Sunday, March 31, 2013

2013 book 98

Caroline Leavitt's Is This Tomorrow
Full disclosure: Caroline Leavitt once mailed me some stickers and stuff, so I kind of love her and am predisposed to like her books.
Leavitt's latest, after Pictures of You, is another EXCELLENT story, focusing on Ava--a Jewish divorcee in the 1950s--and her son Lewis, who are already neighborhood outcasts, when Lewis' best friend disappears. I will say that the earlier parts of this book bummed me out and filled me with indignant fury in equal measures, because I too am Jewish and have experienced much of the ignorance displayed in this book (luckily things are better now for American Jews, but we're really not too far removed from people being offended that you don't want to decorate your desk for Christmas). That's not really relevant to the plot, but I wanted to point out that Leavitt totally nails that time period's mildly vicious anti-Semitism and general meanness toward divorced women. It's all pretty heartbreaking. And that's before the best friend even goes missing, and Lewis and Rose (his other best friend, the sister of the missing Jimmy) have to try and keep themselves going. This isn't a mystery (though all the plotlines have a resolution), but a really moving coming-of-age, dealing with the crazy 1950s/1960s, trying to get past personal tragedies, sort of novel. Plus, there are pies. I really loved this and will probably be recommending it to a lot of my lady friends who read. A/A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on May 7th.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

2013 book 97

C.S. Harris' When Gods Die
The second book in the Sebastian St Cyr series finds our intrepid Viscount being asked to investigate the murder of a young woman--and everyone thinks the Prince Regent did it. There are plenty of suspects, but what really intrigues Sebastian is that the dead woman was wearing a necklace that belonged to his mother, who died when he was a child. Plenty of interesting historical/political shenanigans going on, and a pretty solid mystery in general. Also, I love how characters in historical mysteries are always just taking in helpful street urchins and employing/adopting them. Seriously, I love that. A-.

Friday, March 29, 2013

2013 book 96

Bridget Zinn's Poison
For the first two-thirds of this book, I was like, ok, this is a typical fantasy adventure sort of book, about a girl who's a poison master, and who's on the run after a failed attempt at assassinating the princess (who happens to be her best friend), and of course there's a cute boy and I was not interested in their romance at all. The high point for me was an adorable magical pig (I kept picturing Waddles from Gravity Falls). I mean, it was fine, just not particularly compelling. And then the last third gets super awesome! I mean, the romance is still there and cliched and predictable (but likable enough), but there's some pretty cool stuff going on otherwise. It's a standalone (and the author died tragically young of cancer, so there won't be any sequels for sure, which ugh, sad), which is a nice change of pace too. An actual ending, how novel in a YA novel! B+.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

2013 book 95

D.A. Mishani's The Missing File
 Since it's Passover, reading a mystery set in Tel Aviv felt appropriate--plus, I lived there for six months in college when I studied abroad, and it's nice to revisit it, if only through fiction. Anyway, the protagonist here is a detective whose hobby is reading crime novels and watching Law and Order and seeing where the detectives get it wrong (which is maybe a little ironic, as he's not that good of a detective/policeman, at least based on my own pop culture consumption). Now he's on the case of a missing teenage boy, which is complicated by the boy's English tutor, who's determined to insert himself into the investigation. I had mixed feelings about the mystery itself (and the serious incompetence of the main character, which was extremely frustrating), but really enjoyed the characters and setting, so probably will check out any further books in this series. B/B+.

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

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

2013 book 94

Daphne Kalotay's Sight Reading
Kalotay's latest (after the awesome Russian Winter) is another book dealing with artists and/or Boston, though here the artists are musicians, and the storyline more domestic in general. I will say that I'm not entirely sure what the /point/ of the novel is--the difficulties of making a marriage work (especially when one of the people involved is a famous composer)? The vagaries of living life as a musician? This is not the say the book isn't good, because I REALLY enjoyed reading it, and thought all the characters were great (I particularly liked Hazel), I just can't really pinpoint what it was ABOUT. I think I'll go with the marriage one. B+.

