Saturday, May 31, 2014

2014 book 120

Marcus Sedgwick's The Foreshadowing
This was a perfectly good book about a young girl during WWI who sees the future--or, more precisely, sees future deaths. I feel like this would be a good book for a high school student to use when assigned an essay about symbolism. Not a bad thing, really, it's just noticeable. I liked this, but the end left me wanting more. B/B+.

2014 book 119

Sarah Rees Brennan's Unmade
Well, the final book in Brennan's Lynburn Legacy trilogy (after Unspoken and Untold) is here and . . . I still don't know what I think about this series! I really enjoyed this book, but it is SO goofy! Why don't any of the characters use contractions when they speak--honestly, who TALKS like that? And why do the main couple break up and then make up like 6 times in this book (that's not even counting the many times they did it in the LAST book). And the plot is just silly--none of the characters are effective planners or thinkers in any way. That said, there are some really good setpieces (a particular scene with Kami's mom is almost cinematic) and, like I said, I really did enjoy reading this. But I wish it was less ridiculous. Should be a hit with the teen crowd, at any rate. B+.

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

Friday, May 30, 2014

2014 book 118

Robert Hellenga's The Confessions of Frances Godwin
I loved Hellenga's The Sixteen Pleasures, so was doubly excited to read his latest. It's in the same mold, or at least also deals with a modern woman and the classical world, only here it's a middle-aged Latin teacher, relating the events leading up to the death of her husband--and another shocking family event. I like Hellenga's writing a lot, and especially appreciated the protagonist's friendship with a local priest, but thought her daughter wasn't as fleshed-out as she could have been, and found the whole thing to be a bit anti-climactic. Still an enjoyable read, just not as stellar as Sixteen Pleasures. B/B+.

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

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

2014 book 117

Non Pratt's Trouble
I really thought this book was lovely, which kind of surprised me based on the description (a pregnant teenager refuses to say who the father is, and a new kid in school with a secret past pretends it's him to spare her some bullying). Just really engaging writing and characters, with lots of family stuff and friendship stuff and a good sense of humor. I really liked this. A/A-.

Monday, May 26, 2014

2014 book 116

Elissa Sussman's Stray
A very charming story set in a repressive fairy tale world, this book manages to raise some interesting points about women's roles in society, while still being a very entertaining tale. Our protagonist is a princess, but in a world where women have very little power, when an accidental magical explosion ends up with her assigned to be a fairy godmother as punishment. There's also a whole thing with a Wicked Queen and a couple different conspiracies. I'm not sure the plot entirely works, but I was caught up in the story the whole time--Sussman has a really strong narrative voice. Really a delightful story, and I hope to see more in this series. A/A-.

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

2014 book 115

L.M. Montgomery's Emily of New Moon
I feel like I've always enjoyed this when I've read it in the past--though obviously it doesn't hold a candle to Anne of Green Gables! I mean, Teddy is no Gilbert, and Aunt Elizabeth is certainly no Marilla--but man, this time around, Emily's letters to her father are INTERMINABLE. I almost groaned aloud every time I encountered one--which was often. I don't know how well Montgomery nails a child's voice, but the misspellings are nothing to the sheer boringness of each one. Which is a shame, b/c the non-letter sections are quite well-done! It just feels like such a misstep, narratively speaking. Plus, Emily's not flawed like Anne, she's just this perfect little miss that EVERY dude she meets wants to marry, including 36 year olds (she's twelve). FYA, why are you making me reread this and hate it? I may need to reread The Blue Castle for the umpteenth time just to cleanse my brain. (Side note: why, even as a child, did I relate more to the book about the spinster who finds love and adventure on her own than the girl who every dude just automatically loves?)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

2014 book 114

Joanne Rocklin's Fleabrain Loves Franny
I fully admit that half the reason I liked this book so much was that it was set in the neighborhood where I grew up in Pittsburgh (both my high school and my STREET were mentioned several times!). It's 1952, and Franny (from a typical Squirrel Hill Jewish family) is recovering from polio. Her favorite book is Charlotte's Web, which is why she doesn't really blink an eye when a flea living on her dog starts leaving her notes, wanting to befriend her. Fleabrain is a know-it-all, occasionally unlikable, but with good intentions. And Franny is always sympathetic and likable, desperate for a cure so she can go back to her regular life with her friends. Rocklin one hundred percent nails the atmosphere and definitely made me cry more than a little at the end. Just a really sweet story, showing the severity of polio. Vaccinate your kids! A-.

