Sunday, September 30, 2012

2012 book 272

John Stephens' The Fire Chronicle
The second in the Books of Beginning series, after The Emerald Atlas, is super action-packed, but feels a little more derivative of Harry Potter (a kindly super-smart elder wizard, a super-powerful kind-of-immortal evil wizard) and I just wasn't as in love with it as the first one. B.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released October 9th.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

2012 book 271

Deborah Levy's Swimming Home
Super melodramatic story about the family of a famous poet that encounters a troubled young woman in their pool while on vacation and invite her to stay. It's too short for any real character development, so none of the motivations/plot makes much sense. I found this book to be more than a little bit annoying. C.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on October 16th.

2012 book 270

Helen Keeble's Fang Girl
Very cute and silly story about a teenage girl who gets turned into a vampire and gets thrust into some pretty crazy situations. I love when these things are a little bit self-aware/meta, and this one particularly had me chortling one more than one occasion. A-.

2012 book 269

J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy
OK, so, the JK Rowling Book for Grownups. I totally see why this is getting better reviews in England than in America--I mean, it's a contemporary British novel. Maybe Americans were expecting something different? It's full of small town family and political squabbles, and I love that kind of thing. I will say that it was kind of a slow starter--I had trouble keeping some of the characters and their interrelationships straight till like halfway through--but I was totally engrossed by the end. And I kept forgetting that Rowling wrote it, b/c obviously it's so different than the HP books (she still has a way with writing teenagers, though this honestly seems more polished). All this rambling is to say that I actually liked it a lot, to my great surprise. A/A-.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

2012 book 268

Howard Anderson's Albert of Adelaide
Albert of Adelaide is a platypus who escapes from his zoo into the Australian desert, searching for the mythical Old Australia, meetings friends and foes and having adventures out of the very best Westerns. Weirdly cute and compelling. A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

2012 book 267

Meg Cabot's Princess in Waiting
Mia is by far the most annoying character on the planet, but I enjoy the little glimpses of early-2000s pop culture in these books. Remember Roswell? Haha! Anyway, four of these is enough, my brain might melt if I read any more of them. B-.

2012 book 266

Meg Cabot's Princess in Love
I would like these books a lot more if I was twelve and not 33. Also, does this whole series take place in like a year? I swear these first three have taken place in like two months. A princess who wasn't 14 might be more interesting. B.

2012 book 265

Meg Cabot's Princess in the Spotlight
This book was slightly less annoying than the first one--the writing is toned down a smidge--but Mia is still a total nimrod. Perfect distraction though. B.

2012 book 264

Meg Cabot's The Princess Diaries
I like to read really distracting, but not-mentally-taxing, books on Yom Kippur, so this seemed like it would fit the bill--it's really the fluffiest book ever, and I'd never read it before. And it's funny to read something set in the era of dial-up modems. The only problem is that Mia is terminally stupid and is super annoying. On the other hand, being annoyed is GREAT distraction from fasting! I might as well read the sequel! B/B-.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

2012 book 263

Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys
This book is kind of completely insane, involving a girl from a family of psychics whose true love is destined to die once she kisses him who encounters a motley group of boys from the local private school who are searching for ley lines and an ancient king. Obviously, hijinks ensue. Actually, I don't mean to be facetious, this is a pretty solid story with interesting characters and concepts, but seems to be the first of a series, judging by the plot-holes left dangling. Can't anything just be a stand-alone these days? I hate waiting a year or more to find out what happens next! A-.

Monday, September 24, 2012

2012 book 262

Toni Morrison's Home
Morrison's latest is really more of a novella than a novel (which has the absurd Kindle price of 11.99 even though it came out in May, which is why it took me so long to read it, had to wait for a library copy) and I did find myself wishing it was more of the latter than the former. I mean, there's so much that could be fleshed out. It works well as a spare story though--protagonist Frank, home from the Korean war, has to deal with racism and PTSD. His sister is a pretty great character too, though again, I wished for more of her story. GREAT writing though. A-.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

2012 book 261

Gabrielle Zevin's Because It Is My Blood
The sequel to All These Things I've Done is pretty solid--I really enjoy the characters and all the business/legal/mob/chocolate drama. I just wish there was less focus on the romance, though of course there's not much you can do about that when you're reading YA. I'm intrigued to see where the story is going next. B+.

