Thursday, May 31, 2012

2012 book 150

Chris Bohjalian's The Sandcastle Girls
Don't be fooled by the title--this is not a fluffy book where ladies drink cocktails and laugh and have romantic drama. It's about a fortysomething novelist writing the story of her grandparents--a Bostonian who accompanies her father on an aid trip to Aleppo in 1915, during the Armenian genocide, and the Armenian man she falls in love with. This back and forth between the past and the present makes it easier for Bohjalian to explain the historical context of a horrible event that most people don't know much about, and makes it not at all like a history lesson. The story of the protagonist-author's research, the story of the grandparents, and the stories of the other characters who come into play are all moving (and in some cases, tear-jerking). This is a great summer read for those who like meatier books--though it is about the genocide, it's much more about a few of the people involved, and frankly the scenes dealing with WWI are much more graphic, so don't be put off by the topic. I really hope this will be a hit--I loved it. A.

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

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

2012 book 149

N.K. Jemisin's The Killing Moon
I really liked Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy and was eager to read the start of her new series (which is just this and a sequel that comes out in like a week), apparently inspired by Egyptian mythology. And the world-building here is just as strong, though the characters are perhaps not as well-developed (I still liked the main characters, I was just not deeply attached to them). Anyway, lots of crazy magic and worship and politics are afoot and it's all pretty interesting stuff. B/B+.

Monday, May 28, 2012

2012 book 148

C.J. Redwine's Defiance
It's yet another YA romance-cum-dystopian-adventure, in a future where some sort of monster is menacing around and thus now there's a crazy dictator in charge (the world-building here is a little weak).  Of course it's a misogynistic society where women have no power and can't even be alone in public, but our heroine's father trained her to fight with swords and stuff. Also there is an attractive dude who invents things. The completely ridiculous dictator inspires a mission and also inspires revenge. I don't know, this is great for teens who loved Hunger Games and the Chaos Walking series, but I thought the writing here was . . . not great. I mean, the writing itself is fine, but there's way too much telling instead of showing, and I didn't really feel for any of these characters. It was all so . . . melodramatic. But like I said, teens should be into it. C.

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

Sunday, May 27, 2012

2012 book 148

Meg Cabot's Size 12 and Ready to Rock
I seriously HATE the titles of this series, especially compared to how much I enjoy reading them. (SERIOUSLY, why is the protagonist's weight her defining trait when she has so many more interesting things going on?) Former pop star turned residence hall assistant director Heather Wells is back in a really engaging story that almost hardly counts as a mystery (in that there's nothing really to be solved, but there is still tension and crime) but is still a ton of fun to read. Perfect summer reading. A-.

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

Saturday, May 26, 2012

2012 book 147

Juliet Marillier's Seer of Sevenwaters
Another satisfying entry in the series. I had mixed feelings about the druid-in-training tempted to give up her life for a dude, but was ok with the resolution. Good story here, loved the fairy tale elements. B+.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

2012 book 146

Juliet Marillier's Heir to Sevenwaters
After that last one, I almost gave up on this series, and I'm really glad I didn't! The heroine of this one is a refreshingly normal girl who gets caught up in a fairy-tale like story involving a trickster king and a changeling baby. Plus the usual romantic elements (though this guy is mayyybe my favorite of the four so far, he's definitely the most interesting). Anyway, this one was much more up my alley--I love stories that are kind of about stories. A/A-.

2012 book 145

Juliet Marillier's Child of the Prophecy
The third Sevenwaters book took me a little while to read, mainly b/c the protagonist was SO ANNOYING, especially compared to the girls from the first two books! She was much weaker and whinier, had no agency, and was overly stupid about everything. And every time she'd start to get interesting and cool, she'd immediately go back to being annoying again. ARGHHHHH. Seriously. Good resolution to all of the warring and politicking from the previous books, but man, this was tough to get through. B-.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

2012 book 144

Juliet Marillier's Son of the Shadows
The second book in the Sevenwaters series focuses on the daughter of the first one's protagonist and involves more war, politics, and other drama. I was mildly annoyed that obvious secrets weren't revealed in a more timely manner (b/c I HATE when books do that) but otherwise liked this a lot. Team Painted Man! A-.