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

Monday, March 25, 2013

2013 book 93

Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being
I adored both of Ozeki's earlier novels (and have made more than one book club read them), so was psyched to read her first new book in nine years, which completely lived up to my expectations. It's the story of a novelist, Ruth, struggling with writer's block (in theory she's working on a memoir about her mother's Alzheimer's). From what I can tell, a lot of this is definitely based on Ozeki's real life (to the point where I got worried and uncomfortable when she argued with her husband in the story). Anyway, one day, near their remote Canadian home, Ruth finds a package on the beach, which turns out to contain a diary, some letters, and other assorted plot points. The diary belongs to a teenager, Nao, contemplating life, the universe, her amazing great-grandmother (a radical feminist author turned Buddhist nun), her depressed father, war, American vs Japanese culture clashes, and her own plans to commit suicide. Things get pretty metaphysical. Or maybe just meta. Either way, I loved it, and will need to revisit it soon. A.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

2013 book 92

Elizabeth Peters' The Seventh Sinner
I'm still trying to find more mystery series to get into (I'll definitely be getting back to the CS Harris books, but like to have more than one series going at a time) and the Jacqueline Kirby books are now very high up on my list. This first one involves a group of young scholars in Rome--when an acquaintance is murdered, their new friend (and librarian!) Jacqueline Kirby has to figure out who did it, before another one is targeted. Normally I HATE reading books about librarians, because they never get it right . . . but this one is kind of amazing and hilarious and even accurate. I will say that some of this book reads as VERY dated (it was published in the early 70s and the references to things like love beads make that pretty clear) but it is no less awesome for that. A/A-.

2013 book 91

Anton DiSclafani's The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls
It's 1930, and teenager Thea has just been sent away from home in disgrace (for what, we find out gradually), to the titular camp for girls, populated by the daughters of wealthy Southerners. There's a little bit here about the Depression hitting some families, but not much, and there's a little bit about Thea making friends, but not much. It's all very . . . insular. At first, I was sympathetic to Thea--what she did was kind of gross, but not really her fault, except that she keeps making terrible and selfish and mean decisions, and was unlikable in a not-fun way. Not to say that she isn't realistic, but I still wanted to give her a good shake. And I found the end to be entirely unsatisfying. Thea is really the only well-drawn character here--I don't feel like I knew any of the others, and I didn't care much about any of them, including her. Well-written though, really lovely descriptions of the Asheville area (the camp is in the Blue Ridge Mountains). B/B-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on June 4th.

Friday, March 22, 2013

2013 book 90

C.S. Harris' What Angels Fear
In search of a new mystery series to get into, I was excited when someone on Twitter mentioned this one--a Regency-era murder mystery! Actually, to be fair, this is immediately pre-Regency, as the plotting to get the Prince Regent installed comes up a couple of times. But the is primarily about one Sebastian St Cyr, a Viscount who is implicated in the extremely violent and gross murder of an actress, and must go on the run and clear his name! Luckily he's just back from a stint in military intelligence during the Napoleonic Wars and has the skills necessary for such an endeavor. Plus he gets a street urchin sidekick pretty quickly, as those are de rigeur in these types of stories. There wasn't quite as much about social mores as I might have liked (the women here are actresses and social mores don't really apply, and there's a lot about men and their politics) but this was a strong start to a series I'll definitely be reading. B+.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

2013 book 89

Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Boys
Finally a book for FYA book club that I was actually EAGER to reread! This book was maybe even AWESOMER the second time, but it's hard to go wrong with a book about a house full of psychic ladies, ley lines, three troubled boys, class issues, and the sensible girl at the heart of it all. Bonus points for friendly ghosts and talking trees. I gave this an A- last time but actually I'm feeling it as more of a straight-up A today. The sequel is out in September and I can't wait!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

2013 book 88

Christina Schwartz's The Edge of the Earth
This is a perfectly satisfying novel about a young Midwestern woman in the early 1900s who, instead of marrying the respectable and responsible man she's supposed to, instead falls for his feckless cousin, and accompanies him to California where he's taken a job as a lighthouse-keeper. There, she befriends the children (and wife) of the chief keeper, and alongside them, starts to learn about the natural world around her (the framing device lets us know that she becomes a well-known naturalist/scientist). There's some really fascinating stuff about a Native American woman living nearby (though many parts of this plotline are predictable), and never in my life have I wanted to shake a book character more than the protagonist's ambitious and thoughtless husband. Really a quick and enjoyable read, and I like this trend of books set in lighthouses--very isolated and atmospheric. B+.