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

Friday, May 23, 2014

2014 book 113

Kate Racculia's Bellweather Rhapsody
Fifteen years ago, a young bride murdered her husband and hung herself in their hotel room, when a little girl stumbled on the scene. Now it's 1997, and a bunch of teenagers are coming to that same hotel for a statewide music program--when one of the girls in that very room goes missing. OK, maybe that sounds pretty creepy--and parts of this do fill the reader with dread--but actually, this was a really funny and sweet mystery with a GREAT cast of characters, including teenage twins, their chaperone (who has a complicated past), the eccentric conductor, the severe woman in charge, etc. There's plenty of red herrings and plenty of craziness, and I loved every second. Some parts are easy to guess but Racculia (author of This Must Be The Place) makes it work, and if a couple parts of the epilogue felt a little bit too much, I didn't mind. This was thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyable. A.

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

Thursday, May 22, 2014

2014 book 112

Noel Streatfeild's The Bell Family
I have been waiting and waiting for some of Streatfeild's classic books--some of my favorites when I was a kid--to make it to Kindle, and finally one did! I have no idea why it wasn't, like, Ballet Shoes (her most famous), but I did always enjoy this story of a reverend's eccentric family (the version I had was called Family Shoes. This new edition has, hilariously, a quiz at the end to see which Bell child you are). I also think a reverend's family having a red dog named Esau is some A++ nerdery. High fives all around. Anyway, this is just as charming and heartwarming (without being overly sentimental or religious) as I remembered.

2014 book 111

Sandra Scoppettone's Happy Endings Are All Alike
I just love the existence of Lizzie Skurnick Books! This isn't one I would have sought out, necessarily, but it's 1.99 for Kindle this month, so what the hey. And I will say, it is the 1970s-est thing I have ever read. It's sooooo 1970s, it's like a historical document someone would use to talk about 1970s culture. BUT it's also the really moving story of a young lesbian couple, hiding it from almost everyone they know, interspersed with creepy diary entries written by a local young guy (I almost had to stop reading because these had such a sense of foreboding, which DOES bear out, trigger warning trigger warning). Ugh, the 70s. I feel like reading this so soon after My Real Children made it extra interesting--like a tour of horrible experiences that historical lesbians had to endure. Well written, but upsetting. I need to read something light now. B/B+.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

2014 book 110

Trudi Canavan's Thief's Magic
The first in a new fantasy series, this book centers on a young man, a student of sorcery and history, who discovers a magic book in a tomb--a book that used to be a woman, until she met a certain famous sorcerer a thousand years earlier. At first I was worried that the only woman in this story would be a book, but it turns out there's another POV character, a young women in a strict community, who has a magic-related secret. (Plus, the guy eventually encounters a pair of interesting women who stick around for a while.) I loved both these characters and really sped through this one--I can't wait to see where this story goes next, and might investigate some of Canavan's other books. A/A-. This book is $2.99 right now, get on it!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

2014 book 109

Jo Walton's My Real Children
A new Jo Walton book is a special treat--I want to immediately compare this one to Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, though if that's the setting, the themes, the timeline, or the general concept, I'm not really sure. Anyway, our protagonist is Patricia, an elderly woman with dementia in a nursing home in 2015, who has memories from two completely different lives, and isn't sure which is real. They hinge on one decision--whether or not she marries her college boyfriend, somewhat on the spur of the moment. Of course, it being a Jo Walton book, both realities are ALSO set in slightly-alternate universes (nuclear wars, a different Kennedy assassination, etc). I'm not entirely sure that's necessary from a narrative standpoint, but it definitely adds a layer of surreality that I enjoyed. This is one of those books I found so engrossing that I would look up and realize an hour or more had gone by. I mean, there are certainly things that a more critical eye could nitpick--some of the later chapters sort of devolve into lists of what various offspring are doing, the focus on social/cultural issues is very much appreciated but might come off as a little bit preachy, and the end left me wanting a bit more--but I REALLY liked this. A/A-.

