Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 book 336

Carrie Vaughn's Kitty's House of Horrors
The seventh Kitty Norville book finds Kitty agreeing to appear on a supernatural version of what is basically The Surreal Life (you remember that mid-2000s VH1 show with like Janice Dickinson and Omarosa and Peter Brady living in a house together, right?), featuring several characters we've met before and some interesting new ones. But things quickly start to seem more sinister than even a celebrity reality show should be. Vaughn really goes kind of no-holds-barred here, but again, all the action takes place in less than a week. I wish she'd slow things down a little (though we do get to know the characters pretty well, regardless--it just seems silly for every book to be one quick dramatic thing). B+.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 book 335

Louise Penny's How the Light Gets In
This really, really feels like a finale to the Inspector Gamache series, and if so, I actually admire how everything progressed. This manages to fold in all of the police corruption stuff from the past few books with a new murder tangentially tied to the people of Three Pines, who are here used much more sparingly and effectively (though of course Clara's art genius had to be mentioned at least once). I honestly have no major complaints about this one--it builds to a very intense moment, and if the final chapter is a little bit overly nice, well, enough people got shot for it to balance out. I really wonder what Penny will do next. A-.

2013 book 334

Louise Penny's The Beautiful Mystery
The eighth Inspector Gamache mystery GREATLY benefits from time away from Three Pines and all its murder-magnet denizens--instead, we find Gamache and Beauvoir trying to solve the murder of a monk at a secluded monastery famous for its Gregorian chants. As with the previous book, Penny takes one artistic metaphor and beats it into her readers (here, TS Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral) but the story is still pretty strong. The mystery almost takes a backseat to Gamache and Beauvoir's relationship. There's also more involving the growing animosity between Gamache and his corrupt bosses, but I'm a little bit meh on that whole plotline. But now I'm off to read the most recent one b/c I have to know what's up w/ Beauvoir! B+.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013 book 333

Louise Penny's A Trick of the Light
You all must be wondering why I keep reading these when they annoy me so much. But it's because they'd be SO GOOD if there weren't so many murders in a tiny town and/or involving Clara Morrow! To be fair, this one does slyly reference that a few times. And Clara's burgeoning art world success--and her crumbling marriage--is just as interesting as the murder itself (of a supermean art critic, a childhood friend of Clara's). Not to mention everything with Inspector Beauvoir and his crush on the chief's daughter. Dramarama. Penny did lean waaaaaay too heavily on the whole "chiaroscuro" as a metaphor for the dead person thing--it was silly at a certain point. But, dangit, I really have to know what's gonna happen next w/ Beauvoir and Gamache. B/B+.

2013 book 332

Claire Cameron's The Bear
The two words I would use to describe this book are HARROWING and INTENSE. And boy, did it solidify my resolve to NEVER go camping. It centers on a bear attack (apparently inspired by a true story, EEK) and the two children who escape and must try to survive in the woods until they can be rescued. Only, like, they're five and two. I will say that I had some mixed feelings about the narrative being from the five year old's POV, because narrating things in a child's voice is hard to get right, and I'm not entirely sure Cameron manages. But it's all completely riveting and terrifying, and the children do feel really . . . real. (Cameron does nail sibling dynamics at that age.) And I really loved the epilogue--it definitely made me well up a little. But I am still never going camping. A-.

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

Friday, December 27, 2013

2013 book 331

Alex Bledsoe's The Hum and the Shiver
I liked that Eddie LaCrosse book pretty well when I read it recently, so decided to check out another series of Bledsoe's, one with a woman main character--at least, according to the book description on Amazon. Actually, there are three POV characters, and the other two are men (one of whom is a hot young minister who has an immediate sexual connection w/ the woman POV character, and I was just like . . . yeah, a guy wrote this). And I was thoroughly uninterested in the reporter trying to get a story on the girl, at least until about 200 pages in. Bledsoe's tale is well-plotted, and the world-building is really interesting, but I just found some things kind of tone-deaf (describing an Asian character as having "slanted eyes" is racist, right?). I mean, having the minister sexually objectifying women on one page and then judging them for sexual activity on the next . . . maybe it's accurate, but I found it off-putting, especially when he's the love interest and supposed to be a super good guy. This book was fine, but reminded me why I usually read books written by women instead. (Insert ironic Tumblr tag "misandry" here.) B.

