Sunday, June 30, 2013

2013 book 181

Lyndsay Faye's Seven for a Secret
The sequel to Gods of Gotham is just as excellent as its predecessor, dealing with a young policeman in the very early (and very corrupt) days of the NYPD in 1846. Here, Timothy finds himself in the middle of a case involving men kidnapping free blacks and selling them into slavery--which is, sadly, historically accurate. (These books are very educational in the midst of all the entertaining plot going on.) There's also a lot here about family, and sacrifice, and friendship, and trying to find some justice in the world. Really solid writing, too; this falls squarely into the literary mystery category for me, and I actually might try recommending it to some Jackson Brodie fans. Really hoping for more in this series--Faye balances the history and the story really well. A.

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

Saturday, June 29, 2013

2013 book 180

Tom MacNeal's Far Far Away
I am actually crying a little as I type this, having just finished reading this book, which had me in buckets of tears at various points. Not that it's a YA weepie kind of story; it just gets very dark at points, and affecting at points, and . . . other things. I mean, it's a boy-meets-girl novel as narrated by the ghost of one of the Grimm brothers, who hangs out with the boy (the hilariously named Jeremy Johnson Johnson) since he can hear ghosts. And he tries to make the boy study so he can get into a good college, while protecting him from an unknown danger, and also the distraction of the girl (yeah, right). And it's a small town, and there are small town prejudices and lots of gossip! It's also a contemporary fairy tale, in a weird way. OK, this has all been kind of incoherent, but I really liked this, even if it did make me cry a lot. A/A-.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

2013 book 179

Donna Andrews' Murder with Puffins
The second Meg Langslow book is more of the same--Meg and her love interest end up on a small island in Maine with some of her relatives during a hurricane, when an unpleasant person is MURDERED! Meg gets into the investigation to try and prove that none of her relatives did it, which is more or less believable. Whatever, it's all pretty funny, and it had this whole great thread about digital cameras running through it. I love books that are slightly older and amazed at the hot new technology that now seems super outdated. Haha! B/B+.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

2013 book 178

Maile Meloy's The Apprentices
The sequel to The Apothecary was a pretty fun read, at least for the parts that weren't outright grim and grisly. There's a lot going on here--Janie is framed for cheating (b/c she's stupidly naive) and kicked out of school, while Benjamin and his father are in the midst of uprisings in Vietnam, and that's just the first few chapters. I will say that I wished the villains were less overtly cartoonish--they're completely two-dimensional and might as well be twirling their hypothetical mustaches--and that Janie would be less of an idiot for such a smart girl. But there are still some funny parts (mostly involving newly famous actor Pip) and I look forward to seeing what happens with this series next. B/B+.

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

Monday, June 24, 2013

2013 book 177

Donna Andrews' Murder with Peacocks
I've been looking for a new mystery series to get into, and the Meg Langslow books might just fit the bill. In this first one, Meg (a blacksmith) is the maid of honor in three different weddings, for three demanding and annoying brides. And then . . . murder! But really, Meg is a great character, her extended family is completely hilarious, and the plot is pretty strong and very funny. Great start to a series. A-.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

2013 book 176

Elliott Holt's You Are One of Them
Well, here's a novel for fans of The Americans, to keep us all entertained till season 2! It's about Sarah, whose best friend Jenny became famous in the 1980s for writing a letter to Yuri Andropov asking him not to start a nuclear war, leading to a trip to Russia, a speaking tour, etc. At least until she died in a plane crash with her parents. Now Sarah, a new college graduate, is in Moscow after receiving a mysterious email (from a girl Jenny met while abroad, who seems mildly crazy) indicating that Jenny may be alive! It's kind of nice to read a novel about friendship (and friendships falling apart) with a whole spy element on the edges. Plus, the writing is really beautiful. But man, am I happy to be an American. A-.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

2013 book 175

Jane Lindskold's Five Odd Honors
Wow, I was really not feeling the conclusion to this series. There's a new POV character, the ghost of one of their ancestors, and that's sort of interesting, but a lot of what happens here is really gross and I felt like there wasn't a good conclusion. It just sort of stopped, and it left a lot of big questions unanswered. (Unless this isn't a trilogy and there'll be a fourth one, but I'm pretty sure that isn't the case.) Maybe if these books were shorter, they'd be a little stronger? I don't know. B/B-.

