Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 book 322

Melina Marchetta's Finnikin of the Rock
Decided to close out the year rereading this series, though I wasn't expecting to finish this one tonight (I'm having some sleep issues). Still love this story so so much, even with the inferred/attempted rapes. Ah, Evanjalin, you are my favorite. Such great world-building here. Even having read this several times, I cried at a couple key moments. Melina Marchetta is really the best.

Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 book 321

Cecilia Grant's A Lady Awakened
I'm aware that there's a trope in romance wherein a lady pays a guy to marry her, knock her up, and quietly divorce her (though obviously, it never gets to that last one), and this is soooooort of along those lines: our heroine is young and recently widowed, and her husband's terrible brother will inherit the estate (the estate she has worked SO HARD to improve! She's re-thatched roofs and started a school!) UNLESS she turns out to be pregnant with an heir. She knows she's not, and she has one month to rectify that--with the help of the new gentleman next door, exiled from London for his mildly dissolute ways. She'll give him a bunch of money in exchange for daily . . . deposits. This actually turns out to be hilarious, because she does NOT enjoy the act (her husband was also the worst, I guess it runs in the family) and her thoughts about the proceedings are GREAT. Eventually she gets into things . . . like 2/3 of the way through! Meanwhile, she's educating him on landlord stuff and they're improving both their estates in big ways. It's super cute, if paternalistic. I liked how things wrapped up and I liked the writing here a lot. This is the first in a series, and I'll definitely be reading the others. A-.

2014 book 320

Mary Jo Putney's Sometimes a Rogue
I really liked this at the start--it's actually the 5th in a series and I went and looked up the others and they were all on sale for Kindle and I allllllmost bought them ALL. However, I didn't, and I'm glad I refrained, because this book bogged down quite a bit in the middle and managed to become kind of flat--weird, because there was a LOT going on. The story centers on a young woman, whose twin sister--a duchess--is both going into labor AND about to be kidnapped. So she pretends to be her sister, and is kidnapped herself. Luckily, her brother-in-law's friend who happens to be a Bow Street Runner also just happens to come to visit at that exact moment, and soon is in hot pursuit. All of that resolves pretty quickly, at which point an earldom, a bunch of relatives, impoverished tenants, and an illegitimate child are all thrown into the mix--and we're still only halfway through the book. It's all kind of silly and too much. Which is a shame--the characters are likable, funny, and highly competent people. Unfortunately, a lot of the dialogue is stilted and there's a lot of over-explaining, not to mention an over-use of exclamation points in the second half of the book (I admit to over-using them myself, but in a book, they're a little much). Things do pick back up toward the end (though the reveal of the kidnappers is ENTIRELY ridiculous), but in general, this one was a bit of a slog. B/B-.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014 book 319

Kat Yeh's The Truth About Twinkie Pie
SUPER cute and moving middle grade book about 7th grade GiGi, whose older sister has just moved them from South Carolina to Long Island so GiGi can attend a fancy school--where she's immediately befriended by the popular boy, and thus immediately finds the popular girl an enemy. But really this is about GiGi and her sister, and the stories of their dead mother, not to mention lipstick and FAMILY SECRETS. Even though I guessed a couple of plot points, nothing about this felt trite or cliched--all the characters were really great, strongly written, and real, and I loved the way this ended. There are recipes after every chapter, which does impede the flow of the story a little, but some of them are things I actually want to try making. A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on January 27th.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

2014 book 318

Sarah Maclean's Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart
God, are these titles wordy. In the final book in the Numbers series, the focus is (finally) on born-of-a-scandal sister Juliana and the Duke of Leighton, but everyone else makes an appearance too (Georgiana is particularly prominent). I can't help but notice, having read three of these in a row, that Maclean's books have a definite pattern to their seduction scenes. At first I ascribed it to the dudes in the first two books being identical twins, but now it's just a thing. Anyway, this one was fine, though mildly less interesting since I knew the main plot beats from the book about Penelope. I am a little sad that no one has married Allendale in either series! That guy is great. Maybe he's secretly gay, but that's no reason for him not to get to make out with someone.  B/B+.

2014 book 317

Sarah Maclean's Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord
And clearly I should have read this series before the Scoundrels one, which I now see is CLEARLY a sequel series--in this one, we meet young Georgiana, as she flees to a house in the country that serves as a refuge for girls in all sorts of trouble (it's an awesome house of women, where all the servants are women in men's clothes). But she's not the main character--the main character is the young woman who runs the house, which is a complicated thing because her Earl father is a terrible gambler (and has put her up as a wager more than once), and she's trying to protect her girls and her little brother (the future Earl). Meanwhile, the twin brother of the guy from the last book is asked by Leighton to track Georgiana down, bringing him pretty quickly to this eccentric household. Obviously he and the earl's daughter start making out immediately, drawn together by erotic Roman statuary. Because, of course. And then there are the many dumb obstacles that get in their way, SIGH. I like Maclean's writing and characters a lot, but these books are pretty silly. Charming, but silly. B/B+.

2014 book 316

Sarah Maclean's Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake
There were SO many references to the Duke of Leighton and his love match in Maclean's Scoundrels series that I should have guessed it was going to be in one of her earlier books! I mean, it's not even the B-plot here--they're just meeting--but I'm excited to see that story play out. Anyway, the actual plot involves a wallflower/spinster who decides to finally live life or whatever, and asks the rakish Marquess she's had a crush on for a decade to make out with her. He does this in exchange for her chaperoning his recently-discovered sister around and introducing her to society. Also, he totally likes making out with her, so win-win. And somehow he's always around when she's accomplishing other items on her living-life list, which inevitably leads to more makeouts.  I liked all the sibling stuff here, especially the wallflower and her sister, but Maclean used the word "lave" about eight too many times for my particular tastes. That word is NOT sexy.  B/B+.

Friday, December 26, 2014

2014 book 315

Greer Macallister's The Magician's Lie
It's 1905, and a small-town policeman has captured a lady magician, the suspect in her husband's brutal murder. She spends the evening narrating her life story to him, and he lets her, to try and win her trust--but seriously, how are /you/ gonna trust a /magician/? They deal in illusions! Fellow NC residents--the Biltmore in Asheville plays a part in events. Now, this book was definitely engaging, and I loved the look at a touring magic act at the turn of the century, but the writing is occasionally heavy-handed and the villain is unbelievably villainous (though he is VERY creepy). The magician also has some sort of healing ability, which manages to be relevant to the plot several times! I did wish that the policeman was a little more fleshed out, but I guess that wasn't really the point of things. I liked the lady magician a lot, so let's say B/B+.

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

Thursday, December 25, 2014

2014 book 314

Norma Klein's Domestic Arrangements
I'm still making my way through my Lizzie Skurnick books, and this one was a major change of pace from the All-of-a-Kind Family! I mean, basically the first thing that happens is that the dad walks in on his 14-year-old daughter having sex with her boyfriend in the middle of the night. The entire time I was reading this, I was just like, "is this what 1970s New York was really like??/???/??" My god! Anyway, it's about a precocious 14 year old girl who's just starred in her first movie--with a topless scene--and now fame is starting to intrude on her life and family (not to mention her jealous, horny boyfriend, who I absolutely hated). Plus everyone is having affairs and gross film producers are trying to enlist her for a musical version of Lolita (their interpretation of the novel is pretty disgusting). THE SEVENTIES! I don't even know what to think about this book. I wish the older sister had been more fleshed out, and I thought it ended really abruptly, but the girl's narrative voice is pretty engaging. I wish FYA would assign books like this to the book clubs, because this would be a fun one to scream about over lunch. B/B+.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

2014 book 313

Sarah Maclean's Never Judge a Lady By Her Cover
Now, here we go: the story of Chase. Obviously this one came out before I read all the other ones, so I knew Chase's identity--but it's honestly more fun reading them that way! Maclean handles it really deftly--she's very careful with pronouns--and drops enough hints that when the reveal comes at the end of book 3, you're like OHHHHH YEAH. It works. I also really really love that the mysterious bad-ass owner of the gambling hall is (SPOILER) secretly a girrrrrrrrrl. A girl who, unmarried, had a baby at sixteen even though she was the daughter of a Duke! Damnnnnnnnn. And now she's determined to marry a viscount to give her daughter a better life/reputation. Too bad she's super into the powerful (and helpful!) newspaperman from the previous books. And too bad he's got a dark secret and is being blackmailed by an evil, treasonous Earl. Things go more or less as expected, to a more or less satisfying end. (I think I am getting burned out on historical romances.) B/B+.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 book 312

Sarah Maclean's No Good Duke Goes Unpunished
So now we get the story of Temple, the third co-owner of the gambling hall in this series, also known as "the Killer Duke" because he may or may not have killed a woman. A young pretty woman he may or may not have seduced. A young woman who was DEFINITELY supposed to marry his father the next day (though he didn't know who she was). He has no memory of the night in question, because obviously she drugged him and threw blood everywhere to make it seem like she'd been ruined and run off with a guy, except she drugged him too much and threw too much blood and had no idea he was about to be her step-son. OOPS. Now she's back, willing to reveal that she's alive, because her brother has lost all his money in Temple's gambling hall--INCLUDING the money she needs to run her orphanage! Because of course she runs an orphanage. Now, again, most of the plot of this book would not exist if she was just HONEST with him, so I found their back-and-forth a little tiresome. Surely you can still flirt-fight if he knows you need the money and your brother had no business losing it. I mean, you still know what happened on THAT FATEFUL NIGHT and he is desperate to know! Ugh. On the other hand, there's an adorable pet pig, and she's pretty awesome--skilled with doctoring and with a right hook. My kind of dame. B/B+.