2013 book 330

Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted
I first read this book in the days before this blog existed, and have somehow never revisited it, even though reworked fairy tales = one of my favorite subcategories of the YA fantasy genre. I'll say that this holds up pretty well--it's really cute (a Cinderella story about a girl cursed with obedience) and the writing is pretty lively, but it's all fairly inconsequential. B/B+.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 book 329

Diana Wynne Jones' The Islands of Chaldea
This is the book Diana Wynne Jones was working on when she died a couple years ago (which I am still sad about), completed by her sister Ursula. I didn't spend much time trying to play spot-the-differences, because honestly, it's a really good story and feels like a classic Diana Wynne Jones kind of book. It centers on Aileen, a Wise Woman in training (sort of), going off on a quest with her Wise Woman aunt to try and break down a barrier dividing the titular islands, and fulfill a prophecy. And Aileen is GREAT. She's a teeeensy bit boy-crazy, but is much more involved in trying to figure out her powers and keep the quest going. It's a good combination. Things are mildly predictable, but satisfying nonetheless. I mean, it's a middle grade book. At any rate, it's a solid final volume for the author and a nice tribute by her sister. A/A-.

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

2013 book 328

Jeremy Jackson's Life at These Speeds
I think it's a mark of this book's excellent writing that it affects me so profoundly when I have never had any interest in running, and in fact have always regarded it as a horrible chore--though I was friends with many runners in high school and recognize the atmosphere here. But Jackson's first novel--about a teenager whose track team (including all his friends and his girlfriend) is killed in a car accident, and he's the only survivor, and a year later he's a track superstar, but only has vague memories of his deceased classmates--is extremely moving and very sad, but also beautiful. One of my very favorite books.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

2013 book 327

Natalie Standiford's The Boy on the Bridge
I have really enjoyed some of Standiford's other books, but have been putting off reading this one because the cover made it look like a cheesy YA romance. But then I thought, hey, it's STANDIFORD! Surely a book she's writing about a college student studying abroad in Russia in the early 80s who meets a Russian guy and falls for him will be more complicated and interesting than the usual YA romance stuff. But . . . man, it is hard to read a book about someone so dumb. Laura has been warned that Russians will try and convince her to marry them to get US citizenship, but no, her love is obviously different! The whole time I was just like, come ON. And I really didn't like what Standiford did with the ending. I think she actually WAS just writing a typical YA romance--so disappointing. And I feel like even if that was a genre I was into, I'd be disappointed with this--there's so little character development, and ALL the main character does is think about her Russian dude. It's just not compelling at all--at least, not to someone who is ostensibly a grownup. B-.

Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 book 326

Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Raises Hell
I feel like this series would be a lot stronger if Vaughn gave things more room to breathe--every book feels like it encompasses about a week (or weekend) in the life of Kitty, and so it all seems a little inconsequential (even when there's a fire demon thing afoot, like in this one). Plus, it's the sort of in-between spaces that are more interesting--I'd like to see Kitty interact with her pack when they're not having some sort of deathly crisis. There's a reference here to a couple of wolves leaving, but nothing more is said. And we only know the names of three of the wolves, when it seems like the pack should be more vital. On the other hand, Vaughn introduces some interesting new characters in this one and it seems like they'll be recurring, so at least the world is getting expanded a little. B.

2013 book 325

Carrie Vaughn's Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand
In the fifth Kitty Norville book, Kitty ends up in Vegas--to elope, to do a live tv version of her radio show, and to get involved in various local supernatural things (including a were-tiger act). There's also a gun convention at her hotel full of werewolf hunters! This one is pretty silly and over-the-top, but whatever, I mean, it's a book about a werewolf. B.

Favorite Books of 2013!

