Monday, March 31, 2014

2014 book 70

Rachel Neumeier's Law of the Broken Earth
The third book in the Griffin Mage trilogy is, like its predecessors, perfectly adequate and satisfying, but nothing exceptional. The characters from the previous books, along with two new characters (the cousin of one of the major characters, another timid girl who may have a gift, and a talented spy), come together to try and deal with another war, and some warlike griffins. Like I said, it's all perfectly satisfying. And there is a really cool girl magic power moment. But it never quite goes deep enough to be something more. B/B+.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

2014 book 69

Ayelet Waldman's Love and Treasure
I love how Waldman has started busting out these stunning books, epic in scope, after beginning her career writing a series of cozy mysteries. Not that there's anything wrong with cozy mysteries--one of my favorite genres!--it's just, come on STUNNING and EPIC are not words usually used to describe them. Anyway, this one starts off with an elderly Jewish man, dying of cancer, whose granddaughter, fleeing from a failed marriage, is coming to stay with him. Then it flashes back to his career as an American soldier just after WWII, when he's been taken away from his unit and forced to work as a translator--and then to take charge of a train of valuable items stolen from Hungarian Jews. All while he tries to woo a pretty red-haired refugee. And then we have the granddaughter again, trying to track down the heirs of the owner of a particular item from the train (though I love that she does historical research in this section, I feel like the romance here is totally unnecessary, and is kind of a misstep, and doesn't read realistically at all). And then we flash back again, to the owner herself! This section is BRILLIANTLY narrated by a psychoanalyst of the sort that is very typical of the early 1900s. He's convinced her menstrual cramps are caused by hysteria. It's maddening and hilarious. (This was by far my favorite part. She's a suffragist!!) An epilogue wraps things up, more or less. Anyway, Waldman's writing is really on-point here--not too ostentatious, but all-in-all really lovely. She thanks Julie Orringer and Andrew Sean Greer in the acknowledgments, and I feel like their prose serves as a good comparison. Strong writing and a very strong and readable story. A/A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on April 1st.

Friday, March 28, 2014

2014 book 68

Chelsea Cain's One Kick
So Cain seems to be taking a break from the Gretchen-'n'-Archie mysteries for this new book (which seems like the start to a series) involving a ring of pedophiles. I mean, in case that didn't clue you in, this book is super dark and might as well be called "Trigger Warning." Anyway, our protagonist is a young woman who calls herself Kick, famous for being rescued several years after being kidnapped. Now a mysterious man (who is the least believable character I've ever read) is trying to recruit her to help solve a new string of kidnappings. Which . . . sort of makes sense? Because she knows how pedophile kidnappers think? Kick is a pretty okay character, but this whole thing is very . . . sensational. And COMPLETELY bonkers. Just completely, completely bonkers. If you want to read a totally crazy and kind of pulpy thriller/mystery like this, it's pretty great. But it's not /good/. Warning: bad things happen to animals. And children, obviously. B.

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

Thursday, March 27, 2014

2014 book 67

Rachel Neumeier's Land of Burning Sands
I appreciate that Neumeier takes this second volume in a whole new direction, focusing on a couple of the denizens of the land of the invading army from the first book--primarily a talented slave and an adorably absent-minded academic type woman. I liked what she was saying about freedom and kindness here. Then the slave encounters the cold mage from the previous book--and again, it's nice to get his point of view, when he was basically just a magical villain in the first book--but it gets so repetitive after that! I swear the slave and the mage have the EXACT SAME conversation like eight times. So boring, especially when one is petulant and one is kind of snide. At least the academic is off dealing with interesting political things--and running into one of the characters from the first book. Eventually all the characters come together for a pretty great ending (I also like how the little bit of romance kind of simmers below the surface till then, too). B/B+.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