Monday, December 22, 2014

2014 book 311

Sarah Maclean's One Good Earl Deserves a Lover
Now, THIS is the kind of historical romance I can get behind. Like the Courtney Milan and Tessa Dare books, it's part of a series that shares characters, so the world feels a lot more robust. And there's none of that wishy-washy back-and-forth here, because this romance is a slow build (well, as slow a build can be that takes place in like two weeks of story). ANYWAY, in this one, science-minded Pippa--one of the sisters of the woman from the first book--approaches Cross--one of the co-owners of the gambling hall with the dude from the first book--with a desire to learn about, let's say, the mechanics of marital relations, as her wedding day draws near. Of course her fiance is perfectly nice, but they're not in love at all, and she finds Cross much more compelling (it's ok, he's secretly an Earl! That's not a spoiler, it's the first scene of the book). There is a little bit of the "I'm in love with her, but I'm a bad man and must let her go for her own sake" going on, but Pippa's brilliance wins the day. Really fun and just delightful in general. I am very much looking forward to the other two books in this series. A/A-.

2014 book 310

Eloisa James' When Beauty Tamed the Beast
This is another one of the books in James' fairy tale series, and it's  . . . fine. I liked both the characters a lot (the Beauty here is a very pretty/smart/sassy girl with an unfairly ruined reputation, whose relatives decide to marry her off to the Beast, who's really just a surly guy with a bad leg), but it was another one of those stories that is all just will they/won't they get married, when they OBVIOUSLY will, so jsut do it already, and then work on your medical reforms (he runs a hospital out of his manor, she is all about patient relations). Maybe I am not the target audience for these books if I'm more interested in how they make their hospital nicer as opposed to their silly relationship. I mean, I also like the love scenes, don't get me wrong, but a lot of times the obstacles to the marriage seem really forced, and this was one of those times. (I should say, at first pretending to call off their engagement is part of their flirting and is actually pretty funny, but then they start denying their LOVE and it gets tedious. You love each other, deal with it.) B/B+.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014 book 309

Sarah Maclean's A Rogue By Any Other Name
So in this first book in the Rules of Scoundrels series, our dude is a man who was cheated out of pretty much everything but his title on a game of cards and is hellbent on revenge like ten years later, and meanwhile the guy who got all his property has lost a very pretty piece of it to ANOTHER guy, who has added it to the dowry of his eldest daughter, a spinster (she had a courtship go bad early on and things have never quite worked out since). (Also meanwhile, the dude has built himself a nice fortune by co-owning a famous gambling hall/den of iniquity with characters who will presumably star in later books.) Handily, the dude and the girl with the dowry were actually childhood friends, but instead of asking nicely, he basically kidnaps her into marriage. Because he is a ROGUE. I actually really liked both these characters, all the other characters, their world, Maclean's writing in general, etc, BUT this is one of those books where if either party was ever honest about his or her feelings, the book would immediately end, so things have to be dragged out. I mean, you know how things are gonna end in a romance novel! Don't make the suspense the eye-rolling dumb kind! The epilogue has me pretty psyched for book two, though.  B/B+.

2014 book 308

Maia Chance's Snow White Red-Handed
This book should have been right up my alley-- it's the 1800s and the main characters are a pair of actresses who are posing as maids to make a living after leaving their troupe, and they've come to Europe with their rich employer, where a couple of folklore professors are hanging out because they've just discovered a house that may have belonged to Snow White and the Seven Dwarves! And then the rich husband is murdered! But then things start to slide into ever-increasing ridiculousness, with disguises, secret identities, more murders, ten million suspects, a gambling ring, a secret society of dissolute college students, treasure hunters, fortune hunters, multiple romances, etc. It's honestly farcical. I could hear the Benny Hill music playing during some of the scenes. The editor really needed to simplify things and it would have been a much stronger story. B/B-.

Friday, December 19, 2014

2014 book 307

Mary Balogh's The Escape
The plot of the third Survivors' Club book is kind of a mish-mash of the first two, as Benedict, who has two badly damaged legs from the war, and who has been ostentatiously missing from the previous books, meets a pretty young widow who has to leave town in a hurry (to escape terrible in-laws), and of course he goes along to protect her, and of course they fall in love, and of course things work out pretty well. There's a pretty great dog, and everything was cute, but I wasn't quite as into it as the last couple. B/B+.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

2014 book 306

Mary Balogh's The Arrangement
The second book in the Survivors' Club series was as charming as the first, and I really liked both the parties involved here. Our dude is the youngest of the Club, blinded in the war, running away from an attempt to marry him off to a girl who pities him. He flees to his childhood home, and soon the local rich folks are trying to trick him into marrying their daughter--only to be thwarted by her poor mouse of a cousin. And then they KICK THE COUSIN OUT of their house, and she has nowhere to go! So he proposes to her, and they are super cute together. The coda on their happiness is postponed by dumb miscommunications--again, if a plot point can be resolved by one honest conversation, I hate it--but in general this was really sweet. B+.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

2014 book 305

Mary Balogh's The Proposal
I joked on Twitter recently that I was only going to read historical romances until new books start coming out again--but clearly it was only sort of a joke! I am burned out, man, and these books are easy and entertaining. In this series--the Survivor's Club series--there's a group of men and one woman who all survived hardships and horrors in war, and recovered together and bonded and now they get together once a year to hang out and basically be a therapy group (I mean that in a positive way). One of them, Hugo, is grousing about needing a wife for various reasons, when the others joke that he should just wander down to the beach and tell the first woman he meets that he's a rich war hero who was given a title for his service. And then when he DOES go down to the beach, he sees a pretty young widow sprain her ankle, and obviously has to help her before the tide comes in! But can a businessman make it work with a noblewoman? (Obviously yes.) I actually really loved the interplay between these two--lots of funny teasing--and how they were willing to share their grief with one another. The dialogue was awkward at times, but in general this was well-written, and forewent the fake-ish obstacles to romance. A-/B+.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

2014 book 304

Eloisa James' The Ugly Duchess
This is apparently part of a series doing a play on fairy tales--obviously this one draws from the ugly duckling story. The dude in question is a young earl whose father has gambled away most of their estate and started in on the accounts of his ward--our titular young girl, slim and boyish and still a teenager. The father insists the young dude (also a teenager) marry the girl to get her sizable inheritance and hide his crimes--and then the dude realizes he actually is super into her. Their marriage is great--at least until she overhears his father and learns she was married for her money (except not really), and promptly kicks them both out (she can run the estate better than they can, for sure). So her young husband obviously turns to piracy. Now, years later, he's returned, determined to win her back, and meanwhile she's become the most fashionable woman in Paris and London. It's rare that I feel this way, but I actually wanted to read more about them! I generally want the couples in romances to work out their issues and get together, but I was actively rooting for these two. Their early married days are just so sweet, I honestly felt sad for the years they missed. A-.

2014 book 303

Courtney Milan's Unraveled
The third in the Turner Series is pretty great--it focuses on cold and haunted middle brother Smite (as revealed in the earlier books, their insane mother named her boys after Bible verses) falling for a girl mixed up with a mysterious crime boss (she needs protection as a single woman raising a boy she grew up with--they were both raised by ACTORS). Anyway, we finally get the backstory on the abuse he suffered as a child, on his dealings as a magistrate, etc, as he basically hires Miranda to be his mistress for a month (with the promise of a hefty payout). Obviously they fall in love, have to foil the crime boss, hang out with his brothers, etc. There are also SEVERAL secretly gay guys, one of whom was a big jerk in the earlier books and now works on redeeming himself. It's nice. A-.

Monday, December 15, 2014

2014 book 302

Courtney Milan's Unclaimed
AH HAHAHAHAHAHA (insert more cackling here)--this was even better than I had guessed. So brother Mark has published his philosophical treatise on male chastity (it's a surprisingly lady-positive work) to great acclaim. He's gotten a weird cult following of young dudes who make hand signals and talk about how many days they've been chaste. He's even been knighted by young Queen Victoria! And now they're offering him a spot on some big important Commission. BUT a local asshole wants that spot, and is offering a reward to anyone who can seduce Mark! So a courtesan of his acquaintance (Jessica)--who wants to make enough money to never have to sell herself again--takes him up on it. But darned if Mark isn't super charming, and darned if Jessica isn't feisty and fun (and super pretty). There are some great bits here with a money-grubbing reporter and Mark's fame in general is pretty hilarious. There's too much flip-flopping around the central romance--it starts to feel padded at a certain point--but once again, the badass lady figures out how to properly solve things. Big ups for nice sibling relationships, too. B+.

2014 book 301

Courtney Milan's Unveiled
Since I enjoyed Milan's Brothers Sinister so much, I decided to check out one of her earlier series, the Tuner Series. In this first one, Ash Turner (a brilliant man who's made his money in trade but is SECRETLY ILLITERATE, oh my god, I can't even), gets revenge on a family that's wronged /his/ family by proving they're illegitimate, making him heir to the duke-dom. BUT they have left pretty daughter Margaret there, pretending to be her father's nurse, to spy on him! Too bad he's SO CHARMING and she's a big ol' softie. This is somewhat less interesting/funny than the other Milan books I've read, but I really like how Margaret is kind of a bad-ass by the end. Plus there's a GREAT subplot about Ash's younger brother writing a hilarious philosophical work about chastity (I fully expect that to be a whole thing in one of the later books when he inevitably meets a tempting woman). B/B+.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

2014 book 300

Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment
I one hundred percent read this book b/c of this piece on The Toast--I love Pratchett's books about the witches, but have been less enamored of the other Discworld books I've read. This one had its very funny moments, and I very much enjoyed reading a silly novel about a girl who pretends to be a boy to enlist in the army to try and find her missing brother . . . only to discover she's not the only secret girl. But I mean, you could just as easily read that Toast article and get the gist. B/B+.