Monday, May 21, 2012

2012 book 143

Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest
I liked Marillier's upcoming YA fantasy book a lot (scroll down a bit for details) and wanted to check out some of her other work--this is the first in an adult fantasy series (apparently it was originally meant to be a trilogy but has stretched to 5 books, with a 6th coming), based on that fairy tale where a girl's brothers get turned into swans and she can't talk and has to hand-make them shirts to turn them back. This doesn't keep all the details of the story, b/c Marillier weaves a whole epic around it set in ancient Ireland, giving the reader time to get to know the girl and her brothers before the inevitable tragedy strikes (and then more and more tragedies . . . ). I swear I read this whole book with my heart in my throat, and was both happy with the end and vaguely relieved that it was done. Of course I'm starting the sequel right now. A-.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

2012 book 142

R.J. Palacio's Wonder
I've been putting off reading this for a while (and this is actually the second time I've gotten it from the library on my Kindle) b/c it just seemed like a book about a boy with a genetic facial abnormality going to school for the first time was going to be a downer. And don't get me wrong, I straight up sobbed for large chunks of it. But it was also excellent and I'm glad I finally read it. A.

2012 book 141

Lyndsay Faye's The Gods of Gotham
Stellar mystery about a member of New York City's brand-new police force in the 1840s, and the case he gets embroiled in when he encounters a little girl covered in blood. There were several completely unexpected twists, and the resolution was pretty satisfying. Plus, Faye totally nails the atmosphere of 19th century NYC--especially the very weird politics and the anti-Irish sentiment. Fascinating read, perfect for summer. A/A-.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

2012 book 140

Anne Berry's The Water Children
This book was a little bit too weird and messed up for my personal tastes, though it was very well-written. It's about four disparate people with ties to water (traumatic or otherwise) whose lives eventually intersect, which is all well and good. But things go completely off the rails in a very silly and overly dramatic way that I just found kind of annoying. B-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Friday, May 18, 2012

2012 book 139

Roddy Doyle's A Greyhound of a Girl
I didn't even realize this was a YA book (actually an MG book, I think) until a review appeared on the FYA blog--b/c it's kind of mysterious and profound, and not at all typical of most MG books. It's about a 12-year-old girl whose grandmother is in the hospital, and how she befriends a mysterious old-fashioned young woman--who turns out to be the ghost of her great-grandmother. The four generations of women in this story are all absolutely wonderful, and even more wonderful and hilarious when they're together. It's a nice quick read--though I did cry at the end. A/A-.

An e-galley was provided by the publisher.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

2012 book 138

Juliet Marillier's Shadowfell
I've never read any of Marillier's work before, but this start to a new YA fantasy trilogy makes me want to! It's not too far from the YA fantasy norm--a girl with special gifts in a land with a tyrant king who will want to either kill her or use her horribly, a mysterious and helpful man, lovable magic folk, etc. But Marillier weaves it all into something really riveting. I loved the protagonist and her journey and her friends and can't wait for the sequel. A/A-.

A e-galley was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in September.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


I don't usually review graphic novels in a formal way (b/c I don't count them toward my yearly book totals) but got an advance copy of Raina Telgemeier's Drama and wanted to talk about it b/c it's awesome! Telgemeier is, of course, the author of Smile, the MG graphic novel that has won more awards and acclaim than any other that I've ever heard of (deservedly--it's cute and very compelling too), as well as adapting the Babysitter's Club GNs. Telgemeier manages to avoid sophomore slump with Drama, a work of fiction about the stage crew of a middle school play. There's lots of boy drama and drama-drama, but heroine Callie is completely adorable and relatable, and I loved this. Telegeimeier totally nails middle school in a really fun way.

An e-galley was provided by the publisher. Drama will be released in the fall.

2012 book 137

Jennifer Miller's The Year of the Gadfly
I do love books about shenanigans at elite schools, so this one, about a 15 year old wannabe journalist (who has conversations with an imaginary Edward R. Murrow) with a sad past uncovering secrets at her new school that involve her charismatic and eccentric biology teacher and a mysterious secret society, was pretty much right up my alley. The conclusion was a little bit messy but I was pretty satisfied anyway. B+.

