Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 book 336

Carrie Vaughn's Kitty's House of Horrors
The seventh Kitty Norville book finds Kitty agreeing to appear on a supernatural version of what is basically The Surreal Life (you remember that mid-2000s VH1 show with like Janice Dickinson and Omarosa and Peter Brady living in a house together, right?), featuring several characters we've met before and some interesting new ones. But things quickly start to seem more sinister than even a celebrity reality show should be. Vaughn really goes kind of no-holds-barred here, but again, all the action takes place in less than a week. I wish she'd slow things down a little (though we do get to know the characters pretty well, regardless--it just seems silly for every book to be one quick dramatic thing). B+.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 book 335

Louise Penny's How the Light Gets In
This really, really feels like a finale to the Inspector Gamache series, and if so, I actually admire how everything progressed. This manages to fold in all of the police corruption stuff from the past few books with a new murder tangentially tied to the people of Three Pines, who are here used much more sparingly and effectively (though of course Clara's art genius had to be mentioned at least once). I honestly have no major complaints about this one--it builds to a very intense moment, and if the final chapter is a little bit overly nice, well, enough people got shot for it to balance out. I really wonder what Penny will do next. A-.

2013 book 334

Louise Penny's The Beautiful Mystery
The eighth Inspector Gamache mystery GREATLY benefits from time away from Three Pines and all its murder-magnet denizens--instead, we find Gamache and Beauvoir trying to solve the murder of a monk at a secluded monastery famous for its Gregorian chants. As with the previous book, Penny takes one artistic metaphor and beats it into her readers (here, TS Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral) but the story is still pretty strong. The mystery almost takes a backseat to Gamache and Beauvoir's relationship. There's also more involving the growing animosity between Gamache and his corrupt bosses, but I'm a little bit meh on that whole plotline. But now I'm off to read the most recent one b/c I have to know what's up w/ Beauvoir! B+.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013 book 333

Louise Penny's A Trick of the Light
You all must be wondering why I keep reading these when they annoy me so much. But it's because they'd be SO GOOD if there weren't so many murders in a tiny town and/or involving Clara Morrow! To be fair, this one does slyly reference that a few times. And Clara's burgeoning art world success--and her crumbling marriage--is just as interesting as the murder itself (of a supermean art critic, a childhood friend of Clara's). Not to mention everything with Inspector Beauvoir and his crush on the chief's daughter. Dramarama. Penny did lean waaaaaay too heavily on the whole "chiaroscuro" as a metaphor for the dead person thing--it was silly at a certain point. But, dangit, I really have to know what's gonna happen next w/ Beauvoir and Gamache. B/B+.

2013 book 332

Claire Cameron's The Bear
The two words I would use to describe this book are HARROWING and INTENSE. And boy, did it solidify my resolve to NEVER go camping. It centers on a bear attack (apparently inspired by a true story, EEK) and the two children who escape and must try to survive in the woods until they can be rescued. Only, like, they're five and two. I will say that I had some mixed feelings about the narrative being from the five year old's POV, because narrating things in a child's voice is hard to get right, and I'm not entirely sure Cameron manages. But it's all completely riveting and terrifying, and the children do feel really . . . real. (Cameron does nail sibling dynamics at that age.) And I really loved the epilogue--it definitely made me well up a little. But I am still never going camping. A-.

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

Friday, December 27, 2013

2013 book 331

Alex Bledsoe's The Hum and the Shiver
I liked that Eddie LaCrosse book pretty well when I read it recently, so decided to check out another series of Bledsoe's, one with a woman main character--at least, according to the book description on Amazon. Actually, there are three POV characters, and the other two are men (one of whom is a hot young minister who has an immediate sexual connection w/ the woman POV character, and I was just like . . . yeah, a guy wrote this). And I was thoroughly uninterested in the reporter trying to get a story on the girl, at least until about 200 pages in. Bledsoe's tale is well-plotted, and the world-building is really interesting, but I just found some things kind of tone-deaf (describing an Asian character as having "slanted eyes" is racist, right?). I mean, having the minister sexually objectifying women on one page and then judging them for sexual activity on the next . . . maybe it's accurate, but I found it off-putting, especially when he's the love interest and supposed to be a super good guy. This book was fine, but reminded me why I usually read books written by women instead. (Insert ironic Tumblr tag "misandry" here.) B.

2013 book 330

Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted
I first read this book in the days before this blog existed, and have somehow never revisited it, even though reworked fairy tales = one of my favorite subcategories of the YA fantasy genre. I'll say that this holds up pretty well--it's really cute (a Cinderella story about a girl cursed with obedience) and the writing is pretty lively, but it's all fairly inconsequential. B/B+.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 book 329

Diana Wynne Jones' The Islands of Chaldea
This is the book Diana Wynne Jones was working on when she died a couple years ago (which I am still sad about), completed by her sister Ursula. I didn't spend much time trying to play spot-the-differences, because honestly, it's a really good story and feels like a classic Diana Wynne Jones kind of book. It centers on Aileen, a Wise Woman in training (sort of), going off on a quest with her Wise Woman aunt to try and break down a barrier dividing the titular islands, and fulfill a prophecy. And Aileen is GREAT. She's a teeeensy bit boy-crazy, but is much more involved in trying to figure out her powers and keep the quest going. It's a good combination. Things are mildly predictable, but satisfying nonetheless. I mean, it's a middle grade book. At any rate, it's a solid final volume for the author and a nice tribute by her sister. A/A-.

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

2013 book 328

Jeremy Jackson's Life at These Speeds
I think it's a mark of this book's excellent writing that it affects me so profoundly when I have never had any interest in running, and in fact have always regarded it as a horrible chore--though I was friends with many runners in high school and recognize the atmosphere here. But Jackson's first novel--about a teenager whose track team (including all his friends and his girlfriend) is killed in a car accident, and he's the only survivor, and a year later he's a track superstar, but only has vague memories of his deceased classmates--is extremely moving and very sad, but also beautiful. One of my very favorite books.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

2013 book 327

Natalie Standiford's The Boy on the Bridge
I have really enjoyed some of Standiford's other books, but have been putting off reading this one because the cover made it look like a cheesy YA romance. But then I thought, hey, it's STANDIFORD! Surely a book she's writing about a college student studying abroad in Russia in the early 80s who meets a Russian guy and falls for him will be more complicated and interesting than the usual YA romance stuff. But . . . man, it is hard to read a book about someone so dumb. Laura has been warned that Russians will try and convince her to marry them to get US citizenship, but no, her love is obviously different! The whole time I was just like, come ON. And I really didn't like what Standiford did with the ending. I think she actually WAS just writing a typical YA romance--so disappointing. And I feel like even if that was a genre I was into, I'd be disappointed with this--there's so little character development, and ALL the main character does is think about her Russian dude. It's just not compelling at all--at least, not to someone who is ostensibly a grownup. B-.

Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 book 326

Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Raises Hell
I feel like this series would be a lot stronger if Vaughn gave things more room to breathe--every book feels like it encompasses about a week (or weekend) in the life of Kitty, and so it all seems a little inconsequential (even when there's a fire demon thing afoot, like in this one). Plus, it's the sort of in-between spaces that are more interesting--I'd like to see Kitty interact with her pack when they're not having some sort of deathly crisis. There's a reference here to a couple of wolves leaving, but nothing more is said. And we only know the names of three of the wolves, when it seems like the pack should be more vital. On the other hand, Vaughn introduces some interesting new characters in this one and it seems like they'll be recurring, so at least the world is getting expanded a little. B.

2013 book 325

Carrie Vaughn's Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand
In the fifth Kitty Norville book, Kitty ends up in Vegas--to elope, to do a live tv version of her radio show, and to get involved in various local supernatural things (including a were-tiger act). There's also a gun convention at her hotel full of werewolf hunters! This one is pretty silly and over-the-top, but whatever, I mean, it's a book about a werewolf. B.

Favorite Books of 2013!

I doubt I'm going to read any more super awesome books in the next week, so here, without further ado, are my 15 favorite books of 2013:

--Kate Atkinson, Life After Life
--Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam
--Jennifer Castle's You Look Different in Real Life
--Lyndsay Faye's Seven for a Secret
--Jennifer Haigh's News From Heaven: The Bakerton Stories 
--Eve Harris' The Marrying of Chani Kaufman
--Kent Haruf's Benediction
--Dara Horn's A Guide for the Perplexed
--Mary Robinette Kowal's Without a Summer
--Ryan North's To Be or Not to Be
--Rutu Modan's The Property 
--Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being 
--Victoria Schwab's Vicious 
--Helene Wecker's The Golem and the Jinni
--Brenna Yovanoff's Paper Valentine 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

2013 book 324

Carrie Vaughn's Kitty and the Silver Bullet
In a previous Kitty Norville book, Kitty was exiled from the Denver area for werewolf reasons--but now her mom is sick and so she heads back to town, finding herself in the middle of a supernatural battle for control of the city. I am still not really into the italicized sections of Kitty's thoughts when she's in wolf-form, but otherwise find this series to be very enjoyable, if not as deep as some of Vaughn's other works. But I guess I'm not really looking for deep when I'm reading a series about a werewolf with a late-night radio show. B+.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

2013 book 323

Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Takes a Holiday
The third Kitty Norville book finds Kitty holed up in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, hiding from everything that happened in the last book, and in theory writing a memoir. Then she starts getting messages that someone wants her to leave town, there's a mysterious werewolf with red eyes, and the hot bounty hunter (and his lawyer cousin) are coming for a visit. Lots of drama and lots of action, things move along quickly, and Kitty is pretty likable. I really like this world and look forward to seeing more of it. B/B+.