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

Monday, March 18, 2013

2013 book 87

Tea Obreht's The Tiger's Wife
For whatever reason, I wasn't really psyched to reread this for Lady Doctor Book Group, even though I loved it when I read it the first time. And really, it was ripe for rereading, because I'd forgotten most of the details (and completely forgotten all the parts involving Koschei the Deathless, who is more sympathetic here than in some versions). Anyway, it totally holds up, moving story about a doctor in post-war Bosnia (or thereabouts) and her relationship with her grandfather and his various folk-ish stories, plus tigers, etc etc, so good, can't wait to discuss with a bunch of lady doctors. Still an A.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

2013 book 86

Kasie West's Pivot Point
This has been described as a Sliding-Doors-kind-of-book, where a teenager lives out two alternate realities, but it's actually more interesting/complicated than that: the teenager lives in a Compound (in Texas??) full of people with special mental abilities (telekinesis, clairvoyance, etc--her dad is a human lie detector) and her ability is called Divergence, where she can see what happens if she chooses one decision or another. Was that all one sentence? Sorry. Anyway, her parents decide to divorce and her dad is moving to the normal world in Dallas, and so she does a mental search of six weeks to see who she should live with, living out each moment in both realities. Obviously both involve a cute boy, but they also include her awesome best friend, a mysterious tattooed dangerous man, and a lot of high school football. Great premise and really a fun read--I also liked that the book heavily frowns on creepster teenage boys. A-.

2013 book 85

Kerry Greenwood's Cooking the Books
Well, nuts, this is the most recent Corinna Chapman mystery and now I'm in search of another fun series to get into (if anyone has any recommendations, please please let me know!). Anyway, in this one, Corinna is roped into helping bake on the set of a new tv show, and there are all sorts of backstage shenanigans. Meanwhile, her boyfriend is trying to track down some missing paperwork from an important company, lost by a bullied intern. The first plotline is especially goofy, but that's kind of why it's all so entertaining. B.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

2013 book 84

Kate Atkinson's Life After Life
OK, I am basically just going "AAAHHHHH" after reading this book, because it is fantastic and also kind of insane. I'd say it hearkens back to Atkinson's earlier, pre-Jackson Brodie novels, but it doesn't hearken back to anything ever. I mean, the novel STARTS with the main character shooting Hitler in 1930! I guess I should say something about the premise here, which is that young Ursula, born in England in 1910, immediately dies. But then on the next page, things start over. And it keeps happening. I will say that it's a little upsetting to read about a child dying in multiple horrible ways, even knowing she'll be resurrected on the next page. And it doesn't get any easier when she's older--at one point, I was actually hoping she'd die, just so she could have a do-over on the next page and not have to deal with such horrible experiences (or at least, get a chance to stop them). Because it's her growing self-awareness that makes this book so fascinating--as well as her wartime experiences (during both World Wars) and her life with her family and friends. And seeing how one little thing can change EVERYTHING. This is a novel to corral a friend into reading just so you can talk about it, because it's one to talk about. As the kids say: AMAZEBALLS. A.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

2013 book 83

Kirsten Miller's How to Lead a Life of Crime
Having read--and very much enjoyed--Miller's Kiki Strike series, about a bunch of bad-ass young girls, and read--and not really enjoyed--the first book in her YA reincarnation paranormal romance series, I was STILL not prepared for how completely insane this book was. It's about a boy who's run away from his wealthy home and his abusive father after his brother's death, and is now an accomplished thief, when he's recruited to a super prestigious school for criminals. Not petty theft--serious white collar crime. The school is training kids to run the world in very immoral ways. But I can't even explain how bonkers it all is. There are some plot twists I should have seen coming, but I was so enthralled that I didn't even think ahead and try to guess what would happen next. And that's pretty rare for me. Based on the description alone, this book shouldn't have appealed to me at all, but Miller completely drew me in. A-.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

2013 book 82

Kerry Greenwood's Forbidden Fruit
The fifth Corinna Chapman mystery involves a pair of runaway teenagers--and things are complicated because the girl is heavily pregnant. There's also a subplot involving vegan activists who believe having pets is wrong (I was honestly very worried they'd do something terrible to one or more of the many awesome animals in this series, but they're up to something . . . else). And there's a donkey who likes to eat muffins. Pretty solid outing in the series. B.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

2013 book 81

Julie Wu's The Third Son
Wu's first novel begins in Taiwan during WWII; a little boy and a little girl meet during an air-raid and help save each other, and he longs to meet her again. But it's primarily the story of the boy, Saburo, and his ambitions, despite the disadvantage of having an AMAZINGLY HORRIBLE family. I will say that the characterizations of his parents are a bit too weak for their actions to be entirely believable, but Saburo and Yoshiko (the girl) are both pretty great, and I loved all their interactions. I also especially appreciated the depiction of history at a turbulent time in Asia (the story goes up through the early 60s) and the effects on Taiwan--really fascinating stuff, and not stuff I get to read about very often. I think this could be a good pick for book groups--it's got a lot of different aspects to discuss. A-/B+.