2014 book 66

Rachel Neumeier's Lord of the Changing Winds
I guess I figured now that I'm all into books with dragons, I should expand my scope to other mythical creatures (please send unicorn-related recs my way). In this first book in the Griffin Mage Trilogy, a timid young girl (from a land of people who have affinity with animals!) is swept up into a displaced community of griffins, where she discovers a special gift. The other main character is a young man who's bros with the local king and also ends up having dealings with the griffins. Then there is  . . . a battle! I mean, not that much /happens/ in this book, per se, besides a battle, but it turns out griffins are pretty cool, and I really liked both main characters, so will definitely be investigating the other books in this series. A-/B+.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

2014 book 65

Jean Zimmerman's Savage Girl
I had some mixed feelings about this book. It starts off in media res, in the 1870s, with a young man being discovered at a crime scene, determined to take the blame, although he's not sure he actually did it. Then it flashes back to his family on a trip out west for rich people reasons, where they discover the so-called Savage Girl being displayed. His father determines to bring her back out east and turn her into a debutante, for some nature vs nurture reason (this is never really gone into) (neither is the feral child thing). Various men who express an interest in her are found dead along the way. Is he the killer? Is she? I liked how ambiguous this was, until the neatly resolves ending, which was pretty annoying. Zimmerman does toss in some nice references to historical figures of the day, though (Henry James and the Woodhull sisters were of specific interest to this reader). I've been reading this off and on for like a week--the narrative voice is pretty compelling, but the story bogs down a little in the middle, and I was really not into the end. But I can see why other readers would like it. B.

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

Monday, March 24, 2014

2014 book 64

Kate Hattemar's The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy
YES! It's another YA book about the evils of reality tv, my new favorite sub-genre! In this one, a reality tv show is being filmed at an arts school, and our protagonist gets involved with his best friend's plot to bring the show down--with poetry!--which heads in an unexpected direction. I loved all the lit nerdery here, despite really not being into Ezra Pound (Ezra Pound's Cantos come into play constantly). There is also a super awesome gerbil. Now, the plot doesn't hold up really well if you examine it too closely (much like a reality tv show!), and the protagonist being primarily motivated by his crush on a girl he's never spoken to is kind of cringeworthy (he /is/ called out on this later in the book). The romantic stuff is fairly predictable. But it's VERY enjoyable and compulsively readable, just the same. B+.

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

Sunday, March 23, 2014

2014 book 63

Judy Greer's I Don't Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star
I wanted to read this book b/c I know Judy Greer from LOTS of things, and love her. The subtitle is VERY misleading though--it's not really about any of her specific Hollywood jobs or co-stars (though obviously that does come up)--it's more of a general memoir. Each chapter is its own essay, which makes it feel a little disjointed--I think a straight memoir might have flowed a little better. The sections on her childhood/parents are strong, though, and I liked the glimpses of her career (I definitely wish there was more dishing on Hollywood, and a little less on, like, emails from her friends). I don't want to dis Judy Greer--she is awesome--and this book is perfectly fine (and very funny at times--like the "fan profiling" stuff, and her Oscars story). It's just not quite what I was expecting based on the title. B/B+.

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

Thursday, March 20, 2014

2014 book 62

Julia Glass' And The Dark Sacred Night
Glass' latest novel focuses on a man at loose ends, whose wife inspires him to go searching for the father he never knew, and knows nothing about, starting with a trip to his former stepfather. Eventually this brings him into contact with a bunch of characters from Glass' stellar first novel, Three Junes. Glass excels at portraying complicated family relationships and the small moments of life and death--and this book is no exception. I really love her writing--it's really evocative. Her descriptions of, like, food at a picnic! Just lovely. I had some quibbles about an event near the end, but loved the way this wrapped up. She is really a great writer. A.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on April 1st.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