Friday, December 20, 2013

2013 book 322

Daisy Whitney's When You Were Here
This book (one of two Whitney put out in 2013, I think) made a few best of the year lists, and I remembered liking her book The Mockingbirds, so I figured I'd check it out. And it's really moving--about a boy, just graduated from high school, whose mother has recently died of cancer. And he decides to go to Tokyo for the summer, where she spent some of her last days. There's also a whole thing with an ex-girlfriend he's still in love with, though romance isn't really the focus here--it's more about friendship, and family, and all kinds of love. The description might make it seem like a weepy kind of book, and I did tear up a little, but not for the reasons I was expecting. Really engaging, if mildly unrealistic. A-.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013 book 321

Louise Penny's Bury Your Dead
I have been enjoying this series less and less as it goes on, and this one didn't really change that. At least this one doesn't have a new dead body in Three Pines; instead, Gamache is investigating a murder (and dealing with separatist politics and Quebecois history) in Quebec while recovering from an incident that is revealed slowly (and painfully), while Beauvoir is back in Three Pines looking into the murder from the last book. And since that case did seem sort of shoddy--Clara points out something here that the police should have looked into much more--I guess it's warranted, even though I am WAY OVER this one small town and all its murders. And I didn't like the resolution of that one any more than I did in the last book. There is a lot going on emotionally and some interesting stuff with PTSD--really, everything except the Three Pines stuff is pretty solid. On an unrelated note, I also wish this had had one more pass with a proofreader, because there are a lot of small typos and missing commas. B.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

2013 book 320

Katherine Applegate's The One and Only Ivan
I've been meaning to read this since it won the Newbery, except that I've also been avoiding reading it since it won the Newbery, because I cannot handle books about sad animals. And there are some very sad animals in this book. The titular Ivan is a gorilla who lives in a cage at a ramshackle old mall, along with an elderly elephant and a stray dog who likes to hang out in his cage. Ivan is an artist, thanks to the janitor's daughter, who supplies him with paper and crayons, which adds an interesting perspective to the mix. The narrative voice is really strong, too. Anyway, I basically cried through the entire second half of this. A/A-.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

2013 book 319

Maryrose Wood's The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place Book IV: The Interrupted Tale
This series is starting to frustrate the heck out of me, because it keeps doling out more and more clues to the reader, and Penny just can't figure everything out! I mean, it's hilarious and charming in every way (though I do prefer Jon Klassen's illustrations from the first three books to the new illustrator for this one) but having to wait till the next one comes out is pure torture. TORTURE. A-.

Monday, December 16, 2013

2013 book 318

Carrie Vaughn's After The Golden Age
After the Golden Age is one of my favorite novels-about-superheroes, and so I was super super super excited when I found out there's a sequel coming out in January! And I had to reread this one to prepare, obviously. Anyway, it's about the fairly bitter adult daughter of the city's two most powerful--and famous--superheroes. Lacking any powers of her own, she's working as an accountant, where she's assigned to work on the trial of a major supervillain . . . who once kidnapped her. And soon a rash of crimes are spreading through the city, and the major's cute cop son wants to date her. Everything about this book is awesome and I cannot wait to read the sequel.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

2013 book 317

Kate Atkinson's Started Early, Took My Dog
The fourth Jackson Brodie book is not as /great/ as the third, but is still an excellent story! But I am too tired to talk about it this time.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

2013 book 316

Alex Bledsoe's He Drank, and Saw the Spider
I've never read any of the Eddie LaCrosse books before, but this excerpt made me want to--if there's one thing I love, it's gruff guys trying to deal with babies! And actually, this worked fine as a stand-alone--Eddie explains enough of his backstory for his character to make sense, and the plot doesn't really rely on prior knowledge, since it involves aforementioned mysterious baby (grown into a pretty teenager), her lovelife, her quest to find out who she is, various sheepfarmers and festival-goers and kings, etc. The story moves along at a good pace and is entertaining the whole way through, although the ending is pretty bonkers. I might even check out some of the earlier books in this series, since this one was so enjoyable. B+.

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

Friday, December 13, 2013

2013 book 315

Kate Atkinson's When Will There Be Good News
Rereading this and One Good Turn made me notice again how unflattering Atkinson is about her writer characters--in that one, Martin Canning is kind of namby-pamby, and here, Howard Mason is a total selfish jerk. I know nothing about Atkinson (except that I've read all of her books--though her early ones predate this blog and I should really revisit them) but she always seems so cool and kind to me. I just like the slyness of this, I guess. It's not really relevant. This book is perfect in just about every way. Reggie and Dr Hunter and the baby and Jackson and Louise 4-eva.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

2013 book 314

Garth Nix's Newt's Emerald
Basically, if anyone writes a Regency-era story with MAGIC, I am there, and even more so when the author is Garth Nix. The magical world here is similar to that of Mary Robinette Kowal's books, though not explored in as much detail. It doesn't really matter, though, because this book has tons of cross-dressing adventures, costume balls, pirates, evil sorcerers, etc. It's super cute! I mean, it's extremely predictable, as these sorts of books tend to be, but it's also extremely charming. A-/B+.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

2013 book 313

Charles Finch's The Fleet Street Murders
The third Charles Lenox mystery deals with a pair of prominent journalists who are murdered on the same night, five minutes apart. It also deals with Charles running for Parliament, which is interesting for a history nerd like myself, but derails the mystery part of the story quite a bit. And frankly, the mystery isn't really that interesting or compelling--and Charles was too over-the-top right about everything, in a way. I do like all the characters and find the setting interesting, but this one was a little bit dull. B.

Monday, December 09, 2013

2013 book 312

Louise Penny's The Brutal Telling
I just don't understand how the same six people in the same tiny town keep getting caught up in all these murders! Is Penny that enamored of her Three Pines characters that she can't have a mystery that doesn't involve them? It makes no sense, especially when she'd still have all of her police characters (and their families) to draw from. I keep wondering if the latest one will have a twist where like the Morrows and their friends were secretly the killers all along, and framed everyone else! And Peter Morrow has become such a jerkwad that honestly it wouldn't surprise me in the least. The thing is, this book is still /good/. OK, I thought the solution/motive to the murder was less than good, but the writing is solid, it's all pretty riveting, and I loved all of the stuff about art. If I'd read this on its own, and not part of this series, it would have been great! But you can't judge a series book that way. Like . . . enough already with Three Pines. B.

2013 book 311

Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn
I don't know why I'm rereading the Jackson Brodie books when I've been enjoying several other series (Charles Finch, Louise Penny). OK, yes I do know, it's because I love Jackson Brodie. This is my least favorite by a long shot--it's a very slow starter, and sad-sack Martin is just not as interesting as the characters from the first one. Luckily there's also the wonderful Gloria and the introduction of detective Louise to balance things out. I also like how sort of funny all the coincidences are--Atkinson really has a deft touch.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

2013 book 310

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch
I enjoyed Tartt's previous two books, but wouldn't call myself a die-hard fan or anything, and I wasn't in a rush to pick up this almost-800-page books, despite its appearance on most best-of-the-year lists. And it took me a couple of chapters to get into it--because, frankly, the plot is completely preposterous. But it was just so RIVETING! And an amazingly quick read for such a long book. Then, a little more than halfway through, it kind of turned into a novel about weak-willed rich New York assholes. Do people like that exist outside of novels? Frankly, I wish they wouldn't exist in novels either, because they're VERY tiresome.  And the protagonist . . . at first, he's impossibly sympathetic, but as he makes one horrible decision after another, you just want to shake him and scream, "GET YOUR LIFE TOGETHER, MAN!" Tartt does love her complicated and ineffectual protagonists! Despite the stellar writing, I honestly wasn't sure how Tartt was going to conclude this in a satisfying way--but she manages somehow. It is really annoying for a really long stretch, though. B+/A-.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

2013 book 309

Sergei Lukyanenko's Night Watch
This is the first book in an internationally bestselling series making its way to America for the first time--it looks like the whole series will be released in the next few months, which on the one hand, YAY for not having to wait long to find out what happens next, and on the other--well, the translation is a bit awkward at times. (Also, I didn't realize this was first written in 1998, and couldn't figure out why the main character kept listening to a Discman, but now am mostly amused by that.)

Anyway, this is the story of Anton, a young guy who works for the Night Watch--an organization of various supernaturally gifted people dedicated to maintaining balance in the world between light and dark (the Night Watch are the Light ones, who keep an eye on their dark counterparts of the Day Watch). The worldbuilding here is fascinating, even though the plot is kind of all over the place--there's a young boy with strong powers, and a pretty doctor with a curse, and a talking owl, and some fairly convoluted machinations. The last third is also a lot weaker than the first two. But I really liked seeing a strongly Russian fantasy world, and loved all the concepts and most of the characters (more Tiger Cub and Yulia, please!). I'll definitely be reading the next one. B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on December 31st.

2013 book 308

Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay
Ahhhh this book still makes me cry! I like how Collins allows a little bit of hope into her otherwise extremely grim finale. And we finally get to know a few more of the side characters, particularly Prim, who is SMART.  Also, Gale is a terrorist several times over, stop being on Team Gale. I honestly can't wait to see Jena Malone in this movie. She's amazing as Johanna (side note for book nerds: apparently she's also playing Carson McCullers in a biographical movie!). Anyway. I still think this is a fitting end to the series, and don't really know what disappointed readers expected after reading the first two.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

2013 book 307

Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire
What I really admire about Collins with this series is how she is willing to really up the ante--and insanity--with every volume. The end of this book still makes my heart jump into my throat--and that's knowing everything that comes after! Really masterful plotting, I have to say, though obviously very heavy-handed. Still, it's rare to read a book about someone with PTSD--especially a YA book--and I was very relieved that the movie didn't shy away from showing Katniss' trauma. Though I /do/ wish they'd included a little training montage of Peeta and Katniss! And don't even get me started on Gale.

