Wednesday, October 31, 2012

2012 book 310

Wiley Cash's A Land More Kind Than Home
Beautifully written novel about a small town in Western NC, and what happens after a mute boy is killed during a laying on of hands in church, as told by an elderly woman who disagrees with the pastor's methods, the sheriff, and the boy's little brother. It all feels kind of inevitable and depressing, and while I liked the older woman's story a lot, parts of it felt like a different book entirely. But like I said, gorgeous writing. B.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

2012 book 309

Jo Walton's Tooth and Claw
Jo Walton is a remarkably versatile author--everything I read by her is completely different than the thing I read before, and this was no exception. It's basically a Victorian novel--or really, a Jane Austen-style novel--except all the characters are DRAGONS. The world-building here is kind of amazing, and you really end up rooting for these dragons to make good and happy marriages. With lots of treasure. Hee. A/A-.

2012 book 308

Kerstin Gier's Sapphire Blue
So the sequel to Ruby Red is finally out, and it's a good follow-up (though it spends waaaay too much time on the romance considering both books have taken place in about a week). There's still a great sense of humor and plenty of time-traveling adventure, though I kind of wish the characters would start to figure out the obvious stuff already.  The addition of a gargoyle/demon to the cast is handy for both plot and humor purposes, so thumbs up for that. Of course I am dying to read the third one despite how silly this one was, siiigh. A-/B+.

Monday, October 29, 2012

2012 book 307

Leah Stewart's The History of Us
Stewart is one of those reliably good authors--you know a book by her will have complicated relationships, a good story, and great writing, and this one is no exception. It centers on Eloise, a young professor at Harvard who suddenly finds herself the guardian of her sister's children after an accident, and who has to give up her career to move back to Cincinnati. But this isn't the start of a Kate Hudson movie, because then the action moves forward 17 years and we see Eloise and the three now-adults (a grad student, an indie rocker who's quit his band, and a ballerina) grappling with life changes, relationships, and conflicts around the family home. Maybe that sounds boring, but I just read the whole thing in one sitting--it's really compelling stuff and Stewart absolutely nails the characters, particularly Eloise and the two older children. This could be a good choice for book clubs--lots of meaty family stuff and romantic strife to discuss. A-.

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

2012 book 306

Diana Wynne Jones' Archer's Goon
I'm still making my way through the Diana Wynne Jones books that have only recently come back into print in the US, and this was a fairly enjoyable one, involving a family getting caught up in some craziness involving the seven kind-of-immortal siblings who run the town, with each in charge of different parts of it (ie, one is in charge of crime, one of music, etc). It is a weirdly similar concept to Neil Gaiman's Endless, though on a much smaller scale, and obviously this was written first. Gaiman is known to be a big fan of hers. JUST SAYING. Anyway, very funny sibling relationships here (both the humans and the other ones). A-/B+.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

2012 book 305

Mal Peet's Life: An Exploded Diagram
Had to reread this for FYA book club, though I still don't understand why they think this is YA and not a coming-of-age novel. What teenager wants to read so much about the politics of the Cuban Missile Crisis? I liked it a little less this time--the end is cheap, and I don't know why it keeps changing from first person to third person narration. Still a good story about first love with a bunch of other stuff--the Cold War, class, etc--crammed in. B/B+.

2012 book 304

Ben Fountain's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
I wasn't interested in reading this book--I'd get as far as "Iraq War" in the description, think "dude book," and my interest would just shut off, but one of my friends' husbands really wanted someone to talk about it with and I hate letting people down, so . . . I mean, it's a good book, I totally get why it's gotten so many raves, award nominations, etc, but it is the dude-iest of dude books. It's about a 19-year-old soldier whose squad has done some heroic thing (not entirely explained) and now they're on a two-week Victory Tour (it's the Bush years) before being sent back to Iraq (which the titular Billy has very mixed feelings about). Basically all the action takes place at a Dallas Cowboys game, though, except for occasional flashbacks to Iraq and a brief flashback interlude involving Billy's two-night family visit. I was into it at first--Billy is very vividly drawn--but like halfway through, their interactions with the football players, and the movie producer trying to make a deal for their story, and the gross rich Texans they can barely tolerate, and all the macho posturing dude-talk about Beyonce just got to be a little much for me. And that's not even really getting into the gender stuff (especially the cheerleader that Billy has a thing for--is it supposed to be romantic?). It's very well-written and deserving of awards, but this is a manly book for men. B/B+.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