Friday, December 12, 2014

2014 book 299

Tessa Dare's Any Duchess Will Do
Tessa Dare writes the CUTEST and funniest historical romances--even if they don't really hold up to much scrutiny (how many romance novels actually do?). In this fourth Spindle Cove book, a (formerly) dissolute duke (he is clearly nursing a dark and tragic secret) is dragged by his mother to Spindle Cove and she demands he pick a girl to marry, and she'll train her on how to be a duchess (she is desperate for grandchildren). He chooses the serving girl, making a side deal with her that if she fails the training, he'll give her a bunch of money so she can start a business (she wants to run a lending library!) and have freedom for herself and her sister. All in a week! Obviously they fall in love, blah blah blah. Dare doesn't really shy away from the class issues here, though obviously it's going to work out neatly (especially with the help of the couples from the first two books). Who cares, half their romance revolves around BOOKS and I am on board for that. A-.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

2014 book 298

Isabel Quintero's Gabi: A Girl in Pieces
I've read a couple of positive reviews of this book, but I was actually actively avoiding it, because I hate the cover so much. Seriously, it is VERY off-putting (and yet it's actually relevant to the book). But then it came in as a library e-book, so, what the heck. And it's pretty enjoyable--it's about Gabi, a Mexican-American girl about to start her senior year of high school, dealing with one best friend who's pregnant and the other who's a gay boy whose parents have kicked him out of the house. Not to mention school stuff, and her meth-addict dad, and her first boyfriend. I was not really into the narrative voice--it's told as a diary, but some sections strain credulity--I just can't believe that she'd explain so much about herself and her life circumstances to her own diary. (Some parts are better than others at seeming like actual diary entries.) I also could have done without the high-school poetry--I can never tell if poetry in YA books is supposed to be good or bad, but either way, I'm not particularly interested in reading it. I mean, it's great to read a book about a girl achieving her dreams while dealing with a lot of drama, but it just didn't come together for me. I think I would have really related to this in high school, but as an adult, I feel more critical. B.


Yes, here it is, the eagerly anticipated list of my favorite books from 2014! (Note that I say "favorites" and not "best books I read"--there is a distinction.) I know the year isn't over yet, and there were 3-4 books I planned to read before putting this list out, but man, it started to feel like homework! So the rest of the year will probably be light reading and rereads.

This was a great year for women--there was really only one book by a man I even /considered/ putting on this list. (There are some male authors on my list of favorite comics/graphic novels--see below.)

Presented in alphabetical order with links to my reviews!

Favorite books of 2014!
--Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor
--Corrine Cuyvis' Otherbound
--Tana French's The Secret Place
--Shari Goldhagen's In Some Other World, Maybe*
--Erika Johansen's Queen of the Tearling
--Nina Lacour's Everything Leads to You 
--Lydia Millet's Mermaids in Paradise
--Jaclyn Moriarty's The Cracks in the Kingdom**
--Lauren Owen's The Quick ***
--Brigid Pasulka's The Sun and Other Stars ****
--Kate Racculia's Bellweather Rhapsody
--Rebecca Rotert's Last Night At The Blue Angel
--Jane Smiley's Some Luck
--Emily St John Mandel's Station Eleven
--Genevieve Valentine's The Girls at the Kingfisher Club
--Gabrielle Zevin's The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry 

Favorite Comics/Graphic Novels of 2014!
--Emily Carroll's Through the Woods
--Keiron Gillen and Jame McElvie's The Wicked and the Divine
--Jaime Hernandez's The Love Bunglers
--Raina Telgeimeier's Sisters
--Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples' Saga

* This one is out in January, but I worried it would get lost in the shuffle by next December.
** This is actually the second in a trilogy, so read the first one first!
*** If you decide to read this one, avoid reviews b/c it's better to be surprised about the big twist!
**** I technically read this in 2013, but it came out in 2014.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

2014 book 297

E.K. Johnston's The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim
I feel like a book with a title like this could go either way--in this case, it turned out to be awesome! It's set in Canada, in a world that is basically like ours, except dragons are real and plentiful. The titular Owen is the nephew of a famous dragon slayer (and also the son of a less famous one--he's been raised by his dad and his ridiculously cool lesbian aunts), who's recently moved to a small town, but the main character here is really narrator Siobhan, who is hilariously practical and matter-of-fact, and gets recruited to be Owen's bard. There are also a couple of other really cool high school girls. I loved how much this focused on friendship and hard work and bravery, and how there was basically no romance to speak of. And there's so much about history and society and industrialization, it really warmed my history major heart. Who has time to date when there are dragons flying everywhere??? The end is a real whopper, and I am very much looking forward to the sequel, out in March. A.

Monday, December 08, 2014

2014 book 296

Courtney Milan's The Suffragette Scandal
The fourth book in the Brothers Sinister series picks up ten-ish years after the last one, as the younger sister of the guy from the second book, having graduated college, is now running a women's newspaper. Her love interest has a complicated backstory that I won't get into, except to say that he finds out about a plot against her (from a jerk she rejected), and decides to thwart it for his own purposes (REVENGE!) and also b/c he thinks she's tops. AND all their flirting involves punctuation, so I was super into it. Meanwhile, there is a secretly gay long-term couple AND a pair of adorable lesbians falling in love (minor characters from the earlier books)! Plus sisters and suffrage! Milan's books are great because the romance feels like more of a slow build while the couple involved are working on some other project (ie stopping plots against feminist newspapers), as opposed to the insta-love with complications of some other romance novels. It just feels (slightly) more realistic. I mean, the end is fairly silly, and it didn't have quite the same spark as the other ones, but punctuation flirtation makes it an A-.

Friday, December 05, 2014

2014 book 295

Sara Raasche's Snow Like Ashes
I feel like I've seen this on a couple end-of-year lists, but it was just okay to me. The worldbuilding is complicated (and mildly silly), so I'm not even going to start trying to explain it. Our protagonist is a teenage girl, one of only eight exiles/refugees from a conquered kingdom (most of the people were slaughtered, a few thousand are in work camps), all determined to find the broken halves of a magical MacGuffin to restore their young king to the throne. There is a little bit of a love triangle here--and I was WAY more into the foreign prince than the young king--but mostly it's got some nice action and adventure. The writing is serviceable, though drags a bit at times, and one fairly obvious plot point takes way too long to be revealed, but it ends on a pretty strong note. This is the first in a trilogy (ooofffffff course), and I might read the next one? B.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

2014 book 294

Helen Rappaport's The Romanov Sisters
Now THIS is the book I wish we had read for Thanksgiving Sister Book Club--it has that nice narrative style going on, as opposed to the drier/more textbook-like tone of the Candace Fleming book.* It seems to be just as meticulously researched (there's hundreds of footnotes), though it absolutely downplays Nicholas' anti-Semitism. So if you're looking for a nice, rosy look at the Romanovs, this is your book. I liked it for how deep it got into the four girls (particularly Olga), obviously major objects of fascination in the western world. Parts of it are dull, and it doesn't delve into politics at all, but it nails all the gossip for sure. I also find it fascinating that Rappaport--like many other writers--calls the girls "the children" up to the end, even though the older two were in their twenties. The end is a bit of a letdown, but I'd say this is a solid work of popular history. B+.

*To be fair, the Fleming book is a MUCH better work of history. Maybe I shouldn't want it to be chatty.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

2014 book 293

Rachel Hawkins' Rebel Belle
This is not a book I'd have chosen for myself--Hawkins is the author of the Hex Hall series, and while I liked the first one, the second was dumb and I never finished it. But, it's the FYA pick of the month so. . . sigh. First of all, it reads like a parody of the South. Now I am pretty Pennsylvanian, but I've lived in the south for 13 years, so I think I can say that it rings kiiiiiinda false. There's also some weird Asian stereotyping (a minor character who never has any lines is always described as a "pretty, petite Asian girl"). And the narrative voice is amazingly terrible/unrealistic.That said, once the plot actually gets moving, it's more or less entertaining. Our main character, Harper, is suddenly gifted with paladin powers (whatever, go with it), and discovers she has to protect the hipster-glasses-wearing editor of the school paper, who she does NOT get along with.(Obviously he's a cute boy.) It's all VERY silly but in an early Buffy-ish sort of way. I mean, not to overstate it. It's fine, not great. There's way too much drama about Harper's lovelife and not at all enough crazy supernatural action, and the end is ridiculous (but kind of awesome? But ridiculous). UGH I DON'T KNOW. B?

Monday, December 01, 2014

2014 book 292

Julia Quinn's Just Like Heaven
Yes, it's another cute historical romance thanks to the public library! This one was charming and funny, though there was not a lot to the plot, mainly a couple realizing they're in love over a medical crisis and a London season, with thankfully few dumb miscommunications. It was a lot less, shall we say racy, than the Courtney Milan and Tessa Dare books I've read (I would describe the one brief sex scene as "perfunctory"), but the writing was strong and all the characters were likable. It looks like this is the start of a series involving a family that puts on a famously horrible musicale every year, which is easily one of the most hilarious concepts I've ever read, and it's used to great effect here. B+.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

2014 book 291

Laura Lippman's Hush Hush
The latest in Lippman's long-running Tess Monaghan series is all about MOTHERHOOD, and there is a LOT going on. Tess and her PI partner Sandy are hired by their lawyer friend/uncle to work on security/do some investigating for an old friend of his, Melisandre, who ten years ago was acquitted of murdering her baby daughter on grounds of insanity. Now she is back in Baltimore, filming a documentary and trying to reunite with her other two daughters, who she hasn't seen in a decade. Meanwhile, Tess is dealing with parenting a three-year-old, and is receiving increasingly upsetting notes. I'll say that the story is entertaining and moves along at a good pace, but Melisandre is amazingly unbelievable as a character. Her ridiculous name is the MOST plausible thing about her, which makes this book unsatisfying in a lot of ways. Also, the past secrets that were revealed were not nearly as earth-shattering as I expected, and, again, everything with Melisandre feels a little . . . off. I kind of need to dissect the ending of this with someone else, because I can't decide what I'm supposed to take away from it. B.