Monday, December 02, 2013

2013 book 306

Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games
I made a concerted effort not to reread these before the Catching Fire movie came out, but seeing it (twice) made me want to! I'd forgotten how the narrative voice is kind of choppy and awkward--at least until the story gets completely insane and sucks you in. I wonder how this works as an audiobook--maybe the first-person narration is better that way? Anyway. I love this book, despite its flaws.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

2013 book 305

Louise Penny's A Rule Against Murder
Much to my relief, the fourth Inspector Gamache book doesn't take place in the small town of Three Pines (though a few of its denizens show up eventually)--I just can't believe that one town would have so many murders! Instead, the action is set at a remote resort where Gamache and his wife are celebrating their anniversary; a large, rich, horribly dysfunctional family is also vacationing there and one of them is MURDERED! It's one of the more unusual murders I've ever read, too. There's also a lot revealed about Gamache's past, to good effect. I liked this one a lot. A-.

2013 book 304

Louise Penny's The Cruelest Month
I liked the third Inspector Gamache series a little bit less, mainly b/c there's a fair bit of malicious lying and lots of double-crossing going on. The central mystery is interesting enough--who scared a woman to death, and why?--though I am starting to wonder how one small idyllic town can have so many murders! Is it like the flu and murder is contagious? The whole police force vs Gamache thing came to a head in this one, which was a relief, too. B.

Friday, November 29, 2013

2013 book 303

Louise Penny's A Fatal Grace
The second book in the Inspector Gamache series is even better than the first (despite the presence of the annoying rookie from the last book, who does not work for me as a character at all). I really like the small town of Three Pines and its motley assortment of denizens, as well as Gamache and his team. There's just a palpable feeling of niceness about most of it--I mean, besides the murder of an aspiring lifestyle guru. But she's awful, so it's ok? There's also an interesting through-line about faith that I found really compelling. Maybe there are a few too many coincidences, and an apparently ongoing police power struggle is introduced here and left unresolved, but that just makes me more eager to read the next one! A-.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

2013 book 302

Brigid Pasulka's The Sun and Other Stars
This book was beautiful. I say that as someone who knows next to nothing about soccer (and has even less interest in it), and as someone who has only the vaguest memories of Dante's Inferno from a college lit class. But somehow it's still just beautiful. It's the story of a young man, the son of a butcher in a small Italian village, whose brother died in an accident and whose mother committed suicide a year later. Then he meets a girl--the sister of a famous soccer player. Don't worry, this is not a book where a sad boy is rescued by a manic pixie dream girl--it is a book about a small town, and loss, and family, and friendship, and love. And soccer. Really well done. A.

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

2013 book 301

Charles Finch's The September Society
The second Charles Lenox mystery finds Lenox investigating the mysterious disappearance of two Oxford students--which quickly turns out to be something more complicated. One plot point was obvious to the reader but annoyingly hard for Lenox to figure out, and the solution was honestly kind of silly. But the characters and setting were still enjoyable--I look forward to seeing Lenox train up an apprentice in subsequent books, and to more dinners with Thomas and Toto. B.

Monday, November 25, 2013

2013 book 300

Liane Moriarty's The Husband's Secret
For the past couple of years, my sister and I have had what we call Thanksgiving Sister Book Club, where we read a book we might not normally read and then chat about it over fro-yo (it's GREAT!). My sister had expressed some interest in reading this one, and though initially I was turned off by the title, the cover, and the premise, I realized Moriarty wrote a book I enjoyed and figured, what the heck. Butttttttt I really didn't like this book. It has three plotlines involving a bunch of intersecting characters--one involving the titular husband's secret, as revealed in a secret letter; another, involving a woman whose husband and cousin/best friend have fallen in love, and a third, involving a woman whose daughter was murdered almost 30 years earlier. But almost all the characters are somewhere between unbearable and reprehensible.  And I absolutely hated the end. The last line is soooo dumb. This book was written for the book groups that drink a lot of wine and shriek about crazy decisions made by the characters and their dysfunctional relationships. Which is fine, it's just not really my thing. C.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

2013 book 299

Charles Finch's A Beautiful Blue Death
This is a perfectly serviceable historical mystery involving a gentleman in Victorian London who is am amateur detective, mainly b/c he's good at it and finds it interesting. Sure, why not! Anyway, his dear friend, the young widow next door (who seems like she'll become a love interest eventually), asks him to investigate the murder of her former housemaid, who now works in a house with a series of suspicious characters. Good characters here, and I like that Finch refers to past cases--it helps flesh out the world a little. I think these books will help me nicely kill time till a new CS Harris book comes out. B+.

Friday, November 22, 2013

2013 book 298

Louise Penny's Still Life
I've been hearing a lot of good things about the Inspector Gamache series--the latest one has made a bunch of year-end lists--and this first one was better than I expected. It involves the murder of an elderly woman in a small Canadian town and Penny really kept me guessing the whole time. Really good pacing and characters, barring the extremely annoying and grating rookie trying to prove herself. Otherwise, very solid mystery and I'll definitely be reading more in this series. A-/B+.

2013 book 297

Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Goes to Washington
The second Kitty Norville book finds Kitty in DC to testify at some Senate hearings about paranormal research. There's also some followup on the weird cult from the first book that claims to cure paranormal people, some interesting new characters (including an actual psychic, a kindly vampire queen, and a hot were-jaguar), and the usually muddled motivations from the bad guys. But that's ok--these are quick and fun reads and don't really need to be analyzed that much. B/B+.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

2013 book 296

Carrie Vaughn's Kitty and the Midnight Hour
I really like what I've read of Vaughn's work--particularly After the Golden Age, which has a sequel coming out in January!!--so figured it was high time to check in with her long-running urban fantasy series, which seems to center on a werewolf with a late-night radio show. How did I wait so long to read it?! Anyway, it's not like exceptional or anything, and the bad guy's motivations are kind of all over the place, but it is really fun and I like the premise a lot. Plus, it's $1.99 for Kindle right now! B+.

2013 book 295

Kate Atkinson's Case Histories
Case Histories is one of those books that is always satisfying and always good, no matter how many times you read it. Even remembering all the details of the various cases, the way the story is structured makes it a great story. Not to mention Jackson Brodie and all the other characters. Remember what a revelation this book was when it came out? A literary mystery! And then Atkinson wrote three more! I am deeply grateful these books exist, because they always hit the spot.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

2013 book 294

Benedict and Nancy Freedman's Mrs Mike
I think my life is complete now that Mrs Mike is available for Kindle, b/c my old childhood copy is falling apart. I read this SO many times when I was a kid--it was one of the many books that my mom loved and gave me to read. I thought it was SO romantic (both in terms of romantic love and romanticizing the wilderness lifestyle), though it is really, really grim at times (it's also very funny at times). It's about 16 year old Kathy, an Irish Bostonian, who travels up to Canada in 1907 for her health and immediately meets and marries a hot Mountie. Then they go deep into the wilds of Canada to start a life. It's (in theory) based on a true story! But, because it was written in 1947, it's amazingly racist/paternalistic about the indigenous population. So that's kind of a downer. Apparently a couple of sequels were written in the early 2000s, and they look terrible, so I'll just keep rereading this one over and over. Way better than the Little House books.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

2013 book 293

Joshilyn Jackson's Someone Else's Love Story
The author's note at the beginning of this book signs off with "Shalom, y'all" and so right away I was like, two thumbs up! Trying to summarize the plot won't do it justice or make it sound appealing, so I'll just say a few things--it involves a young single mother, Shandi, who was a virgin when she got pregnant, and a man who's doing a poor job of recovering from a tragedy, and the unlikely way they meet. But like the title says, it's someone else's love story. I really like Jackson's books, and this may actually be my favorite of hers--not just for the Jewish content (Shandi is from an interfaith marriage that didn't last). Really, really compelling reading, amazing characters, and it all wraps up in a satisfying way. I accidentally took a long lunch today because I was so caught up in the story. A/A-.

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

2013 book 292

Annabel Pitcher's Ketchup Clouds
Pitcher's latest (after My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece) requires so much suspension of disbelief that I never really got past it. It's about a teenage girl in England involved in a love triangle with a pair of brothers--and look, teenage girls do a LOT of stupid things in the name of hormones, but I really can't believe that a girl who had an /amazing connection/ with one boy would keep hooking up with his brother once she realized who they were. Just, no. And also, this whole thing is told in letters to an American killer on death row (because apparently she killed one of the boys and got away with it), which, also, no. I mean, I like epistolary novels, but what teenage girl would spin her story in such a literary way--because you don't know which boy died. A teenage girl would not write letters in a way as to build suspense, right? It just kept throwing me out of things. It may have worked better as a diary kind of book. And then when the reveal finally comes, it's the most melodramatic reveal it could possibly be. Weirdly, the ending is then kind of nice, but in general, this book was not for me. I bet teenagers will eat it up though. B/B-.