2012 book 303

Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park
Rowell's second book (after the awesome Attachments, one of my favorite books of 2011) is another awesome story, this one a mildly heartbreaking tale of first love between two outcasts in 1986: Park, half-Korean in the very white Midwest, and Eleanor, a weirdly-dressed redhead from a very unhappy family. They first bond over X-Men comics, then Watchmen and 80s alternative rock, obviously the best things ever! (Though I was a little sad when Eleanor dissed Kitty Pryde, though her feminist angle on the X-Men is a very legitimate one.) And Rowell ABSOLUTELY NAILS first love. I had to keep putting this book down because the emotions were so raw--and because I was so terrified something bad was going to happen to Eleanor and Park. I think I fell for them as much as they did for one another. Really, really great. A.

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

Friday, October 26, 2012

2012 book 302

Rhys Bowen's Murphy's Law
I really liked that other series by Bowen, so thought I'd delve into this one, about a young Irish woman who comes to New York in 1901 and of course gets involved in one murder after another. I liked all the historical detail and the main character was interesting enough, but everything was sooooo contrived. I'm not sure I'll continue with this series, it's really not as entertaining as the Royal one. B.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

2012 book 301

Helen DeWitt's The Last Samurai
I have been meaning to read this book for a couple of years now, but almost wish I'd read it much earlier, because the (awesome) first chunk involves a young woman from an eccentric family who somewhat inadvertently teaches her small son several languages, including Hebrew and Greek, and there are some interesting grammatical conversations I'd have loved even more when I was in grad school. (I still loved them a lot.) Unfortunately I was less into the second half, when the son, now 11, goes on a bizarre quest inspired by The Seven Samurai. I'm sure it's all very meaningful but I didn't get as much out of it. B/B+.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

2012 book 300

A.S. King's Ask the Passengers
Really, really lovely book about teenaged Astrid, who's questioning her sexuality--all she knows is that she really likes kissing her coworker--but is afraid to say anything, even to her best friends--who are a lesbian and a gay guy acting as each others' beards to maintain the status quo in their small town. And her home life isn't great--her mom isn't really interested in her and her dad is always stoned, so she spends a lot of time lying in her backyard and sending love to airplanes passing overhead. The protagonist is a great character, and I love her interest in philosophy--some of the other characters are more sketchily drawn (and Justin disappears for like half the book). King really nails all the emotional stuff, though. A/A-.

Monday, October 22, 2012

2012 book 299

Juliet Marillier's Cybele's Secret
The sequel to Wildwood Dancing involves one of the sisters from the previous book accompanying their merchant father on a trip to Constantinople to try and buy a mysterious ancient artifact. Also there is a pirate. This one is kind of a slow starter--the real action doesn't start till halfway through--and as usual the characters are too clueless to pick up on plot points that are obvious to the reader. But I liked the inevitable happy ending despite myself. B/B+.

2012 book 298

Juliet Marillier's Wildwood Dancing
Interesting version of a fairy tale using elements of the dancing princesses, the frog prince, and Eastern European folklore. It was a little frustrating that everything is pretty obvious to the reader, but the (otherwise likable) protagonist doesn't figure things out till the end. I really like Marillier's writing though, so was still entertaining. B/B+.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