2014 book 61

Jane Nickerson's The Mirk and Midnight Hour
I'm gonna say this right off--I have major problems with a book set in Mississippi during the Civil War where the only slaves we see considering themselves to be "friends" with their masters. How am I supposed to take anything else that happens seriously when that is so disgusting and historically inaccurate? I get that Nickerson wants her protagonist to be sympathetic, but this is not the way to do it. (Having the protagonist be too stupid/naive to notice several failed murder plots against a relative doesn't help, either.) Anyway, about halfway through this basically turns into a Civil War version of Summer of My German Soldier, only without the pathos of that book, and with a predictable romance instead. (Apparently this is supposed to be a retelling of Tam Lin, but I'm not familiar enough with that story to have picked up on it.) (It's also a companion to Strands of Bronze and Gold, which I liked more.) There's also a whole thing with hoodoo that I'm more than a little uncomfortable with, especially once it gets rapey. Ugh. I just can't get behind a book that presents all its slaves as content, if only they had a paycheck. It's gross, and irresponsible to write a book that way. Slavery was BAD, you can't have a story that's like, look at all these nice and happy slaves who love their masters! Plus the end is completely ridiculous. C.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

2014 book 60

Leslye Walton's The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
Sooooo this is the story of a girl born with wings, who then goes back and narrates her family story, starting with her grandmother. Lots of ill-fated romance, family drama, baking, and a little bit of magic ensue. And ghosts! I will say that it's told with a much lighter touch than I'm making it sound--I liked the narrative voice here a lot. Walton's writing, on the whole, is really clever and graceful. The story reminded me of books by Aimee Bender and Karen Russell--reality, just a little bit off-kilter, which I mean in the best possible way (I love books like that!). I wholeheartedly loved this book until the character Nathaniel Sorrows came into the picture, and from there a sense of dread crept in, leading to events that I found . . . troubling. But things wrap up nice and neatly, and I think this will in general be a crowd-pleaser. A-/B+.

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

Friday, March 14, 2014

2014 book 59

A.S. King's Ask the Passengers
Such a delight to reread this for FYA book club! I don't have too much more to say about it, but it definitely holds up to a reread. King's books are all so great.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

2014 book 58

Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor
So when the emperor of an elf kingdom (empire?) and his three oldest sons are all killed in an accident, his youngest son--a half-goblin who's been raised basically in exile--suddenly finds himself in the seat of power. His struggles to learn to rule are amazingly compelling, and Addison's world-building is REALLY strong and feels realistically populated (though I definitely got some characters confused a couple of times due to similar names, plus sometimes they're referred to by first names or last names). There's also some very interesting stuff going on here with racial/cultural distinctions, which I appreciated. I did wish there was at least one prominent primary or secondary woman character--it's clearly a patriarchal society, and women's problems are discussed by all the men, but still--though by the end, a few look poised to be more visible in later volumes (and all of those are REALLY delightful!). Anyway, I don't want to give any spoilers or hints, but this was really excellent and I definitely look forward to seeing what Addison does next with this world. (Addison is apparently also author Sarah Monette, whose works I'm not familiar with, but figured I'd mention it anyway.) A/A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on April 1st.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

2014 book 57

Jenny Offill's Dept. of Speculation
I hadn't heard of this before seeing it mentioned in the Tournament of Books commentary the other day, but I'm so glad I did--it's excellent. It's sort of the portrait of a marriage, of a family, of being a writer--sort of stream of consciousness style. Well, I don't know, trying to describe it would just have me talking in circles, but it's really beautiful prose. A short but powerful novel, the kind of thing I'd like to see more of. A/A-.

Monday, March 10, 2014

2014 book 56

Mur Lafferty's Ghost Train to New Orleans
The second book in Lafferty's Shambling Guides series (after The Shambling Guide to New York City) is a pretty fun followup (though I do wish the editor/proofreader would allow contractions and cut down on exclamation points a little bit. Some of the dialogue feels unnatural. And I DEFINITELY wish Lafferty hadn't chosen to have the spirit of New Orleans and its denizens talk in dialect). I do really like the world-building here--Zoe's talents are explored in greater detail, and there are some great new characters (particularly a Norse healing goddess and a 1940s-era ghost). There's kind of a lot going on, plot-wise--mysterious dudes on trains, ghosts, murderous coworkers, half-zombie boyfriends, demon dogs, golems, genocide, etc--but it all comes together in the end. These books have a great sense of humor and a ton of geek references, which obviously makes everything better, too. B/B+.