Monday, November 18, 2013

2013 book 291

Brandon Sanderson's Steelheart
At Comic Book Book Club last month, the conversation turned to novels about superheroes (b/c dang, I love novels about superheroes) and one of the group members recommended this book to me. Of course, it's not really about superHEROES, but about superpowered individuals who have taken over--particularly one Steelheart, who rules over what I think is near-future Baltimore with an iron fist. Well, actually, more like a steel fist. Anyway--it's a superpowered dystopia! The protagonist is teenage David, whose father was killed by Steelheart a decade ago, and David's been planning his revenge ever since. He's determined to join up with a group of non-powered rebels to bring the powered villains down! I did like this a lot, but wish that David's crush on hot Megan (hotness is her main personality trait, unfortunately) had been a little more downplayed. Nothing is more annoying than a teenager pining over someone when he should be fighting bad guys with superpowers! Sanderson does bring a couple of interesting twists, though, and though there is a nice conclusion, there's room for a sequel that I'd definitely read. B+.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

2013 book 290

Natalie Standiford's How to Say Goodbye in Robot
I had to reread this for FYA book club (because all I remembered was the radio show)--NOT that I'm complaining, since I think I liked it even more the second time. Great, sad and beautiful, but maybe hopeful sort of story. And a nice change of pace from the dense historical book I spent all week reading. I almost wish Standiford would write a sequel, even though that would maybe ruin things?

2013 book 289

Nicola Griffith's Hild
I don't know what it is with long books--and this one isn't even that long!--but for some reason I find it hard to dedicate time to reading them, even when I enjoy them (as I did with this one). It takes place in the very early days of Christianity in England (or whatever England was then--lots of little warring kingdoms), and centers on the girl who grows up to be St Hilda. I have to say, I think this book might piss off people who take their saints seriously, for a VARIETY of reasons--but as someone who's never heard of St Hilda before this, I thought it was GREAT. I mean, aside from the fact that Hild is clearly in love with a guy who is clearly her half-brother. Otherwise, though, GREAT. Hild is a seer, and steered by her ambitious (read: Lady MacBeth-esque) mother, becomes indispensable to the king. There are lots and lots of political machinations--I think this might be a good pick for fans of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall series, and not just because of the historical English setting. I really liked the level of historical detail, too; Griffith clearly did her homework. This is a good book to hunker down with this winter and be grateful for our cushy modern lives. A-.

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

Monday, November 11, 2013

2013 book 288

Octavia Butler's Wild Seed
This is one of those books that deals with really important historical/cultural issues, but that I almost wish I hadn't read, because everything about it was very upsetting. It deals with two immortals--Doro, who steals other people's bodies to live, and who is obsessed with breeding (and controlling) humans with supernatural powers, and Anyanwu, who can change her shape and heal herself and others. A lot of the book is very very unsettling, and the end is kind of enraging. I hate trying to grade books that I recognize have literary merit but don't particularly like, and my default is usually a B.

Friday, November 08, 2013

2013 book 287

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
For the first time ever, reread a Harry Potter book felt kind of like a chore. Harry is just so annoying in this one--more so, even, b/c he's right about Draco and all that. But he's just so dumb about how he does everything. I guess this book gave shippers a lot of fodder (Harry is straight up obsessed!), though I don't see the Harry/Draco appeal myself. Rowling does do a good job of balancing teenage hormones with depressing stuff, at least.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

2013 book 286

Gail Carriger's Curtsies and Conspiracies
The second book in Carriger's prequel series, was, I think, a lot more fun and a lot more solid in general than the first one (which I still liked!). This one involves vampires doing weird experiments, more spy lessons, and a whole bunch of visiting boys. PLUS more characters from the Soulless series make an appearance (and, having recently reread those, Captain Niall suddenly has taken on new prominence). I like this series so much that I can even forgive that it takes place on a dirigible, which is by far the silliest place a girls' school could possibly be. A-.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

2013 book 285

Seanan McGuire's Velveteen vs The Multiverse
If there's one thing I like, it's novels about superheroes. And if there's another thing I like, it's parallel universes. And if there's a THIRD thing I like, it's books by Seanan McGuire. So I was all over this sequel to Velveteen vs The Junior Super-Patriots, which has more awesome superhero team-ups, angst, major actions scenes, and lots of GREAT lady-friendships. Very fun read and I really hope McGuire revisits this world. A/A-.

Monday, November 04, 2013

2013 book 284

Kerry Greenwood's Murder and Mendelssohn
The Phryne Fisher series is really one of my favorites. I loved this one, even though a great chunk of it involves a bunch of choir people talking about choir things--not really one of my interests. But everything else is so great that I didn't mind at all! Phryne and Detective Robinson are trying to figure out who killed a conductor; meanwhile, an old wartime lover and his new crush are in town and she's determined to do some matchmaking. The best part of this is that they are VERY clearly based on Sherlock Holmes and John Watson from the BBC Sherlock series. Does that make this fanfiction? It's an AU! Anyway, it's all fairly adorable, there are lots of other funny parts, it's pretty easy to guess the killer but everything is so entertaining that it doesn't even matter. Modern sensibilities transposed onto the 1920s really make for good reading. A-/B+.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

2013 book 283

Erin Bow's Sorrow's Knot
I really liked Bow's debut, Plain Kate, so was excited for her new one. And it mostly lived up to my expectations. The mythology of the world is too complicated to get into in a brief blog entry, so I'll just say that there's a girl, Otter, and her two best friends, Kestrel and Cricket (who are, refreshingly, themselves a couple, and there's no love triangle), living in a matriarchal society trying to keep themselves safe from malevolent ghost-things. Really great world-building, and I have no complaints about the characters or plot, aside from the fact that I found parts of the ghost stuff to be mildly confusing. Enjoyable read, for sure. B/B+.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

2013 book 282

Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey's Cheaper by the Dozen
This book (along with its sequel) was one of my favorites when I was little--I just found the extremely large and mildly eccentric family to be so charming! So I was delighted to find out it was finally being released as an e-book. I do kind of wish that a new edition would come out excising the explicitly racist stuff, though; I know this was first released in the late 40s when such things weren't considered offensive, but the scene with the Chinese cook and the scene where their otherwise awesome dad puts on a minstrel show are really awful for modern readers. And otherwise there's so much to praise here--I have always loved the emphasis on women's education being just as important as men's. But mainly I read this for the hilarious pranks played on various family members/outsiders/the older girls' dates. And all the fascinating historical technologies. Cars were so weird in the 20s! Anyway, this edition doesn't have the illustrations my old paperback does, but there is a new biography of the sibling authors and some family photos at the end.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. The e-book will be released on Tuesday.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

2013 book 281

Gabrielle Zevin's In The Age of Love and Chocolate
Yay, the final book in that near-future trilogy where chocolate is illegal and our protagonist is from a chocolate-peddling mafia family is here! This book sees Anya turn 18 and follows her for the next few years as she attempts to legally sell chocolate in a nightclub, and it's all entirely fascinating. I appreciate that the relationships here are handled in a more realistic way than most YA series--and that there's a deliberate contrast between high school romance and adult relationships (if 21 can really be considered adult--though Anya is certainly overly mature for her age). Really this book is about friendship and family and the high cost of doing business, to trot out a cliche. But I defy you to find another YA book where the main character is setting up a business empire. That is freaking awesome. I mean, some things might wrap up too neatly, but whatever, this series is great. A/A-.

2013 book 280

Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Headless Cupid
The other day The Millions posted a great list of five YA series adults may have missed--and since two (Howl's and Half Magic) are two of my very faaaavorites, and I remembered liking Wolves of Willoughby Chase, I figured I'd check out the Zilpha Keatley Snyder one. And my only disappointment is that the three later books in the series seem to be out of print! But this first one is pretty charming, where a family has to deal with their new stepsister, who's really into the supernatural (though it's clear she's just trying to bug her mom). Really great sibling relationships and I liked how Snyder handled the post-divorce emotional turmoil. I really am bummed I can't read the other three.

Monday, October 28, 2013

2013 book 279

Francine Prose's Bigfoot Dreams
Prose's 1986 novel, available as an e-book for the first time, deals with a single mother who writes for a Weekly World News type of publication (who else remembers those?), and what happens when a story she writes turns out to be true. I liked this whenever I was reading it, but never felt compelled to sit down and finish it, which is why it took so long (that, and I just got a Nintendo 3DS). Vera is a well-drawn character, and I liked her relationship with her parents a lot. The story itself is not particularly engaging, and I was less than interested in everything with her slacker ex-husband. I kind of wish the whole thing had been about crypto-biologists instead of the protagonist having a midlife crisis. B.

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

2013 book 278

Jennifer Lynn Barnes' The Naturals
So, this book is about a teenage girl who's recruited into an FBI program for teens with special crime-solving abilities (she's a natural profiler, one of the others is a human lie detector, etc). BUT there is also a serial killer going around and his victims seem somewhat familiar! There is also the requisite love triangle, which is thankfully less prominent than the mystery, especially since both boys are basically cardboard cutouts. I actually was really enjoying the protagonist and the plot, for the most part--interludes from the killer's POV were not very effective--but then the end was so ridiculous that I actually had to rethink my previous enjoyment. I mean, amazingly ridiculous. B-?

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

2013 book 277

Seanan McGuire's Indexing
This was my first experience with Kindle Serials, and generally it was a positive one. I think two weeks between chapters might be a little much--I definitely forgot a lot of the details when I didn't glance over the previous chapter before reading a new one. The story itself was strong, though, and works well when read in a clump and not staggered out. It's about Henrietta (Henry) Marchen, who works for a team of the FBI (or whoever, I don't remember, I read that first chapter months ago) that deals with errant fairy tales. Henry is herself a Snow White, and her team includes a Shoemaker's Elf and a Wicked Stepsister (plus a normal guy who just works there for a reason I also don't remember). It's a great set-up, for sure. I think the end was a little bit weak--I definitely had some unanswered questions--but this was definitely a fun read. I apparently saved a dollar by buying it serially; you can read the whole thing at your own pace for $3.99. Good deal. B/B+.