2012 book 260

John Banville's Ancient Light
Banville is a great writer in terms of his prose, but I wasn't particularly interested in the story here: an older actor, dealing with the loss of his daughter and being cast in a kind-of-weird movie, reminisces on his sexual coming-of-age with his best friend's mother. There is literally not a plot I am less interested in reading than that one--it is a quintessential Man Book for Men. Still, like I said, the writing is beautiful, and there are some interesting points about memory. B.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on October 2nd.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

2012 book 259

Ilsa Bick's Shadows
Even though I didn't like Ashes at all, I decided I did want to read the sequel just to find out what happened to one character. But it's even grimmer and grosser than the first one! Plus, it focuses on like six characters, instead of just one, and EACH has something terrible in their plotline. And that's not even getting started on the threat of ZOMBIE RAPE, which is totally a thing now. AND the character I wanted to find out about? NOT EVEN IN THIS BOOK. I hereby promote the grade of the last one to a C, because it is so much better by comparison. D-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on Tuesday.

2012 book 258

Lish McBride's Necromancing the Stone
The sequel to Hold Me Closer, Necromancer is full of just as much goofy fun as the first one, and I love seeing this world develop. In this one, the gang of misfits is trying to solve a murder (though the reader knows who did it) and come to terms with the brand-new status quo. I really enjoy these characters and McBride's sense of humor, so I hope there will be more in this series. A/A-.

Friday, September 21, 2012

2012 book 257

Stephen Tobolowsky's The Dangerous Animals Club
Normally it wouldn't really occur to me to read a book of autobiographical essays by a Hollywood character actor (Tobolowsky has basically been in everything--look him up on imdb!--but I am forever fond of him as Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day), except that after he guest-starred on one of my favorite shows, Community, he wrote an essay about it, so I knew he could really write. And his stories of his life--his childhood in Texas, his relationship with a long-time girlfriend (who won a Pulitzer), adventures with his wife and children, and many stories about acting--are sometimes surprisingly philosophical, often bittersweet, and even more often COMPLETELY HILARIOUS. I was actually, like, guffawing at some parts. Very entertaining stuff, especially for the pop culture junkies. A/A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on Tuesday.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

2012 book 256

Ilsa Bick's Ashes
Ugh, FYA chooses some of the worst books for book group. I HATED this. It's a YA zombie apocalypse book, basically Teen Drama Walking Dead, and it's completely grotesque. Plus the characters are idiots--like, if you have a nice shelter with supplies, why would you wander off into the wilderness? It's a freaking ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. Then somehow even though it's a zombie apocalypse, there's a love triangle. I actually have a copy of the sequel (out next week) from the publisher but don't think I'll read it. D.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

2012 book 255

Rae Carson's The Crown of Embers
Very satisfactory follow-up to Girl of Fire and Thorns, one of my favorite books of last year. The political stakes are even higher, and I'm still completely fascinated by the religion of Carson's world. Elisa continues to be a compelling heroine (and I very much look forward to her increased bad-assery in the next volume) and her romance and friendships develop fairly organically--or at least much more so than the usual YA fantasy books. I just seriously love this series. A/A-.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

2012 book 254

Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace
I didn't remember a thing about this book, which meant it was time for a re-read! Atwood's based-on-a-true-story novel involves a woman convicted of murder in the 1840s, and the doctor determined to find out what really happened. Classic unreliable narrator and a very compelling story. A-.

Monday, September 17, 2012

2012 book 253

Natalie Standiford's Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters
Cute YA book about a family whose very wealthy family threatens to disinherit them all unless the one who offended her confesses--so her three wayward granddaughters (Norrie, who's fallen in lofe with an older man; Jane, who's written a blog about the family secrets; and Sassy, who thinks she might be immortal) each write their confessions. Really interesting characters/family and a nice light quick read. B+.

