Thursday, October 31, 2013

2013 book 282

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

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

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

2013 book 281

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

2013 book 280

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

Monday, October 28, 2013

2013 book 279

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

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

2013 book 278

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

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

2013 book 277

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

Monday, October 21, 2013

2013 book 276

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

Sunday, October 20, 2013

2013 book 275

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

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

Saturday, October 19, 2013

2013 book 274

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

Friday, October 18, 2013

2013 book 273

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

Thursday, October 17, 2013

2013 book 272

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

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

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

2013 book 271

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

Monday, October 14, 2013

2013 book 270

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

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

Sunday, October 13, 2013

2013 book 269

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

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

Friday, October 11, 2013

2013 book 268

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

Thursday, October 10, 2013

2013 book 267

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

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

2013 book 266

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

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

2013 book 265

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

Monday, October 07, 2013

2013 book 264

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

Sunday, October 06, 2013

2013 book 263

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

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

Saturday, October 05, 2013

2013 book 262

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

2013 book 261

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

2013 book 260

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

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

Friday, October 04, 2013

2013 book 259

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

Thursday, October 03, 2013

2013 book 258

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

2013 book 257

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

2013 book 256

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

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

2013 book 255

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

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

2013 book 254

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