Tuesday, July 31, 2012

2012 book 203

Megan Abbott's Dare Me
Completely ridiculous mystery about a pair of frenemy cheerleaders and the coach who comes between them. It starts off okay--the stuff with teen girl friendships is strong--but halfway through somehow becomes super boring, even though there's now a dead body to contend with. It's not very believable and it's way too slow for a story that feels kind of low stakes. C.

Monday, July 30, 2012

2012 book 202

Georgina Harding's Painter of Silence
It's post-WWII in Romania and a young nurse encounters a deaf and mute patient, a boy she grew up with. The plot is a little slow but the depictions of the city and the time period are stellar. B.

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

Sunday, July 29, 2012

2012 book 201

Patrice Kindl's The Woman in the Wall
Man, I cannot believe I'd never heard of Patrice Kindl before this year--I can't think of another YA writer who can write such different styles of books (based on the three I've read so far). The title of this one is a bit misleading--the woman in the wall is actually a very shy girl who builds herself a secret room and passageway in her house, gradually completely disappearing from her family. And then they kind of forget that she exists. And it's a totally great story. A/A-.

2012 book 200

Debra Dean's The Mirrored World
Apparently based at least a little bit on a true story, this novel centers on two cousins growing up in Russia in the 1700s (across the reign of three Empresses). Great insight into the roles of women during that period, and I loved all the historical details. Xenia's motivations in the second half of the book are a bit vague, but of course she's not the narrator, and Dasha is particularly likable. Definitely recommended for fans of historical fiction, and makes me want to read all sorts of other novels set in historical Russia (any recommendations?). B+.

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

2012 book 199

Justin Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan's Team Human
If you're one of the people who finds Twilight super annoying and mildly disturbing, this book may be more up your alley. It's still a YA paranormal romance type of book, but narrated by a very snarky girl who has no love for vampires--especially when her best friend falls for one. Pretty strong world-building and all around a very fun read. A-/B+.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

2012 book 198

Daniel Friedman's Don't Ever Get Old
It's hard to go wrong with a mystery narrated by a super old and super cranky Jewish retired homicide detective named Baruch "Buck" Shatz, especially when the mystery features his law-student grandson (with the also hilarious nickname Tequila) and the hunt for some Nazi gold. I will say that it is a little bizarre how many characters annoyingly try to get an 87 year old guy to hunt down Nazi gold, and it's not too hard to figure out who's behind everything, but the narrative voice makes up for a lot of that. Cranky old Jewish guys are the best. (Side note: would he really watch Fox News? None of my cranky old Jewish relatives do, to the best of my knowledge.) B.

A digital review copy was provided by the publisher.

Friday, July 27, 2012

2012 book 197

Rachel Hartman's Seraphina
So I have this general rule--a completely random one, really--where I avoid reading fantasy books with dragons. I mean, you have to draw the line somewhere. But this was getting really positive reviews, and then I found out that this Rachel Hartman is the same Rachel Hartman who wrote one of my all-time favorite graphic novels, and all rules went out the window. (Plus, this book turns out to be set in the same world!) Anyway, it's about the half-dragon musical prodigy Seraphina, trying to hide her dragon-ness in a world with an uneasy peace between humans and dragons. Lots of political intrigue, interesting mythology and world-building, a little bit of romance, and some humor. I look forward to reading whatever comes next in this series, even with dragons! A-.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

2012 book 196

Tana French's Broken Harbor
I really enjoy French's Dublin Murder Squad series (the last one, Faithful Place, was excellent), but this one was not entirely up to snuff for me. I think if it had been edited down a bit more, been a bit shorter, it'd have been a lot stronger. Anyway, one of the detectives who I guess is a secondary character in one or more of the other books (I remember nothing about him, but there are references to some mysterious previous case) and his rookie partner are assigned to solve the murder of an entire family. But obviously it's not going to be that simple, especially when the detective has family ties to the neighborhood of the victims. I liked the resolution a lot, just thought the whole thing dragged a bit, especially with all the foreshadowing that things were going to go badly. B.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

