Thursday, February 27, 2014

2014 book 50

Marcus Sedgwick's Midwinterblood
I had never even heard of this book when it won the Printz award last month--though I would vociferously argue that it's not YA at all, or at least very far from the usual YA mold (maybe things are just different in New Zealand?). It involves an island with a mysterious flower that may or may not make people immortal, and features seven sections, starting in the semi-near future and going back in time, that more or less tell a complete story. One that involves magic, vampires, painters, archaeologists, and maybe reincarnation. It's pretty weird, but pretty good? Yeah, weird but good. A-/B+.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

2014 book 49

Frances Brody's A Medal for Murder
The second in Brody's Kate Shackleton series finds Kate being hired to find a pawnshop robber--only then she gets caught up in the case of a missing girl--and then a murder! I had a few complaints about this--like the last one, the flashbacks give away too much information to the reader, the romance angle is pretty underbaked, Kate's apparent moral ambiguity is kind of problematic, and so on. Still, it's an entertaining read, even if I did guess the killer early on. The very end is weird, but I liked the rest of it well enough. B.

Monday, February 24, 2014

2014 book 48

Cinda Williams Chima's The Crimson Crown
This is a strong finale to the Seven Realms series--lots of action, romance, magic, and a few surprises. I don't have much to say about it, except that I basically read it in one sitting. A good read with excellent pacing and interesting characters, for sure. I do wish some of them had been more fleshed out (the villains, especially), but the primary characters are strong. A-/B+.

2014 book 47

Cinda Williams Chima's The Gray Wolf Throne
The third book in Chima's Seven Realms series has a lot going on--(some) secrets are revealed, people are torn about love, war may or may not be coming, thrones are claimed, people are killed, etc. It's all pretty solid and I have no major complaints. I do admit to wishing things would come to a head already, but hey, there's only one volume left! B+.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

2014 book 46

Cinda Williams Chima's The Exiled Queen
The second book in the Seven Realms series starts off a bit slow--at the end of the first one (spoilers!), a whole bunch of the characters are headed to joint magic-warrior school, which I was super excited about! But the first, like, third of this book deal with the arduous journey to get there--and man, am I sick of reading about arduous journeys to get places in fantasy books. Can't someone in a fantasy world invent a magic airplane or car or something? Teleportation? ANYTHING but long journeys on horseback filled with treacherous kidnappings that quickly get resolved. Sigh.  Things do pick up once everyone is in school--and running into friends, enemies, and love interests. The main guy character is kind of dumb and slow to pick up on a dangerous plot point, but the princess is pretty interesting (despite being kidnapped like three times). She's kind of dumb too, though. I guess there wouldn't be as much of a plot if they weren't so stupid and making dumb mistakes? Surely there is a way to tell an interesting story about a prudent character, especially when there's so many villains to encounter at local taverns! I mean, don't get me wrong, I liked this and will read the next one. My complaints are not necessarily about this book in particular, but about YA fantasy in general. B+.

Friday, February 21, 2014

2014 book 45

Cinda Williams Chima's The Demon King
Yay, it's another epic fantasy YA series that I hadn't discovered! This one has two main characters--Han, formerly the leader of a street gang but now trying to go straight, though there's clearly more to him than meets the eye, and Raisa, the usual princess chafing against her princessy role (while the character is a familiar archetype, Chima does breathe a lot of life into Raisa). There's also a whole lot with politics, nefarious wizards, various friends and love interests, etc, and some solid world-building. It's a strong start to a series, and a few moments were almost TOO intense to get through. It ends at an interesting place, too. Looking forward to see where it goes from there.  A-/B+.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

2014 book 44

Kasie West's Split Second
The sequel (and conclusion) to Pivot Point is perfectly adequate--since Addie isn't playing out scenarios here, West breaks things up by having the POV alternate between Addie and her best friend Laila. This does a pretty good job of keeping tension/momentum going, though I admit I got a little confused whenever the POV changed in the middle of one of their conversations (chapter breaks make it clear, it was just a bit disconcerting for some reason). Anyway, talking about the plot would spoil the first one, so I'll jsut say that the romances here are fine--I didn't hate them, rare for a YA book!--and the action is also . . . fine. Weirdly, things are kind of more important/bigger than in the first one, but for some reason things felt a lot less intense. Still an enjoyable read, and a perfectly good followup to the first one. B/B+.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

2014 book 43

J. Kathleen Cheney's The Golden City
So this is kind of a historical-fantasy-mystery mashup, and I LOVE IT. Cheney's worldbuilding--Portugal in 1705, but with magic and magical creatures--is really, really engaging. Our protagonist is a siren, living in the city as a young lady's companion and spying for her people, when she and her lady are attacked and she is soon investigating some pretty messed-up murders. Meanwhile, a local half-selkie gentleman is consulting with the police on the same set of murders, so it's inevitable that their paths will collide. And Cheney totally had me rooting for them to JUST MAKE OUT ALREADY, GOD. Adorable ol' sea-people. I liked this a lot, and can't wait for the sequel (out in July!). A/A-.

