Thursday, August 30, 2012

2012 book 234

Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient
My brain was kind of overloaded on Harry Potter, so I took a break to read something more on the literary side--I'd actually never read this before (nor seen the movie). Anyway, it's about Hana, a Canadian nurse in Italy in 1945, living in a villa and caring for a badly burned patient whose identity is unknown (but is presumably English, as the title indicates). Soon they're joined by a friend of her father's and a young Sikh bomb disposal expert, and they basically all hang out waiting for the war to end while the English Patient talks about his past in the Egyptian desert and his affair with a married woman. The writing is beautiful, though too oblique at times (maybe b/c the titular character is on morphine? The flashbacks to the Sikh's life are much clearer).  I think parts of this book are supposed to be tragic, but I didn't feel enough for the characters and the writing didn't always draw me in. Great atmosphere though. B/B+.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

2012 book 233

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
I like this one more every time I read it--though I still wish Rowling had had a lighter hand with the caps lock key. :)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

2012 books 230, 231, 232

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Still making my way through these (again). And I have to say, book 2 REALLY is the weakest of the series by far. 3 and 4 still rule though.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

2012 book 229

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
It's probably too soon for me to reread these--it's only been like 4 months since last time--but I've been called into service for a Harry Potter-themed trivia night and wanted to brush up. :) So expect a bunch of super short entries over the next few days. I ran out of things to say about these books a long time ago--but I still love them.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

2012 book 228

Mal Peet's Tamar
I really enjoyed Peet's Life: An Exploded Diagram and this was sort of in the same mold--a coming of age/humanity in wartime sort of story. Except here, they're actually two stories--the first takes place during WWII and involves two British spies in Holland, and the interspersed second takes place fifty years later and involves one of the men's granddaughter. There's a lot of foreshadowing and it's easy to guess where the 1944 plot will go--I'm honestly not sure whether that's on purpose--which makes it very hard to read at times. It's a /good/ book, but not entirely an /enjoyable/ one. Granddaughter Tamar is great, though, and I wish we'd gotten to see more of her journey. And this is another Peet book that is theoretically YA, but isn't really YA at all, especially since only one of the four main characters is even a teenager. Coming of age and YA are different categories, people! B+.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

2012 book 227

Goce Smilevski's Freud's Sister
Translated from the Macedonian (which is really cool for some reason), this novel centers on Sigmund Freud's sister Adolfina--one of his four sisters he failed to take with him when he left Vienna in 1938 (even though he took not only all his children/grandchildren, but his wife's family, his doctor and his family, and two housekeepers), and all four elderly women were of course gassed in the concentration camps. Nice one, Freud. Anyway, all of that is covered in the first (brief) part of the book, and then it flashes back to tell his sister's life story (and her friendships with other famous people's sisters, like Klara Klimt and Ottla Kafka) But little is known about her, so Smilevski has free rein to turn her life into what's almost a psychological study (a large chunk of the book involves a mental institution of some sort). That fits with the whole Freud thing but isn't always entertaining as a novel. Reading it reminded me, at times, of the literary theory class I took in college. This book is by no means bad, it just wasn't the book I wanted to read about Freud's sister. B.

An e-galley was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on August 28th.

Monday, August 20, 2012

2012 book 226

Beth Kephart's Small Damages
Normally I wouldn't read a YA book about a pregnant girl who gets shipped off to Spain to have the baby and then give it up, and the probably-sentimental experiences she has there. But this has gotten good reviews and I was in the mood for something on the lighter side (which, actually, a book about a pregnant teen being forced to give up her baby shouldn't be, but this kind of was). I did like the protagonist's relationship with the aging cook, but was super annoyed that OF COURSE there was a teenage boy there for her to hang out with/fall for, and that her mother is a one-dimensional villain, and that most of her relationship problems (with everyone) go unresolved. On the other hand, great descriptions of Spain. It's like reading a YA version of one of those movies where Diane Lane or someone goes abroad and everything is pretty and she goes to markets and eats fresh fruit and finds love or whatever. And I don't like those movies, but lots of other people do. If you are one, you might like this book. B/B-.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

2012 book 225

Kate Morton's The Secret Keeper
Kate Morton writes these great books where people (women) in modern times investigate Secrets Of The Past. And this is another GREAT one in the genre--it may be my favorite of hers, but I'll have to reread them all before I decide! In this one, Laurel is 16 in 1961 when a strange man approaches her house and something completely bonkers happens. Now it's 50 years later, Laurel is a famous actress, and she's determined to figure out her 90-year-old mother's secrets before it's too late. That's all interspersed with flashbacks to her mother's life during WWII, so the reader gets the whole story. And the whole story is completely riveting. And of course it made me cry. A.