2012 book 297

Justin Cronin's The Twelve
The sequel to The Passage is a slow starter--and not just because of the LENGTHY recap of the first book that's all bible-style, which was clever in a way, but awful in another way. But it picks up eventually and moves right along, with a good mix of characters from the last book, new characters, all sorts of interrelationships between the two, etc. I was not thrilled about the whole concentration-camp/feeding-camp-for-vampires analogue, and I was REALLY not thrilled about how much rape there was. Honestly, it started to feel a little lazy at a certain point. Oh, let's show how terrible this camp is with the rapey guards, and let's bring our otherwise "strong women characters" down a notch and also let's dwell on how one of the evil vampires was super into raping ladies. Echhhhhh. I mean, this book was fine or whatever, that just bugged me. Other stuff happens too, lots of excitement and action scenes. And magical vampire girl Amy goes through puberty! B.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

2012 book 296

Lisa O'Donnell's The Death of Bees
This is getting a lot of early buzz, and with good reason--the story of two girls (one fifteen, brilliant and troubled, and one twelve, gifted and beyond eccentric) whose horrible parents die, and who bury them in the backyard because they don't want to be taken into foster care, and whose elderly/lonely/gay next door neighbor thinks they've been abandoned and wants to help them . . . well, it's all wonderful and a little bit devastating. A/A-.

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

Friday, October 19, 2012

2012 book 295

Rhys Bowen's Naughty in Nice
Parts of the action in this one are a result of a stupid misunderstanding, which is my far my pet peeve in all fictional universes. Have a freaking conversation, people. But the mystery itself is pretty solid, and I liked seeing glimpses of the luminaries of the day like Coco Chanel. This series is really enjoyable--the next one comes out in two weeks and I can't wait! B/B+.

2012 book 294

Rhys Bowen's Royal Blood
In the fourth Lady Georgiana mystery, Georgie is sent off to a royal wedding in Romania that's taking place in a spooky old castle in what used to be Transylvania. Obviously there's a murder, and mysterious goings-on, and possible vampires! Plus an incompetent new maid and other hilarity. B+.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

2012 book 293

Rhys Bowen's Royal Flush
The mystery in this one doesn't hold water at all, but this series is still really fun to read. I especially like the protagonist's relationship with her (unlikely) Cockney grandfather and the general sense of humor. B/B+.

2012 book 292

Rhys Bowen's A Royal Pain
The second book in this series is just as much frothy fun as the first (despite several murders), as Georgie is forced to play hostess to a German princess and attend some house parties. These books make me giggle. A-.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

2012 book 291

Rhys Bowen's Her Royal Spyness
If you've been reading my blog for a little while, you'll know I love mysteries set in the 1930s starring sassy young women--this is a weirdly large subgenre, for whatever reason. So here's the start of another series along those lines, but EVEN BETTER, because this sassy young woman is a minor British royal! Only slightly impoverished and with a scandalous mother. She and her brother (a Duke) get caught up in a murder, and also the Queen wants her to spy on her son and his American mistress (Wallis Simpson, of course). Anyway, the mystery is on the lighter side but this was a super fun read. B+.

2012 book 290

Lois Lowry's Son
Look, I can't really judge this in any way, because it's so clearly the book Lowry wrote for her dead son. If you like the other books in this series, it's a fine wrap-up; if you think they proceed too neatly, you'll feel the same about this one. B+?

Monday, October 15, 2012

2012 book 289

Janice Steinberg's The Tin Horse
An aging lawyer, while preparing her papers to be donated to a library, discovers evidence about her twin sister (who ran away, never to be heard from again, when they were 18) and decides to try and track her down with the help of her archivist. Most of the book is made up of flashbacks to their childhoods in a Jewish neighborhood of LA in the 1920s and 30s, and that stuff is STELLAR--lots of family drama, economic drama, romantic drama, Jewish drama--I loved it. Really great details--the neighborhood came alive. The end of the book is a bit schmaltzy, but that just means I can recommend it to my mom in good faith. :) A-/B+. (Get it, in good faith! Ha.)