Monday, October 21, 2013

2013 book 276

Nevil Shute's A Town Like Alice
I was talking about this book today (it's currently only $2.99 for Kindle!) which immediately compelled me to put down the perfectly fine book I was reading and start reading this instead. Becase it is one of my faaaaaavorites (despite the colonialism and mild racism/paternalism that comes of a book written by a British dude in 1950). Jean Paget is my hero. I love this book so much.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

2013 book 275

Alan Bradley's The Dead in their Vaulted Arches
OK, I'm just gonna come right out and say it--the 6th Flavia de Luce book is straight up weird. Both in the sense than it's quite a departure from the rest of the series, and also in that it's just WEIRD. I mean, a big chunk of the book involves Flavia attempting to resurrect her mother's dead body. It's more than a little unsettling. Plus, Bradley has suddenly inserted a whole mythology about the de Luce family here--something that really should have been hinted at a little bit more in previous volumes for a more organic feel. Having Winston Churchill casually stop by is kind of out of nowhere--though entertaining. I guess all of that sounds a little bit whiny, especially since I'm kind of intrigued by the new direction this series seems to be going. And if it means that a 12 year old girl will stop getting involved in murder investigations (suspension of disbelief is impossible at a certain point), I'm all for it! Let's train up a girl spy! B.

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

Saturday, October 19, 2013

2013 book 274

V.E. Schwab's Vicious
If there's one thing I love, it's novels about superheroes, and this is a really interesting take on the idea. We start off in media res with Victor, recently escaped from prison, looking to track down his old college roommate--who's passing himself off as a hero, but is something else entirely. Schwab flashes back and forth in time to their college days (and the origins of their powers) and to the days preceding the opening scenes, when Victor's picked up a twelve year old girl with powers of her own (his rival is allied with her older sister). Really interesting mythology for powers here, too. It's a little bit more psychologically dark than most superhero novels, I'd say, and also really hard to predict. Up until the very end, I wasn't sure how things were going to go. But I loved it. A.

Friday, October 18, 2013

2013 book 273

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
I pretty much reread this one to enjoy everything with Luna and Neville and the DA, though on this reread I noticed how much I liked the last couple of chapters, too. Nice meditation on dealing with loss, and the last paragraph is especially quite lovely.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

2013 book 272

Sarah Cornwell's What I Had Before I Had You
Really lovely novel about a recently divorced woman who is traveling to her childhood hometown with her children to visit an old friend, when her (troubled) son disappears. That's all interspersed with the story of the eventful summer she had when she was fifteen, meeting new friends and dealing with her legitimately insane mother. It's also about family bonds and inheritances and secrets, first loves and intense friendships, inevitability, and art and creativity. Parts of this are kind of dark and depressing, but it all rings very true. And it's not a mystery or anything, but the way Cornwell reveals the truth about the protagonist's family is really well done and has a great sense of tension. Absolutely stellar first novel. A.

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

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

2013 book 271

Rhys Bown's Evans Above
I like Bowen's mystery series about Queen Victoria's great-granddaughter, so figured I'd try another series of hers. This one involves the constable of a small town in Wales; he has the unlikely name of Evan Evans, and all the titles of this series involve heavenly puns. Anyway, I always love small-town settings and their eccentric personalities (though could have done without the two women competing for his attention--one, a forward barmaid, the other, an outdoorsy and modest teacher) but the mystery here is frustrating (two dead men are found on a mountain). I completely called the killer very early on and was very annoyed that the constable never even followed that avenue of investigation. Shoddy police work! I still might check out more books in this series when I'm looking for something light, though. B.

Monday, October 14, 2013

2013 book 270

Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando's Roomies
SUPER cute and charming book about the last summer before college, told by two girls who are assigned as roommates and start emailing each other. Each has various friend/family/boy drama going on, so there's plenty for them to bond over--though there are invariably misunderstandings and even some drama. Zarr is a reliably solid author for me; I've never read anything by Altebrando, but clearly need to remedy that. Both girls have authentic voices and realistic lives, and even if things wrap up maaaaybe a bit too neatly, it all kind of works. Like I said, very charming. A-.

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

Sunday, October 13, 2013

2013 book 269

Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly's The Tilted World
It's 1927 in small-town Mississippi, during the Great Flood and prohibition and all that stuff--and this historical detail here is great and really makes the time and place come alive. Things mainly revolve around Dixie Clay, a bootlegger (who does the cooking for her awful husband, who runs the business), and Ingersoll, one of a pair of federal agents investigating the area. Then Ingersoll finds an orphaned baby and gives it to Dixie to raise and immediately falls in love with her, or something. From there, the bones of the story are pretty obvious--with a few surprises--and there's a fair amount of telling instead of showing. It's just a little bit less subtle than I personally would have liked, especially from the author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. I think there are a lot of people who would love this, it just wasn't quite there for me. B.

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

Friday, October 11, 2013

2013 book 268

Rachel Hartman's Seraphina
Sometimes you just have to reread a book about a half-dragon girl who's really into music, and who's trying to help keep the kingdom at peace. It's actually been so long since I first read this that I'd mostly forgotten the ending, and was surprised anew. Man, I wish the sequel would come out already! Though there was a solid ten years between Amy Unbounded (the graphic novel set in this universe) and this one, so really anything less than that would be appreciated.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

2013 book 267

Rick Riordan's The House of Hades
This series is fun to read, and I appreciate the great diversity of the characters, but there are just TOO MANY of them. Too many backstories, too many plot points to give everyone a chance to shine. And every time one or the other goes up against a big baddie, you know they're gonna be just fine and will get out of danger by being clever, so there's not much narrative tension really. Which is kind of a problem, b/c two of the characters are down in the pits of Hell! It should be tense! I am excited about prospective new love interests, though, b/c that's how I roll, apparently. B.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

2013 book 266

Diana Wynne Jones' The Merlin Conspiracy
The followup to Deep Secret is mildly disappointing, in that it's way less funny and interesting than its predecessor. Its primary characters are Nick, the teenage cousin of the girl from the first book (who is actually pretty prominent in that one, though I didn't mention him), and Roddy, a girl living in the Court of some other world. It's the usual stopping-evil-people-from-taking-over kind of plot, though after a certain point we don't see the villains anymore and have no idea what they're actually doing. And, annoyingly, when the teens try and go to grownups for help, no one believes them! It's one of my pet peeves that teenagers in books always try and deal with crazy crap on their own, and the one time they behave sensibly and try and get adult help, it doesn't even work. Anyway. Eh. B.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

2013 book 265

Kerstin Gier's Emerald Green
So the third book in the Ruby Red trilogy is finally here, and it's a pretty fitting wrap-up to the series. There's lots of time-traveling adventuring, the secrets of the past are all finally revealed, etc. One thing I really like about this series is the protagonist's relationship with her family and best friend--they're all very loving and supportive and funny together, which I feel is more realistic than a lot of families we see in paranormal YA stories. I still wasn't really buying the romance here--remember, the whole trilogy takes place over just a few weeks--and was slightly put off by the whole thing, but then again, I'm not a teenage girl. Otherwise, Gier writes great characters--all the minor and secondary characters manage to be fully fleshed out--and I especially liked the last little twist at the end. Very charming. B+.

Monday, October 07, 2013

2013 book 264

Diana Wynne Jones' Deep Secret
Here's another book by Diana Wynne Jones that I entirely missed, new to Kindle! In this one . . . lots of complicated things involving magic and multiple worlds happen. Seriously, I am way too tired to try and explain the plot. The main characters are a magical dude whose job seems to be to help keep order in the worlds, and a young woman who he may decide to train. And most of the action takes place at a speculative fiction convention. The inevitable romance is a nice slow build, there's plenty of action, and even the plot points that are easy to guess aren't unwelcome. Very satisfying, and I'm hoping I can track down the sequel. B+.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

2013 book 263

Jo Baker's Longbourn
There have been a lot of Pride and Prejudice sequels/spinoffs/whatevers written over the years, and most of them are terrible. So I was intrigued by this more nontraditional take on the story, about the servants at Longbourn, who only appear briefly in the book. It's primarily told from the perspective of Sarah, one of the two housemaids, but there's also quite a bit involving Mrs. Hill, the housekeeper/cook, as well as a mysterious new footman. And luckily, they're all really well-drawn characters, and their stories flow really well as they weave in and out of the more famous Bennets' doings. It's also pretty historically accurate--there's a fair amount about the Napoleonic wars, and the household chores are described in great detail (which I mean in a positive way--though there is perhaps too much about washing the dirty laundry--that symbolism might be a bit on the nose). About 3/4ths of the way through, there's a lengthy interlude flashing back to the footman's past, which almost feels like an entirely different book, and I was eager to get back to Longbourn and Sarah. But on the whole, I thought this was really well-done, and perfect for fans of historical fiction and Austen fans. MUCH better than the usual drivel trading on Pride and Prejudice. A-.

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

Saturday, October 05, 2013

2013 book 262

A.S. King's Reality Boy
All of King's books are excellent and this one is no exception--I actually read it all in one sitting b/c it was so freaking compelling. It's about a teenage boy who's famous for being an extremely problematic child on one of those Supernanny-esque shows, and he's spent years trying to get past that and to deal with his terrible family. Then he meets A GIRL while working the concession stand at a stadium-type place. I am not really into plots where people are "saved" by a romantic interest (which is kind of the case here) and I'm still not sure how I feel about the oldest sister character, but like I said, this was just so riveting, I couldn't put it down. Gerald is great, and this book is kind of hilarious and sad in equal measures (something King does very well). A-.