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

Saturday, November 29, 2014

2014 book 290

Rachel Joyce's The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy
Joyce's latest is a sequel/companion to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and it's just as excellent. And made me cry on an airplane. As Harold walks 500 miles to see Queenie again for the first time in twenty years, she writes a letter recounting her own life story--including her secret love for him, her odd relationship with his troubled son, and her friends in hospice. I think this would work just as well as a standalone, but it's just GREAT to see these two books make up two halves of a lovely (and sad) whole. A/A-.

Friday, November 28, 2014

2014 book 289

Tessa Dare's A Lady By Midnight
I liked this one so much that I stayed up to finish reading it, b/c I couldn't wait till tomorrow to see how things worked out! So the attraction between Colonel Thorne and orphaned music teacher Kate Taylor has been building for a couple of books, and when a bunch of aristocrats show up claiming to have information about her past, he immediately claims to be her fiance--just to protect her, of course. Butttttt he also knows some stuff about her past that he's been keeping hidden! The mystery element definitely adds a lot to the plot here, and I really liked how Dare plotted this one. A-.

2014 book 288

Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train
I like books in the Rear Window/Girl in the Green Raincoat mystery/thriller subgenre, and this was a pretty solid example. The titular girl on the train is Rachel, who observes a couple every morning while on her train commute--a couple who lives just a few doors down from where she lived, before her husband kicked her out to be with another woman--when she one day sees the woman with a man who is not her husband, and then finds out the woman disappeared the next day. Rachel is an alcoholic, and definitely one of the overzealous types of amateur investigators (seriously, she does soooooo maaaaaany dumb things), which is not a great combination. The novel is also narrated in turns by the missing woman and by Rachel's ex's new wife. Things build pretty well, and the end was really strong and suitably creepy. B/B+.

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

Thursday, November 27, 2014

2014 book 287

Tessa Dare's A Week to be Wicked
The second book in the Spindle Cove series was much more up my alley--it picks up with two characters from the first book, a rakish viscount and a bespectacled geologist (she was one of my favorite parts of the first one). She's determined to present her latest findings (a dinosaur footprint!) to the Royal Geologic Society symposium in Scotland--and persuades him to come alone, pretending they've eloped. He's eager to get out of town (not to mention super into her lush lips), so agrees with this mildly ridiculous plans, to the usual effect. There are some really nice moments here--I particularly liked how into her intelligence he is--and this book continues setting up a couple of other romances in the town. Very enjoyable. A-.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

2014 book 286

Jenny Erpenbeck's The End of Days
Erpenbeck's latest has a Life-After-Life sort of conceit--there are five sections, and in each one a young woman dies/manages not to die the way she did last time/dies in a different way. This manages to cover a lot of 20th century Eastern European history--she's born in the early part of the century in Galicia, only to die as an infant (this section actually worked best for me, as Erpenbeck describes how her Jewish mother/grandmother and her Christian father deal with the death). The second section, set in Vienna, didn't quite work for me, and the third and fourth deal heavily with Communism, which lost me a little. The last section was kind of bittersweet and I thought was a nice coda to the story.  Pretty solid in general, and a nice companion to Atkinson's work, but not quite as moving. B/B+.

2014 book 285

Marissa Meyer's Cress
The third Lunar Chronicles book brings Rapunzel--the titular Cress, a computer hacker trapped on a satellite--into the mix, as the political situation heats up. My favorite character is still an android, but I have high hopes for the next book, which looks like it'll center on a legitimately crazy Snow White. B/B+.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

2014 book 284

Marissa Meyer's Scarlet
The second book in Meyer's Lunar Chronicles brings Little Red Riding Hood into the mix, trying to track down her kidnapped grandmother with the help of a fighter named Wolf, as her path brings her closer to Cinder. I guess I should note here, since I didn't when I reviewed the first one, that there's a lot of political stuff going on, as the queen of the moon people (they have weird psychic powers) REALLY wants to be empress of whatever China-related land mass exists in this future world (and presumably then take over Earth). Anyway, this one was fun, if a bit too romance-heavy for my personal taste. B/B+.

Monday, November 24, 2014

2014 book 283

Lydia Millet's Mermaids in Paradise
And here's a late contender for the Alicia's-favorite-books-of-the-year list! This book was AWESOME. It starts off just fine, as a matter-of-fact sort of woman narrates the events leading up to her wedding/honeymoon, all perfectly normal and practical--at least until her husband befriends a marine biologist, and the two of them discover a bunch of MERMAIDS. Say whaaaaat. And then . . . the marine biologist is found DROWNED IN HER BATHTUB! And their video footage disappears! But the thing is, it's all kind of . . . hilarious? Like farcical, almost? But also, wonderful. I was kind of like "huhhhh" about the very end but in general loved this. A.

2014 book 282

Marissa Meyer's Cinder
I have seriously checked this out of the library four times and only just now got around to reading it. It was pretty good! The writing is a bit awkward at times, and the plot is SUPER OBVIOUS, but the conceit--Cinderella as a mechanic/cyborg in far-future China--is interesting, and things move along at a good pace, and I was definitely emotionally invested in some androids. This is the first in a series that seems like it's bringing in a bunch of fairy tales (I'm pretty sure there were references to Snow White and Rapunzel) and the library has them all as e-books, so I'll probably read them eventually. :) B/B+.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

2014 book 281

Alina Bronsky's Just Call Me Superhero
Bronsky is one of those authors I have always meant to read, and her latest seemed interesting enough--it's about a teenage boy in Berlin whose face was savaged by a rottweiler, and now his mother is forcing him to go to a support group for "cripples" (I'm not sure if this a European thing or a narrated-by-a-teenage-boy thing, but there's a lot of ableist/homophobic language here). Naturally the group is all boys and one amazingly pretty girl that they all sort of fight over (except for the gay guy, who I wish we'd seen more of). Then a family tragedy calls him away from the group. Then there's a VERY weird reveal at the end that I really needed a lot more information about. I feel very puzzled about this book. B?

2014 book 280

Juliet Marillier's Dreamer's Pool
YAY it's the first book in a new adult fantasy series from Marillier! And right away you can tell it's gonna be a bit dark, as it starts in a horrible prison where a woman is finally about to have her say in court--only then the guard tells her she's actually going to be straight up killed in the morning. But then one of the Fey comes and promises to set her free, if she'll wait seven years for justice and go up north to be the healer of a small town and help anyone who asks. Which she does, accompanied by one of her her fellow prisoners. (These two are Blackthorn and Grim, which is the name of the series, and they're both broken and flawed and wonderful.) Meanwhile, the prince of said small town is finally about to meet his betrothed, and he is super excited, because they've been writing letters all about poetry and walks in the woods and her adorable dog--but when she arrives, she's . . . not what he expected. And her dog HATES her. Gee, could something be up? Can Blackthorn and Grim figure it out in time? Yes, it's a fairy tale mystery, and it's GREAT. Plus, there's no romance between the main characters, just a really nice friendship. It's all I've ever wanted from a fantasy book. A.

Friday, November 21, 2014

2014 book 279

Tessa Dare's A Night to Surrender
I didn't love that other Tessa Dare book I read, but she was so highly recommended that I decided to try one of her Spindle Cove books, about a community of mostly women (nascent feminism, yay!). In this first one, the community of women (which I really wish we'd seen more of) is invaded by some military men, leading to INSTANT romance/lust for the leaders of both parties. I think this is why I have generally not liked romance novels when I like novels with romance in them--there's not enough of a build. It's like, I met you and now all I can think is lustful thoughts about you, let's immediately make out and eventually get married. The two characters are actually really interesting--he's building a militia and dealing with a bad leg, she's, I dunno, helping ladies and leading the town. I did like how, while occasionally giving into their lust, they grow to like/respect each other, plus there are some really nice friendships and some very hilarious moments. I could have done with less of the "romantic brute" stuff, but in general, this was super frothy and super satisfying. B+.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

2014 book 278

Jacqueline Winspear's The Care and Management of Lies
Winspear--author of the Maisie Dobbs mystery series--has written a standalone novel, published to coincide with the centennial of WWI. I admit to not realizing this was a /novel/ for a large chunk of it, and kept waiting for one of the three main characters to get murdered. Haha! Anyway, the three main characters are a young bride, formerly a schoolteacher; her husband, a farmer; and her best friend (also her husband's sister), a strident political activist/suffragette.There's also a neighbor who becomes somewhat obsessed w/ the bride after talking to her for less than five minutes and then reading all her letters to her husband (I think we are supposed to feel for his loneliness, but I found this off-putting). I don't say this often, but I actually think this could have been a little longer--things felt a little abrupt. The end was also mildly perplexing. Still, it was fine, no major complaints. B/B+.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

2014 book 277

Tessa Dare's Romancing the Duke
Since I enjoyed those Courtney Milan books so much, a few people have suggested I might like Tessa Dare's stuff as well. This one was lighter on the social issues, but higher in hilarity/cuteness. It involves a 26-year-old "spinster" (sigh), famous from her recently deceased father's series of fairy tales, but sorely lacking in funds, who inherits a castle from her godfather. But . . . the castle is inhabited by a surly-but-handsome duke who certainly never sold the place. Adorable feuding and romance takes place. There's not much to the plot here, but the characters are likable, everything about the father's stories is great, and there's plenty of enthusiastically consensual sex (if you're into that sort of thing). I think I like my romances to have /slightly/ more to the story, but the writing here is strong and I'd definitely read more by the author. B+.