2014 book 42

Frances Brody's Dying in the Wool
This is the first in the Kate Shackleton mystery series, yet another involving an intrepid lady detective in the post-WWI years. In this one, Kate is asked by an old VAD (lady army volunteer division) friend to track down her father, who's been missing for several years. On the whole, this was engaging enough--I liked the stuff about Kate being haunted by her own husband, missing in the war--though I thought it was weakened by various other POVs from suspects, all taking place when the guy went missing. It just reveals a little too much to the reader and I thought it was unnecessary, especially since things play out in a way that the information is revealed anyway. And the ending is very improbably action-packed. Kate is an interesting character, though, and I liked the way things concluded. I'd probably read another in this series. B.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

2014 book 41

Julia Dahl's Invisible City
This was a really, really solid debut from a crime reporter--maybe because it's about a freelance reporter. :) Dahl definitely nails the details of the newspaper life. Anyway, our protagonist is 23-year-old Rebekah, who's investigating the murder of a Hasidic woman from the tight-knit community in Borough Park--the very community where the mother who abandoned her was born and raised. Dahl is a little bit over-explainy about the Hasidic lifestyle to someone who's familiar with it, but I imagine that's necessary for the readers who aren't. I really liked the tensions she raises of the technically-Jewish but clueless Rebekah examining/dealing with Hasidic Jews and thought that was very well-done too. And all that aside, the mystery is well crafted, the story moves quickly, and there are a lot of interesting things going on in general. It looks like Dahl is working on a sequel, and it's one I'll definitely be reading. A-.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in May.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

2014 book 40

Seth Fishman's The Well's End
This book starts off really strong, with a girl based on Baby Jessica (you know, the little girl that got stuck in that well) now a teenager at an elite boarding school. "Great," I thought to myself, "Another cool contemporary YA book about the perils of fame. I dig this subgenre!" (Clearly, I had not remembered the book's description.) Anyway, then suddenly the school alarms sound and they are under quarantine! There is a disease that causes rapid aging and death! Baby Mia's dad tells her to come find him at his mysterious office where he does mysterious things!

OK, now I need to take a paragraph for a digression of sorts. Sometimes I think that YA authors feel like they HAVE to include a romance for their book to be successful, even if the story doesn't really warrant one. I have to think that's the case here, because I have never read a less organic romance plotline in my life. Like, the girl meets the new boy at school, a day later they're on the run with some other teens, but keep like pausing in their escape to make out. Like, mid-run. Now, maybe I have just taken against this character because his name is Brayden, but he has no personality and no character traits other than "interested in main girl character" and "very willing to hit dudes with baseball bats." I mean, at one point he's like "Do. You. Trust. Me?" which is a direct quote that indicates the level of discourse between these two (not that they even once have a regular conversation throughout the whole book) (both of which also illustrate the level of the writing).

The backstory, when it is revealed, is actually pretty interesting. And the very end is intriguing. But everything else about this did not really work for me. C.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be available on February 25th.

Friday, February 14, 2014

2014 book 39

Laura Lippman's After I'm Gone
Lippman's latest is more-or-less a standalone from her long-running Tess Monaghan series (though a few of those characters have a cameo that makes me pretty excited to see where Lippman takes them next). We start with a man in the 1970s fleeing the country--and the feds--leaving his wife, daughters, and girlfriend behind. And in the present, a cold case consultant is looking into the 1986 murder of aforementioned girlfriend. But, interestingly to me, the murder is not really the heart of the story--rather, it's the story of the family he left behind. I really liked the way Lippman flashes back and forth through fifty years of family history--and particularly, Jewish family history. She totally nails the details of bat mitzvahs, weddings, and other gatherings. I mean, NAILS it. The murder itself was a good story too--I was actually surprised by the conclusion--but was really drawn into the lives of these women, especially the sisters. Another very solid work from Lippman, and I definitely look forward to see what she'll do next. A/A-.