I doubt I'm going to read any more super awesome books in the next week, so here, without further ado, are my 15 favorite books of 2013:

--Kate Atkinson, Life After Life
--Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam
--Jennifer Castle's You Look Different in Real Life
--Lyndsay Faye's Seven for a Secret
--Jennifer Haigh's News From Heaven: The Bakerton Stories 
--Eve Harris' The Marrying of Chani Kaufman
--Kent Haruf's Benediction
--Dara Horn's A Guide for the Perplexed
--Mary Robinette Kowal's Without a Summer
--Ryan North's To Be or Not to Be
--Rutu Modan's The Property 
--Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being 
--Victoria Schwab's Vicious 
--Helene Wecker's The Golem and the Jinni
--Brenna Yovanoff's Paper Valentine 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

2013 book 324

Carrie Vaughn's Kitty and the Silver Bullet
In a previous Kitty Norville book, Kitty was exiled from the Denver area for werewolf reasons--but now her mom is sick and so she heads back to town, finding herself in the middle of a supernatural battle for control of the city. I am still not really into the italicized sections of Kitty's thoughts when she's in wolf-form, but otherwise find this series to be very enjoyable, if not as deep as some of Vaughn's other works. But I guess I'm not really looking for deep when I'm reading a series about a werewolf with a late-night radio show. B+.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

2013 book 323

Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Takes a Holiday
The third Kitty Norville book finds Kitty holed up in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, hiding from everything that happened in the last book, and in theory writing a memoir. Then she starts getting messages that someone wants her to leave town, there's a mysterious werewolf with red eyes, and the hot bounty hunter (and his lawyer cousin) are coming for a visit. Lots of drama and lots of action, things move along quickly, and Kitty is pretty likable. I really like this world and look forward to seeing more of it. B/B+.

Friday, December 20, 2013

2013 book 322

Daisy Whitney's When You Were Here
This book (one of two Whitney put out in 2013, I think) made a few best of the year lists, and I remembered liking her book The Mockingbirds, so I figured I'd check it out. And it's really moving--about a boy, just graduated from high school, whose mother has recently died of cancer. And he decides to go to Tokyo for the summer, where she spent some of her last days. There's also a whole thing with an ex-girlfriend he's still in love with, though romance isn't really the focus here--it's more about friendship, and family, and all kinds of love. The description might make it seem like a weepy kind of book, and I did tear up a little, but not for the reasons I was expecting. Really engaging, if mildly unrealistic. A-.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013 book 321

Louise Penny's Bury Your Dead
I have been enjoying this series less and less as it goes on, and this one didn't really change that. At least this one doesn't have a new dead body in Three Pines; instead, Gamache is investigating a murder (and dealing with separatist politics and Quebecois history) in Quebec while recovering from an incident that is revealed slowly (and painfully), while Beauvoir is back in Three Pines looking into the murder from the last book. And since that case did seem sort of shoddy--Clara points out something here that the police should have looked into much more--I guess it's warranted, even though I am WAY OVER this one small town and all its murders. And I didn't like the resolution of that one any more than I did in the last book. There is a lot going on emotionally and some interesting stuff with PTSD--really, everything except the Three Pines stuff is pretty solid. On an unrelated note, I also wish this had had one more pass with a proofreader, because there are a lot of small typos and missing commas. B.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

2013 book 320

Katherine Applegate's The One and Only Ivan
I've been meaning to read this since it won the Newbery, except that I've also been avoiding reading it since it won the Newbery, because I cannot handle books about sad animals. And there are some very sad animals in this book. The titular Ivan is a gorilla who lives in a cage at a ramshackle old mall, along with an elderly elephant and a stray dog who likes to hang out in his cage. Ivan is an artist, thanks to the janitor's daughter, who supplies him with paper and crayons, which adds an interesting perspective to the mix. The narrative voice is really strong, too. Anyway, I basically cried through the entire second half of this. A/A-.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

2013 book 319

Maryrose Wood's The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place Book IV: The Interrupted Tale
This series is starting to frustrate the heck out of me, because it keeps doling out more and more clues to the reader, and Penny just can't figure everything out! I mean, it's hilarious and charming in every way (though I do prefer Jon Klassen's illustrations from the first three books to the new illustrator for this one) but having to wait till the next one comes out is pure torture. TORTURE. A-.