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

Sunday, October 14, 2012

2012 book 288

Scarlett Thomas' Bright Young Things
I'm a pretty big fan of Thomas' writing, but this book has been out of print for years and so I've never read it . . . until now! It's about a group of six young people who are basically kidnapped while applying for a mysterious job, and find themselves stranded in a well-stocked house on a deserted island. It's an entertaining read, but I wished the bigger picture had been made more explicit. B/B+.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

2012 book 287

Jo Walton's Half a Crown
The wrap-up to this trilogy isn't really a mystery, more of a book of crazy political machinations--coups, plots within plots, and Carmichael (who's been blackmailed into heading a British version of the Gestapo) at the heart of it. Walton has created an absolutely realistic--and terrifying--alternate version of history. A-.

2012 book 286

Jo Walton's Ha'penny
The sequel to Farthing is less distressing and more entertaining on the whole, as Inspector Carmichael (the cop from the first book) tries to solve a bomb plot that went awry, interspersed with the story of an actress caught up in a similar plot. The actress is from a family that is so clearly based on the Mitford sisters that it made everything just deliciously fun, plus there are no Jewish characters at risk of hanging, so I could enjoy the book a lot more easily (there's still plenty of casual--and not-so-casual--anti-Semitism, but the stakes for the beloved characters were a bit lower this time). Great second chapter and I'm on to read the third. A/A-.

Friday, October 12, 2012

2012 book 285

Jo Walton's Farthing
I've been meaning to read more of Walton's work since I loved Among Others so much, and this one seemed tailored to my tastes based on a quick glimpse of the description--in the late '40s, a noble (or whatever, I don't know the terms, her dad is a Viscount) girl marries a Jewish man, to everyone's chagrin (especially her mother's), and when they're at her parents' for a house party, a prominent politician is murdered, and it looks like her husband is being framed for it. Awesome, right?! British class issues, post-war stuff, Judaism, AND a mystery--perfect!

But it turns out that I hadn't read the description closely enough, and it took me a little while to figure out that this all takes place in an ALTERNATE version of history, where Britain accepted peace with Hitler in 1941--so he's still in power, ruling over all the Continent, and anti-Semitism is rampant in England even more than usual. And frankly, I found this all very upsetting and often painful to read. The casual and cruel anti-Semitism of some of the characters--and the sense of impending doom for the Jews--it stressed me out. (Side note: like in Philip Roth's Plot Against America, Charles Lindbergh is the president of the US! His was published first, but I don't remember enough about it to say whether they're set in the same universe or not.) I got weepy with anger during at least one scene.

Anyway, the story moves along at a good pace--it's alternately narrated by the woman mentioned above and the (secretly gay) Scotland Yard inspector investigating the murder--but it's just so . . . disheartening. And it's the first of a trilogy! I'm almost afraid to read the next one. A-, because it's very effective and well-written, but too upsetting to be a full A.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

2012 book 284

Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity
I was very happy to have to reread this for lady doctor book group--it's one of those books that almost demands to be reread once you know the whole story. And I still loved it, and still sobbed through the last twenty percent. This will definitely be on my favorites-of-the-year list in December.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

2012 book 283

Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown
This is kind of a weird followup to The Blue Sword, and I'm actually not sure I've ever read it before. It's a prequel detailing the early life of the legendary queen mentioned in the earlier book, but like there's no dramatic tension, b/c we know she grows up to be a legendary queen (and we know who she marries). Things feel a little slower, too; one climactic battle has a ridiculous amount of lead-up and then ends in like a page. And I found the end really depressing somehow, which I don't think was intentional. I mean, it's still a good book! Just not as awesome as the Blue Sword. And I forgot to say--both books have GREAT animals. McKinley is clearly a horse girl. B.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

2012 book 282

Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword
I hadn't read this in probably close to two decades, and it was much awesomer than in my vague recollections. For one of the OG girl-becomes-a-badass fantasy novels, and especially for a book published in like 1982, it holds up really well. And is frankly better than most current YA fantasy novels. A.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

