Tuesday, April 30, 2013

2013 book 128

Anthony Marra's A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
This book is getting a lot of buzz, which is pretty well-deserved, though I confess that it was REALLY a slow starter for me. I actually almost gave it up like a third of the way through--it just felt like a slog. But I'm glad I kept with it, because by the end I was totally involved in the story (and crying). It's billed as being about three characters in war-torn Chechnya in 2004--a little girl whose father was just taken by the Russians; her neighbor, the local village doctor who would rather be an artist; and the only doctor left at the local city hospital, a woman surgeon. And all those characters are great, though like I said, it took me a while to get interested in them. BUT there are also two other characters who are immediately great--another neighbor--an older man writing an epic history of Chechnya--and the surgeon's troubled sister. Marra's writing is strong throughout--he can really turn a phrase--but really shines when those two are involved. There are maybe like two too many coincidences, and definitely a couple of needless illicit romances, but really this was a straight-up good book. I predict that book groups will love this one. A-/B+.

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

Monday, April 29, 2013

2013 book 127

Juliet Marillier's Raven Flight
The sequel to Shadowfell (and the second book in Marillier's YA trilogy) is just as strong as the first, as protagonist Neryn must journey various places to get training for her special fairy-talking skills, so she can help fight the rebellion against the terrible king. One of the things I like most about this series is that, even though there is a pretty great romance, it's not the main thrust of the story--Neryn's learning, and growing, is. Plus there's a sassy girl warrior hanging around to protect her this time, and they have some great scenes together--yay friendship! So refreshing to read a YA fantasy book that isn't a girl pining over some guy in her every waking moment. And Marillier isn't afraid to pull punches either--the end is completely heartbreaking, and there's a lot of intensity throughout. I really can't wait to see how things wrap up. A/A-.

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

Sunday, April 28, 2013

2013 book 126

C.S. Harris' What Darkness Brings
And finally we come to the latest Sebastian St Cyr mystery, which means I'll be looking for a new series to dive into. Sigh. The mystery here involves murder, diamonds, Napoleon, and the occult--yes, it is kind of all over the place. But I'm admittedly reading them just for the adventures of Sebastian and Hero, really. In this one, Hero investigates child laborers! (Well, children who apparently earn money sweeping street corners. I don't know. The Regency Era was weird.) This series is great and I hope the next one comes out soon. B+.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

2013 book 125

Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl
Basically, when I got an e-galley of this, I was like "YES. MY LIFE IS COMPLETE." Because now I didn't have to wait till September to read a book by RAINBOW ROWELL (who has quickly become one of my favorite authors) about college freshman Cath, caught up in the fanfiction world of a Harry-Potter-Like character--a world she used to participate in with her identical twin, only now that they're in college, her twin only wants to do college-y things and refuses to be her roommate. I should say here that I was never super into fanfiction myself--I actively avoided Harry Potter fanfiction (wanting to keep the books pristine), though did occasionally read fanfiction for cartoons I liked, and currently read a fair amount of Teen Wolf fanfiction for some reason (I am a really weird kind of nerd). That being said, I was SUPER into the Harry Potter fandom and spent hours dissecting possible future plot points with friends, so can definitely relate to Cath, along with her general social awkwardness and willingness to rely on the internet for socialization. Luckily she has an awesomely hilarious roommate and a couple of cute guys--and a GREAT writing professor--to help her leave her dorm room sometimes--and deal with her family drama. As always with Rowell, the characterization is great and I was sad when the story ended because I wanted to spend more time with them. I had some mixed feelings about the insertion of Simon Snow stories--not the ones Cath wrote, but the "official" ones--the change in tone was just a bit jarring. But it totally fits with the world, so I'm not complaining. A-.

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

PS I will probably buy this in physical book form--which I NEVER do--just b/c Noelle Stevenson did the cover and it is sooooo cute.

Friday, April 26, 2013

2013 book 124

Sara Zarr's Sweethearts
I had to reread this for FYA book group tomorrow, because I didn't really remember the details anymore. I don't have much to add from last time (when clearly I didn't have anything to say either)--it's a perfectly good, if slightly depressing, YA book. I like the main character a lot, but no one else is really well-developed (on purpose, I assume, as a lot of it is about how little we know each other), including mystery man Cameron Quick (great name though).