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

2012 book 224

Mette Jakobsen's The Vanishing Act
Twelve-year-old Minou lives on a tiny island with only three other inhabitants--her father, a priest, and a magician. When she finds the body of a boy, she hopes he can provide clues to her mother's disappearance a year earlier. But this isn't a mystery, and so things aren't that easy or clear-cut. Lovely atmosphere--it's gotten blurbed by Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus, and I think it has a similar dreamy-cum-literary quality. A-.

An e-galley was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on September 17th.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

2012 book 223

Robin McKinley's Sunshine
This is another McKinley book that I somehow missed, but everyone is always all "Oh, THAT is a GOOD vampire book" and I like vampire books sometimes so figured I'd try it. It's a little slow at times--McKinley wants to throw every detail of her world-building into the story--but I liked the characters and most of the plots/concepts. Unfortunately, it doesn't really have an ending. I honestly thought I had a defective copy, missing the last few chapters, but apparently it just kind of . . . ends. No plots are resolved at all, and apparently McKinley is adamant about there not being a sequel. Very weird. I think it would have been an A-/B+ kind of book, but I really can't get past the fact that it just stops. B/B-.

Friday, August 17, 2012

2012 book 222

Caroline Cooney's Fog
I have a soft spot for book by Cooney, because hers are some of the ones I read when I was actually the age for YA. (I know I'm not the only one--Face on the Milk Carton was pretty popular.) Anyway, her latest is about a seventh-grade girl who's grown up on a small island off the coast of Maine, and now she and three other students are coming to board on the mainland for school. But everything is weird and creepy, and the oldest student is acting very odd. Very strong atmosphere, but the end was  unsatisfying. Apparently this is the first of a series, and I do actually want to know what will happen next, but I wish it hadn't ended so abruptly. B/B-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

2012 book 221

Laura Lippman's And When She Was Good
Lippman's latest stand-alone revolves around a Baltimore-area madam juggling her double life, trying to be a good suburban mom while hiding her criminal lifestyle. It's sort of a mystery in that how she came to have that life is revealed slowly, and there are some murders later on in the story. Pretty solid character work, but not as compelling as some of her others. B.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

2012 book 220

Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette
I have been eagerly awaiting this book for MONTHS--it's gotten tons and tons of great buzz, and Semple is a former sitcom writer (including for Arrested Development) so it seemed like it'd be entertaining if nothing else. But it was SOOO entertaining!  It's about Bernadette Fox, wife of a high-powered Microsoft guy, who goes missing just before Christmas, and her (awesome) eight-grade daughter is now piecing together emails and other documentation to figure out what the heck happened. And it's all just a really, really fun read. Nice light book, perfect for summer (too bad it didn't come out two months ago). A.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

2012 book 219

Rebecca Serle's When You Were Mine
Ah, FYA book group, some of the books you make us read are so crappy! I wasn't exactly enthused about reading a modern-day retelling of Romeo and Juliet told from the point of view of Rosalind, the girl Romeo's hung up on before he meets Juliet. And this managed to be even worse than my expectations--the narrator/protagonist is super annoying (I wanted to strangle her sometimes), and the entire plot (I mean, besides the parts we know from Shakespeare) was telegraphed in the first eight percent. Not to mention how silly the updated names were! Caplet and Monteg, seriously? Couldn't Serle have found names that sound like actual names? I picked up the phone book and found two better names (Capelli and Montana, totally catchy!) within ten seconds. And don't even get me started on anything to do with Juliet, who doesn't even show up till like halfway through and whose only character trait is "bitchy," and cardboard cutout bad boy Len, who is kind of a creepy stalker in a certain light. When I was in seventh grade, my class read Romeo and Juliet, and for homework we had to rewrite a scene and set it in some other time period. I am still haunted by how terrible mine was, but some of my classmates' were more realistic than this book. C-.

