Saturday, June 30, 2012

2012 book 174

Patrice Kindl's Keeping the Castle
I'd never heard of Kindl until this book came out, and my gosh, have I been missing out. This was GREAT! It takes place in Regency/Jane Austen times, and is the cutest and funniest book ever about a girl determined to marry for money to save her family estate. Most of it was predictable, but that didn't make it any less enjoyable. A.

Friday, June 29, 2012

2012 book 173

Jay Caspian Kang's The Dead Do Not Improve
I was intrigued by the description of this first novel by Kang, who works on Grantland--it's about a youngish Korean-American man whose elderly white neighbor is killed in what seems to be random gang gunfire, but then he gets drawn into a much larger mystery. The writing is excellent and I enjoyed some parts of this a lot (primarily the descriptions of the protagonist's childhood/teen years in North Carolina, where he and his Jewish friends were super into rap, and his meditations on Korean-American identity) but some parts were less appealing to me (I think this is more of a dude book, I didn't understand the end AT ALL, and I wanted to know more about the protagonist's family [though I understand why the latter maybe wasn't relevant]).  Mainly my problem was that the mystery made no sense to me--I get that this isn't a traditional mystery novel, but still. But like I said, excellent writing, and should be popular among dudes. B.

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

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

2012 book 172

Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone
Sometimes when a book gets a lot of critical raves, it can never measure up to the hype, and I worried that would be the case with this one--but I liked it a lot. It take place in a fantasy version of historical Russia, where various people have various magical powers, but our orphan protagonist's magical power is the magicalest (it always is, in these kinds of books). Luckily, most of the rest of the story isn't (too) formulaic at all, and I really liked how things proceeded. Definitely a strong start to a trilogy--I look forward to seeing where it goes next. A/A-.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

2012 book 171

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
Sometimes you just have to reread a classic--and I always am delighted anew on rediscovering how hilarious this book is. Plus Elizabeth is just a little bit bitchy--which is why I like her so much!

Monday, June 25, 2012

2012 book 170

Peter Heller's The Dog Stars
It's the semi-near future and a flu has killed 99 percent of the people on earth (and most of the animals are dead too, climate change or something). One man, Hig, lives in relative peace with his only neighbor, with Hig patrolling in his little airplane and his neighbor being all into guns and defense, and between the two of them, they're mostly safe. But the nine years of near-solitude are taking their toll, and Hig wants to know what else is out there. Parts of this book strain credulity, but it's a great example of a literary dystopia (a genre I can fully get behind) and Hig is a really, really strong character. A-.

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

Sunday, June 24, 2012

2012 book 169

Liza Klaussman's Tigers in Red Weather
This was a deeply weird and kind of messed-up book about two cousins, best friends, who just after WWII are both in less-than-ideal marriages. And then the story jumps back and forth between the 40s, 1959 (when their children make a grisly discovery), and the late 1960s (where their young adult children make even weirder decisions than their mothers). Part of the problem here is that I didn't feel like I knew most of the characters that well, and the ones that I did know well I mostly despised. Not that unlikable characters inherently make a book bad, but this one kind of goes beyond the pale. A lot of the plots felt half-baked, and the end reveals were just completely bizarre. I don't understand what is supposed to be good about this book, and if it's supposed to be "interesting"--well, then it doesn't go far enough. C-.

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

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

2012 book 168

Jonathan Tropper's One Last Thing Before I Go
Tropper's This Is Where I Leave You was one of my favorite books of 2009, so I was eagerly anticipating his latest book, which is about a washed-up musician from a one-hit wonder band, leading a mess of a life--divorced, estranged from his daughter, working in wedding bands. But then he finds out if he doesn't have heart surgery he could die at any time--and also, his Princeton-bound daughter is pregnant, and his ex-wife is about to get remarried, and he's determined to be a better man. This may all sound super dramatic, but it's Tropper, so it's actually very funny, and the protagonist is amazingly charming considering what a jerk he can be. Plus his dad is a Rabbi forcing him to attend various life events, which I loved. Another great one from Tropper. A.