Monday, May 19, 2014

2014 book 108

Catherynne Valente's The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two
I think I'm realizing that one of the reasons I like these books, but don't love them, is the general lack of character development. Or that nothing really gets going until about halfway through each one. Instead, September meets new characters every time, who are mostly just bundles of quirks giving monologues, and then finally has her one adventure with her friends and goes home (or not). To be fair, this is the same sort of set-up as Alice in Wonderland or the Oz books, but I guess I'd like something more in-depth. I've spent all of these books rolling my eyes for the first half, and then enjoying the second. It's jarring! Valente can really stick an ending, for sure, which is enough to keep me reading, but I'm getting a little resentful about it! :) B.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

2014 book 107

Catherynne Valente's The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
I liked this one a lot more than the first one, especially once things got going in the second half, as September goes on a Quest to reunite stolen shadows with their owners. I /do/ still wish Valente would turn the writing down a couple notches. I mean, I get what she's doing, I just personally find it a bit off-putting. Fun plotting, though. B+.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

2014 book 106

Catherynne Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
I started this book about four times before, unable to get past the first chapter--the writing is somewhere between pretentious and twee and modeled off of Lewis Carroll and is wholly annoying. BUT it was the pick for FYA this month, and so I made a concerted effort to get through the story of a girl who gets whisked away to Fairyland for Adventures! The story does pick up eventually, and the writing stops calling quite so much attention to itself (for the most part), and the end was actually quite good and interesting (even if I wished there was more buildup for the main plot twist). I will probably read the next one and see where things go. B/B+.

Friday, May 16, 2014

2014 book 105

Marcus Sedgwick's She's Not Invisible
Yesterday was one of those days where I started about four different books, and felt MEH about all of them. Very frustrating. So today I thought I'd try this one, and luckily the narrative voice drew me right in. It's about a British teenager taking her little brother to try and find their (missing) father in New York--without any adult permission or supervision. We also find out very early on that she relies on her brother for a particular reason, but I didn't remember the description and found that to be an interesting surprise, so won't spoil it here. Anyway, I really enjoyed this and need to check out more books by Sedgwick. A-.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

2014 book 104

Miranda Beverly-Whittemore's Bittersweet
I feel like there are a LOT of books where a scholarship student at an elite school (boarding or university) is roommates with some scion of the wealthy, inevitably handsome and talented and troubled, and inevitably accompanies him home to discover his inevitable family secrets. Honestly, I hate books like that. But this one has GIRLS in those roles, so seemed a little bit more interesting. Of course, they have the unlikely names of Genevra and Mabel (I'm sure you can guess which is which) (Mabel, besides being poor and shy, is also overweight), which was less promising. I'm not sure what to say about this one--it was a quick and enjoyable read, but I recognize how ridiculous it is. And it was VERY ridiculous. But fun! But . . . ridiculous. I'm sure it'll be popular with book groups that drink a lot of wine at their discussions. B.

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

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

2014 book 103

Laline Paull's The Bees
Well, I read the book about bees! And I liked it a lot more than I expected to. I feel like you could parse out some interesting things about class and motherhood, but ultimately, it's about a hive full of bees (and the one SPECIAL bee who serves as protagonist) (This whole bee thing intrigued me so I read some articles about bees on Wikipedia, and the book made much more sense afterward). Parts of this are a little slow, but I really liked the way it wrapped up. In general, I feel like the Margaret Atwood comparisons are warranted? And I never thought I'd sympathize with a bee, but hey, I did.  A-/B+.

Monday, May 12, 2014

2014 book 102

Ruth Reichl's Delicious!
I have really enjoyed Reichl's memoirs, and was looking forward to her first novel. And it was mostly enjoyable! Just maybe a little bit . . . lighter than I had anticipated. It's about a young woman, Billie, who drops out of college to work as an assistant at a famous food magazine, the titular Delicious! But in spite of having an amazing palate and great cooking skills, cooking causes her panic attacks because of a MYSTERIOUS SECRET.  In general, the writing here is fine, though some of the dialogue (particularly Sammy's) rings REALLY false, and a lot of the plot strains credulity and/or is overly predictable. There's also a fairly ridiculous makeover montage (As a glasses-wearer, I hate that instead of getting cute glasses, Billie gets contacts and suddenly everyone is talking about how great she looks). But I do like that a large chunk of it involves doing LIBRARY RESEARCH! Anyway, this is a pretty cute book, a perfect read for foodies at the beach. B.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

2014 book 101

Lisa Jensen's Alias Hook
Jensen's latest novel focuses on the famous Captain Hook, cursed to live in Neverland, where he has spent the last two hundred years dealing with the malicious Peter Pan and leading his pirates--all former Lost Boys who came back to Neverland. But things suddenly begin to change when, for the first time, an adult woman arrives. This was really an interesting take on the Pan mythology, and I liked the things Jensen had to say about growing up. I would have liked to have gotten a bit more of Hook's backstory, but Stella is so great that I have no major complaints. B+.