Thursday, April 25, 2013

2013 book 123

C.S. Harris' When Maidens Mourn
The problem with blazing through three of these in one day is that now I only have one left to read--at least until new ones are published. Anyway, in the 7th Sebastian St Cyr mystery, Sebastian is trying to solve the murder of a beautiful young scholar doing a Camelot-related archaeological dig--and also a friend of Hero's--and find the two little boys (her cousins) who were with her, and who seem to have vanished into thin air. Another engrossing one from Harris, with plenty of red herrings and a little romance. A.

2013 book 122

C.S. Harris' Where Shadows Dance
Seriously, I LOVE this series. This one finds Sebastian (and Hero!) on the case of a murdered diplomat, and they're a great team. There's also a lot of humor (some involving grave-robbing, but it manages to be funny anyway) and some great stuff with their personal lives (I'm trying not to be spoilery but it's hard!). A.

2013 book 121

C.S. Harris' What Remains of Heaven
I have to say, this series is rapidly becoming one of my favorites. In this one, Sebastian is asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury to investigate the murder of the Bishop of London, who was killed in a crypt while examining a thirty-year-old mummified murdered corpse. It's pretty crazy. The mystery is fine, as always, but I admit to being more interested in Sebastian's personal life (Harris doles out discoveries with GREAT timing) and in Hero Jarvis, awesome detective. A/A-.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

2013 book 120

Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini's House of Secrets
When I found out that Columbus---director of the first two Harry Potter movies--was cowriting a middle-grade fantasy series with YA author Vizzini, I expected it to be cheesy, but hoped it would be fun. Unfortunately, it's neither cheesy nor fun, it's actually kind of terrible. Action scenes in every chapter don't make up for a complete lack of character development or world-building. I mean, look at the first Harry Potter book--the first third introduces us to Harry and makes us care, and then Rowling drops us into this insane place Hogwarts. Here, there aren't really any preliminaries; the family buys a magical house and things go haywire immediately, but somehow none of it is exciting. And it's a bummer, because the concept is interesting--three siblings sucked into the fictional world of a crazy occult author. But I really didn't enjoy any part of this. Maybe a kid would like it, but I don't really see why. C-.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

2013 book 119

C.S. Harris' When Serpents Sleep
YES! I have been hoping that Hero Jarvis--a minor character in the first three books--would get to be more prominent--I mean, it seems a waste to have an intelligent woman with powerful relatives and not have her do anything besides occasionally snark at Sebastian. And she's all over this one, right away, as she enlists Sebastian to investigate an arson and murder at a home for reformed prostitutes, since she was there interviewing women for social justice purposes and witnessed the crime. But that is just the beginning! Tons of intrigue and drama and discussions of social class abound. I love it. A.

Monday, April 22, 2013

2013 book 118

C.S. Harris' When Mermaids Sing
The third Sebastian St Cyr mystery is GREAT--Sebastian gets involved in investigating the brutal murders of two young men who seem to have no connection, and also there's some crazy drama with his actress mistress. And also, Sebastian tries to hire a new valet. I can't really say anything more about the plot without giving everything away, but this is historical mystery writing at its finest. In fact, I'm now going to read the next one immediately. A/A-.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

2013 book 117

Kelly Thompson's The Girl Who Would Be King
Just the other day on here I was lamenting the lack of novels involving superpowered people, and then remembered I've had this on my Kindle for like, forever. Thompson writes about comics and I enjoy her essays a lot, so when she did a Kickstarter for her superhero novel, I contributed. Anyway, it's about two teenage girls who come into their superhero powers, and realize they're sort of two halves of the same coin. Thompson manages to make the "bad guy" one pretty sympathetic, and obviously the good guy one ("good girl" sounds wrong) is likable, especially once she gets a kitten. Things alternate between their perspectives, and I wish each section had gone on longer, b/c it's kind of jarring to go between two stories like every two pages. And the end is . . . I had major mixed feelings about the end. But there's some interesting mythology, and it's about superheroes, so: B/B+.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

2013 book 116

Jennifer Castle's You Look Different in Real Life
Oh dudes, I really loved this book. It's about a teenage girl who's been part of a Seven-Up series of documentaries, looking at her and four other kids at the ages of six and eleven--and now they're back to shoot them all at sixteen. But she was the breakout kid of the first two, and feels like now she's a disappointment, plus there has been some drama between some of the kids in the past five years, leading to some unpleasant interpersonal dynamics. It would be easy to say that what happens is predictable, but that's just because it fits together really well. I personally could have done without the romance angle, but what the heck, it's a supercute YA book and that is a silly thing to complain about. A.