2014 book 276

Kimberley McCreight's Reconstructing Amelia
I've been meaning to read this one for a while--I think Arianne recommended it to me--so was pleased when the public library got it as an e-book. It's about a woman whose teenage daughter apparently killed herself by jumping off of the roof of her fancy school--only a month later, the woman receives a text saying her daughter /didn't/ jump, and starts investigating. Now, a fair bit of the plot involves technology only discovering things at the CRAZIEST times--there would be no story at all if the cops could, say, immediately trace an anonymous text message. But on the whole, this was well done--tons of insane private school drama--and private life drama as well. I admit to thinking things would go deeper than they did (is it a spoiler to say that the cop was just a cop, when I was sure he'd turn out to have a vendetta of his own and maybe not even really be a cop), but it was satisfying enough on its own. I mean, it was CRAZY. But satisfying. B/B+.

Monday, November 17, 2014

2014 book 275

Candace Fleming's The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia
It's this year's pick for Thanksgiving Sister Book Club! (We're doing a theme: after we talk about it, we're going to watch the cartoon Anastasia). I'm a big history nerd, but figured a YA history book wouldn't be too onerous for the less nerdy, and this has gotten great reviews. I will say that this  almost reads like a textbook, with sidebars and everything. (That's not an insult! It would be a very engaging and informative textbook.) That is, aside from the overuse of exclamation points (and I say that as a heavy user of exclamation points), which I felt were kind of out of place: They were invited to a ball! Workers earned 70 cents a month! The entire family had been placed under house arrest! etc.  Fleming does a great job showing the VERY great contract between the ridiculous lives of the royalty and the terrible lives of the working class, and everything else that led up to the Revolution. I mean, no matter how many books I read about it, I am constantly amazed at what a clueless ruler Nicholas was. I also appreciated the look at anti-Semitism and the pogroms that resulted--encouraged by Nicholas! Fleming doesn't romanticize him a bit in this book, which is a nice change. I did wish for more on the Grand Duchesses, but there's always The Romanov Sisters for a follow-up. And there's not really enough on how Lenin became a leader (there are a few short Lenin interludes, but I felt like the gaps were too large). She does do a great job of contextualizing the murder of the family, including the children (well, young adults/teenagers) and the family servants. Solid bibliography/endnotes too. But I do kind of feel like I accidentally read a textbook. A-/B+.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

2014 book 274

Kate Riordan's Fiercombe Manor
The message I often take away from historical fiction is: man, it sucked to be a woman in the past. This book does nothing to belie that: it centers on two women--one, in 1933, pregnant out of wedlock, sent to secretly have her baby with an old friend of her mother's, a housekeeper at a pretty empty manor house; and the other, the lady of the manor in the 1890s, also pregnant. Both stories are fairly compelling, and I think they balance each other out nicely. The hint of a mystery--waiting to find out what happened to the woman in the 1890s both through her POV sections and the other woman's investigations--works too. Solid writing and a really engaging story. A-.

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

2014 book 273

Kate Milford's Greenglass House
Milford's latest is a HUGE step forward over her perfectly serviceable The Boneshaker. Seriously, I straight up cried more than once. It centers on Milo, whose parents run an inn in a home formerly owned by a super famous smuggler--and smugglers still stay there to this day. They're expecting their usual quiet Christmas break (I guess Christmas is the slow season for smugglers), when all of a sudden a bunch of unusual guests turn up. The cook's daughter convinces Milo they should investigate all these strangers and what they're up to (not to mention a mysterious map) under the guise of/while playing a role-playing game. Secrets are revealed at a good pace, and I loved all the visitors (the three women were particular faves and honestly made me want to watch a movie version). Milford plants enough clues for the ending to land but still make you feel like "OMGGGG." And I thought the discussions of transracial adoption were pretty thoughtful (and timely for me, having just read this Toast essay just this week). Just all around a great story (and great stories-within-stories!) and super satisfying. A.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

2014 book 272

Sydney Taylor's Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family
Thanks to the intro of the Lizzie Skurnick edition, I now know that the final book in the series wasn't supposed to be the final book--Taylor had planned books focused on each of the girls, but died after completing this one. Sadface. Anyway, this one finds oldest sister Ella trying to decide between a singing career (on vaudeville--not quite her dream) or giving it up for the guy she's been dating since book two. This is actually handled with a lot of sensitivity--presumably because it's more than a little autobiographical (though Taylor left her dancing career to have a baby, she went back to music/writing when her daughter was a little older). There's also some sweet suffragette action here. Love this series and am sad to think of the ones that could have been.

Friday, November 14, 2014

2014 book 271

Courtney Milan's The Countess Conspiracy
The third book in the Brothers Sinister series brings to the forefront a couple of things that were brewing in books 1 and 2--namely, that rakish scientist Sebastian, an expert in the scandalous field of plant reproduction, is actually presenting the work of his good friend/love interest Violet. Yes, this book is all about SECRET LADY SCIENTISTS because obviously ladies weren't allowed to go to college and learn things and be scientists back in 1867. There's also a whole thing about Violet's horrible first marriage (she's a widow) getting in the way of their love, and Sebastian's problems with his older brother (not very interesting), but whatever, who cares about emotional issues when SECRET LADY SCIENTISTS are getting stuff done. There's even a really great mother-daughter moment (both previous heroines had deceased mothers). But mainly it's SECRET LADY SCIENTISTS. A-.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

2014 book 270

Courtney Milan's The Heiress Effect
So it turns out I like romance novels! Or at least, well-written historical romance novels that touch on the class system and political inequality, which this one is and does. In this second book in the Brothers Sinister series (after The Duchess War), our protagonists are the half-brother of the dude from the first book, trying to start up a career in Parliament, and a VERY wealthy young woman determined to fend off suitors until her sister comes of age (and they can then escape their well-meaning but horrible uncle together) by being purposefully (and hilariously) socially inept. Meanwhile her sister is secretly meeting and flirting with an Indian guy, and his is an outspoken suffragette. I really appreciate Milan throwing all these social issues into her novels--they really add a nice layer of depth/reality to the proceedings (not to slight the actual romance, which was very enjoyable). A-.

2014 book 269

Rae Carson's The Bitter Kingdom
One of the reasons I like the final chapter of this trilogy so much is that it leans so much more on diplomacy than on the boring and cliched battle scenes in basically every other high fantasy series (though there's also plenty of great action scenes). It's great to see a heroine who trusts herself and relies on her intelligence and skills as well as on her friends. And I do find the religion in this world so fascinating. Just a really well-done series, and I hope Carson has a new book come out soon.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

2014 book 268

Rae Carson's The Crown of Embers
The second book in Carson's Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy is a solid middle chapter--lots of action/romance/religion etc, and also lots of moving things forward and setting them up for the finale. On rereading, there are a couple of things I wish the protagonist had figured out sooner (The Power Was in Her All Along! and so on, both politically and literally, not to mention the big romantic realization at the end, like, get your crap together girl, you've been raised studying political alliances and whatnot, how do you only figure this out as a cliffhanger when you were handed the relevant information halfway through?). Still a fun read though.

Monday, November 10, 2014

2014 book 267

Rae Carson's The Girl of Fire and Thorns
I've been a little under the weather the past couple of days, which means it's time for comfort reading! Why a book about a girl with massive political and religious responsibility dealing with a major war = comfort reading, I don't really know, but I do enjoy this book a lot (despite all the emphasis on the protagonist's weight loss). And I am still grateful that the protagonist has a realistic lovelife, as opposed to YA books where teenage characters are instant 4-eva soulmates. I think I'm going to reread this whole trilogy and see how it hangs together.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

2014 book 266

Jo Walton's The Just City
I was super excited to see a Jo Walton novel come out so soon after her last one, and this one had a concept that really appealed to me. It's about Athena deciding to create Plato's Just City (from his Republic) as an experiment, and after trying to understand why Daphne has turned herself into a tree, Apollo decides he can do with some time as a mortal and enlists as one of the children (the others are slaves purchased for this purpose). The POV characters are Apollo (as a mortal boy), a brilliant girl (one of the slave children), and one of the "masters"--a woman from the early 1800s who longed for a place where she could be an equal/intellectual. And it's all fascinating, and really well done, and Socrates comes into it (I always picture him as the guy from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure)-, and I LOVED it-and then right at the end there is a LENGTHY philosophical debate (I was not enough of a philosophy nerd to really enjoy this) and it just ENDS. Apollo is all, "well, a bunch of other stuff happened too, see ya, but let me end on a philosophical note." So, like, as a WORK of philosophy, or as a thought experiment, it's interesting, but as a novel, that ending was less than satisfying. And I prefer to read a novel. (I take back all complaints if a sequel is forthcoming.)*

*Thanks to author Jo Walton for letting me know a sequel IS forthcoming. :) All my complaints are rescinded and my grade is now A-/B+.

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

2014 book 265

Alethea Kontis' Dearest
The third book in Kontis' Woodcutters series (after Enchanted and Hero) focuses on empath Friday, the gifted seamstress sister--which comes in handy when she encounters the swan princes and their sister (Odette the Swan Princess and the Darling children from Peter Pan also feature in the story). The romance here was a little bit over-the-top for my personal taste, but the family stuff and the action/adventure stuff was well-done. Solidly entertaining read. B/B+.