2013 book 261

Alethea Kontis' Hero
The followup to Enchanted features tomboy sixth daughter Saturday and the son of an earl forced to pretend to be the daughter of a witch. I was completely uninterested in the romance here, but the plotting and action is pretty strong, and it looks like the next book in the series (the ending seems to indicate a next book) will be interesting. B.

2013 book 260

Jeannette Winterson's The Daylight Gate
I have a really hard time taking seriously any book that takes actual historical witch trials (here, the Pendle witch trials of 1612) and claims the women actually were witches, doing absolutely grisly things. Maybe that's the history major in me talking, but I really had a problem with it. My bigger problem, however, was with how much rape there was in such a short book. That, unfortunately, is probably more historically accurate, but is much harder to read. Everything is described as crudely and creepily as possible, which makes it good Halloween reading, I guess, but isn't really my thing. B/B-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on October 21st.

Friday, October 04, 2013

2013 book 259

Gail Carriger's Timeless
This is a nice wrap-up to the series, featuring an action-packed trip to Egypt and the answers to many questions of the past. Still, it leaves a lot of room for awesome future potential, so I'm glad Carriger is planning to write, at some point, a sequel series. And the prequel series is pretty fun, too, even if it does take place entirely on a dirigible.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

2013 book 258

Gail Carriger's Heartless
I really love this series! This one has tons of vampire and werewolf drama as well as a giant killer mechanical octopus. Plus various dirigibles. I can't decide if I love or hate the word "dirigible."

2013 book 257

Gail Carriger's Blameless
I like that this third volume manages to be a mix of examining the history/mythology of the universe here, as well as dealing with a bunch of crazy plot points (babies! Biffy! Weird European scientists!). Plus Queen Victoria putting the smackdown on shenanigans.

2013 book 256

Gail Carriger's Changeless
I don't really have much to say about the second volume of the Parasol Protectorate series, except that I liked it just as much as last time. The bit of a mystery--what's causing supernatural creatures to lose their abilities? Who's trying to kill Alexia?--works really well, and there's just as much humor and intrigue as ever. I'm really glad to be rereading this series--it's so much fun.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

2013 book 255

Fiona MacFarlane's The Night Guest
This is one of those excellent, but mildly depressing, books about which I'm never quite sure how to feel. It centers on Ruth, a widow whose two sons live far away. One night she thinks she hears a tiger in her house. Soon after, a woman shows up at her door, claiming to be from the government, sent to help take care of her. At first you're just a little bit worried about Ruth, but gradually the worry increases until you're a hopeless ball of anxiety. In that regard, MacFarlane is very effective, though it wasn't a very enjoyable experience for me, personally. This book will make all of you call your elderly relatives. B/B+.

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

2013 book 254

Gail Carriger's Soulless
I've been wanting to reread this series for a while, and was definitely in the mood for something on the fluffy side anyway. In retrospect, I was in willful denial about the steampunk aspects of this first one, though they are definitely more prominent in the later books. But Carriger's light touch and sense of humor make the steampunk parts much more bearable. I love these books.

Monday, September 30, 2013

2013 book 253

Lauren Oliver's Panic
Although I've enjoyed all of Lauren Oliver's books, I was really glad to see her make a return to contemporary YA (as opposed to more fantastical/dystopian YA), because Before I Fall is seriously one of my favorite books. I actually wasn't sure what this would be like--the description says something about high schoolers playing a high-stake game, which I worried would be Hunger-Games-y, but it's just a serious of increasingly intense (and dangerous) challenges dreamed up by bored and reckless small-town teenagers. The story alternates narration between Heather, who enters on a whim after her boyfriend dumps her, but then realizes how much the winnings could help her change her life, and Dodge, who enters for REVENGE!!!!!!!! (The caps and exclamation points are justified.) The teenagers are all really well-done characters and the games are believable, though most of the adults in the story are not. But they're not really the focus here. In all, this was a quick and somewhat insane read, though I mean that in the best possible way. A-.

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

Sunday, September 29, 2013

2013 book 252

Trish Doller's Where the Stars Still Shine
So, this book is about a teenage girl whose mother kidnapped her when she was four and they've been on the run ever since--until her mother is pulled over for a busted taillight and arrested. Now Callie has been reunited with the father she doesn't remember (and his new family) and a million other relatives from their tightly knit Greek community. Also, there's a hot guy who works on a boat. I really liked Callie as a character and this book was immensely readable--it's very reminiscent of the darker Sarah Dessen books, which I mean as a compliment, and I'd definitely recommend it to Dessen fans. It could go a little deeper, especially regarding Callie's relationship with her relatives, but I liked this a lot. A-.

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

Saturday, September 28, 2013

2013 book 251

Laurie R. King's The Bones of Paris
After not really being into the last couple of King's Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell books, I was excited to read something entirely different from her. This new mystery involves an American PI in France in 1929, trying to find a missing girl, and hobnobbing with the usual notable names of the day (Hemingway, Man Ray, etc. There is a weird amount of Gertrude Stein dissing, too). Things only get more complicated when he encounters a woman from his past. The central story is pretty solid, and the seamy dark side of the Parisian art world is kind of fascinating, but everything just moved SO SLOWLY. The descriptions of various weird Surrealist theater pieces and otherwise creepy artworks could have been cut waaaaay down, and in general a lot of this could have been edited out for a more streamlined mystery. I think King is going for a more literary mystery thing here, but I found a lot of the descriptions tedious. On the plus side, there's a character who's basically the human equivalent of Lying Cat from Saga! B.

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

Friday, September 27, 2013

2013 book 250

Megan McCafferty's Jessica Darling's It List
OK, I'm just gonna say, first of all, I LOVE the Jessica Darling books, and was glad to revisit Jessica and her world. But a cynical part of me feels a little bit like McCafferty bombed a little bit with her dystopian duology (Bumped and Thumped) and wanted to get back to something she was comfortable with. I'm not sure a prequel to the Jessica Darling series was exactly the way to go. On the one hand, like I said, it's great to revisit Jessica and get her origin story. On the other, a lot of this was covered in the books themselves, and seeing a Jessica that hasn't grown up (in the sense that we see her maturing and becoming stronger in the original books) yet feels a little bit like going backwards. But it is all very charming, in the usual Jessica Darling way. I guess this is aimed more at a middle-grade audience--it's all about Jessica starting middle school--but it doesn't feel like McCafferty is writing down to them (a problem I had with Bumped). And she totally nails that middle school feeling. Looks like a sequel is due out next fall and yes, I'll probably be reading it. B+.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

2013 book 249

Sarah Rees Brennan's Untold
I have actually been anticipating this book and dreading it in equal measure--I really liked the first in this series, but the end made me very angry/upset. I really wasn't sure what to expect from this installment. And even halfway through, I couldn't tell if I loved it or hated it or hated it because I loved it or loved hating it, or what. I mean, for one thing, there's the ridiculously eloquent dialogue; it's like all the teenagers have stepped out of a 1940s movie featuring fast-talking dames. And I kind of like that, while recognizing its ridiculousness. And then there's the fact that all the teenagers are SO STUPID. Every time they start to have an honest conversation, it devolves into a bunch of lies and idiocy because of FEELINGS. I just wanted to shout, "Nut up, Kami!" and "Come ON, Jared!" on like every page, and then reach into the book and give everyone a good shake. I hate books with stupid miscommunications and misunderstandings that could be cleared up with one sentence, but aren't for annoying plot reasons. Things do get better in the second half in this regard, though there are still some moments where I was like "ARGH." Brennan is clearly going for plot points that make people feel that way, though, and I'm just not sure how to feel about that.

And that's not even getting into the plot, which involves evil sorcerers and slightly less evil sorcerers fighting for the town, or whatever. I don't know. B.

2013 book 248

Ursula Dubosarsky's The Golden Day
This was an excellent, if mildly weird, novel about a group of schoolgirls in 1967 whose teacher disappears while they're on a (frankly ill-advised) field trip. Really strong characterizations of the girls, and I actually really liked the resolution. It may be a short novel, but it packs a punch. A/A-.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

2013 book 247

Patrick Ness' More Than This
I want to write my usual little review of this book, but instead am paralyzed by indecision over how to tag it without being spoiler-y! Sigh. These tags are inadequate.

Anyway. Ness' latest YA book (he has an adult novel coming out in January) focuses on teenage Seth, who drowns in the opening pages . . . and then wakes up outside his childhood home, only the whole town seems to be abandoned. Things get progressively more heartbreaking and insane from there, kind of in alternate waves. I thought the big reveal was a bit silly, but Seth is a really well-written character, and the flashbacks to his life are really well-done. All the young people we meet are kind of incredible. But, yeah, comparisons to a famous movie of the 90s make it hard to take it as seriously as we should. B/B+.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

2013 book 246

Eve Harris' The Marrying of Chani Kaufman
It took me a few days to read this book--not because it was super long, or because I didn't like it; in fact, it was excellent and I loved it. I think it's because I related too strongly to and felt too much for the characters. The story begins at the wedding of Chani Kaufman and Baruch Levy, a pair of young Charedi (super religious) Jews in London, and flashes back to their betrothal. Their story is contrasted with that of the Rabbi performing the ceremony and his wife, the Rebbitzin tutoring Chani on being a Jewish wife, as their marriage becomes increasingly troubled. Books about very fum Jews always give me weirdly complicated emotions; I spent a chunk of my high school years hanging out with Yeshiva girls and knew a lot of girls like Chani (though slightly less sheltered) and have seen this environment firsthand. So I can say that Harris completely nails it. Plus, it's extremely well-written, has some really funny parts, plenty of touching parts, and is all-around great. I mean, it was longlisted for the Booker for a reason. The reason is that it's awesome. A.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

2013 book 245

Mary Miley's The Impersonator
It's 1924, and a young vaudeville actress has been hired to impersonate a long-missing girl, so she and the girl's uncle can claim the inheritance. I actually thought this was going to be a straight-up historical novel, but the actress almost immediately encounters a murdered woman and gets caught up in trying to solve the mystery--and find out what happened to the girl she's impersonating. WHICH of her genteel but money-grubbing relatives or hangers-on could be the killer?? Great historical details here, especially regarding the vaudeville/acting life and bootlegging. The mystery itself is a little bit over-the-top, and the protagonist's crush on a supposed relative is squicky (even though the reader knows they're not really related), but the characters are strong and I think I liked the way everything wrapped up. B/B+.