2012 book 195

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens
Sometimes you just want to reread something light about the apocalypse. :)

Monday, July 23, 2012

2012 book 194

Amos Oz's Elsewhere, Perhaps
I first read this book in a Jewish lit class in college and it stayed with me to the point that when I later studied abroad in Israel and met a girl named Inbal, one of the first things I said to her was "Your name means the clapper of a bell!" (This must have been very weird but she kindly befriended me anyway.) (That knowledge comes from a recurring motif in the book, though I no longer recall what it symbolizes.) Anyway, I deeply loved this book but haven't read it in a long time (since before I started this blog in 2004, in fact), mainly because I was afraid it wouldn't hold up. Luckily, for the most part, the story of the goings-on at a kibbutz in the 70s does hold up, due primarily to Oz's clever 1st-person plural narrative voice. And of course, I personally still find the themes of Jewish/Israeli Old World/New World conflict interesting (not to mention all the gossip and shenanigans that go on). A-.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

2012 book 193

Shannon Hale's Princess Academy: Palace of Stone
I started to write that this was a super cute follow-up to the super cute Princess Academy (a 2006 Newbery Honor book), and then realized that was kind of a weird thing to say about a book about a political revolution. Which this is. We find Miri and several of her Mount Eskel friends in the big city to learn new things and hang out w/ their friend who's about to marry the prince--only soon Miri finds herself befriending revolutionaries, and agreeing with their cause! Can she help make the country better--without hurting her best friend? Talk about your high stakes. And things do get a little intense--but this book is still super cute! I enjoy all Hale's books (adult, YA, graphic novel, whatever), but Miri is especially likable. B+.

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

2012 book 192

Amanda Coplin's The Orchardist
Lonely gruff old man farmers are basically my favorite literary archetype, especially when they're aiding pregnant girls (See Kent Haruf's Plainsong for another find example of this trope). Of course, this book takes a far different tack than Plainsong--for one thing, it's set in the late 1800s, and for another, there are two pregnant girls--sisters--fleeing something pretty horrible. The story also goes in a completely different (and generally unexpected) direction (really, the only similarities are lovable old farmers and pregnant girls). Plus, there's some interesting insights into the not-entirely-fully-formed legal system of the time. I will say that I found end mildly unsatisfying, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the rest of the book. B+.

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

Friday, July 20, 2012

2012 book 191

Diana Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle
Made it just under the gun--the FYA book group discussion of this is tomorrow! Of course I'm always happy to reread this--it's still one of my favorites. I actually tried to rewatch the movie recently to give it another chance, but only made it a few minutes in--I get that Miyazaki maybe wasn't interested in the comedic/romantic parts of this book, but making the whole movie about war (and making Sophie lame) kind of kills it for me. Anyway, this book is always an A.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

2012 book 190

Karen Engelmann's The Stockholm Octavo
It's a time of upheaval for Sweden when this story takes place--things have gotten pretty crazy because of the French Revolution and various plots against the king. When a young, ambitious man befriends a local card-game-hostess (I don't know) with talent as a Seer, the cards she reads for him may deal with more than his chances with romance. But will he ever stop looking at pretty ladies long enough to see the bigger picture? (Seriously, he spends a lot of time dwelling on pretty ladies. He is likable but somewhat silly at times.) Great atmosphere and great handling of political intrigue. I fully expect this to be a big Fall buzz book. A-.

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

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

2012 book 189

Guy Gavriel Kay's The Darkest Road
The third book in the Fionavar trilogy isn't predictable, but a lot of it feels inevitable. It's one of those epics that's going to culminate in a good vs evil battle, and those always go the same way. And I still haven't decided what I think about the gender roles in this series--I would have felt better if there was even one warrior woman (some of the women are powerful, but are sidelined during battle and/or only become sympathetic when they finally agree with the men). I mean, even Tolkien had Eowyn. Still, I totally cried like three times during the (long) ending and I did like Dave's story arc especially, which redeemed some things I liked less. B+.