Monday, August 13, 2012

2012 book 218

Alix Ohlin's Inside
The cover of this book features a snow globe and for some reason has a contemporary sad YA feel to me, but it's actually a literary novel about a Canadian therapist, a man she saves while skiing, a troubled teenage girl who's one of her patients, and her ex-husband (also a therapist) across a fifteen year period. The three main characters are all vividly drawn and very likable, and this book was all-around solid and enjoyable. A-.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

2012 book 217

Tracy Hickman's Wayne of Gotham
You'd think a novel about Batman (DC-approved, even) would be right up my alley--I mean, I write a column about comic books and Batman is one of the few superheroes I'm actually into. Or maybe that's exactly why I didn't like it, because it didn't do Batman justice at all. If I can see exactly how he's being played and he never catches on . . . well, he's not supposed to be a moron. Yet in this book, he's not just moronic, but incompetent (why does he keep leaving his Batsuit in the Batmobile?). I actually had a lot of problems with this book, which finds Bruce investigated some shadiness his dad was involved in (actually, he doesn't ever really investigate, people just give him information). Half of the story is from his dad's perspective, and that's even worse--Thomas Wayne vacillates between being whiny and being creepy (I, for one, am grossed out that Martha ended up marrying him because of the way their relationship is portrayed).

Other issues:
--WAAAAYYY too much detailed fake comic book science. Four pages describing the Batmobile is three and a half pages too many.
--Hickman tries way too hard to shove all the iconic Bat-characters into this story when they really don't fit. And Joker is pretty lame.
--Grandpa Wayne's only characterization is that he's an asshole.
--Bruce yells at Alfred way too much--their relationship is one of the best things in the Bat-universe and it's all weird here.

I wanted to like this book but obviously it wasn't for me. Batman honestly works better in the comic book format, I think. D.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

2012 book 216

Siobhan Dowd's Bog Child
Another excellent book from Dowd set in Ireland in the early 80s--this one centers on the crazy unrest and hunger strikes of 1981, and a teenage boy who finds an ancient body in the bog. And soon he's dreaming all about her, like his life wasn't getting more complicated already. A-.

2012 book 215

Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)
Keri was saying again last ngiht that this book is good and I should read it, and since it was available free for my Kindle through my local library, I figured why not. Actually it is pretty good--obviously some parts of a memoir made up of personal essays will be funnier than others, but I did laugh out loud a couple times. Though I did wonder what happened to her best friend/writing partner after Kaling moved to LA and got all famous. B+.

2012 book 214

Siobhan Dowd's A Swift Pure Cry
Beautiful and sad book about a teenage girl in Ireland in 1984, trying to make things work for her family after her mother's death. I don't want to say any more than that so as not to spoil the plot for anyone else. But this was GREAT. A.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

2012 book 213

Lawrence Norfolk's John Saturnall's Feast
A historical novel set in the days of Cromwell about a boy whose mother dies after being accused of witchcraft, and then he and his gifted palate go on to work in the kitchen of the manor nearby--well, it should have been right up my alley. But the novel's description is very misleading: "Orphaned when his mother dies of starvation, having been cast out of her village as a witch, John is taken in at the kitchens at Buckland Manor, where he quickly rises from kitchen-boy to Cook, and is known for his uniquely keen palate and natural cooking ability. However, he quickly gets on the wrong side of Lady Lucretia, the aristocratic daughter of the Lord of the Manor. In order to inherit the estate, Lucretia must wed, but her fiancé is an arrogant buffoon. When Lucretia takes on a vow of hunger until her father calls off her engagement to her insipid husband-to-be, it falls to John to try to cook her delicious foods that might tempt her to break her fast." That encompasses maybe one chapter of the book and it happens more than halfway through. Really, this book is a mish-mash of stuff--GREAT chapters on life in the kitchen, not-so-great chapters set in battle/dealing with Cromwell's goons, and kind of annoying chapters involving a completely unbelievable romance. I read the whole thing but didn't enjoy it that much. B-.