2013 book 174

Jane Linskold's Nine Gates
I liked this one slightly less than Thirteen Orphans, partially because the plot is kind of all over the place (they have to build gates? And there are mysterious American bad guys? And mysterious forces to be stopped?), and partially because a third POV character is added, and she's a romantic rival to Brenda, which makes her scenes pretty annoying. Plus, her arc is fairly predictable. I mean, I liked this one enough to read the third, don't get me wrong; it just didn't come together as well as the first one did. B.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

2013 book 173

Jane Linskold's Thirteen Orphans
I really love books that feature magic in the modern world. Here, a young woman is on a trip with her father, about to be let in on a family secret--that he's descended from a group of twelve wizards/scholars who were exiled from China, smuggling out the baby emperor when they went, and she's destined to be his heir, taking on the mantle of the Rat from the Chinese zodiac. One of the coolest things about this book, to me, was that the two main/POV characters were both women. Besides college student Brenda, there's Pearl, an 80-year-old former child star (who's half Chinese and half Jewish, which comes up a few times, to my delight) who's also the Tiger from the zodiac. It's just nice to have a badass old lady around in a fantasy book. Anyway, just as Brenda is about to discover her heritage, they discover that the whole group is being targeted--but by who, and why? I enjoyed this so much that I had to force myself not to stay up all night finishing it, and now I am off to read the sequels. A/A-.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

2013 book 172

Marta Acosta's The She-Hulk Diaries
Guys! This book is LEGITIMATELY GOOD. I mean, I'm not one for chick lit--I hate how predictable it is--but it turns out I am way into chick lit when the chick is a superhero. Take note: Superhero Chick Lit needs to be a genre. Anyway. As you can probably tell by the title, the book is the diary of She-Hulk--or really her alter-ego, lawyer Jennifer Walters--as she makes some New Year's resolutions and tries to get her crazy life together. Soon she's involved in a big case and running into a hot ex, plus there are a bunch of other things going on--and all of it is HILARIOUS. Seriously, I loved the narrative voice so much that I might try and read something else by Acosta. It's been a long time since I read any She-Hulk (I think since the 90s comic) but this is pretty spot on, canon-wise, and fits really well into the current Marvel/Avengers universe. Oh, someone please put She-Hulk into an Avengers movie! She and Tony would banter so beautifully.

ANYWAY. This was a lot of fun, and much better than a Marvel novel might be expected to be. A-.

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

Monday, June 17, 2013

2013 book 171

Dagmara Dominczyk's Lullaby of Polish Girls
Like one of her three Polish Girl characters referenced by the title, Dominczyk is actually an actress (who attended CMU!) (and who is married to Patrick Wilson!), but let me say that this novel is not just good-for-an-actress, but an actual good novel. If you hadn't already guessed, it's about three Polish girls--Anna, the actress, who was mostly raised in new York; Kamila, who's just found out her husband is gay; and Justyna, whose husband was just murdered by her sister's abusive boyfriend. But really it's about the girls and their complicated friendships over the years. I liked this a lot and thought the writing was really strong--it has a ring of truth to an almost depressing level. But I mean that in the best possible way. A-/B+.

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

Sunday, June 16, 2013

2013 book 170

Christine Woodward's Rogue Touch
Marvel Comics has always been willing to play around with different things to get beyond its typical dude comic-book-fan audience--and this isn't even the first time they've tried novels marketed more at the female audience; they put out a couple YA books about Mary Jane from Spider-Man a few years ago. But now they're aiming for adult ladies, and targeting the paranormal romance fans, if this one is any indicator (I have slightly higher hopes for the one about She-Hulk, who's a lawyer). ANYWAY. This is a novel about Rogue from the X-Men. I have been a big fan of Rogue since the 80s X-Men cartoon (and can still hear her voice from that very clearly), so was kind of excited to read a novel about her! Here, she's just put her high-school boyfriend into a coma and is on the run, when she meets a mysterious guy (NOT Wolverine--and in fact, to my disappointment, NO other X-Men appear in this book!) and they go on the run together, dealing with problems from his world. I'm pretty sure this is all out of continuity, and I didn't really care about this guy or his world or their inevitable romance. But I'm not a fan of paranormal romance, I'm a fan of comic books! I think romance fans might like this better. B/B-.

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

2013 book 169

Elizabeth Silver's The Execution of Noa P. Singleton
For a book about a woman on death row whose victim's mother has decided she's now against the death penalty and wants to do legal-y stuff to stop the execution, this book was amazingly boring. Even all the "big reveals" at the end manage to not be interesting. Mehhhhhhh. C.

Friday, June 14, 2013

2013 book 168

Penelope Farmer's Charlotte Sometimes
I don't know why I loved such old fashioned books in my childhood--though to be accurate, this book is only ten years older than I am, it's just that a chunk of it is set in 1918. (I googled to find out the year it was published, and man, googling this book was hard enough when there was just The Cure song to contend with [which is named for this book, btw], but now there is apparently also a musician called Charlotte Sometimes, and so you have to actually google "charlotte sometimes book" to get accurate results.) This is also one of those books that makes me cry every time I read it, even though I have read it countless times. But it's not really a typical books for kids--it's a weirdly poignant meditation on identity. With time travel. Apparently there are actually three books in this series, but the other two are long out of print. No matter--they could never live up to this one for me.