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

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

2014 book 38

Jaclyn Moriarty's The Ghosts of Ashbury High
I was unable to track down an e-book version of the third book in the Ashbury/Brookfield series, so went ahead and read the fourth. I really don't think this one would make any sense without having read The Year of Secret Assignments first, since it picks up on the three girls' lives a couple of years later, as a pair of mysterious scholarship students come to school. This one took a lot longer for me to get into--I feel like Moriarty deals out Riley and Amelia's story too slowly, and all of the stuff with Toby's history assignment is a bit tedious at first (though I loved how everything came together at the end!). Also, the kids writing the stories they write for huge exams makes very little sense to me (aside from Toby). What the heck were they being graded on? They did not deserve passing grades. The earlier books, with the letter and diaries, worked better for me. Still, I did really like how thing wrapped up. B/B+.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

2014 book 37

Jaclyn Moriarty's Feeling Sorry for Celia
First of all, I just want to thank Open Library for existing and having an e-book copy of this, unlike every other place in America. Thanks to them, I was able to go back and read the first of the Ashbury/Brookfield books, which has at its center two minor characters from the other one I read. And it was also completely delightful! It makes me sad that there are all these GREAT Australian YA authors who aren't very well-known here (and I would recommend Moriarty to fans of, say, Melina Marchetta's contemporary YA books). What other completely charming books am I missing out on??? Anyway, this one also has the pen pal project as the major plot point, only here our correspondents are two girls, so the focus is very much more on friendship than on romance (though obviously boys come up a fair bit, as they would in any straight teenage girl correspondence. And honestly, friendship was kind of the core of the other one, too). I could have done without the imaginary letters from various Societies of Teenagers or whatever, but UGH I love these. A/A-.

Monday, February 10, 2014

2014 book 36

Jaclyn Moriarty's The Year of Secret Assignments
I was raving about Corner of White at lady nerd book group the other day, and a fellow lady nerd suggested I check out this other series by Moriarty, that's all told in letters and diaries and notes (to great effect). Only two are available for Kindle in the US, though! Luckily, each of the four focuses on a different group of kids (who seem to be background players in the others), so they can be read in any order. This one is about three best friends from a private school who are forced to participate in a pen-pal program with the local school for problem kids (or so they seem to perceive it). Three girls writing to three boys, what could go wrong! Anyway, it's all really funny and sad and sweet and I loved it. A/A-.

2014 book 35

Chang-Rae Lee's On Such a Full Sea
Considering that I am, in general, a fan of literary authors playing with works generally considered "genre," this literary dystopia should have been right up my alley. But it didn't really work that well for me. The first-person-plural narration is fine, but the narrative voice itself isn't particularly interesting. I liked that the story was being told kind of like an urban legend (I guess?) but I didn't like how stilted it felt. And protagonist Fan (who flees dystopian B-Mor [yes, it's Baltimore, complete with row houses] in search of her missing boyfriend) isn't very proactive--she rarely makes any decisions, just sort of goes along with everyone else she encounters. The plot happens to her, but she doesn't do much to affect it, and it just gets a little ridiculous/overly coincidental at a certain point. It's not interesting to read about a character supposedly on a quest who is actually just sort of floating along (with a couple of notable exceptions). I actually did like the way this ended, but was left with a fleeting sort of sense of "why?" about the whole story. I'm still not sure what the author was trying to accomplish here. B.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

2014 book 34

Sally Green's Half Bad
So it looks like this is the start of a YA trilogy that may be the new hotness--it inspired a major bidding war, has already been sold in over 30 countries, has been optioned for a movie, etc. And it's definitely a good read with some pretty compelling world-building. Things start off with teenager Nathan in a cage and things are looking pretty grim--then we flash back to his childhood and find out that he's growing up in an England where some people are secretly magic (a la Harry Potter, only way more hardcore), and while his mother was a White Witch, his father is like the most evil of evil Black Witches. But it's not like the White Witches are all that great, either. Anyway, fascinating stuff here, especially the family relationships--I was beyond uninterested in the romance with a White Witch whose only characteristic is "pretty," and the end is kind of all over the place, but I did really like this and look forward to the next chapter. A-/B+.

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

Friday, February 07, 2014

2014 book 33

Heather Demetrios' Something Real
I have to say, I am kind of digging this recent YA trend of thoughtful books about kids on reality shows (see also: Reality Boy and You Look Different in Real Life). In this one, teenage Chloe grew up (as in, from the moment of her birth) on a tv show about her large family (think Jon and Kate Plus 8, only most of the kids are multicultural adoptees). Four years ago, she had a breakdown, their parents divorced, and the show was cancelled--but now it's coming back. Now, a few things here are a little bit too on the nose--the class unit on 1984--or a little bit slight--the perfect boyfriend (who I actually thought was going to turn out to be a creep, because he's so grossly perfect), the lack of characterization of most of the siblings. And I wish we'd gotten a little bit deeper into the "bitchy/slutty" sister. That said, I really enjoyed this and found it entirely captivating. Chloe is a well-drawn, vivid character and Demetrios makes the whole insane situation feel real. The end is a little cheesy, but it IS a YA book. B+.