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

Friday, April 19, 2013

2013 book 115

Brian Kimberling's Snapper
I can see why this is getting a lot of advance praise--the writing is really strong and I loved the narrative voice. The problem is that I didn't actually care about anything that happened. Well, that's not entirely true--I was pretty engaged in the first half, where a young Indiana man takes a job studying birds, and there's also an interesting interlude with his Texan aunt and uncle. But then, he's in love with a girl who's not that into him (and who is basically a manic pixie dream girl from his POV), and there's some stuff with his high school friends, and it's all slightly out of order and reads like a series of interconnected short stories. Like, each part is fine on its own (I loved the one where he spends time in jail), but put together, they don't really tell a whole story, or at least not one I was very interested in. This is another one of those books where I have no idea what the point of it was. I wish it had been more about the birds, that stuff was great. B.

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

Thursday, April 18, 2013

2013 book 114

Stephanie Burgis' Stolen Magic
I was in the mood to read something on the lighter side, and was wishing there were more books in that series by Mary Robinette Kowal, when I remembered there was a new book in the Kat, Incorrigible series--which is basically the middle grade version of Kowal's series! This one is just as cute as its predecessors, as Kat and her family travel to her sister's fiance's family estate for the wedding--but she seems to have a mysterious follower with nefarious plans. Various other things happen and it's all very exciting and fun. This is the third book in a trilogy, BUT I really feel like Burgis could keep going with these, and I kind of hope she does. Yay for magical Regency stories. B+.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

2013 book 113

NoViolet Bulawayo's We Need New Names
I tend to like books about immigrants adjusting to the weird American way of life, and this was no exception. I will say that the first half, set in Zimbabwe and primarily featuring protagonist Darling getting into shenanigans (and dealing with more awful things) was a lot stronger than the second, which takes place in Michigan. I really felt like there could have been more to the story there, plus a couple of sections really read like completed short stories inserted into the text (they are excellent short stories though). Bulawayo is a GREAT writer and has a really strong sense of place (for both places), I just wanted there to be a little bit more going on here. And the final image of the book really put me off, and is unfortunately going to haunt me for the next little while. Now I need to read something completely fluffy. B/B+.

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

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

2013 book 112

Austin Grossman's You
Normally it wouldn't occur to me to read a book about a slightly douchey guy in 1997 who takes a job at a video game company founded by his high school friends--but I LOVED Grossman's last book (one of the great novels about superheroes) and so will read anything by him. And this was actually much more up my alley than, say, Ready Player One (though I think fans of that book will also like this one). Even though I'm ten years younger than the characters and my current gaming consists of obsessively playing Pixel People on my iPhone, I certainly spent much of my childhood engrossed in games like King's Quest IV and Leisure Suit Larry 3 (I still have no idea why I was allowed to play the latter), and so could relate to a lot of what was going on here.

And none of that has anything to do with the book, really! Like I said, it's about a guy who goes to work for a company founded by several people he was friends with in high school (one of whom is thankfully a girl), but hasn't kept in touch with. And one of the founders died in an accident and no one can figure out his code. And our protagonist discovers a really . . . problematic bug, and has to get to the bottom of everything. Also, he's hallucinating the four main characters from the games. So then he plays every game the company's made; at first, this is a nice look into video game history, but by the endless descriptions of outer space games I was waaaay over this conceit and ready for STUFF to happen. Luckily stuff happens, more or less, and the ending is fine.

Notes of interest:
--Grossman is a video game designer, which is why so much of this rings true.
--Grossman is Lev Grossman's twin brother.
--This is a serious dude book. The only girls are the awesome programmer (who serves in a literal support role, and whose personality/thoughts we don't see at all) and the requisite sexy but nice video game character. 

I liked this pretty well, but not nearly as much as the one about a supervillain. B.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book is available now.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

2013 book 111

Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl
Lady Doctor Book Club, always slightly behind the zeitgeist, chose this as our April book. I was happy enough to reread it, even knowing all the twists and turns--it's a pretty solid story and Flynn is great at suspense. I really would like to dissect this and my thoughts on it here, but spoilers. (When is it safe to talk publicly about plot twists? This book came out almost a year ago, but I know people who still want to read it and haven't yet, and don't want to ruin it for anyone.)