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

Friday, November 07, 2014

2014 book 264

Courtney Milan's The Duchess War
Look at me, expanding my horizons and reading something that can only be classified as a romance thanks to no-spend November and public library e-books. I actually quite liked this--it's historical (it reads like a Regency but there's mention of Queen Victoria, so let's just say it's set in the PAST), about a woman with a secret past who acts all shy and mousy to get a husband and settle into a safe, boring, normal life--when she meets a hot Duke who finds her intriguing (he also has a fair amount of interesting stuff in his past). I mean, it's obvious (more or less) how things will turn out, but there are some good twists--and radical politics!--along the way. Plus some nice female friendship (and what seems to be a pair of elderly lesbians). And the writing is actually pretty strong, aside from a little bit of (I thought) unnecessary overemphasis on feelings and whatnot. I mean, I get what they feel, you don't need to keep explaining it to me. Still, I really enjoyed this. I especially liked the little nod to Austen. Apparently there are four books in this series and I already have the next one on hold at the library. :) A-.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

2014 book 263

Elizabeth Haynes' Under a Silent Moon
Haynes latest (after Into the Darkest Corner and others) is the first book in a new series, about DCI Louisa Smith, investigating the murder of a pretty and highly sexual young woman, as well as an apparent suicide that might be related. It's not toooo hard to figure out what's behind it all, but I appreciate Haynes' attention to detail on the police work aspect of things (she apparently used to work as a police analyst, which maybe explains why the love interest here is a highly capable police analyst). I will say that I was mildly frustrated at how unbelievably stupid and horrible one of the other detectives (and former love interest of Louisa's) was, but there were some other interesting side characters that I look forward to seeing in the next volume. Things end weirdly abruptly, but otherwise this was a satisfying mystery. B+.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

2014 book 262

Sydney Taylor's All-of-a-Kind Family Uptown
In the 4th All-of-a-Kind Family book, the family befriends some Irish neighbors (a handy reason to explain various Jewish holidays and customs to the readers), Sarah (the author's alter ego) tries for the history prize, and Ella's boyfriend goes off to fight in WWI. Because this is a kid's book, the war is moooostly glossed over, aside from war efforts at home, but that's still fairly fascinating. Every time I reread one of these, I'm just so grateful to Lizie Skurnick for also loving them and for having the power and ability to reissue them.

2014 book 261

Mallory Ortberg's Texts from Jane Eyre
Look, I'm a huge Mallory Ortberg/The Toast fangirl, and I loved Ortberg's pieces from this series on the Hairpin, so I was all over this book. (I like when she "clowns on the Western canon," ok?). And it's not just classics, there's a whole section of stuff like the American Girl books and Fight Club and other modern stuff (the Harry Potter one basically killed me). Obviously the ones inspired by books you've actually read work better (the Moby Dick and Cormac McCarthy sections pretty much lost me), but this is just really well-done and hilarious. So hilarious.

2014 book 260

Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk about Kevin
This is one of those books I've been meaning to read for years (it came out like ten years ago), but wasn't entirely sure I could handle the subject matter (it's narrated by a woman in letters to her husband, about their son, a school shooter). And I was spoiled about the ending a long time ago. But hey, when you're doing no-spend November, you read whatever library e-books look interesting.  And it was very well done, if entirely chilling. I should have read this on Halloween, it's thematically similar to movies like The Omen (I mean, in a really loose sense). I really kind of want to discuss this with someone--the reliability of the narrator would be a hot topic for sure. And the terrifying-ness of Kevin. And the role of the Other in American society. I would, however, advise my parent friends maybe not to read it. Now I wonder if I'm brave enough to see the movie. A-.

Monday, November 03, 2014

2014 book 259

Brooke Davis' Lost and Found
As soon as I finished this book, I actually said out loud: "This book is CRAZY." And it is kind of crazy. It's about a little girl who was obsessed with death even before her father died of cancer, and now her mother has abandoned her in a department store. Soon she befriends a mannequin ("Manny") and a lonely old man, as well as the reclusive old woman across the street, and they go on a journey together. There are some great scenes here (I especially liked Captain Funeral and Captain Everything), and the writing is especially strong, but Agatha didn't quite work for me as a character. And, like I said, this book was a little bit crazy. But I liked it. B/B+.

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

Saturday, November 01, 2014

2014 book 258

Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Effect
The sequel to the very charming Rosie Project was problematic for me, because I HATE books where the entire plot would be cleared up by one honest conversation. On the other hand, I enjoyed seeing Don and his group of male friends help fix each others' lives. So this is kind of a comedown for Don and Rosie, but strong for everyone else? And the end is fine, of course, even if it does involve like twelve deus ex machinas (or whatever the plural of that is). I'd classify this as women's fiction if it wasn't written by a man. What is the category for feel good books written by dudes? B.

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

Thursday, October 30, 2014

2014 book 257

Sarah Addison Allen's First Frost
The sequel to Garden Spells is set ten years after its predecessor, when things are mooooore or less the same, though Claire is now running a candy company (very successful thanks to a piece in Southern Living!), Bay is in high school and has seen a boy she KNOWS she belongs with, and a mysterious older man has come to town. Things progress as you'd expect in a novel by Allen, but the characters are all great and lovable, a few surprises happen, and it's all completely satisfying (I personally always enjoy seeing happy marriages in fiction). A really solid follow-up that I highly recommend to fans of Garden Spells.  A-.

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

2014 book 256

Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells
This is one of those books that I liked A LOT when I first read it, but never reread it for fear that it wouldn't hold up. Buuuuttttt there's a sequel coming out in January, so I needed to refresh my memory! And I was relieved that I liked it just as much the second time--it's just so charming! I didn't love Allen's last couple of books, but I am very interested to see where she has these characters going next.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

2014 book 255

Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Velvet Room
This was a Kindle deal the other day, and since I'd never read it, I figured I would (Snyder died a few weeks ago)--and it was excellent! It was written in 1965, but set in 1937, and has a fresh and timeless feel. It's about a bookish girl, part of a large family of migrant workers, who always longs for something more. When her father lands a new job at an apricot orchard, she discovers a beautiful abandoned house--and then a kindly old woman gives her a mysterious key, allowing her to discover the titular Velvet Room-- a gorgeous old library. There's also a whole thing with a long-missing girl and a possible ghost, but an astute reader will solve that mystery pretty quickly. It's mainly the story of her family, and the family that owns the estate--particularly the girl just her age. Really just lovely and satisfying. A.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

2014 book 254

Amy Poehler's Yes Please
Let's get one thing straight: I effing love Amy Poehler. EFFING LOVE HER. So this book was enjoyable! It reads like a disconnected set of essays, and some were more interesting to me than others (I liked the sections on her childhood and about Parks and Rec and about Seth Meyers best, the ones about her sons are also strong). She is adorable and funny and occasionally like OMG (see sex tip #11--I cannot quote it here because my mother reads this blog). And the visual stuff is great--all the pictures and other ephemera look like they're attached with masking tape like it's a scrapbook. Well done all around. A-/B+.

Monday, October 27, 2014

2014 book 253

Shari Goldhagen's In Some Other World, Maybe
This really hit very many of my buttons. It's a beautiful book about four teenagers in three different cities in the early 90s who go see a blockbuster movie based on a (fictional) comic book about alternate worlds--and how their lives, and their families' lives, interconnect over the next twenty years. Is it entirely plausible? Is it peppered with too many coincidences? No and yes, but I didn't care in the slightest, because I loved all these characters and their different paths.  Some really strong writing here--just super solid all around. A.

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

2014 book 252

Cristina Moracho's Althea and Oliver
Althea and Oliver are teenage best friends who have a lot to deal with when they realize Althea is in love with Oliver, and then Oliver comes down with a narcolepsy-like disease that puts him to sleep for weeks at a time. I mostly liked this--Oliver is sympathetic, and Althea is pretty realistic--and liked the way things went for their relationship, but was not super into the place where Althea ends up. (I just really felt for her dad. I also was never really the sort to find squalor romantic.) Sorry to be vague, I'm trying to avoid spoilers. Very readable, for sure. B/B+.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

2014 book 251

Krassi Zourkova's Wildalone
I'm not even sure where to start with this one--there are like a thousand things going on. Our protagonist is a freshman at Princeton--a piano prodigy from Bulgaria--trying to solve a family mystery, as well as dealing with the pressures of her talent and being a student at an Ivy League college. Then there's a weird layer of magic and Greek mythology pressed over top, mainly involving Orpheus and Dionysus. Then there's her mysterious suitor, creepy as hell, and clearly also part of the magical stuff (I hated absolutely everything about him, and him with her). Then there's his brother. This book is compared by the publisher to Twilight AND Discovery of Witches AND Jane Eyre AND The Secret History, if that gives you any clues about the mish-mash within. And the writing is sooo melodramatic. I almost gave it up several times--the romantic stuff had me rolling my eyes so hard I was worried they'd fall out of my head--but I really wanted to know more about the magic/mystery side of things! But the VERY OBVIOUS reveals take too long to come, and the ending isn't satisfying at all--maybe a sequel is forthcoming, but I can't think of a book I'd less like to read. I feel mean saying so, but there it is. C.