2012 book 252

Michael Koryta's The Prophet
Two estranged brothers--one, the beloved local high school football coach, the other a kind of sketchy bail bondsman--are drawn into a mystery when a girl both knew is murdered. Complicating things is the murder of their own sister over twenty years earlier. Great characters and plot, though I personally wasn't super into all the football talk. B/B+.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

2012 book 251

 Sarah Beth Durst's Vessel
I've liked all the books I've read by Durst, and this was no exception. Great concept here--a world where, once in a hundred years, the gods/goddesses of the desert people each inhabit a vessel from their clan. Our protagonist is one such vessel, having prepared her whole life to become the goddess--only the goddess doesn't come and her people exile her. And then a young man--the trickster god--comes to tell her that something has trapped five of the gods/goddesses. And it gets crazier from there. I really enjoyed this, though the end was kind of crazy and I'm still a little bit mad about it. A-/B+.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

2012 book 250

Mark Helprin's In Sunlight and in Shadow
Ah god, this book. It might have been great if it was half as long--it's 700 pages, and while the writing is beautiful, the plot can best be described as plodding. It's kind of Winter Tales-ish, in that it revolves around a love affair in New York in 1946, complicated by wealth, Judaism, and the Mafia, but it just moves so slowly. And then halfway through, we suddenly get the guy's WWII experiences, which takes almost a quarter of the book (I admit to skimming this, having lost patience long before). And then the last quarter . . . I can't even.  This book defeated me. B-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released October 2nd.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

2012 book 249

S.A. Bodeen's The Raft
I weirdly like books where survival is at stake (hence my love of post-apocalytpic dystopias), so this YA book about a girl stranded on a life raft after a plane crash seemed right up my alley. Unfortunately, it's too short to get to any sort of harrowing point, and I absolutely hated everything to do with the copilot stranded with her. I also wished we'd seen more of the reaction of the protagonist's family--who didn't know she was on the plane in the first place. Great nature stuff--I really liked all the information about birds--but could have been a lot stronger. B/B-.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

202 book 248

Caitlin Moran's How To Be A Woman
I read this selection for lady doctor book group very much against my will, having bogged down in despair during the early chapters on menstruation and body hair. But after randomly running into a fellow book club member in Anthropologie (as one does), I figured I should finish. To be fair, it did pick up a little from there--I enjoyed every story about Moran's sister Caz and the ones that involved members of Blur and The Fall--but I am just not interested in Moran's view on handbags. I honestly wish this had been a straight-up memoir instead of a book of essays about life from a feminist perspective (or whatever this was supposed to be), b/c she has had a fascinating life! More about being a teenage rock and roll journalist in the 90s*, less on giving birth from a feminist perspective, please. B-.

*One time U2 shot a video in her house, that doesn't even get a mention!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

2012 book 247

Junot Diaz's This Is How You Lose Her
Normally I don't read short stories--they're just too darn SHORT--but I love Diaz, and heard this was a novel in stories, and I make exceptions for those. And for the most part that's true--all but one of the stories are about Yunior (narrator of Oscar Wao) and the women in his life (primarily the women he cheated on, but others too).  These stories are great, of course, but I just wish there was more meat to everything. I need another Diaz novel! A-/B+.

PS. Diaz is speaking at Motorco next Thursday!

2012 book 246

Kerry Greenwood's Cocaine Blues
There are, weirdly, a lot of mysteries starring sassy ladies set in the 1920s, but I like that sub-genre and figured I'd check this series out. It involves the aforementioned sassy lady, a bored rich titled woman in England, who gets sent to Australia to try and solve a possible poisoning, but ends up involved in trying to bust a cocaine ring instead. The plot is ok, pretty predictable, and I hate the "shiny black cap" description of 1920s hair (whyyy is it always a cap), but it was a nice light mystery and I'd read more in the series. B.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

2012 book 245

Siobhan Dowd's Solace of the Road
No one makes me get all teary-eyed like Dowd, and this is no exception, as a fourteen year old girl runs away from foster care to try and find her mother in Ireland. But as always when the story involves a journey, there's a lot more to it than that. A/A-.

2012 book 244

Katherine Catmull's Summer and Bird
Summer and Bird are sisters who wake up one morning to find both their parents suddenly gone, and they decide to set off in search of them. But this isn't the adventure-laden middle-grade book I expected; it's a slow, and very lonely, story. I honestly don't know why this is for ages 10 and up--not that a ten year old couldn't read it, but I don't think too many ten year olds would. It's one of those stories about stories, and identity, and has almost a philosophical feel to it. I'm glad I read it--I liked the last quarter a lot--but still haven't decided what exactly I think about it. B/B+?

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on October 2nd.