Weird, I just noticed this was also book 111 last year!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

2013 book 110

Lisa Lutz's The Last Word
Soooo, the Isabel Spellman series is really one of my favorites, to the point where it apparently has turned me into a 'shipper. I've never been a 'shipper before, but I firmly believe that Isabel and Henry BELONG TOGETHER, and this has colored my feelings about the last couple of books a bit. Which I admit isn't fair--the stories are just as entertaining as ever. The mysteries here (an embezzlement, among other things) are a bit easier to figure out--but then again, this series has never been just about the mysteries, but about the eccentric family and their antics, and there's plenty of that going on here (I did wish Isabel would be slightly less clueless, but it's believable enough). And I was caught up enough that I stayed up till 1 am reading it, which I NEVER do. Despite the title, I am fairly sure that this isn't the last book in the series--or at least I HOPE it's not. Even if Izzy and Henry aren't destined for one another, I still love these characters and Lutz's hilarious and engaging writing style, and will probably be rerereading the whole series again soon. B.

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

Friday, April 12, 2013

2013 book 109

Jessica Day George's Wednesdays in the Tower
The sequel to the very cute Tuesdays at the Castle is just as adorable, with the magical castle acting even weirder than usual, as new rooms appear and disappear--and Celie discovers an unusual egg, inspiring her brother and herself to do RESEARCH! There's also a menacing wizard and a pretty great cliffhanger ending--I really look forward to the next volume. The characters in this series are likable and funny, and like all of George's novels, the family has really realistic and nice relationships with one another. She is rapidly become one of my favorite reliably great authors. A-.

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

Thursday, April 11, 2013

2013 book 108

Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings
So, this book has been getting a ton of buzz. And I've liked the other books I've read by Wolitzer pretty well. But . . . this completely fell apart for me in the third and final part. The book is described as being about six teenagers who meet at an artsy summer camp in the 70s and dub themselves "The Interestings," and then we flash back and forward from the 70s to 2009 and all the years in between. But really the book is only about three of them--Jules, the typical middle-class character enraptured by her rich and charming friends; Ethan, the very talented animator (who creates a Simpsons-esque show); and Ash, who doesn't actually have a personality in retrospect, but is a theater director. A fourth, Jonah, has a pretty fascinating story, but he doesn't come into it as much. And I'm not even getting into the other two, who are cast out of things early on after a gross and terrible incident (and the loss of Cathy is particularly disgusting). I was wrapped up in the story anyway, and Wolitzer's prose is clever and funny, and she's saying some interesting thing about teenage friendships and self-perception, but man, that ending was kind of ridiculous in every way. B.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

2013 book 107

Seanan McGuire's Velveteen vs the Junior Super-Patriots
YOU GUYS. I cannot BELIEVE that none of you told me that Seanan McGuire (an author I like) wrote a superhero book (a genre I am way into, and there are NOT enough novels about superheroes). I could have read this MONTHS ago. Actually, since upon investigation it seems to be a series of short stories from McGuire's website (though they all come together to form a cohesive whole), I probably could have read this even earlier than that. Anyway, it's the story of Velma, aka Velveteen, who was once a member of a junior superhero squad, but decided to get out of the life when she turned 18 (and the corporation that owned the squad was no longer her legal guardian). PS, she has the best powerset ever, she can bring stuffed animals and other toys to life to fight for her! THERE IS A HELPFUL STUFFED BUNNY. Seriously, how had no one told me about this before?! A/A-.

Monday, April 08, 2013

2013 book 106

Gail Godwin's Flora
Godwin's latest, after Unfinished Desires, is kind of one of those novels where a sad, lonely, and overly imaginative little girl causes a lot of trouble without really meaning to. (Saying so isn't a spoiler--there's plenty of foreshadowing that the summer this story takes place won't have a very happy ending.) Anyway, the deal here is that ten-year-old Helen, raised primarily by her recently deceased grandmother, has her older cousin Flora staying with her for the summer while her father is working on a construction project at Oak Ridge (the story takes place during WWII, if that gives a hint about what kind of project he might be doing). Then there's a polio outbreak, and the two are confined in Helen's crazy old house in the NC mountains, with only a cleaning lady and a grocery delivery guy to break the monotony. Helen is mildly dislikable, or at least is purposefully unpleasant, but is still a really sympathetic character, and I like Godwin's writing a lot. Things are somewhat predictable, but I didn't mind too much. Quick read, maybe good for those more serious-minded summer readers. B+.