2014 book 32

Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love
Sometimes you just want to read a hilarious mostly-autobiographical novel about horrible upper-class British people. And obviously no one does that better than Nancy Mitford. I once saw an edition with this with a preface by her sister, Jessica, straight up saying which Mitford was which character. And it was wonderfully mean, too! No one is more charming and vile than the Mitfords. Anyway, life and love and eccentric relatives abound here, and it is just as silly and satisfying and slightly sad as I remembered. B+.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

2014 book 31

Jaclyn Moriarty's The Cracks in the Kingdom
The second book in the Colors of Madeleine series is just as wonderful and unexpected as the first one. I hesitate to say more for fear of spoiling the first one (which I very highly recommend), so I'll just say that there's plenty more of Elliot and Madeleine trying to figure out the crack between their worlds (so much science! Physics! Metaphysics! It's delightful), more examination of both of their lives, more intrigue, etc. We also see more of the royal family, and it's all just fascinating. This manages to be one of those second volumes of a trilogy that moves the plot forward but is also moving on its own--which is, frankly, rare. AH GOD when does the last book come out, I cannot wait! A/A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on March 25th.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

2014 book 30

Jaclyn Moriarty's A Corner of White: The Colors of Madeleine, Book I
Guys, lately I am kind of meh on YA fantasy trilogies--there are so many, and they're all so similar. But THIS one. This one. Like, wow. It's really good and really kind of sweet and funny, and also feels really DIFFERENT. It's basically about Madeleine, who, with her mother, has run away from her former life to live in Cambridge, and Elliot, who lives in a fantasy place called Cello, who is searching for his missing father. And then they find a crack between worlds and start writing letters. It's all really compelling and great and the story winds up in a place I didn't expect, and I can't wait to read the next one. A/A-.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

2014 book 29

David Connerley Nahm's Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky
OK, so, full disclosure: David is a friend of mine, and is honestly one of my favorite people, so even though he asked me to be objective, this is still basically a rave review (I'm not the only one who likes it! It was included in Library Journal's galley guide for ALA Midwinter, so I hope all my librarian friends grabbed a copy). The protagonist is Leah, who runs a nonprofit aimed at helping low-income women and children, and who is haunted by the disappearance of her younger brother years before. It's really the narrative voice that's center stage here--telling not just Leah's story (jumping back and forth in time), but that of the women she works with, the kids she grew up with, her family, and honestly, that of the whole town. I think the best word to describe the writing here is EVOCATIVE. David (sorry, I really can't do the professional "author-last-name" reference for someone I know) really nails the atmosphere here. It's very atmospheric! (The interstitial illustrations of seashells or like those magnified pictures of grains of sand or fossils or whatever they are really add to this, and help highlight the unique nature of the story.) I thought this was VERY well-done. And I think I'm being objective when I say that. A/A-.

The author mailed me a galley to review! This book will be released in August.

Monday, February 03, 2014

2014 book 28

Rosemary Kirstein's The Steerswoman
I read an essay of Jo Walton's raving about this book, so figured I'd give it a try now that it's available for Kindle. And I was not disappointed. It's about Rowan, the titular Steerswoman--they function as sort of mobile librarians/information sources, and have to answer any question they're asked, and everyone has to answer their question too. Anyway, she keeps finding these weird jewels, and wants to figure out where they're coming from--which sets a bunch of angry wizards on her, determined to stop her quest for information with their magic. Except . . . their magic is like electricity, and other things that are apparently to a modern reader. At any rate, this book has great pacing and a strong story, and I really liked the characters (besides Rowan, there is a warrior woman named Bel and a teenager named William who's picked up some of the wizard's tricks). Definitely looking forward to the rest of this series coming to Kindle. A/A-.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

2014 book 27

Jennifer Vanderbes' The Secret of Raven Point
It's 1941, and when a chem nerd's beloved older brother enlists and then is reported missing, she fudges her age and goes off to be a nurse on the front lines in Italy, hoping to find out what happened to him. But this isn't a mystery, and it's not the dramatic thriller that the title might suggest. Instead, it's a really lovely and vivid story of a young nurse at wartime, the camaraderie and the horrors--and especially the horror of the army wanting to execute a man who tried to kill himself. Their efforts to rehabilitate and rescue him are a large part of the story--and are very well-done. I also really liked the way this resolved--Vanderbes really captures the realities of war and its aftermath. A-.

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