Monday, December 16, 2013

2013 book 318

Carrie Vaughn's After The Golden Age
After the Golden Age is one of my favorite novels-about-superheroes, and so I was super super super excited when I found out there's a sequel coming out in January! And I had to reread this one to prepare, obviously. Anyway, it's about the fairly bitter adult daughter of the city's two most powerful--and famous--superheroes. Lacking any powers of her own, she's working as an accountant, where she's assigned to work on the trial of a major supervillain . . . who once kidnapped her. And soon a rash of crimes are spreading through the city, and the major's cute cop son wants to date her. Everything about this book is awesome and I cannot wait to read the sequel.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

2013 book 317

Kate Atkinson's Started Early, Took My Dog
The fourth Jackson Brodie book is not as /great/ as the third, but is still an excellent story! But I am too tired to talk about it this time.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

2013 book 316

Alex Bledsoe's He Drank, and Saw the Spider
I've never read any of the Eddie LaCrosse books before, but this excerpt made me want to--if there's one thing I love, it's gruff guys trying to deal with babies! And actually, this worked fine as a stand-alone--Eddie explains enough of his backstory for his character to make sense, and the plot doesn't really rely on prior knowledge, since it involves aforementioned mysterious baby (grown into a pretty teenager), her lovelife, her quest to find out who she is, various sheepfarmers and festival-goers and kings, etc. The story moves along at a good pace and is entertaining the whole way through, although the ending is pretty bonkers. I might even check out some of the earlier books in this series, since this one was so enjoyable. B+.

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

Friday, December 13, 2013

2013 book 315

Kate Atkinson's When Will There Be Good News
Rereading this and One Good Turn made me notice again how unflattering Atkinson is about her writer characters--in that one, Martin Canning is kind of namby-pamby, and here, Howard Mason is a total selfish jerk. I know nothing about Atkinson (except that I've read all of her books--though her early ones predate this blog and I should really revisit them) but she always seems so cool and kind to me. I just like the slyness of this, I guess. It's not really relevant. This book is perfect in just about every way. Reggie and Dr Hunter and the baby and Jackson and Louise 4-eva.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

2013 book 314

Garth Nix's Newt's Emerald
Basically, if anyone writes a Regency-era story with MAGIC, I am there, and even more so when the author is Garth Nix. The magical world here is similar to that of Mary Robinette Kowal's books, though not explored in as much detail. It doesn't really matter, though, because this book has tons of cross-dressing adventures, costume balls, pirates, evil sorcerers, etc. It's super cute! I mean, it's extremely predictable, as these sorts of books tend to be, but it's also extremely charming. A-/B+.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

2013 book 313

Charles Finch's The Fleet Street Murders
The third Charles Lenox mystery deals with a pair of prominent journalists who are murdered on the same night, five minutes apart. It also deals with Charles running for Parliament, which is interesting for a history nerd like myself, but derails the mystery part of the story quite a bit. And frankly, the mystery isn't really that interesting or compelling--and Charles was too over-the-top right about everything, in a way. I do like all the characters and find the setting interesting, but this one was a little bit dull. B.

Monday, December 09, 2013

2013 book 312

Louise Penny's The Brutal Telling
I just don't understand how the same six people in the same tiny town keep getting caught up in all these murders! Is Penny that enamored of her Three Pines characters that she can't have a mystery that doesn't involve them? It makes no sense, especially when she'd still have all of her police characters (and their families) to draw from. I keep wondering if the latest one will have a twist where like the Morrows and their friends were secretly the killers all along, and framed everyone else! And Peter Morrow has become such a jerkwad that honestly it wouldn't surprise me in the least. The thing is, this book is still /good/. OK, I thought the solution/motive to the murder was less than good, but the writing is solid, it's all pretty riveting, and I loved all of the stuff about art. If I'd read this on its own, and not part of this series, it would have been great! But you can't judge a series book that way. Like . . . enough already with Three Pines. B.