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

Friday, October 24, 2014

2014 book 250

Jane Smiley's Some Luck
Lovely, lovely book about an Iowan farm family, from 1920 to 1953 (each chapter covers a year). It starts with a young farmer meditating about his life, and then quickly shifts to his baby son's perspective. The book covers the young parents and their five very different children as they learn and grow--and it's all just so satisfying. There's romance, war, babies, squabbling, farming--and even spies. Just super well done. A.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

2014 book 249

Emily Schultz's The Blondes
This came to my attention because Margaret Atwood was into it, though it turns out Schultz is the author known for having a book with the same name as a Stephen King book and creating a Tumblr about it. So I was predisposed to like her even before I realized this was a literary post-apocalyptic novel, one of my favorite genres! In this one, a plague develops that only affects blonde women--and turns them crazy/rabid and violent and destructive. (It even affects those with dyed blonde hair, making me momentarily wonder if I should go back to my natural brown.) The whole story is being narrated by one young woman to her unborn child, as she's holed up in her married boyfriend's wife's cabin. I will say that I was not super interested in the whole I'm-a-grad-student-sleeping-with-my-married-adviser thing--it's been done a million times--but things get really interesting when she's talking about anything else. Great concept for a pandemic, too. I did wish the protagonist had been a better friend, and I had mixed feelings about the end, but a fun read for sure. B+.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

2014 book 248

Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Heroes Are My Weakness
I was in the mood to read something lighter, and this has gotten some pretty solid reviews, so I figured I'd branch out from my usual reading selections and check out something more on the romance/chick lit side. I will say that parts of it are a bit overwritten--I don't need to be reminded so many times that our protagonist was a shy, awkward child, or told multiple times who people are when I was /just/ told who they are a couple pages before, or read about Native Americans with their "carved cheekbones" (when did that trope start?). But that was all pretty minor, and the story itself is entertaining--it centers on a failed actress turned ventriloquist (that is so random and is entirely the reason I chose to read this) who returns to her late mother's Maine cottage to try and find a valuable item, and meanwhile the hunky dude next door she knew as a teenager (he was her stepbrother, but let's not dwell on that) is back, and he's still a huge jerk--OR IS HE???? Yeah, he kind of is, mainly b/c there's a bit of a Gothic/mystery element here. But it's ok, this book is still really funny (the puppet stuff is especially entertaining) and the romance is slow burning enough to be believable. Definitely entertaining stuff. B+.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

2014 book 247

Mette Ivie Harrison's The Bishop's Wife
This is sooooort of a mystery, and sort of a character/community study--well, however you want to classify it, it works! I was intrigued to find out that it was written by a Mormon woman, b/c it's not particularly flattering to the church. And I was also intrigued to find out it's based on an actual crime--which one, I'm not sure, because there are two women's deaths on hand here. Our main character is the titular bishop's wife (I'm not going to try and explain the role of a bishop in the Mormon Church, but it's more of a community/spiritual leader role than someone ordained or whatever), haunted by the stillbirth of her daughter years earlier, and increasingly caught up in the case of a church member whose wife has apparently left her family--or has she been murdered? And what's up with the super old dress covered in blood that she found in the shed of a friend's dying husband? So many crimes to solve, so little time. I will say that this reads as much more believable than the usual amateur sleuth type of mystery--she's a meddlesome woman, but she gets the police involved when appropriate, and is more concerned about the women and children involved than anything else. Things do get pretty dark here, but end on an optimistic note. A couple of minor plot threads involving her children are left dangling, but otherwise this is a really solid read, with really strong writing. And great for those with a fascination for Mormons--Harrison really brings this world and these people to life. A-.

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

2014 book 246

Sydney Taylor's More All-of-a-Kind Family
Still making my way through this delightful series about early 1900s Jewish life--seriously, these books are SO Jewy, I am amazed they were ever published. In this one, there's a trip to the beach (to avoid polio or some similar disease), a wedding, and the family moves from the lower East Side to the Bronx! They also attend a Reform synagogue for the first time (their father is horrified that it's all in English and the rabbi doesn't even have a beard. Hilarious).

Saturday, October 18, 2014

2014 book 245

Alan Bradley's As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust
UGHHHH, I was so excited about this series after the ending of the last one, but this was a major disappointment. I mean, Flavia DOES go to spy school, but on her very first night finds a dead body in the chimney in her bedroom, and this becomes another one of the books where a 12-year-old girl wanders around, gathers small bits of information, then, voila, solves a mystery. It's just not FUN! Especially when there are only like three suspects, who of course Flavia just happens to know. I wanted to see her get trained as a spy! Instead, she gets no straight answers from anyone about anything. It seems to be a very inefficient kind of spy school. And then the end . . . sigh. I might be done with this series.
How do you rate a book that is perfectly adequate, but a personal disappointment? B? B-?

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

Friday, October 17, 2014

2014 book 244

Holly Black's The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
Hey, look at me, reading a YA vampire book. This has gotten pretty good reviews, and was billed as "one of those books for people sick of reading YA vampire books" (though I thought it was pretty typical of the genre, myself--hot troubled vampire boys, etc). Anyway, it's a world where vampires are public, and are ravenous monsters but goth teens want to be vampires anyway, and the main character is at a party and everyone ends up dead but her and her ex-boyfriend, who's been bitten and is thus infected, plus there's a vampire hanging out there randomly, so they all have to go to Coldtown, which is like a vampire quarantine zone. What a run-on sentence THAT was. The writing is generally solid, though occasional POV switches were awkward (related side note: Fables writer Bill Willingham is a minor character for some reason). Black keeps things moving pretty well, and the characters and plot twists are interesting enough. I dunno, B/B+?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

2014 book 243

Ashley Weaver's Murder at Brightwell
Oh my, was this right up my alley--there are few things I love more than 1930s-set mysteries about moneyed British people, starring a sassy and/or vivacious protagonist! In this one, our vivacious protagonist is Amory, five years into a marriage that isn't working, when her former fiance turns up, asking her to join him at a seaside resort, to try and convince his sister not to marry her shady fiance. And then . . . murder! I have to say, this is a first novel, and the writing here is outstanding. Weaver does a great job building the characters and the mystery, but just every word feels well-chosen. I mean, occasionally Amory acts like an numbskull, but that's par for the course when an amateur is investigating a mystery in a novel like this. I was definitely invested in her shenanigans (not to mention her romantic situation). I really hope to see more from Weaver, and soon. A/A-.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

2014 book 242

Miriam Toews' All My Puny Sorrows
In general, I have liked all of Toews' novels, and this one was no exception. It hits on a lot of her common themes--depression/suicide, sisters, Mennonites, Canada, etc--but feels like a more grown-up sort of story than some of her others (maybe because the main characters are in their 40s) (or maaaaaybe because this is more than little bit autobiographical). In this one, a woman is dealing with her famous concert pianist sister, who has just tried to commit suicide (not for the first time), and basically has to decide whether to try and save her, or to let her go. I mean, she has some other stuff going on in her life too, but her sister's hospitalization, and her (and their mother) trying to deal with it, and the many inherent frustrations, are the main things here. Along with a lot, lot, lot of sadness. The characters are great, though (I especially loved their mother), and things end in a good place. A/A-.

Monday, October 13, 2014

2014 book 241

Marie Lu's The Young Elites
I enjoyed Lu's Legend, though never got around to reading the rest in that series. This is the first in a new series, and I figured I'd give it a try--it's about a land where a horrible fever killed many adults and disfigured many children--though gave a few of those children strange powers. And a few of /those/ have banded together to form the titular Young Elites. Our protagonist is one of the disfigured (she's lost an eye and has a scarred face), treated pretty horribly by her father and society in general, when the Elites rescue her and decide to train her (she has powers of illusion). At first, she's interesting--she's motivated by fear and anger, and longs for power--but Lu puts her in a stupid position that I found very frustrating. I can see that I'm supposed to be sympathetic and feel that the protagonist is torn, but instead I thought she was an idiot. Of course, I'm predisposed to hate plotlines that could be cleared up with one honest conversation. Still, the worldbuilding/political stuff is pretty interesting, and it ends strongly. Not sure whether I'll check out the sequels. B.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

2014 book 240

Jessica Day George's Thursdays With The Crown
The third book in George's latest series (After Tuesdays in the Castle and Wednesdays in the Tower), picks up right where the second left off--with Celie and her siblings/assorted other friends in a strange new land, trying to solve the problems with their magical castle--and encountering more griffins! I am way into griffins now thanks to this series. Anyway, this was just as charming as the first two, and I certainly hope the next book--with its promises of UNICORNS--comes to be. A-.

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

Thursday, October 09, 2014

2014 book 239

Rick Riordan's Blood Of Olympus
The final book in the Heroes of Olympus series is here, and it's . . . more of the same. The writing is still kind of awkward/silly (and Riordan is also STILL comparing the skin color of minority characters to food), there are two series' worth of characters to keep track of (I definitely Googled more than a few), but there's a ton of action. And there are some nice girl-power moments that had me cheering, as well as some great stuff for Nico. Things go pretty much how you expect they'll go, but it's entertaining enough. I dunno, B+?

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

2014 book 238

Marilynne Robinson's Lila
I always read Robinson's novels at a bit of a remove--being Jewish, there's a layer I just don't quite get. That doesn't really lessen my enjoyment, however, and I enjoy the theological discussions. The center of this novel is Reverend Ames' much younger wife Lila, who featured heavily in Gilead (which was narrated by Ames). Lila's childhood is rough, and even as an adult she longs for Doll, who straight-up kidnapped her from her neglectful family, and showed her love and kindness--though she does spend years pondering her identity, too. I don't know what to say about this, really--I like knowing more of Lila's story, and I liked her relationship with the Reverend and the more meditative parts dealing with her pregnancy. If you like Robinson's thoughtful work and beautiful prose (and I do), this is more of the same. I actually might reread Gilead in the near future, since this is almost a prequel. A-.

Monday, October 06, 2014

2014 book 237

A.S. King's Glory O'Brien's History of the Future
I am historically a big fan of King's books, even the more . . . unusual ones, and this one definitely falls into the latter camp. It's about teenage Glory, about to graduate high school, and seemingly planning her suicide (her mother killed herself a la Sylvia Plath when Glory was four), when she and her erstwhile best friend drink a petrified bat (just go with it) and suddenly see visions when they look at people. Her friend's are fairly innocuous, but Glory sees a person's ancestors AND descendents . . . and sees that a war is coming. A bad one. I like that King manages to draw in all these current social issues that are super depressing when you think about them--and yet the book has a real hopeful note. For the first half of this book, I was basically like "my god, this is weird," and by the end I was like fist-pumping about how into it I was. Let's call it an A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on October 14th.