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

Friday, March 07, 2014

2014 book 55

Helen Oyeyemi's Boy, Snow, Bird
I really liked Oyeyemi's first novel, but haven't really loved her other books (her recent Mr Fox got a ton of acclaim, but I just couldn't get into it). This one, however, totally worked for me. It's vaguely a reworking of the Snow White story--but don't think it's the usual fantasy book, because Oyeyemi doesn't work that way. Instead, it starts with teenager Boy Novak, who runs away from her abusive father in the 1950s and ends up in small-town Massachusetts, where she meets a man named Arturo--and his daughter Snow. Just when you think it's going to go one way, it turns into a really interesting meditation on race relations--and family life--in America. I hesitate to call this "accessible," because Oyeyemi's work is always slightly off the beaten path, but it's certainly the work of hers I find the most /readable/. Very engaging. A-/B+.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

2014 book 54

Marie Brennan's A Tropic of Serpents
Boy, all the series books I've been eagerly awaiting have been mildly disappointing this week, including this one. The second in Brennan's Memoirs of Lady Trent (after A Natural History of Dragons) is kind of on the boring side, and also is kind of racist. I don't think that BRENNAN is racist, at least not on purpose, but her overly complicated and confusing world-building presents a historically-accurate racism--except that it's a made-up world! But, I mean, they're CLEARLY in Africa--UGH, this world-building where everything is just like our world but with made-up names and religion and dragons really is annoying this time around. Brennen spends way too much time explaining various cultures--which, actually, fits with the conceit of this novel, but isn't really engaging. (For the record, I do like the narrative voice, I just wish it was talking about something else.) The illustrations don't really help with my accusations of racism, either. Anyway, plot: the main character from the last one travels to Africa with two other people and she eventually sees some dragons and then quickly averts a war. That is honestly all that happens. I like the whole "killing dragons is bad" philosophy, but wow, this was underwhelming after the last one. I want to see more dealing with society stuff, or if not that, more dealing with actual dragons! I mean, get one as a pet or something, at least. B/B-.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

2014 book 53

C.S.Harris' Why Kings Confess
I was soooo excited for the new Sebastian St Cyr mystery--and, I mean, it was fine. It was just one of those stories where the mystery-solver just goes around talking to the same people over and over until someone finally confesses--not super compelling. I still love all the characters here (HERO!! So pregnant and still getting the crucial information!) and it is kind of interesting to have Marie-Therese (daughter of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette) as a character, with the rumors that her brother may have been spirited away from the French Revolution as a key plot point. It's just a little all over the place. B/B+.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

2014 book 52

Seanan McGuire's Half-Off Ragnarok
The third book in McGuire's Incryptids series--about a family who protects mythological creatures from people, and vice versa--changes things up a little by focusing on a new character--Verity's brother Alex. I've been hoping McGuire would expand the world to include more of the family, so appreciated knowing more about Alex and their grandparents, but this one wasn't as strong for me. The main plot--something is petrifying people and Alex has to figure out what it is--was kind of weak, and it was pretty easy to figure out who the bad guy was. I did like the new characters in this one, particularly Charmi (a snake-girl) and Dee (a gorgon), but was not really feeling Alex's girlfriend and their relationship. I mean, this was entertaining, just not as awesome as I'd hoped it would be. B/B+.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

2014 book 51

Ellen Feldman's The Unwitting
The protagonist of this book is a journalist who receives a call about her husband on the day of JFK's assassination--and then the book flashes back to their courtship in the late 40s and their years of writing and activism in the 50s. The foreshadowing is a bit heavy-handed, and the big reveal won't resonate as much with readers in this day and age (or at least, it didn't with me), but the story and the protagonist's struggles are still really compelling. The late introduction of a secret journal is also a bit much, but works well with the way Feldman wraps the story up. Generally a satisfying and interesting read, and an engaging look at a period that isn't often covered in novels. B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on May 6th.