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

Monday, September 16, 2013

2013 book 244

Emma Chapman's How to Be a Good Wife
I never quite know how to evaluate books that are objectively good and affecting when they are just so UPSETTING. My feelings here are also tempered by the official book description, which compares this to two other recent literary/thriller type books, and those comparisons really give the game away earlier than Chapman perhaps intended. (On the other hand, strongly suspecting what happened adds a lot more tension to the narrative--and there was plenty of tension already.) Briefly: this is the story of a woman who stops taking her mysterious medication, and starts hallucinating--or remembering?--mysterious things. I was completely frustrated and angered by the ending, and can already see book clubs screaming about it.

This may be the vaguest review I have ever written! But I don't want to give anything away. It's a strong, compelling, but ultimately kind of depressing story. One that I want to yell about. B/B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on October 15th.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

2013 book 243

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Rereading this book raises a few questions I've always had about this series:
a) How on earth does a romance bloom between a giant and a human??? Especially based on what we see of the giants later in the series. I'm not even just wondering about the . . . mechanics. Like, how does one strike up a conversation with a giant? You wouldn't run into one at the grocery store. Actually, do wizards have grocery stores? Where do they get, like, canned goods? Do they use canned goods?
b) It's made clear here that using any of the Unforgivable Curses = a life sentence in Azkaban. Harry definitely tries them out in later books, but doesn't get in any trouble. Is it b/c he's using them on, like, Bellatrix Lestrange? (It's said that Crouch allowed the use of Unforgivable curses on Dark Wizards--so was that rule still in effect?)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

2013 book 242

Rick Yancey's The 5th Wave
I was, let's say, not excited to read this for FYA book club. Aliens are not really my bag. It started off not-terrible--I wasn't into the narrative voice, but teenage Cassie, alone and on the run after a multi-pronged alien invasion, was interesting enough, and there was plenty of action. Then like a quarter of the way through, the story starts to be narrated by a guy who is clearly Cassie's high-school crush and I was just like, seriously?? And every other part after that annoyed me even more. An alien assassin thinks Cassie is too cool to kill! Then she meets a different cute teenage boy and instantly becomes the most annoying character ever to exist. And that's all just in the first third of the book, before the ridiculous coincidences start piling up. I feel like Yancey is trying to make some philosophical points about humanity, but damned if I can tell what he meant. This book was extremely stupid. C.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

2013 book 241

Lauren Grodstein's The Explanation for Everything
Grodstein's latest, after the excellent Friend of the Family, is another strong and readable novel. It was actually amazingly readable, considering how many parts of it involved things that I personally find grating (student-teacher relationships, people who are into intelligent design [can't you believe in God AND evolution?? I do, so it's certainly not impossible!], an incorrect description of the academic grant application process [sorry, but I work with grants at a university! Professors don't just directly submit to the NSF and you certainly can't be still writing the scientific portions a week before it's due! There are CHANNELS and OFFICES you have to go through and SIGNATURES needed from the school!]).


The book is about a biology professor at a small (and apparently not very reputable) school, a widower with two daughters, who teacher a class on evolution called There Is No God (modeled after his Princeton professor mentor's most famous course). When a student approaches him about doing an independent study on intelligent design, he finds himself exploring the idea of faith. Grodstein absolutely nails writing people who are basically total messes and has academic politics (and neighborhood politics) down to a T. I'm actually still not sure how I feel about where things end up, but this was really good. A-/B+.

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

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

2013 book 240

Daniel Woodrell's The Maid's Version
I've never read anything by Woodrell before--he's getting much more hype now that Jennifer Lawrence is super famous: she received her first Oscar nom for Winter's Bone, based on the book by Woodrell. Much like Winter's Bone (the movie--like I said, I haven't read the book), this is a powerful, but harrowing, story. And it's surprisingly dense for such a short novel. It's narrated by young Alek, whose grandmother is relating the story of a terrible tragedy where a dance hall blew up, killing many people inside. But it's also the story of their family, and their town, and the family his grandmother worked for, and a few of the people who died that day, especially since the narrative moves back and forth in time, kind of all willy-nilly. I will also say that when the truth behind the disaster finally comes, it's . . . anti-climactic. From a literary perspective, this is strong, but I didn't really ENJOY it. B/B+.

Monday, September 09, 2013

2013 book 239

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Sometimes when you're sick and cranky, only Harry Potter will do! Man, I am still angry about the movie version of this and how they never say that Harry's Patronus is the same animal his dad could turn into. That connection is like the whole point of the book! Well, that and Hermione being awesome.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

2013 book 238

Tamora Pierce's Battle Magic
In the last couple of books in the Circle series, Pierce has referenced a war involving Pierce's Imperial China analogue that Briar, Rosethorn, and Evvy fought in/survived, and I guess she decided to write a whole book about the war, even though we already know our main characters make it out mostly unscathed. Actually, this is stronger than some of the other books in this series--there's a lot more going on, especially since the three characters split up for a while. But the second half of the book is mostly getting ready for battles, and battling, and I just think reading about battles is boring. Plus, some cats are killed by the bad guys just to show how bad they are. It's entirely unnecessary, since they're also torturing a 12-year-old girl (not a spoiler--this is referenced in the earlier books). Gratuitous animal murder is an automatic downgrade. B/B-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on September 24th.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

2013 book 237

Tamora Pierce's Melting Stones
I figured I should read this before the new book in the Circle series comes out, even though I haven't been super excited about the last couple books in this series--and this was no exception. I like the characters plenty--it just seems like not really a lot happens in these books unless it's directly promoting personal growth or averting the one bad plot thing that's going on. Because there's only ever one plot thing going on. Anyway, in this one stone mage Evvy accompanies Rosethorn and some new character to an island to find out why parts of the land are dying. There are also some adorable pirate orphans and this series' best non-mage character (or at least, most competent non-mage character) to date. I kind of wish there was more to the story though. B.

2013 book 236

Dara Horn's A Guide for the Perplexed
Well, this book just warmed my history-and-Judaism-loving little heart! Horn's latest (after All Other Nights and In The Image, both of which I loved) has two main parallel storylines--the first, a sort of modern retelling of the story of Joseph from the Bible (I fully expect someone in the future to write a college term paper on the symbolism here--the names alone!) involves genius software developer Josie Ashkenazi, who's invented a program called Genizeh that is like social media ++, and who is convinced by her sister to go to Egypt to do a project with the Alexandria library, where she is then kidnapped (!!). The second involves awesome scholar Solomon Schechter, the namesake of like every Jewish day school, as he (and two Scottish sisters, who are amazing and hilarious here) uncovers the famous Cairo Genizeh. There's also a whole thread involving the Rambam, author of the original Guide for the Perplexed (whose papers were found in the Cairo Genizeh). That all may sound confusing or convoluted, but Horn's novel is entirely readable. She deftly draws all these narrative threads together into one completely engrossing story. I LOVED this. A.

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

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

2013 book 235

Meg Cabot's The Bride Wore Size 12
The latest entry in the Heather Wells series (also known as the series with my least-favorite titles) has more murder and mayhem at the dorm where Heather works, mainly centering on a rich Middle Eastern prince who's taken up residence there. She's also about to get married, but thankfully for me (who isn't interested in reading novels about weddings), there's not too much plot devoted to wedding planning or whatever. Anyway, there's a great sense of humor, as always, plus a long-awaited confrontation with Heather's crappy mom! Great stuff, perfect read on a day where I'm coming down with a cold and need something fun. A-/B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on September 24th.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

2013 book 234

Seanan McGuire's Chimes at Midnight
The seventh October Daye book (they're not really mysteries at this point) find Toby and her companions trying to stop a bad fairy drug from being sold, which leads to Toby getting exiled . . . and starting a revolution. It's all very action-packed, but with McGuire's trademark sense of humor. I seriously love this series--total entertainment. A-.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

2013 book 233

Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project
 I'm not sure what I was expecting when I started this book about an Australian genetics professor (who clearly has Asperger's, but seems unaware of the fact, though the text makes it obvious to the reader) who decides to create a questionnaire to find the perfect candidate to be his wife. And then a friend/colleague throws a young woman (the titular Rosie) looking for information on her biological father his way. The main beats of the story are pretty transparent, but the story was still TOTALLY CHARMING. Don and Rosie are both fully realized and likable characters, and I loved their interactions. The supporting characters are all really well-done too, as is the investigation on Rosie's father. This was completely delightful. A/A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on October 1st.