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

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

2012 book 167

Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood
I've been meaning to read this for a few years, and don't know why I didn't read it sooner--it's a sequel/companion to Atwood's Oryx and Crake, which I remember liking. Of course, I read it before this blog ever existed, so all I remember is  . . . someone sitting on a beach? Luckily, Flood works just as well as a standalone, focusing on two women who've survived the plague in isolation, spending their time remembering their shared past in a vegetarian cult (b/c of course they know each other--this book has way too many coincidences like that). I admit to wishing they'd meet up sooner rather than later, but the story is still fairly compelling until that point, and pretty action-packed after. I do love a dystopian novel and this was a good one. Apparently it's also the middle part of a trilogy, which I find extra-intriguing. A-/B+.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

2012 book 166

Sarah Dessen's This Lullaby
After that last book, I wanted to read something on the fluffier side, so decided to try this Dessen book that I'd missed (it came out in 2002, before I was reading YA). And it was pretty good--Dessen is a reliable writer, though this one was a tiny bit heavy-handed for me (though still very entertaining). And I can never decide if her dudes are realistic or not. Dexter is way too awesome. B/B+.

2012 book 165

Shani Boianjiu's The People of Forever Are Not Afraid
I was intrigued when I heard this book was about a group of young women serving in the Israeli army (I studied abroad in Tel Aviv and was friendly with some Israelis, but they didn't talk about the army much--plus it was 2000 and things were relatively peaceful there then)--but this book was so much more INTENSE than I was expecting. The three main characters are all somewhat damaged before they even get to the army, but their experiences there . . . well, it made me extra glad that I live a cushy American-Jewish life.  It's a great, great book and should be popular with literary fiction readers (it's already getting a lot of buzz), but parts of it are very hard to read. A-.

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

Friday, June 15, 2012

2012 book 164

Sharon Creech's Walk Two Moons
I swear, no author makes me straight-up weep like Creech does, which is a little bit crazy since she writes for middle-schoolers! Anyway, this one is about a girl on a road trip with her (hilariously cute) grandparents, telling the story of her friend Phoebe--and telling her own story as well. Creech is just a masterful, masterful storyteller. A.

2012 book 163

M.L. Steadman's The Light Between Oceans
It's 1926, and a WWI vet and his young wife live on an isolated Australian island where he serves as lighthouse-keeper. After they suffer a series of miscarriages and a stillbirth, a boat washes up holding a dead man and a small living baby, and the wife convinces the husband not to report it so they can raise the baby as their own. Obviously that's not going to work out that well, but how things happen aren't at all predictable. Great characters and atmosphere--I think this should be a sleeper hit for book groups--lots to dissect here. A-.

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

Thursday, June 14, 2012

2012 book 162

Ernest Cline's Ready Player One
I was not at all excited when I found out this was the next FYA book club book, b/c I DID NOT want to read a book about a dude in a virtual reality world. But it started off strong and I was actually kind of interested . . . until like halfway through when it got SO BORING. Maybe if I'd been a slightly older nerd in the 80s I'd have liked it more, but even the pop culture references I loved got boring after a while--not to mention the endless, ENDLESS video game playing. And not to mention the weirdly tacked on and completely ridiculous romance angle. It did pick up a bit toward the end but man, this book was not my thing at all. AT ALL. C.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

2012 book 161

Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay
I honestly don't think this series could have ended any other way and I find this book very satisfying even on my third read of it. I really don't know how the next two movies will convey Katniss' emotional state--I mean, Jennifer Lawrence is a great actress, but dang. And yes, Gale is totally a terrorist.

2012 book 160

Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire
I'm constantly baffled by the people who are surprised at the stuff that went down in Mockingjay--like, did you not read the first two books in this series? In this one, especially, Collins is saying some Stuff about War and Society. I mean, almost all the characters have super severe PTSD! This is not a glamorous world, despite all the fancy food and dresses in the Capitol. This is a deeply messed up world that has deeply messed up the people in it. Totally riveting read, still.

Monday, June 11, 2012

2012 book 159

Nicole Krauss' The History of Love
This was actually the third time I've read this book, and the second time for a book group, and I'd forgotten how GREAT it is. This book has everything I like it in--Judaism, history, books, everyone loving and talking about books, secrets to be unraveled, etc. Well worth the re-read.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

2012 book 158

Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games
Seeing the Hunger Games movie for the third time last night made me realize that I didn't remember all the details of the book, since it had been almost two years since I read it last. Obviously that had to be rectified! And though the movie is super awesome, it really doesn't hold a candle to the book. I'm dying to dive right into Catching Fire, but one of my book groups meets on Wednesday and I haven't even started that one yet. Ah, but it's so hard to resist the lure of Katniss.