2013 book 167

Emily Croy Barker's A Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic
So let me start by saying that I find this title completely unappealing, and would have no interest in reading this if it wasn't for comparisons to things like Discovery of Witches and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (the first is accurate enough, though that book focuses much more on romance; I don't remember enough about Jonathan Strange to judge that one). Anyway, this is the story of Nora, a struggling grad student (at what I'm pretty sure is supposed to be DUKE, based on local references!) who goes to a wedding in Asheville and accidentally walks through a portal into the fairy world. Whoops. And Nora really should have read more fairy stories, because she's soon up to her ears in enchantments and glamour (literally) and has no idea what's going on. I wish this part had been a bit shorter, because a heroine without willpower or brainpower a) is frustrating to read about, and b) leads to squicky feelings when you realize she can't really consent to fairy sex. So that's all a little gross and I could have done with less of it (not to mention this book is already kind of long).

Luckily she's soon rescued by a nearby magician who's enmeshed in some local politics and has a pretty crazy backstory of his own, and eventually asks him to train her (that doesn't happen till like halfway through, but is part of the plot description, so I guess it's not a spoiler) and things pick up from there. Proactive Nora is much more interesting. I could have done without the conceit of Nora writing imaginary letters to her friend back home (the same information could have been conveyed more easily and naturally as part of the main narrative, I thought) but that only comes up a couple of times. It looks like this is the start of a series, and ends in a pretty interesting place, which I guess means I'll read it. B/B+.

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

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

2013 book 166

Simon van Booy's The Illusion of Separateness
Van Booy's latest features a cast of interrelated characters and their experiences, varying from a young man off to war in 1939 to his granddaughter in 2005 and 2010 (well, anyway, those were the characters I liked the best, but there are several others not in their family) and how one encounter in France in 1944 affected all of them. I will say that this book could maybe have been longer, though it certainly tells a good story in the pages it has. And a couple of the sections--particularly those involving one Mr. Hugo--feel overly writer-y/crafted to me, whereas the other sections flow much more naturally. Those are minor complaints, though; on the whole, this is really a lovely book, perfect for more literary-minded beach readers. A-/B+.

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

Monday, June 10, 2013

2013 book 165

Elizabeth Peters' Naked Once More
The fourth (and I guess final) Jacqueline Kirby finds our hilarious heroine, now a bestselling author, working on the sequel to the work of another bestselling author who vanished--presumably in a suicide--seven years ago. So obviously Mrs. Kirby is going to find out what REALLY happened. I admit to falling for a couple of red herrings, which was actually a nice surprise. I will say that this could have been a bit shorter--parts of it dragged a little--but it was still a fun one to read. B/B+.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

2013 book 164

Sarah Dessen's The Moon and More
I have generally really liked all of Dessen's books, but since I am officially OVER YA romances, was kind of dreading this one. And then! It's NOT a YA romance! I mean, there is romance, but it's not at all the focus of the book, really. It's about a girl in Dessen's fictional NC beach town, whose family runs a local vacation rental company (I found all these details hilarious, having just returned yesterday from a vacation spent in a similar rental house), enjoying her last summer before leaving for college, and dealing with her fairly complicated family life. And annoying tenants, including a woman filming a documentary on a reclusive artist. Anyway. Very enjoyable. A-.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

2013 book 163

Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane
A new Neil Gaiman novel is, like, an EVENT. Frankly, I wasn't sure this could even remotely live up to expectations, especially since it's been a while since I LOVED one of his books (though it's also been a while since he's written a book for adults, and historically I like his adult work much more than the works aimed at a younger audience), and this one is on the shorter side. All this is to say that, actually, I liked this quite a bit! It's about a man returning home to England for a funeral, when he wanders down the road from his childhood home--and is suddenly flooded with memories of when he was seven, and befriended an unusual 11-year-old girl. It's a Neil Gaiman story, so you can probably extrapolate some stuff from that. The body of the story--the events the two of them have to deal with--is fine, but it's the end that kind of sold me on this. It turns into a meditation on memory and fantasy and childhood nostalgia, and filled me with a bittersweet sort of feeling. PLUS there are kittens and conversational Yiddish. Gaiman is clearly drawing on his own childhood with this one, which makes it somehow more powerful than his bigger works about gods and monsters. A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on June 18th.