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

Monday, March 11, 2013

2013 book 80

Jacqueline Winspear's Leaving Everything Most Loved
Hooray for a new Maisie Dobbs novel, and one that I liked a lot more than the last one. Of course, I'm predisposed to like this series, because historical mysteries starring smart and/or sassy lady detectives = one of my favorite genres. And Maisie is a particularly interesting example, plus this is a pretty solid mystery, involving the murder of a young Indian woman who was beloved by everyone who met her. There's also a missing schoolboy to be found, lots of secrets to be revealed, and class and race issues to contend with. Plus Maisie's companion wants to get married. Things end on a really fascinating note for the series--I'm really looking forward to seeing where Winspear is going with this. B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on March 26th.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

2013 book 79

John Crowley's Little, Big
I've been meaning to read this book for years and years, and even owned a used paperback copy for a while in like 2005--everyone is always recommending it to me--but it's very long and very dense and so requires a bit of a commitment. And, being a thousand pages long, there is a LOT going on, generations of a family's story being told, some of whom I find more appealing than others--the two main male characters are both kind of weak and annoying. And the book is absolutely racist with its several examples of the Magical Negro trope and straight up stereotyping of the Puero Rican community (at one point, a Puerto Rican girlfriend thinks about how much BETTER her white boyfriend is than the other guys she knows, it's pretty gross. This book was written in 1981, come on, John Crowley). It's also pretty homophobic (there aren't really any gay characters, but there are a few negative mentions.)

I did like all the fairy stuff, particularly the adventures of Lilac, but that might be because that's where the girls (and a few guys) really shine, and aren't like sleeping with their sister's husbands, and where things actually get interesting. Crowley's writing itself is amazing, but this is the kind of book that needs your 100 percent undivided attention because of it. And I didn't always like what he was /doing/ with his amazing writing--like the political/power story that takes up a chunk of the second half of the book. On the other hand, there are some interesting meditations on stories and storytelling.

I honestly feel guilty for not really liking this that much, since so many people I like have recommended it, but . . .  I didn't really like it that much. Maybe if I'd read it when I was younger. It did remind me a bit of Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale, my favorite book in high school and college, but one that I don't like as much now. B.

Friday, March 08, 2013

2013 book 78

Kerry Greenwood's Trick or Treat
The fourth Corinna Chapman mystery involves a new bread shop right down the street, an increase in local insanity (caused by something pretty obvious, but luckily that's revealed way before the end), a local Wiccan celebration, and the stolen treasure of the Jews of Greece killed in the Holocaust (that latter part is historically accurate). I could have done without the casual (and not-so-casual) anti-Semitism exhibited by various characters, and the solution to the mystery is absolutely ridiculous, but whatever, I still like this series. B.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

2013 book 77

Helene Wecker's The Golem and the Jinni
Have you ever felt like a book was written just for you? Because that is kind of how I feel about this one. It's the story of a golem--a GIRL golem, created with curiosity and intelligence--whose master dies on the voyage to America in 1899, and she has to make her way in New York City. And it's the story of a jinni, imprisoned in a flask for a thousand years, who is inadvertently freed by a tinsmith. And it's the story of how they meet and become friends, exploring the city together, and also the story of how they try and fit into their respective communities (Jewish and Syrian). It's a lovely blend of Jewish and Arabic folklore, and also a pretty amazing story on its own. Wecker doesn't hurry anything, taking her time and letting everything unfold just as it should, so that we get to know the two fantastical creatures and everyone around them--good and bad. I hesitate to call this book perfect, but it was perfect for me. A.

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

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

2013 book 76

Kerry Greenwood's Devil's Food
Hey, I can read mysteries starring bakers if I want to! The third Corinna Chapman book finds Corinna and her hot Jewish detective boyfriend investigating her missing crazy hippie father and finding out where some poisonous weight-loss tea originated. Plus there's a crazy new religious sect in town that insists on completely tasteless healthy bread. The mysteries are all pretty silly, and each section ends with a major tonal shift where we're given the perspective of someone plotting murder (especially jarring considering the light and funny tone in the rest of the book). I get that Greenwood is trying to keep things interesting, and several of the Phryne Fisher books also have sections from other perspectives--though it didn't always work there, either. Well, whatever, I'm mostly reading these for all the talk about muffins. And the entertaining cast of characters. B.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

2013 book 75

Seanan McGuire's Midnight Blue-Light Special
The second book in the InCryptid series completely rectified any complaints I had about the first one--I won't get into a plot summary as it's too confusing if you haven't read the first one, but it's a GREAT follow-up. More romance, more intrigue, more bad-ass ladies (and bad-ass female creature-things), more humor, and more hilarious religious talking mice. You know what, usually I save my As for more highbrow books, but this was really super, so: A. And I am REALLY looking forward to the next one.

