stupid and predictable ending. It's like Gallaway wanted to write his own version of something like Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale, but I don't think he succeeded at all. This book was super annoying. C.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

2012 book 106

Diana Wynne Jones' A Tale of Time City
Any book could have seemed not-great when compared to Dogsbody, but this one held up tolerably well, being another Diana Wynne Jones book. Here, a young girl on a train of children being evacuated from London in WWII is whisked away by a boy from a mysterious city in the far-future. But she's the wrong girl entirely! Now they have to try and save the city and get her home--without getting into trouble with their parents (or the authorities). I didn't love the final resolution of this one, but everything leading up to that was pretty exciting. B.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

2012 book 105

Diana Wynne Jones' Dogsbody
Neil Gaiman is absolutely correct in his introduction when he says that this is one of Jones' best books--which means it's an absolutely stellar book in every way (that pun was unintentional). It's the story of Sirius, the Dog Star, sentenced (for a crime he didn't commit) to live on Earth and find some mysterious object. And then he's born into a puppy and it's the story of one awesome dog--in the literal sense of the word awesome--and the girl who loves him. It made me cry twice. A.

2012 book 104

Ron Rash's The Cove
Rash's latest, after Serena (now filming, starring Jennifer Lawrence and . . . Bradley Cooper?), is also set in Western North Carolina, but a generation earlier. It's the midst of World War I, and a woman shunned by her superstitious town encounters a man on the run and convinced her war-wounded brother to let him stay and help on their farm. As more information emerges, it's obvious things are going to be complicated by the world outside. I had mixed feelings about the end--not what happened, but with the narrative style. It felt a bit abrupt. But it worked, I think. B/B+.

Friday, April 13, 2012

2012 book 103

Diana Wynne Jones' Fire and Hemlock
A bunch of Jones' books that have been out of print in America for ages have been reissues (with prefaces by people like Neil Gaiman), and I, for one, was super excited to have new books by her to read. This is kind of a weird one, but in a good way, referencing fairy tales I don't know, so it all seemed unfamiliar and exciting. 19-year-old Polly comes to realize that she has a second set of memories, and sets about trying to remember her childhood to find out what the heck happened, and how she came to forget a man who greatly influenced her, and how her whole world changed because of it. Plus she reads and talks about lots of excellent books. It's less convoluted if you read it yourself. A-/B+.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

2012 book 102

A.M. Dellamonica's Blue Magic
The sequel to Indigo Springs is even crazier than its predecessor, as our intrepid gang starts trying to remake the world (or something). There's like ten thousand things going on in this book, and so we don't get too deeply into anyone's characterization (a secondary character, Juanita, felt the most fleshed-out to me--the two protagonists' inner thoughts just aren't enough somehow--and their romance was really unbelievable to me). So I wasn't exceptionally invested in what was happening, but I was still /interested/ in what was happening. I will say that Dellamonica really doesn't fall into using any of the usual tropes, which maybe is why this is so hard to describe in a concrete way. B/B+.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

2012 book 101

Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go
My book group isn't discussing this till next week (and I can't wait to see what all the doctors have to say about it!) but I really wanted to read something excellent and knew this would fit the bill. This was my third time reading it (and 2nd time for a book discussion), but it's been several years and I only remembered the basic premise and that Ruth is a huge bitch (such a great takeaway!). I'd entirely forgotten that the writing was so great--though I'd expect no less from Ishiguro. And this came out seven years ago, it seems like he should have a new novel announced any time now. Crossing my fingers it's soon. A.

Monday, April 09, 2012

2012 book 100

Jacqueline Winspear's An Elegy for Eddie
The latest from Winspear is really a sub-par entry in the Maisie Dobbs series--Maisie spends way too much time being wishy-washy about her lovelife, which I couldn't care less about, and the mystery is overly convoluted as well as being boring. C-.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

2012 book 99

Robin LaFevers' Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book 1
Set in Brittany in the late 1400s, this book involves a young woman who is marked as the daughter of Death (a local god/saint) and whisked away to his convent to learn the arts of the assassin. But then she's assigned to pose as the mistress of a local noble and gets embroiled in the very crazy politics of the day (which seem to be historically accurate). And of course gets embroiled in FEELINGS for the noble. Really fascinating setting and premise here, but I was less enamored of the romance angle (then again, this is a YA book) and the occasionally over-the-top writing. It's the first of a trilogy, but it looks like each book will focus on a different girl (this protagonist has two assassin friends) and their inevitable reluctant romances. I probably will read them anyway, though, b/c the whole girl assassin thing is pretty cool. B+.

2012 book 98

Charlotte Rogan's The Lifeboat
A young woman is on trial after some yet-to-be-revealed events on a lifeboat after a luxury liner's sinking in 1914. Pretty interesting and compelling stuff--I think this might make for a good choice for book groups. The narrator is complicated and calculating, and that sort of thing is great for discussion. B+.

2012 book 97

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Rereading this one is still a little exciting, since I've read the other ones so many more times. I'm not that keen on the Dumbledore scene but still think this was an excellent end to the series.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

2012 book 96

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
I really hate that whole "the creature inside Harry" thing.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

2012 book 95

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
I think there are at least four entries on this blog that all say "traditionally this has been my least favorite HP book" (or some variation thereof--and search if you don't believe me!) but I liked it without reservation this time (minus the couple of plot holes)--maybe so many rereads have somehow made it work for me when it didn't the first couple of times? Who cares though, this book is worth any amount of shouty Harry for the introductions of Luna and Tonks!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

2012 book 94

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Rereading this one on my Kindle was interesting, b/c of course in the original book edition, Rowling erred when writing the scene with Voldemort's wand and had Harry's parents emerge in the wrong order--this version has the rewritten scene, which I hadn't read before. It doesn't really change the tenor of the story or anything, but it was fun to read something new in a story I've read so many times before.

I had planned to take a break from my HP reread b/c so many interesting-looking books have come out over the past couple of weeks, but who can stop reading this series halfway through? The rest of the books are all pretty long, though, so don't expect me to keep up with my previous book-a-day schedule. :)

Sunday, April 01, 2012

2012 book 93

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Sorry for the radio silence all weekend, I MAY have spent part of the weekend having a Cougartown marathon, and the rest of the weekend hanging out, eating crepes, and seeing Hunger Games again (still cried for most of it). But I did manage to finish another Harry Potter e-book, so yay!