Update 7/19: The more I think about this book, the more problems I have with the ending in regards to the parallel world stuff. And the more I realize that Kay didn't bother to create backstories for the women at all. I'll let my original grade stand, but if I was grading it today it'd be lower.

Monday, July 16, 2012

2012 book 188

Guy Gavriel Kay's The Wandering Fire
The second book in the Fionavar trilogy is a little bit hard to follow--not just b/c there's a large cast of characters always going various places as things creep toward war, but b/c I'm not at all familiar with the Celtic mythology Kay is drawing on. I liked it more than the last one though due to the general lack of rape and/or torture. And I admit that I'm eager to see where the story ends up. B+.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

2012 book 187

Guy Gavriel Kay's The Summer Tree
Sometimes you just have to read an epic book about five Canadian college kids getting whisked off to a parallel fantasy world on the brink of war. I mostly liked this a lot, but it's getting downgraded to a B for a lengthy rape/torture scene that I found very hard to read. Hoping Kay makes up for that in the second book (it's a trilogy).

Saturday, July 14, 2012

2012 book 186

Robert Hellenga's The Sixteen Pleasures
Somehow I never knew this book existed, and I am so grateful to Sara (the convener of my lady doctor book group) for suggesting it to me! It's 1969, and a 29 year old woman whose plans to attend Radcliffe and have life adventures were altered by her mother's lung cancer is now working as book restoration expert at the Newberry Library. When she hears about the flood in Florence, she's determined to go to Italy and rescue some books--but isn't given the respect she deserves because she's a woman. She somehow ends up in a convent to help save their amazing library and discovers the nuns aren't what she expected at all--and then they find an extremely rare book of Renaissance erotica. And so it seems she may have some life adventures after all. A.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

2012 book 185

Terry Pratchett's Dodger
A few days ago, this article appeared in my Google Reader. At the time I was like, "well, that's interesting or whatever" but it turned out to be perfect background reading for the new Terry Pratchett book, whose main character is a tosher--and Mayhew himself appears as well. It's a classic Victorian adventure story--in fact, I would go so far as to call it Dickensian, mainly because Dickens is one of the secondary characters, and the book is full of references to his work (and to other bits of London history and literature--I was delighted whenever I recognized a reference, and I'm sure there were many I missed). Dodger himself is clearly a relative of Dickens' Artful Dodger, and his landlord/father figure is an awesome old Jewish guy (don't worry, not very Fagin-like in the least, a relief to this Jewish reader). Anyway, things get going when Dodger rescues a mysterious girl from a mysterious attack, but of course it's never really that simple in a story like this. A very fun standalone one from Pratchett, for sure. A-.

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

Monday, July 09, 2012

2012 book 184

Kat Rosenfield's Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone
God, for someone who's ostensibly smart and about to escape her small town for a good college, the protagonist of this book is a COMPLETE IDIOT. Whether it's mooning over her equally idiotic boyfriend, mildly obsessing over a girl who was found dead in town, or randomly accusing other local idiots of murder, she manages to do the wrong thing every time. (This is especially annoying since the murderer's identity is obvious to the reader.) Her story alternates with the dead girl's, and at least she is likable and interesting. I know that this is a YA mystery, but the plot was really undercooked. C.

2012 book 183

Ann Patchett's State of Wonder
I have to say, this was a perfect book to read for my lady doctor book group, and I look forward to discussing it with actual medical professionals. At first I was reluctant to reread it--I remembered it being a massive tome for some reason, but it's not even 400 pages--but I'm so glad I did--I didn't remember the story well and had completely forgotten one huge plot twist. This totally held up to a second reading. Still an A.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

2012 book 182

Cornelia Read's Valley of Ashes
I had read another boom by Read a few years ago and remember enjoying it a lot, so was eager to check out her latest. And then a few chapters into this book, the protagonist's backstory started to sound really familiar--it turns out that this is actually the fourth in a series that started with the one I read back in 2007. Unfortunately, it wasn't nearly as awesome as that one. It starts off with promise, as reporter Madeline Dare and her family have just moved to Denver for her husband's job, only he's being a total jerk and she's overwhelmed with their baby twins. When she starts investigating a string of local arsons for the paper, it seems like she's going to get sucked into some dramatic crime story--only things abruptly devolve into a REALLY BORING and pretty annoying domestic drama. The mystery this book is ostensibly about is never really addressed again. Seriously, I wanted to smack some sense into all of these characters because they were all weak morons. C.

