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?

Monday, August 12, 2013

2013 book 216

Diana Wynne Jones' The Lives of Christopher Chant
I always think the second Chrestomanci book is stronger than the first--there's just a lot more going on, with all the world-hopping and various people and their machinations and an awesome girl-goddess. And Christopher is more likable than Eric, or at least less wishy-washy. But let's be honest, I read these books for the girls like Millie.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

2013 book 215

Diana Wynne Jones' Charmed Life
I've been so cranky about books lately--nothing seems appealing. The only cure is to fall into a series you already love! It'd been a while since I revisited the Chrestomanci series and this really hit the spot. Of course, the only thing I really remembered was the end, so I kept waiting for all the reveals to just HAPPEN already.  It doesn't matter though; this whole series is charming.

2013 book 214

Natalie Brown's The Lovebird
I only finished this book because I'm so tired of leaving books unfinished (nothing seems appealing these days). It's about a limp noodle of a young girl who falls for her Latin professor, and he then introduces her to the world of animal activism. (I will say that Brown totally nails the college student activism scene, full of well-meaning, but idiotic, students.) Then she ends up having to go on the run; at one point she makes a quip about being a white girl who will be saved by magical Native Americans. BUT, that is exactly what happens, and it's like, what, come on. The epilogue also feels totally tacked on. I didn't realize this was women's fiction, but that's what the second half turned out to be. Not really my thing. B/B-.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

2013 book 213

Jaime Lee Moyer's Delia's Shadow
So there's kind of a lot going on here: it's a few years after the San Francisco earthquake, and our first main character is a young woman (Delia) who can see ghosts, and is being haunted by a woman who was murdered (Shadow). Our other main character is Delia's best friend's fiance's partner--they're detectives trying to find a serial killer! These two storylines quickly intersect, obviously. I will say that some plotlines are fairly predictable, and some of the dialogue is awkward/overly exposition-y, but the characters and setting are charming, and the mystery part is suitably creepy. Things get a little bit overwrought by the end, but it was a pretty fun read. B/B+.

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

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

2013 book 212

Rhys Bowen's Heirs and Graces
Yay, finally a new book in the Royal Spyness series! In this one, Victoria's great-granddaughter Georgie finds herself being enlisted by a dowager duchess to teach the new heir--who's grown up as an average Australian--some social graces. But then! The current Duke is murdered! With the heir's Australian hunting knife! I thought I had totally predicted the killer but was way off, much to my surprise and delight. I really enjoy this series--Georgie is an interesting heroine, I like the historical setting and reading about the foibles of upper-crust British society, and the tone is always nice and light (even when there's murder involved). I wish there were more series like this one. A-.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

2013 book 211

Meg Rosoff's Picture Me Gone
I've really enjoyed Rosoff's books, particularly her most recent one, There Is No Dog she's one of those writers who inhabits a completely different world with every one. This one is smaller in scale than her last, but is much more affecting--it's about a strangely observant 12-year-old London girl who travels to America with her father to visit his long-time best friend . . . only the friend has left home and is currently missing. So they have to roadtrip around to try and find him. Secrets and lies are uncovered, but it's the narrative voice that really makes this great. Mila is amazing, and I loved her relationship with her parents. It's always really nice to see a loving, non-dysfunctional family in fiction (even if everyone else's marriages seem to be falling apart). Really an enjoyable and very moving read. A-.

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

Monday, August 05, 2013

2013 book 210

Pamela Dean's Tam Lin
This is one of those books people have been recommending to me for YEARS, but man, it is BORING. Seriously, so boring. The fairy tale stuff doesn't get started until like the last ten percent of the book, and before that is just a bunch of 70s college students dealing with a love octagon; most of the dudes are creepy Classics majors (the school has a weird Classics cult) (also they are obviously all fairies/dealing with fairy drama) who keep pretentiously quoting poetry at each other. There's also a very extended scene involving a play they're putting on that I found completely unbearable, because it just goes on FOREVER. Symbolism can be shorter. I really wish the editors of the Fairy Tale Series this is a part of had taken a much firmer hand with this one. The main character, Janet, is likable and proactive enough, but I don't really care about her college classes and essays or her dining hall preferences. And that's ALL the book is. There's also a ghost and some nice roommates, but the fairy tale elements are way underplayed here. If I wanted to read a book about obnoxiously intellectual college students, I'd have done that; I wanted a fairy tale. B-.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

2013 book 209

Hanya Yanigihara's The People in the Trees
Comparisons to Ann Patchett's State of Wonder are apt for this book--not only in terms of subject matter and themes, but for the strength of the writing. This doesn't at all read like a first novel. It's about a Novel Prize-winning scientist, who once discovered a small Micronesian tribe that eats a specific turtle to become immortal--but also leads to dementia. Now disgraced and imprisoned for child abuse, he's writing his memoirs, which are being edited and annotated by a colleague he mentored. It's one of those books where the main character is completely unlikable in every way (not only is he extremely racist and sexist, you can actually see the moment where he decides sexually abusing children is a-ok), but it's told so well that the book is great anyway. There's also a whole interesting thing with the multiple levels of unreliable narrators, and the discussions of 1950s academia are pretty fascinating too. Now, this book was very hard to read at times--besides the sexual abuse, there's a very lengthy description of terrible things done to lab animals--but it was also EXCELLENT. I honestly can't believe this is a first novel--it's a remarkable accomplishment. A/A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on August 13th.