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

Sunday, April 07, 2013

2013 book 105

Amelia Williams' Summer Falls
After yesterday's birthday celebrations, I was too tired for anything that required a lot of brain activity, so decided to try this Doctor Who tie-in e-book (it briefly appeared in the first episode of this new half-season, "The Bells of St John"). It's cute, about a girl moving to a new town and then getting caught up in a race to stop The Lord of Winter from doing nefarious things. It reads pretty well as a supposedly-historical middle grade fantasy adventure (with plenty of little tongue-in-cheek references). The actual author seems to be Who producer James Goss, but it's billed to Amy so I'll let her have it. B+.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

2013 book 104

Christianna Brand's Heads You Lose
Brand wrote a bunch of mysteries in the 40s and 50s that are being reissued--this is the first in her Inspector Cockrill series, where the Inspector has to solve a particularly grotesque murder with only six suspects. I love these closed-rooms sort of mysteries, but was REALLY put off by all the casual anti-Semitism. What is it with British writers in the 40s and 50s and their need to include disparaging remarks about Jewish people? (One of the characters is Jewish--two characters who are sort of jerks make comments about him, but the author/narrator's descriptions and even the comments of his wife and her family often refer to Jews and money, it's gross.) The mystery itself is pretty engaging--I correctly guessed the killer but there were enough red herrings to have my doubting myself. Still, I can't give this more than a B b/c come on, lay off the Jews.

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

Friday, April 05, 2013

2013 book 102

Lauren Beukes' The Shining Girls
Sooooooo, this book is about . . . a time traveling serial killer, with a magical house. And one of his victims, a sassy newspaper intern in the 1990s, who's determined to track him down and stop him! That might sound facetious, but actually, I really liked this. Beukes is great with suspense, and made me really care about his victims, though they only appeared in one chapter each. And Kirby, the one trying to find him (using RESEARCH! And NEWSPAPER LIBRARIANS! So awesome!), with the help of her sportswriter mentor, is super awesome. Warning: the serial killer sometimes does bad things to animals (which are somehow harder to read than the much worse things he does to young women). Anyway, this book is crazy and great, if you are into crazy and great things that are super dark and weird. Which I am. A-.

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

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

2013 book 101

Robin LaFever's Dark Triumph
The second book in the His Fair Assassin trilogy is, well, REALLY dark. I mean, even compared to the first one, and this is a series about a convent dedicated to the god of death that trains girls to be assassins, and they're in a pretty bad situation, politically and historically speaking. Anyway, this one focuses on one of the side characters from the first one, who was raised in an absolutely terrible home by her monstrous father and abusive brother, and is now back there as an assassin/spy. There's also a romance, of course, and though the guy was VERY likable, I was not feeling this for most of the book (by the end it was working a little bit better). For one thing, it comes kind of out of nowhere; they're on a journey (it's always a journey) and then all of a sudden she is like "I love him." Seriously, out of nowhere. It gets better from there but is not a strong start. Plus, I admit to hoping that JUST ONCE in a YA book, the guy and the girl on a journey would just be awesome buds and warriors together (these two are awesome warriors together). There are not enough male-female friendships in YA literature. That's not really relevant, here, I guess. This book was fine. I'll read the third one for sure. B/B+.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

2013 book 100

Mary Robinette Kowal's Without a Summer
The third book in the Glamourist Histories series is more of the same super awesome Regency historical setting with MAGIC. In this one, Jane and her husband are off to London for work, bringing along her younger sister in the hopes of finding her a husband. But it's the Year Without a Summer, and political tensions are high. Kowal does a great job weaving actual history into her magical universe (or . . . vice versa?), and I'm getting a weirdly complete picture of the era between these books and the CS Harris mysteries. Anyway, this series brings me great joy, and the only bad thing about tearing through this one is that now I have an endless wait till the next one comes out. A.

Monday, April 01, 2013

2013 book 99

Dawn French's Oh Dear Silvia
I admit that, because this book is by DAWN FRENCH, I expected it to be completely hilarious, even though I knew it was about a woman in a coma, and her (very dysfunctional) family coming to visit her. But it's not meant to be a comedic novel--though it has some very funny black humor, and some straight up slapstick (mostly involving the coma patient's New Age-y sister). It's actually a very moving novel about a family torn apart and how they got that way, and how she ended up in a coma (which was all much more dramatic than I was anticipating!). The characters of the ex-husband and their daughter were especially well-done, and the end was very affecting. I'm not sure how entirely /believable/ everything was in retrospect, but at the moment of reading I was pretty well caught up. OK, looking at everything I just wrote, I realize it's kind of a mishmash, but the novel is a straightforward and strong one. Really unexpected and great. B+.

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