2012 book 281

Susanna Moore's Life of Objects
So this is about an Irish girl who ends up moving to Berlin in 1938 to be a lacemaker for a fancy lady, or something, but then OH NO WAR. And they go to their country house and hang out? I don't know, this is basically like every other historical WWII coming-of-age sort of thing, complete with the requisite soldier rape, but I'm just not sure what the point of it was. At the end I actually said "What??" out loud because it was just sort of over. I mean, sure, yeah, her journey is just beginning blah blah but her journey so far was kind of boring. And it's really hard to write a kind of boring WWII book. C.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

2012 book 280

Suzy Cox's The Dead Girls Detective Agency
Cox--the deputy editor of Cosmo UK--has written an entertaining and funny book about a teenage girl who's murdered, then whisked away to a hotel in limbo where she has to solve her murder with the help of other murdered teen ghosts. I was not super enthralled with the brooding hot ghost it's obvious she'll fall for, but this is a YA book and apparently romance is obligatory these days. But all of the mystery-solving and spying and ghosting was pretty fun. B.

2012 book 279

Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
This book--about a guy who gets a job as a clerk at the titular bookstore, which has a mysterious purpose--is, weirdly, a love letter to typography and Google. It's also surprisingly adventure-filled, as well as filled with lovable eccentrics. Definitely a fun read, though maybe it wraps up a bit too neatly. B+.

2012 book 278

Kerstin Gier's Ruby Red
The sequel to Ruby Red finally comes out this month, so I had to reread the first one! It's just as good as I remembered and I can't wait to read the next one (and then presumably wait in despair for the third).

Friday, October 05, 2012

2012 book 277

Molly Ringwald's When It Happens To You
Yes, THAT Molly Ringwald. She wrote a novel (in stories) and it's actually pretty good. The writing is mostly consistently fine (the story in 2nd person grated a little, and her depiction of 6-year-old Charlotte is a little weird), and some of her characters really shine. At the center of these stories are a couple separating after an infidelity, and I was into some of the parts about them way less than others, but fell in love with the story about the woman with a transgender child, and enjoyed the hints at a life lived beyond the pages. I was less enthused about the plotline involving the protagonist's husband trying to win her back--never get back with a cheater, fictional ladies, I don't care how much history you have. Anyway. Surprisingly solid. B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book is available now.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

2012 book 276

Patrick Ness' A Monster Calls
Ah god this was just as sad as I expected--it's based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd, who died of breast cancer early into writing it, and so Ness finished it, and it's about a boy whose mom is dying of cancer, and then a monster comes and  . . . tells him stories? But soooo sad. A-.

2012 book 275

Alan Bradley's Speaking from Among the Bones
This is seriously one of my favorite mystery series--somehow, I have no problems believe that a 12-year-old girl with a knack for chemistry can solve her 1950s English village murders . . . and yet I constantly wonder just how a small English village HAS so many murders. No matter, Flavia is awesome! The fifth book in the series involves the un-tombing of a long-dead saint and a newly dead church organist--and plenty of plucky girl sleuthing. And surprisingly, it ends on a kind of big cliffhanger that has me more than eager to read the next one. A/A-.

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

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

2012 book 274

Rick Riordan's The Mark of Athena
I've enjoyed all the Riordan Percy Jackson and affiliated demigod-related books, but this one didn't seem as strong as the earlier ones. Maybe seven protagonists is too many, because Percy and Jason are the most boring characters ever, and Frank doesn't have much of a personality either (plus every description of him compares him to, like, the Buddha, it's all very weird). Luckily there are some pretty good girl characters (though why is Annabeth like the BEST child of Athena ever? Does that make sense in this universe?) and the end is intriguing enough to make me care about what happens next. B.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

2012 book 273

David Benioff's City of Thieves
I can't believe I'd never read this book before--it's exactly the kind of book I'm drawn to, about a young Russian Jew trying to survive the siege of Leningrad, who ends up on a kind of bizarre quest for a dozen eggs accompanied by a charismatic army deserter. I seriously love books like this, full of adventure and plotting and dark humor and a little romance and sinister Nazis and badass ladies. Apparently Benioff is a big-time Hollywood screenwriter and runs the Game of Thrones tv show, but I wish he'd write another novel like this one. A.