2014 book 236

Sydney Taylor's All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown
I've been sporadically dipping into the Lizzie Skurnick Books reissues of this classic series--this one is interesting in that it was written as the second book in the series, but publication was delayed because of it's too-realistic content! (An Italian boy living in poverty was apparently controversial.) But I mean, it's the All-of-a-Kind Family! You know everything is going to work out just fine, with lots of Jewishness along the way. I love it.

2014 book 235

Erin Claiborne's A Hero at the End of the World
This was a SUPER cute book, kind of Harry Potter-ish, except if Ron kills Voldemort instead, and Harry gets all pissy about it and flunks out of school and ends up working in a coffee shop. And then accidentally gets recruited into an evil cult. And there's a cute boy! And his old friend the hero is investigating the cult! And has a super cute partner who is basically Hermione with straight hair. I mean, not to say it's derivative, because it's not really, these are just cultural markers we can all recognize. Anyway: super cute. Bonus points for diversity too! Both main characters are minorities. B+/A-.

ETA: I have been informed this book is based on Harry Potter fanfic, so, I guess it IS actually derivative, haha! I'm not changing my grade or anything--Claiborne is a solid writer, I hope she tries something more original next time.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

2014 book 234

Milena Michiko Flasar's I Called Him Necktie
Well, here's a lovely little book that I highly recommend. It's the story of a young man in Japan--a hikikomori, a type of recluse--and what happens when he finally leaves his bedroom after two years and sits on a park bench, where he eventually encounters the titular necktie-wearing man, and they share life stories. Both stories are suffused with sadness, but Flasar's prose elevates the material. Really strong writing on loss and grief and regret. A-.

2014 book 233

Sandra Waugh's Lark Rising
I almost didn't read this book because the description begins "Lark has foreseen two things—she will fall for a young man with sage green eyes, and he will kill her" which is a) way too melodramatic, and b) so obviously cribbing from the Raven Cycle. BUT it's also completely inaccurate! Well, I mean, it's accurate, but Lark sees a lot of things, and those particular things are not super relevant in the grand scheme of things (the romance is a THING here, but not really the main thing). Also, Lark seems to misinterpret her visions at least occasionally (and when she does, it's just a stupid roadblock to the romance that she takes way too long to reveal, my pet peeve! Less annoying miscommunication/unnecessary angst that can be cleared up with one conversation please, authors).

Ugh, here I am talking ONLY about the (mildly annoying) romance, when the world-building here is so interesting! Lark is a seer, and finds out she's one of four mystical guardians of the realm (she's the guardian of Life, and has super awesome communicating-with-animal powers, among other things) and has to get back some stolen amulets from the bad guys or whatever. Who cares, there is a really great horse and a hilarious gnome livening things up! There are weird monsters and her village is in danger! Etc. This is apparently the first of a series, and I will probably check out the others in the hope that the other guardians are less distracted by their love interests. B/B+.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

2014 book 232

Anne Helen Petersen's Scandals of Classic Hollywood
I'm a huge fan of Petersen's essays on The Hairpin, also called Scandals of Classic Hollywood, and the way she contextualizes celebrity and media, so was super excited for this book--which did not disappoint. Although a few of the celebrities she focuses on were also featured in her column, the content here is almost entirely new (disappointingly, the pictures are all at the end of the book, and not interspersed as in her online essays--very annoying if you're reading on a Kindle). I kind of miss her slightly-less-formal writing tone, but the writing here falls nicely between academic and popular history. And all the stories are great! I thought the section comparing Judy Garland and Dorothy Dandridge and the look at masculinity as embodied by Montgomery Clift/Marlon Brando/James Dean were particularly strong.  I will say that it doesn't entirely flow when reading it in one sitting (some sections seem to follow more logically than others), but each chapter is just a gem. A/A-.

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

Saturday, September 27, 2014

2014 book 231

Karen Rivers' Finding Ruby Starling
I was a little worried at the premise of this book--it's about an American 12-year-old who's messing with a Google-Image-like search thing and finds a British girl who looks exactly like her, and determines that they're twins. Twins separated at birth is a tired trope, and also, that's totally illegal now! BUT the book addresses all that, and even if the reveal didn't really work for me, the two girls were so great and the story was so readable that I didn't even care. The whole thing is told in their emails (and emails to friends and relatives), along with some bad 12-year-old Tumblr poems.  Anyway, it was just super cute and I enjoyed it immensely. B+.

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

Friday, September 26, 2014

2014 book 230

John Darnielle's Wolf in White Van
Full disclosure: John Darnielle is a friend of a good friend of mine, and I have chatted with him at parties; also, I am friends with many people who work at his record label, though I am not particularly a fan of his band (I recognize that this is a personal failing).

So, based on the above, I was a little leery of reading his book--and honestly, I read the first few pages at least five times and kept putting it down. But all the music dudes I know were SO enthusiastic about this, and it was nominated for an NBA and on the NYT bestseller list, so I figured I'd really make an effort to plow through and be part of the zeitgeist. Plus, I mean, John Darnielle is really nice! He once kindly participated in a conversation with me about sweet tea vodka when I was (very) drunk on said beverage. (That was a long time ago, please don't judge me.)

OK, so, the book. As noted above, the early pages made my eyes glaze over (they are very LITERARY), but the writing style quickly settles down to tell the story of a disfigured guy (basically he's Arse-Face from Preacher, but more intellectual) who runs a mail-order game out of his home, and then two of his players experience a tragedy. I guess it's useless to complain about the scarcity/flimsiness of women characters, since this is basically a book about a mostly-reclusive guy--though the male secondary characters feel much more fleshed out/thoughtful. But look, in general, this is a dude book. This is particularly a book for nerdy dudes who like metal and role-playing games. It's very well written, and I did enjoy it, but I didn't feel connected to it. B/B+.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

2014 book 229

Hannah Pittard's Reunion
Pittard's second novel (after the excellent The Fates Will Find Their Way) is just as strong as her debut. Thematically, it's similar to Jonathan Tropper's This is Where I Leave You, in that it centers on three (dysfunctional-ish) adult siblings who reunite for their father's funeral, though I feel like Pittard is telling a slightly different sort of story. Her protagonist is also dealing with a crumbling marriage, but her issues are more realistic--no shock jocks are involved, for one thing. Anyway, this was a really interesting meditation on a very complicated family (the protagonist and her siblings are their father's first children--he had several more by his four later wives). I liked this a lot and don't meant to keep comparing it to some dude's book, it's just that I keep seeing trailers for the movie. I kind of hope this book becomes a movie, because the protagonist is actually a semi-failed screenwriter, so it would be entertainingly meta. Plus I'd like to see these characters come to life. A/A-.

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

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

2014 book 228

Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford
I rewatched the Cranford miniseries last weekend, which prompted me to finally read the book (despite warnings that the miniseries was actually better). And . . . the miniseries is actually better! Of course, it's very different, featuring a lot of characters that aren't even in the book. The book still has a great sense of humor, but parts of it do drag on. And the edition I had stopped somewhat abruptly--I'm not sure if it was incomplete, but I don't really feel like reading any more of it so I'm not going to try and find a different version.

Monday, September 22, 2014

2014 book 227

Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You The Sun
Nelson's second YA novel (after The Sky Is Everywhere) is receiving a lot of buzz, and deservedly so, as it's a lot stronger than her first. It centers on a pair of twins--Noah and Jude--and the secrets that tore their relationship to shreds. Noah's POV sections take place when they're 13/14--while they're just starting to fall apart--and Jude's when they're 16, after a family tragedy (there's kind of a lot going on here, but in a good way). I loved everything about Noah's lovelife; Jude's romantic stuff was a little bit of a weak point for me. Anyway, I really liked this, and especially liked how it concluded. A-.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

2014 book 226

Gail Carriger's Waistcoats and Weaponry
The third book in Carriger's prequel-to-Soulless series--about a girl's finishing school that trains them to be spies, and also it's on a dirigible--is even better than the first two. There are tons of twists and turns, lots of fun new character development (and plot developments!), and the story ties directly into the Soulless books (all the werewolf politics stuff starts here!). I just really enjoy these characters, and particularly the friendships between the very different girls--I like that Carriger gives them all a chance to shine, and that they appreciate each others' skill sets. Sophronia is the best, of course. What a fun heroine. I can't wait to see what she'll get up to next--it looks like the next book will wrap things up. A-.

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

Friday, September 19, 2014

2014 book 225

Amy Zhang's Falling into Place
So I guess this has a Before I Fall/If I Stay/Thirteen Reasons Why sort of vibe, centering as it does on a teenager who has decided to kill herself via a car accident, but isn't entirely successful, as the story flashes back to why she's done it. It's a good story, though some moments are overwrought/trite/unbelievable (how could one teenager, even one so supremely bitchy, have ruined so many classmates' lives? come on now). And the whole thing with the narrator was not really my thing. To be fair, the author is still in high school, so this is actually a pretty solid accomplishment--the writing really feels polished. I mean, it didn't grab me the way Before I Fall or Thirteen Reasons Why did, but I'd definitely recommend it to fans of those books. I did like it more than I liked If I Stay, for sure. Congratulations, teenage author Amy Zhang, a random blogger has said you are better than a bestselling author whose movie is currently in theaters. B/B+.

2014 book 224

Sarah Waters' The Paying Guests
I really enjoy Waters' books about historical lesbians (and other things), and this one was no exception. Our protagonist is 26-year-old Frances, whose father has recently died, revealing the family's precarious financial situation--and so she and her mother have had to take in a married couple as lodgers. It's quickly obvious that things aren't going to go well, and when they go wrong, they go pretty disastrously wrong. I did think parts of this moved a little bit slowly (though that just may be the unbearable tension talking--things are SO unbearably tense!), but it's another really strong story from Waters. B+.