An e-galley was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on September 4th.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

2012 book 212

Robin McKinley's Beauty
Sometimes when you're home sick, you just have to read something comforting (the book equivalent of the comfort food you're too sick to eat?). It's been a couple of years since I've read it, but it's still weirdly delightful. I actually read this in class in middle school; as I noted last time I read it, one of its themes was apparently "Don't judge a book by its cover" which I had written in the inside front cover with an exclamation point. Hee hee.

2012 book 211

Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle
This is one of those books I've been meaning to read for years, and was finally spurred to do so by Christina telling me she was sure I'd like it. And I did! It's the story of a teenage girl growing up with her somewhat eccentric British family in a falling-apart castle in the 1930s, and what happens when the new young estate owners come to town (don't worry, Smith makes all the Jane Austen references for you). I think I liked how things wrapped up; I might have to think about this one for a little while. A-.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

2012 book 210

Chelsea Cain's Kill You Twice
Another strong contender in the Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell series. I don't really have too much else to say about it--there's another serial killer, Gretchen knows stuff, plucky colorful-haired Susan wants to write a story on the case, etc etc. It's a solid story though, I look forward to finding out where the series goes next. B+.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

2012 book 209

Graham Joyce's Some Kind of Fairy Tale
Really great story about a man whose sister went missing twenty years ago, and now she's back--but doesn't look any older, and claims she was living with fairies. I especially liked the writing here--it's told from several viewpoints, and the structure really worked. I'll have to check out more by Joyce. A/A-.

Monday, August 06, 2012

2012 book 208

Michael Underwood's Geekomancy
For someone who loooves pop culture as much as I do, you'd think pop culture references would never get old--and reading a book that's all about Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Princess Bride, and spends a page and a half discussing the joys of Community, should be way up my alley. But it had some of the same problems Ready Player One had for me--eventually, all those references get tiresome and feel shoehorned-in, and also, the action scenes in both books were really not that interesting to me. I just wanted the fight scenes to be over and for the plot to commence.

All that and I haven't even mentioned the plot, which focuses on a likable geek girl who works in a comic shop-slash-coffee shop (again, this should be right up my alley) and discovers a world of magic where geeks can get geek powers from geek media (ie, sword-fighting abilities from Princess Bride). Great concept. And like I said, likable protagonist (and her crew of girl friends were cool too). The overarching plot was a little weak and two major twists were easy to predict, but it was a fun read. Not really my thing, but recommended for those geekier than I. B.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

2012 book 207

Ron Rash's Serena
I was excited to reread this for book group--it was one of my favorites of 2008 and I didn't remember a thing about it--but it wasn't quite as awesome as I remembered. It's compelling stuff--a timber baron brings his ruthless new wife down to the mountains of North Carolina during the Great Depression--but it was just a bit over-the-top. Soon to be a movie starring, I believe, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, both of whom seem hopelessly miscast. B/B+.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

2012 book 206

David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas
I've been meaning to reread this for ages--it was one of my favorite books of 2004 and I'm still mad it didn't win the Booker Prize--and now seemed like a good time, since a) all I remembered was the comet birthmark, and b) the movie is coming out soon and I figured it'd make more sense if I knew the story going in. Because of course the structure is complicated, the interrelated characters are complicated, and most of the stories are complicated. But all are completely wonderful, still. A.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

2012 book 205

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit
It's easily been ten years since I've read this, and I'd forgotten how funny it was--and how light, since Bilbo is unconscious for most of the action scenes! But seriously, now that I've read it, I don't at all understand why Peter Jackson thinks it needs three movies. Total overkill.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

2012 book 204

David Levithan's Every Day
Confession time: I've never really read anything by Levithan before, except the book he co-wrote with John Green--and I only liked the John Green parts! But the premise of this was interesting enough to combat my lack of interest in the author, and I'm so glad it did, because this book was pretty great. It's about a person who wakes up every day in a new body, and just tries to keep their lives on track--until he falls in love with one's girlfriend. Really fascinating stuff. Levithan is mildly heavy-handed with the gay-friendliness and the body-positivity, but I'm not really going to complain about cute gay couples.  A/A-.

An e-galley was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on August 28th.