2013 book 232

Matthew Quick's Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
Quick is the author of, I guess, Silver Linings Playbook and some other books, but this one doesn't make me want to read those. I mean, it made me get all teary at an airport, but I feel like it's a book I've read several times before. It's about troubled teen Leonard, who's planning to murder a classmate (for reasons we don't find out till like 3/4 of the way through, and though I found the reasons very upsetting, they weren't presented in a way to make them, like, powerful) and then kill himself. Leonard is a typical fictional troubled teen, where he's the only one who's DIFFERENT and the only one who can see through all the BULLSHIT and CONFORMITY. It's too bad Leonard didn't grow up in the 90s; we hated conformity and surely he'd have found some peers to relate to. There's also the typical cool/okay teacher, and the old neighbor who gets him into Humphrey Bogart movies. It's all pretty  . . .  I don't want to say predictable, but there aren't really any surprises (I was mildly surprised by some things the mother does, but not in a good way). Anyway, this was a perfectly fine book, if you want to read one of those books where a troubled teen plans a suicide, but I wasn't really into it. And there were waaaaayyyy too many footnotes. B/B-.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

2013 book 231

Cristin Bishara's Relativity
I am super into books with parallel universes (feel free to recommend some!), so was excited to read this YA take on the subject. Teenage Ruby--a major physics nerd--has moved from California to Ohio after her father gets married, where she discovers a magical tree (okay) that allows her to enter other versions of her life. I can't decide whether I like that Bishara attempts to give a science-y reason for why this happens, or whether it was unnecessary. I definitely liked that romance was kind of on the backburner (though the love interest was very appealing) and the focus was more on Ruby and her family (and the different iterations thereof). Things get pretty intense, in a good way. An interesting and quick read. B+.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on September 10th.

2013 book 230

Tarquin Hall's The Case of the Love Commandos
The fourth Vish Puri mystery is just as delightful as the previous three. It starts off with Vish in a funk, having been unable to locate a whole bunch of missing jewelry. Then one of his assistants, who moonlights with an organization that helps couples from different castes run away together (the titular Love Commandos), enlists his aid in finding a missing young man. Though things quickly become more complicated. Meanwhile, his intrepid Mummy-Ji is on the trail of a suspicious man, who might be a pickpocket, or a murderer! I kind of like it when Mummy and Vish interact more, though they are still pretty hilarious together in this one. B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on October 8th.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

2013 book 229

Jillian Cantor's Margot
As a Jewish woman, I kind of have mixed feelings about books where Anne Frank secretly survived the Holocaust (ok, there are only two of these that I know of, but I didn't really like either). Cantor twists the idea a bit by having Anne's older sister Margot survive, instead; I appreciated her efforts to bring life to a historical figure about whom little is known, but analyzing the impulse leads me to some cynical places. THAT SAID, this book is really readable! I couldn't get into Shalom Auslander's recent Anne Frank book at all, but completely devoured this one, which finds Margot Frank living in Philly in 1959, working at a law office and posing as a Gentile. Too much of the story revolves around her lovelife for my own particular tastes, but there is plenty about memory and family and religion and survivor's guilt to balance things out. It feels mean to say that this is a feel-good Holocaust survivor story, but the end really makes it seem that way. But the author is a fellow Penn State grad, so I'll give her the benefit of the doubt on this one, and conclude by saying that it's all very engrossing. B/B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on September 3rd.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

2013 book 228

Chelsea M. Campbell's The Trials of Renegade X
The adventures of Renegade X continue thanks to Kickstarter! And I couldn't be more delighted about that. The sequel is just as charming as the first one, featuring more of Damien being caught between the world of superheroes and supervillains. Only he's accidentally turned his best friend and sidekick kind of . . . crazy evil. And there's plenty of high school drama to deal with. And a brand new power! So much awesome action and adventure and romance and family and friendship. Plus there are a couple of dangling plot points, which gives me great hope that we'll hear more from Renegade X. A/A-.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

2013 book 227

Chelsea M. Campbell's The Rise of Renegade X
This is still one of my favorite novels about superheroes--well, to be more specific, about the son of a supervillain mad scientist who finds out his father is a superhero, and is forced to go live with him (and his family) for 6 weeks to give the ol' hero-ing thing a go. Not all part of this are believable (even for something involving superheroes), but Damien's struggle between the two worlds is really compelling, as well as being pretty hilarious. Campbell has a great narrative voice.

Monday, August 26, 2013

2013 book 226

Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland
I love Lahiri's writing--and have read The Namesake several times--so was very much looking forward to a new novel from her. This was a slow starter, though; I wasn't really interested in the characters till about a quarter of the way through. The story involves a pair of Indian brothers--one of whom gets involved in the radical politics of the 60s and 70s (and marries a philosophy student),  while the other goes to America to study oceanography. At first, reading this felt like something of a slog, but an unexpected plot point made me much more invested, and I liked it a lot after that. Lahiri's writing is superb as always (the last section is particularly lyrical), and her characters are GREAT, even when they're doing things that aren't very sympathetic (Subhash and Bela are particularly compelling, though). I think this will be a book group favorite--there are a LOT of things to discuss. It took me a while to get into, but by the end, I was sold. B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on September 24th.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

2013 book 225

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
I want to reread books 3 and 4 for some reason, but I have this weird compulsion that won't let me read them out of order, or skip one, so I'm rereading this one too (I reread the first a couple weeks ago). This is kind of my least favorite--which isn't to say there isn't stuff to like! So much Weasley awesomeness, plenty of foreshadowing, etc. But Lockhart and Dobby are just so annoying. (Book 7 makes me regret saying that about Dobby, but it's true in this one.)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

2013 book 224

Adam Langer's The Salinger Contract
I really loved Langer's Crossing California, but wasn't too interested in his last couple of novels. But this one! It's a literary mystery/thriller--one of my favorite genres--involving actual literature! Our protagonist is  . . . Adam Langer (although he is less successful than the author Adam Langer, the two seem to have a lot in common), who gets caught up in a crazy and amazing story when an author friend of his accepts an unusual proposal. This is a really quick, engaging, and fun read, and hits a lot of my personal buttons--and I doubt I'll be the only one. I'm still not quite sure how I feel about the ending, but that doesn't really lessen my enjoyment any. Super, super fun. A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on September 17th.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

2013 book 223

Kate Manning's My Notorious Life
Apparently books based on REAL HISTORICAL FACTS are the hot new thing; this is like the third or fourth one I've read recently. It manages to read more like an actual novel and less like a bunch of history crammed into a novel than some of the others, though. (I did worry that it was going to turn into a polemic on Why Abortion Should Be Legal, and it does kind of skirt that line at times.) Anyway, this one is about an apparently notorious New York midwife in the mid-1860s; the story starts off strong with her childhood in extreme poverty, as she and her siblings are sent out West on an orphan train. She works her way up the ranks through some luck and through intelligence/experience, which is all pretty compelling. I will say that a large chunk of the second half involves her railing against newspapers and their accusations against her; I understand that this novel is being presented as a memoir, and someone writing a memoir certainly would want to refute accusations against them, but it got a little bit boring. And I was really discomfited by the relationship between the protagonist and her husband--they're awful to each other. It's really her relationship with her sister that was the heart of the story, to me. This is a solid work of historical fiction, for sure, with a satisfying ending. B/B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on September 10th.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

2013 book 222

Diana Wynne Jones' The Pinhoe Egg
The final Chrestomanci book revisits the characters of the first one with some new additions--a bunch of witches in a nearby town determined to keep their secrets from Chrestomanci. And they've started a feud. It's all delightful, and the unicorns and griffins make it even better. Solid and entertaining story.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

2013 book 221

Diana Wynne Jones' Conrad's Fate
I liked this one slightly better than last time I read it, but it's not anything particularly exciting. I do like the focus on the staff of a Count's house, especially once a bunch of actors get hired; it's just not particularly compelling.

Friday, August 16, 2013

2013 book 220

Chelsea Cain's Let Me Go
I think this is the 6th book in the Gretchen Lowell series, and it's high on the entertainment factor, if low on an overarching plot. I mean, a lot HAPPENS, but it feels more like a novel involving serial killers than a straight-up mystery. There's serial killer Gretchen doing stuff, and stuff with a drug kingpin, and everyone is just kind of along for the ride. The wrap-up is stronger than the set-up, for sure. Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy it--I did! But at a certain point, I feel like the author can't help but run out of things to do with Gretchen. She's bordering on unbelievable here--medical skills, hacking skills, surveillance skills, and what basically amounts to ninja skills. Basically, this was a little bit silly. But action-packed and fun? B.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

2013 book 219

Diana Wynne Jones' Witch Week
Note to self: this is your least favorite of the Chrestomanci books and you find it a little bit tiresome--don't bother to reread it again anytime soon.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

2013 book 218

Diana Wynne Jones' The Magicians of Caprona
This Chrestomanci book is as enjoyable as the first two; it involves two Italian feuding families full of musicians and magicians and the children who realize they have to work together to defeat an evil enchanter! Plus awesome cats!

2013 book 217

Ryan North's To Be or Not to Be
A choose-your-own-adventure version of Hamlet is clearly the best idea ever, which is why this raised over half a million dollars on Kickstarter. And yes, I'm counting it toward my book totals, b/c it's over 700 pages long (some are illustrations, but still) and it took me more than a few hours to go through. I'm like 97% sure I got to every ending thanks to a system involving lots of page-corner-turning and several bookmarks! And it was so worth it--this was REALLY well done. I have never chuckled so much at Hamlet! Granted, I have never actually chuckled at Hamlet before, to my knowledge, but I certainly appreciated it much more this time around. I also liked how North editorialized about some of the choices that stick to the text, particularly the ones involving Ophelia. But there's also ghost time travel and a lot of swordfighting pirates, for those who don't want to be judged for making sexist choices as Hamlet would. It's all very clever with a GREAT execution. Plus illustrations by all the awesome indie comics people of the day! How can this not get an A?