2013 book 311

Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn
I don't know why I'm rereading the Jackson Brodie books when I've been enjoying several other series (Charles Finch, Louise Penny). OK, yes I do know, it's because I love Jackson Brodie. This is my least favorite by a long shot--it's a very slow starter, and sad-sack Martin is just not as interesting as the characters from the first one. Luckily there's also the wonderful Gloria and the introduction of detective Louise to balance things out. I also like how sort of funny all the coincidences are--Atkinson really has a deft touch.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

2013 book 310

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch
I enjoyed Tartt's previous two books, but wouldn't call myself a die-hard fan or anything, and I wasn't in a rush to pick up this almost-800-page books, despite its appearance on most best-of-the-year lists. And it took me a couple of chapters to get into it--because, frankly, the plot is completely preposterous. But it was just so RIVETING! And an amazingly quick read for such a long book. Then, a little more than halfway through, it kind of turned into a novel about weak-willed rich New York assholes. Do people like that exist outside of novels? Frankly, I wish they wouldn't exist in novels either, because they're VERY tiresome.  And the protagonist . . . at first, he's impossibly sympathetic, but as he makes one horrible decision after another, you just want to shake him and scream, "GET YOUR LIFE TOGETHER, MAN!" Tartt does love her complicated and ineffectual protagonists! Despite the stellar writing, I honestly wasn't sure how Tartt was going to conclude this in a satisfying way--but she manages somehow. It is really annoying for a really long stretch, though. B+/A-.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

2013 book 309

Sergei Lukyanenko's Night Watch
This is the first book in an internationally bestselling series making its way to America for the first time--it looks like the whole series will be released in the next few months, which on the one hand, YAY for not having to wait long to find out what happens next, and on the other--well, the translation is a bit awkward at times. (Also, I didn't realize this was first written in 1998, and couldn't figure out why the main character kept listening to a Discman, but now am mostly amused by that.)

Anyway, this is the story of Anton, a young guy who works for the Night Watch--an organization of various supernaturally gifted people dedicated to maintaining balance in the world between light and dark (the Night Watch are the Light ones, who keep an eye on their dark counterparts of the Day Watch). The worldbuilding here is fascinating, even though the plot is kind of all over the place--there's a young boy with strong powers, and a pretty doctor with a curse, and a talking owl, and some fairly convoluted machinations. The last third is also a lot weaker than the first two. But I really liked seeing a strongly Russian fantasy world, and loved all the concepts and most of the characters (more Tiger Cub and Yulia, please!). I'll definitely be reading the next one. B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on December 31st.

2013 book 308

Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay
Ahhhh this book still makes me cry! I like how Collins allows a little bit of hope into her otherwise extremely grim finale. And we finally get to know a few more of the side characters, particularly Prim, who is SMART.  Also, Gale is a terrorist several times over, stop being on Team Gale. I honestly can't wait to see Jena Malone in this movie. She's amazing as Johanna (side note for book nerds: apparently she's also playing Carson McCullers in a biographical movie!). Anyway. I still think this is a fitting end to the series, and don't really know what disappointed readers expected after reading the first two.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

2013 book 307

Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire
What I really admire about Collins with this series is how she is willing to really up the ante--and insanity--with every volume. The end of this book still makes my heart jump into my throat--and that's knowing everything that comes after! Really masterful plotting, I have to say, though obviously very heavy-handed. Still, it's rare to read a book about someone with PTSD--especially a YA book--and I was very relieved that the movie didn't shy away from showing Katniss' trauma. Though I /do/ wish they'd included a little training montage of Peeta and Katniss! And don't even get me started on Gale.

Monday, December 02, 2013

2013 book 306

Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games
I made a concerted effort not to reread these before the Catching Fire movie came out, but seeing it (twice) made me want to! I'd forgotten how the narrative voice is kind of choppy and awkward--at least until the story gets completely insane and sucks you in. I wonder how this works as an audiobook--maybe the first-person narration is better that way? Anyway. I love this book, despite its flaws.