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

Saturday, July 07, 2012

2012 book 181

Jeremy Jackson's I Will Not Leave You Comfortless
Those of you who know me well, or who regularly read this blog, know that I generally have a complete lack of interest in reading non-fiction of any kind. I made an exception for this one, though--Jackson (author of the beautiful Life At These Speeds, written about here and here, and whihc I wish was available for Kindle, and which I cannot recommend enough!) has written a memoir that might as well be a novel, about just over a year in his life when he was ten turning eleven, and the things that happened to his family. The descriptions of their Missouri farm are entirely evocative, and his writing was stellar as always. Lovely stuff. A.

A review copy was provided by the publisher (actually, the awesome Milkweek sent me a print copy after I had problems with the digital one, so big ups to them). This book will be released in October.

2012 book 180

Emmy Laybourne's Monument 14
Pretty compelling book about two schoolbuses of kids that get driven into a Target-like superstore during a near-future weather disaster (which quickly turns things into something much worse). The six high-schoolers, two eighth-graders, and slew of little kids must figure out how to survive and keep each other safe. Some parts of this were predictable, and I had SERIOUSLY mixed feelings about the ending, but I enjoyed this book a lot--I love near-future dystopias where the characters are well-stocked with supplies and thus have to deal with other issues. And the characters here are pretty strong ones (in terms of writing and the characters themselves). A-/B+.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

2012 book 179

James Meek's The Heart Broke In
Meek--author of the awesome The People's Act of Love (excuse the lack of capitalization in that very old blog entry)--brings another book full of complicated and kind of hilarious characters. This book deals with romance, science, blackmail, fame, and family among a large interconnected group of people, including a former rock star turned reality tv producer, his scientist sister, her newsman boyfriend, and a whole host of others. Meek's writing is outstanding and this is going to be a crowd-pleaser (or so I hope). A-.

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

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

2012 book 178

Elizabeth Haynes' Into the Darkest Corner
OH MY GOD, THIS BOOK WAS TERRIFYING. Completely terrifying. And the worst part was how realistic it was. It's like a very well-written PSA about domestic abuse. (I don't mean that in a negative way or to say it sounds canned, b/c it isn't at all like that.) It's about a young woman who was in a relationship that we know went very badly (though the details emerge gradually), and how four years later she's still struggling to recover. And it is absolutely TERRIFYING. A/A-.

Note that this isn't really a mystery, more of a psychological thriller, but I always categorize those with mysteries, so . . . 

Monday, July 02, 2012

2012 book 177

Margo Lanagan's The Brides of Rollrock Island
Lanagan, author of Tender Morsels, delivers a less creepy, but no less lovely, troubling, or weird new novel. And I mean all those adjectives in the best possible way. In this one, different characters take us back and forth in time, narrating the history of an isolated island--and the story of why taking a sea-wife is maybe not a great idea. To say much more would be giving too much away, but this is another winner from Lanagan. A/A-.

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

Sunday, July 01, 2012

2012 book 176

Patrice Kindl's Goose Chase
Another completely charming story from Kindl, involving a young Goose Girl gifted with beauty, hair that sheds gold dust, and tears that become diamonds--which turn out to be unwanted gifts when they lead local royal to imprison her in a tower till she decides which she will marry. And that's just the start of her adventure. Plus her geese are super awesome. A-.

2012 book 175

Katie Kitamura's Gone to the Forest
A well-written, but at time very hard to read, book about a weak-willed son, his domineering father, and the young woman who comes between them. I will say that I was a bit distracted by trying to figure out where/when this was in history--the family is mostly oblivious to a coming revolution, and there are multiple references to "natives"--but I still couldn't figure it out. I know that was on purpose but I found it mildly annoying. B.
An e-galley was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in August.