Monday, March 04, 2013

2013 book 74

Margaret Wrinkle's Wash
I need to stop reading depressing literary books just because I think I SHOULD be reading books like that, instead of, say, mysteries set in bakeries. But I mean, reading books and blogging about them shouldn't feel like doing homework, and clearly that's just not where my head is these days. On the other hand, this is a novel about a slave being used by his owner as part of a slave breeding program (he's a sire, like a horse, is the deal)(I cannot bold or italicize that enough), so this is kind of an extreme case. I honestly started this twice before actually plowing through b/c I just didn't want to deal with the subject matter--it's very hard to read (if you've never noticed before, "hard to read" is my blog code for "has rape or otherwise unpleasant/unwanted sexual contact," because obviously in a novel about slavery, there's plenty of that to be had, and this one doesn't shy away from it).


This is a very well-written novel (though I don't know why Wrinkle switches from first to third person narration all the time, even in a novel with multiple perspectives), worth the acclaim, etc. There are some nice parts--the titular slave Wash's relationship with his mother, and with his love interest, a healer named for Pallas Athena (she's even grey-eyed), are both very moving. Wrinkle is a bit heavy-handed with the whole sex/power thing, and the whole power of stories thing, and I could have done with way less of the slave owner's viewpoint. I mean, I don't care what war experiences he has, or his family or business troubles, I am never going to sympathize with a fictional guy running a slave breeding program, and I resent having to read so many of his thoughts.

How do you rate a book that you recognize is a GOOD novel, even if you didn't enjoy reading it? B?

Sunday, March 03, 2013

2013 book 73

Kerry Greenwood's Heavenly Pleasures
The second Corinna Chapman book finds our intrepid baker and her detective boyfriend on the case of a chocolate shop saboteur. There's also a missing girl and a mysterious new resident of her apartment building (I honestly wish Roman-themed apartments existed). I meant to say this last time: there are some excellent cats in this series. And it's doubly true of this book, which features KITTENS. Again, really excellent characters and I like the large supporting case--Greenwood really excels at populating a world. B+.

2013 book 72

Kerry Greenwood's Earthly Delights
Now that I've finished all the Phryne Fisher mysteries (at least until a new one comes out), I decided to try one of Greenwood's other series, even though OBVIOUSLY it wouldn't be as awesome. Except that it's about a baker, living in a Roman-themed apartment building full of wonderful and eccentric characters, so of course I loved it. There are a few mystery-type things going on--young junkies ODing from a bad batch of heroin, someone threatening all the women in the apartment building, and a missing girl. Some of these things wrap up better than others (one was a little too easy to figure out, despite a couple of red herrings), but a hot Jewish love interest makes up for a lot. As do muffin recipe. B+.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

2013 book 71

Jennifer A. Nielsen's The Runaway King
The followup to The False Prince is more of the same--lots of adventures, action, pirates, plotting, etc--but avoids a lot of the pitfalls of the second book in a trilogy by having a fairly strong story on its own. I had a couple minor complaints (which I won't discuss, since they spoil the first one, but the title kind of gets at some of my problems) but really like how things concluded, and look forward to the third book. B+.

Friday, March 01, 2013

2013 book 70

Kathleen Tierney's Blood Oranges
I was about to write this entry when I went to doublecheck who Tierney was a pen name for--and discovered that it's not Cate Tiernan (whose books I like), but Caitlin Kiernan (whose books I've never read). So that partially explains my disappointment with this book, an urban fantasy about a junkie demon hunter turned vampire/werewolf, which is a promising concept. The problems are that I wasn't really into the narrative voice--I liked that the protagonist is openly unreliable, but her voice was grating--or the plot--it's one of those books where someone is manipulating things behind the scenes, and the protagonist goes and gets info from someone, who leads her to someone else, who leads her to someone else, and it's BORING. I didn't care who was manipulating things or why. This book needed some entertaining sidekick characters--a likable bridge troll comes closest but is a very minor figure--or something else to break the monotony. I mean, the concept is GREAT. I just didn't care. C.