Monday, May 14, 2012

2012 book 136

Anouk Markovits' I Am Forbidden
I'd never heard of this book until reading about it in Entertainment Weekly (mentioned twice in the latest issue) which my mom also read, prompting her to buy this and rave about it to me. And if your mom recommends a book to you on Mother's Day, I think you're morally obligated to read it. Luckily this book is excellent, despite the mixed reviews on Amazon--I think the fact that it takes place in such a Hasidic environment throws some readers off, but my mom and I are pretty comfortable reading about such things. :) Anyway, it's the story of a Transylvanian Jewish Hasidic family from WWII to the present--and especially of two little girls who grow into very different adults. (Interestingly, the one who is more like Markovits is much less present in the second half of the book.) Very sensitive portrayal of Hasidism (well, mostly) and though some parts are just like WHAT I liked this a lot. A-.

2012 book 135

Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale
This was my FAVORITE book when I was in high school and college, and I used to reread it at least once a year . . . though it's been about ten years since I last read it, partially b/c my old paperback copy (actually my dad's old paperback copy) completely fell apart, and partially b/c when I tried to read the fancy new paperback edition that came out in like 2005, it was a) too heavy, and b) I bogged down about halfway through and didn't have the heart to keep reading it in case I didn't love it anymore.

Which is perhaps too much backstory for this blog, but whatever. A Kindle version finally came out, which made me much more eager to try reading it again (though, be warned, it has a million stupid typos of the sort that happen when a book is converted to a digital file for the first time). And it holds up pretty well. The first third--set in the very early 20th Century, focusing on mechanic/burglar Peter Lake and his love-at-first-sight with one Beverly Penn (side note, somehow they are making a movie of this book starring Colin Farrell and Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey in these roles, with Russell Crowe as a crime boss and Will Smith as some part I haven't figured out yet) is still the strongest--this book is like 800 pages long, and the middle is kind of slow, and everyone falls in love at first sight with someone, and there's a pretty uninteresting interlude where a guy runs for mayor for no reason, and I STILL haven't figured out what political/philosophical thought I am supposed to take away from this book, besides "Yay New York I guess"--mainly b/c Peter Lake is the BEST. And frankly this book is a little weird, all flying horses and Baymen and a rainbow bridge to the future (it came out in 1983, but the last chunk takes place in 1999). I like the flying horse a lot, but trying to explain this story is nigh impossible. Anyway, turns out I do still love it despite its flaws.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

2012 book 134

Gwenda Bond's Blackwood
This book has a GREAT premise--on Roanoke Island, the town outcast girl pairs up with the police chief's son (who hears the voices of spirits) to investigate the Lost Colony when 114 residents of the town suddenly vanish. And even the explanation for all that is interesting. And things start off strong, but . . . My problem was with the main characters--there's just way too much telling instead of showing for their investigation, and for their very annoying romance. They weren't fully fleshed-out at all. And the ending is supremely goofy. Now, this book does get props for NC music shoutouts (the Rosebuds) but in general was not at all satisfying. C+.

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

Thursday, May 10, 2012

2012 book 133

Louise Erdrich's The Round House
Louise Erdrich is a writer who, for me, can almost do no wrong. I think I love all of her books, and her latest is no exception (honestly, I think she's getting better and better, which is amazing since she apparently was undergoing treatment for breast cancer while writing this). I'm not sure if it's because the central character is a 13-year-old boy who likes Star Trek: TNG or the narrative voice, but this reminded me at times of Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (high praise). Anyway, this book is about what happens when a boy's mother is brutally attacked, and how their family tries to recover from the traumatic event. And it's about friendships, cultural traditions, religion, and love. It's set on the same reservation as a lot of Erdrich's other books (Nanapush is briefly featured) but I think these characters are new. None of that is really relevant, but I thought I'd lay it out for fellow Erdrich fans. For the rest of you, her books are great, and this one especially is a stellar work worth reading. A.

ETA: This book is actually kind of a continuation of the story in A Plague of Doves, according to some internet research (I honestly almost went to the library to check out a book that's a dictionary of Erdrich's characters, b/c I recognized some of the names but couldn't remember which books they were from).

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

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

2012 book 132

E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
I was delighted to reread this for my young lady nerd book group--I love what a deliciously evil genius Frankie is. And I love her quest to reclaim all the neglected positive words. Lockhart is a super fun writer and this is easily her best book.

2012 book 131

Jackson Pearce's Purity
An excerpt of this was featured on Jezebel last month, but when it popped up in my RSS reader, I didn't realize it was a novel and was like, whoa, this story is crazy. Unfortunately, the book doesn't live up to the premise and is completely and thoroughly predictable. Frankly, it almost reads like a Disney Channel movie (though slightly more sex-positive than anything on that channel could ever be). It was all very . . . blech-y. Pearce has written a couple of pretty-good takes on fairy tales that are worth checking out, but this is one to avoid. C.