2012 book 243

Hanna Pylvainen's We Sinners
Really lovely novel-in-short-stories about a family living in the Midwest who belongs to a small, restrictive branch of Christianity, and the effect it has on the nine children. Each section is narrated by a different member of the family (though not all have a turn), giving a multiplicity of viewpoints on the age-old struggle between tradition/religion and modernity/secularism. I loved all the characters and was totally wrapped up in their crises, large and small. A/A-.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

2012 book 242

Alethea Kontis' Enchanted
Cute book about a seventh daughter of a seventh daughter living in a fairy tale world who befriends a frog prince. Basically the whole book is waiting for them to fiiiinally get together, but there are some interesting subplots involving her many sisters as well. B/B+.

Friday, September 07, 2012

2012 book 241

Gennifer Albin's Crewel
It's another post-apocalyptic YA dystopia, with a pretty decent concept--super misogynistic society, but some women ("Spinsters") have the power to weave the threads that make the world (very Greek mythology) and thus have a slightly more prominent role in society. Our protagonist is chosen to be one of these select few--against her parents' wishes, mysteriously enough. It's all very Katniss-goes-to-the-Capitol. Then a bunch of other stuff happens, there are political machinations and the requisite love triangle.  There's actually a lot here of interest, but the protagonist was really frustrating, and the plot didn't have an overarching story to give it structure or narrative tension. The writing felt kind of clumsy in general. But the end was kind of intriguing, if a bit formulaic for these trilogies. I think this will be very popular, it just didn't thrill me. B.

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

Thursday, September 06, 2012

2012 book 240

Ian McEwan's Sweet Tooth
An excerpt of this novel--most of the first chapter--ran in the New Yorker recently, and you had better believe I couldn't wait to read a novel about a young British girl recruited into being a spy in the early 70s. But things get complicated when she falls for her target, an aspiring writer. One of the things I liked most about this was that it was primarily a novel about a girl who loves novels, which is one of my favorite things to read. I mean, the spy stuff is great too, but characters waxing rhapsodic about books really makes me happy. And I have to say, the one thing I would have complained about while reading, too much focus on the love interest's writing, comes to make perfect sense. And I absolutely loved the ending. Really an enjoyable book and a quick read. A/A-.

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

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

2012 book 239

Seanan McGuire's Ashes of Honor
I think this is like the 6th book in the October Daye series, and it's one of the stronger ones--here, Toby is after a missing, possibly kidnapped, changeling girl, with the usual cast of awesome characters as backup. Totally compulsively readable. I love this series and miss when they came out twice a year--darn McGuire and her many many other series! A-.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

2012 book 238

Jenn Ashworth's Cold Light
I think this is the book all the reviews wanted Megan Abbott's Dare Me to be--an excellent, if mildly troubling, story about young girls, toxic friendships, and the secrets they keep from each other and from the adults in their lives. Twenty-five-year-old Lola is looking back on the death of her best friend ten years earlier, as a memorial is being erected in her honor--at least until a grisly discovery is made. It's sort of a mystery, but much more a psychological portrait of a town in the late 90s.  Gripping stuff--very enjoyable. A-.

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

Monday, September 03, 2012

2012 book 237

Laurie R. King's Garment of Shadows
I generally have enjoyed King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series a lot, but couldn't get into the last one at all--I'm tired of books where Mary and Holmes have separate adventures--they're much better together. And this one didn't start off strong--for one thing, they're separate again, as Holmes is trying to track down a missing Mary (who has amnesia, of course, because why not) in Morocco on the verge of a civil war. And the first third is all jsut VERY BORING exposition about Moroccan politics. It picks up a little after that, but the plot is still pretty weak (it's all just people talking, and Mary only gets to be awesome in one scene) and the resolution unsatisfying. I wish King would wait to write another one of these till she actually has a good story in mind. B-.

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

Sunday, September 02, 2012

2012 book 236

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
I still think this is a great end to the series, and one of the best books in the series as well--though I haaaaate the King's Cross/Dumbledore scene, and think the whole Harry's-Invisibility-Cloak-is-EXTRA-special-magical thing is a copout compared to discussions of such cloaks earlier in the series. Good stuff otherwise, though.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

2012 book 235

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
It seemed silly to read the first five Harry Potter books and not finish the series off, plus what better way to spend a long weekend than by watching Doctor Who and reading Harry Potter? Parts of this one make me cringe a little for whatever reason, but the awesomeness totally outweighs the awkwardness.