2012 book 157

Vaddey Ratner's In the Shadow of the Banyan
Based partially upon Ratner's own life and history, this is the story of a young girl from a branch of the royal family, and what happens to her and her relatives during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Despite the subject matter, things aren't too harrowing--it weirdly reads at a bit of a remove and I had no idea it was based on the author's life until I read the afterword. Still, the writing itself is very strong, and Ratner certainly evokes the period well. Fascinating story, for sure. B+.

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

Thursday, June 07, 2012

2012 book 156

Sheila Turnage's Three Times Lucky
My brain was tired after slogging through March and needed something fun to restore it, and this MG story about a girl with a mysterious past living in an eccentric small town that gets caught up in a murder mystery definitely fit the bill. Super cute and occasionally harrowing and full of twists. A-.

2012 book 155

Geraldine Brooks' March
I have been actively avoiding reading this book for years, despite liking all of Brooks' other books, because I just didn't want to read a book about the dad from Little Women off doing things during the Civil War. And at first, I thought I was going to be kicking myself for not reading it earlier, because it starts off pretty interestingly. But at a certain point, reading it felt like doing homework. Man, Mr. March is ridiculously annoying and unlikable. I'm not sure how intentional that was--certainly Bronson Alcott, on whom he's based, was a real piece of work--but it didn't make for enjoyable reading at all. Not to mention how hard it is to read all of the overt and more subtle/paternalistic racism going on (both Marches are totally racist despite being fervent abolitionists). B-.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

2012 book 154

Emily Arsenault's Miss Me When I'm Gone
Arsenault is one of the writers working in one of my favorite genres--literary mysteries. I loved her first book, The Broken Teaglass, and also really liked In Search of the Rose Notes, but this definitely feels like a bit of a step up. It's about pregnant Jamie, who's appointed literary executor for her friend Gretchen after Gretchen dies in an accident after a reading for her very successful first book (an Eat Pray Love-style book about country music). But Jamie's efforts to untangle Gretchen's notes for her second book lead to a much more complicated story than she'd imagined, and to a whole slate of mysteries from the past. Things drag a little bit toward the end--as Jamie's investigation gets super intense, the interruptions of excerpts of the country music book got on my nerves (but of course made me eager to get past them to get back to the good stuff). A-.

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

Monday, June 04, 2012

2012 book 153

Emma Straub's Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures
This was a surprisingly moving story about a girl growing up in Wisconsin, where her family runs a summer theater program. After a family tragedy, she moves to California to try and make it as an actress in the Golden Age of Hollywood. The story follows her ups and downs as an actress--and her family ups and downs as well. Highly recommended for fans of literary fiction, historical fiction, books about movie stars, and fans of Anne Helen Petersen's awesome Hairpin series Scandals of Classic Hollywood. It also reminded me a little of Herman Wouk's Marjorie Morningstar, which I only remember vaguely so that shouldn't be taken too seriously. Straub totally nails the LA atmosphere across the years, and Laura is a GREAT character--I'm hoping this will be a hit because I loved it. A.

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

Sunday, June 03, 2012

2012 book 152

Lydia Netzer's Shine Shine Shine
I honestly wanted to read this book because of its beautiful cover, and didn't know a thing about it. It turned out to be a very unusual--but also very readable--book about the love story between a completely bald woman with an atypical upbringing and a genius guy, who, while she's pregnant with their second child, is on a mission to colonize the moon with robots. Great characters and I liked the writing a lot too. Fans of literary fiction should be into it, and I'd also suggest it for anyone who likes a little bit of genre-bending and is willing to read something a little bit weird (I mean that in a good way). A-/B+.

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

Friday, June 01, 2012

2012 book 151

L.M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle
I think, now that this is out for the Kindle, my life is complete. No, really. It's always been my favorite Montgomery book and my old paperback is pretty tattered. I'm not sure why I find this so appealing--it is pretty funny, and romantic. But it's not like it would hold up to a strenuous critical view. Who cares, Valancy and Barney 4-eva.