Friday, June 07, 2013

2013 book 162

Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
I think I've read all of Fowler's books, though they tend to be hit or miss for me. This one falls somewhere in the middle--I liked it a lot, but it made me feel really despondent. It's about Rosemary, a college student in the 90s, reflecting back on her childhood with her older brother (who she now hasn't seen in ten years) and her sister (who was sent away when they were five--I don't think it's a spoiler to say that the sister, Fern, [redacted because of accidental spoilers]). So Rosemary has some issues with interpersonal relations and dealing with her family. And everything with Fern just broke my heart, completely broke it. I don't know. This was really good, but just so depressing if you're at all interested in animal rights. B+.

2013 book 161

Leigh Bardugo's Siege and Storm
I really liked Shadow and Bone, but this second book in the Grisha trilogy didn't really do it for me. For one thing, the main character keeps a secret that drives a wedge between her and her closest friend/love interest--one of my pet peeves in storytelling--and there's no real reason to keep this secret! For another, she's just as pessimistic as in the first one, and it starts to get grating after a while. And for another, most of the book is taken up with battle plans, which is not one of my areas of interest, and annoying romantic angst. There are some cool new characters--particularly a pirate and two of his crew--but they aren't enough to make things fun. And things here aren't fun. I mean, it is a book about a battle between light and dark (literally) in some fantasy version of Russia, so maybe fun isn't necessarily on the agenda, but still. The end was pretty interesting and I'll still probably read the third one, but I was really not excited about this second volume. B.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

2013 book 160

Marisha Pessl's Night Film
Pessl's long-awaited second novel is finally here and . . . it is weird. It's about a disgraced journalist who lost everything after accusing a reclusive filmmaker of nefarious acts--and now the filmmaker's talented daughter has committed suicide. He gets caught up in investigating again, with the aid of two young people who horn their way in. But soon things get, well, very weird, like I said. I really liked the concepts here, and the use of articles and medical information and stuff, and the end was well-done, but man, some of the weirdness was not really my thing. Though I think it does work thematically with the filmmaker's cult films being a major topic, I just personally found it a bit off-putting and very creepy at times. That may be a selling point for some people though! B.

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

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

2013 book 159

Samantha Shannon's The Bone Season
This is one of the big buzz books of summer--Shannon apparently sold a seven-book series (of which this is the first), and it's already been optioned for a movie by Andy Serkis (Gollum). It takes place in the near future in an alternate world where lots of people have special psychic powers (they're called "voyants," ie, clairvoyants) and are feared and ostracized. Protagonist Paige can sense dreamspaces and some other things; it's all hard to explain. Anyway, she gets kidnapped and taken away to a weird place called Sheol I, run by some other form of being, and . . . it's complicated, I don't know. There is a LOT going on here and a LOT of characters to keep track of. At first I was intrigued by the world but thought Paige was a little bit annoying, but by 3/4 of the way through I was like, yeah, I'd totally read seven books set in this universe. The writing is solid even if the story is all over the place, but I assume a lot of that is setup for later action. There are a few characters I'd really love to read more about, and the ending leaves things in a pretty interesting place. Really looking forward to the follow-up. B+.

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

Monday, June 03, 2013

2013 book 158

Sharon Creech's The Boy on the Porch
Sweet and heartwarming book by Creech, whose Love That Dog makes me cry every time. This one is about a rural couple who find a mute boy on their porch, and stuff happens. I actually wished this was written for a slightly older audience--there's not much to sustain adult interest--but it was, like I said, sweet. Should be a hit with kids--recommended for 8 and up, but slightly younger kids could probably go for it too. B+.

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

2013 book 157

Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam
I was reading this on the beach on family vacation and at one point turned to my dad and said "This is the best book I have ever read." Which was definitely an exaggeration--I was caught up in the moment--but not by much. (I am actually going to try to sell my dad on reading this trilogy--I think he might be into it.) ANYWAY. MaddAddam picks up where the previous two books come together--and flashes back to fill in a lot of the remaining holes in the story. I'm loathe to give away any plot points, but will say that Toby + the Crakers was one of the funniest combinations I have ever seen. And I could have done with a BIT less Toby being jealous, but that's just me. Otherwise, there was plenty of action, plenty of great interpersonal dynamics, Toby being amazing, and other awesome stuff. GREAT end to the story. Really raises a lot of interesting discussion topics. Oh, and there's a summary of the first two books at the beginning, if you don't have time to reread them before this comes out! A!

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

Sunday, June 02, 2013

2013 book 156

Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood
I don't have too much to add from last time I read this, except that it's really interesting to see more pieces of this world Atwood has built, and see a lot of the same story from different angles (and with GREAT women this time). Can't wait to see what Atwood does with the third volume--and I don't have to, b/c I have an ARC. Which I am about to start. :)