Monday, May 07, 2012

2012 book 130

Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue
Sorry for the lack of posting--I had a super-busy weekend (loved the Avengers movie!) and this book was kind of long and I wanted to take a little extra time with it, b/c OMG NEW MICHAEL CHABON. (!!!!!)

I will say that it'd take a lot for a Chabon book to receive below some form of an A grade, just b/c I enjoy his writing so much, and so while this wasn't my favorite of his books (I mean, unless it was another book about Jews and comics, it was never going to be) it was definitely solid and I think should get pretty positive reviews. It's set in roughly 2003/2004 (based on contextual clues, like an appearance from a pre-Senator Obama) and focuses on a group of people who live and work in the Berkeley/Oakland area (semi-affectionately called Brokeland). Two of the major characters own a record store, so there's some great music stuff here, and also a lot of interesting stuff on family/relationships (primarily father/son) and on race/class (and blaxpoitation movies!). I do think it's worth noting--and I expect that some reviews will have Stuff to say about it--that there are really only two female major characters (as opposed to four main male characters and another 4 or 5 strong secondary male characters), and both are midwives. They are pretty great characters, though this is still pretty much a dude book. But I love Chabon's writing (there are some particularly nicely phrased sentences here) and liked his sense of humor in this one. A/A-.

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

Friday, May 04, 2012

2012 book 129

J. Anderson Coats' The Wicked and the Just
It's the year 1293, and an English young girl and her father move to Wales (b/c the government is encouraging English people to move to Wales to help settle and/or oppress the area). The story is told mostly from her POV, with occasional tidbits from her young Welsh servant. Things are primarily interesting for the historical perspective--this isn't really a well-known piece of history, at least not in America. The characters and story are fine, though, and the end is pretty well-done. B/B+.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

2012 book 128

 Anna Jarzab's The Opposite of Hallelujah
When I read the description of this book, which is something like "A teenage girl's much older sister returns home after a long absence, and long-held secrets come out" I assumed the older sister was actually the teenager's mom and was relieved to quickly discover this wasn't that kind of book at all. In fact, it's pretty much as far from that as you can get, because the older sister is actually returning home after spending the last eight years in a convent, training to be a nun. So that's kind of weird for the protagonist, who's also dealing with general high school angst. Things did get a bit too melodramatic for my tastes toward the end, but I really enjoyed the protagonist's relationship with her friends, and thought her love interest was very likable and nicely quirky. I also was pleased at how much discussion there was of religion, and science, and religion & science. It was a bit more philosophical than the usual YA book. B.

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

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

2012 book 127

Kristin Cashore's Bitterblue
YAY the third book in the Graceling series is finally here, and it does not disappoint! It is, of course, the story of Bitterblue, about nine years after the events of the first book, as she struggles to make her kingdom work, and with being a queen in general, and with her horrible childhood memories. Of course things get shaken up a bit when she starts sneaking out at night, meets a couple of thieves, and starts to learn what's really going on in her kingdom. This was stellar stuff--I really liked Bitterblue as a character (though for someone so smart, it took her a little too long to figure out a couple of important plot points, which was a little frustrating--but this was tempered by her decoding skills, something I always enjoy in fiction for some reason), and it was nice to see Katsa and Po and other beloved Cashore characters again, and to read a YA book where romance isn't at all the main thing. AND there is a pretty great librarian character. I don't know if Cashore is planning on writing any more books set in this world, but I'd definitely read them if she did. A/A-.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

2012 book 126

Rebecca Stead's Liar & Spy
Stead's last novel, the amazing When You Reach Me, won the Newbery Award and also is one of my favorite books ever. I was eager to read her new one, but worried it could never compare. And while it's not really on the same emotional level--I mean, I straight up SOB whenever I read When You Reach Me--it's still an excellent book, about a middle-school boy whose family suddenly moves from a house to an apartment when his dad loses his job . .  where he meets a new friend, a boy who's obsessed with spying on a mysterious neighbor. Meanwhile, he has to deal with increasingly annoying bullying from classmates and the upcoming class Taste Test, which prophecies either true love or a terrible demise. But is everything quite what it seems? The characterization here is great--Stead is really gifted at writing believable and unusual children--and I loved the resolution. A/A-.

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