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

Friday, May 09, 2014

2014 book 100

Emily Arsenault's What Strange Creatures
Arsenault's latest (after Miss Me When I'm Gone, In Search of the Rose Notes, and the GREAT The Broken Teaglass) is another solid literary mystery, this one involving a woman struggling to write her dissertation (on Margery Kempe, very relevant to my interests) whose brother is arrested for murdering his girlfriend, and so she starts sort of investigating on her own.  The red herrings could be redder or herring-er, but Arsenault doles out clues at a good pace and the ending is properly exciting and suspenseful. I really liked the way this wrapped up. I also like that this is half a mystery, and half a story about a sad grad student with a lot of pets and a complicated life. There's also a nice sense of humor about everything. I really enjoy Arsenault's work, and this one was no exception. A-.

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

Thursday, May 08, 2014

2014 book 99

Rebecca Hahn's A Creature of Moonlight
In this very interesting YA fantasy, protagonist Marni has been raised by her grandfather on the edge of a village, where they raise flowers in a magnificent garden. But he used to be the king, and gave up his throne to save her--because her mother fell in love with a dragon and had the dragon's baby, and was killed by her brother for it. Now the woods, full of fairies, are moving in, and men are starting to court teenage Marni--the only heir to the throne. Soon she's embroiled in court politics, which is pretty compelling. She also has magical fairy knitting abilities! I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the end (it's anti-climactic for sure), and the king and queen really could have used more character development, but Marni is a great heroine and this book felt really unique to me. B+/A-.

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

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

2014 book 98

Ava Dellaira's Love Letters to the Dead
Oh, boy, is this a weepy. This is definitely gonna be an FYA book club book in like 6 months. It's about a high school freshman whose beloved older sister died a few months earlier, who's assigned to write a letter to a dead person--and then writes a whole notebook of letters to famous dead people, about her older sister and her high school experiences and the boy she likes. All while talking around having been molested, and blaming herself for her sister's death. The romance didn't entirely work for me (too idealized, as is typical of YA books), and definitely some parts don't read like a high schooler wrote them. But her friendships (particularly with two girls who are secretly in love with each other) and her interest in music and poetry ring pretty true. But, I mean, be prepared to cry a lot if you read this. A-/B+.

2014 book 97

Seanan McGuire's Sparrow Hill Road
This is one of those books of McGuire's assembled from various short stories she's published in various places (though it apparently takes place in the same universe as her Discount Armageddon series)--and boy, does it show. It's very choppy, and the worldbuilding feels a little all-over-the-place. I mean, the premise is great--the protagonist is the girl ghost/prom girl/hitchhiker of urban legend--and some of the stories are pretty compelling. But the pacing of some of the individual stories interrupts the flow of the book as a whole (particularly the Mary chapter). And I'm saying this as someone who really enjoyed the Velveteen books, which were similarly collected stories (though maybe I am more forgiving of superhero stories than ghost stories?). The last couple chapters are really strong, though, and I liked the way it wrapped up. I just wish it had gotten a little more time with an editor to pull everything together. B/B+.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

2014 book 96

Kseniya Melnick's Snow in May
Normally I am way into interconnected short stories, but these didn't really come together for me. They center on the various denizens of a small town in Siberia, formerly the site of  one of Stalin's forced-labor camps. The stories go back and forth in time over a fifty year period, so we see different generations of the same family from different perspectives, which I liked. Like I said, I just didn't think it was as cohesive as it could have been, and the final story (about a famous gay opera singer sent to the Gulag) was clearly supposed to be really powerful, but never quite hit those heights for me. There is a lot here to like--it's very atmospheric, and the stories told from the point of view of young girls are especially strong--but, yeah, not quite hitting the mark. B.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be available on May 13th.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

2014 book 95

Rosemary Kirstein's The Language of Power
And now it is time to be sad, b/c the fourth volume in the Steerswoman series came out ten years ago, and the planned volumes 5 and 6 have not yet made an appearance. This is still a fun read, despite the fact that it is clearly not a conclusion at all. I mean, it has dragons AND a dramatic computer hacking scene (made hilarious by the fact that protagonist Rowan, like all non-wizards, has never seen a computer before). Ah man, seriously, I am sad that there are no more books in this series yet. A/A-.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

2014 book 94

Rosemary Kirstein's The Lost Steersman
Can I just say, again, how much I'm enjoying this series? I love the great friendships here--romance is very limited, everyone is just BROS with each other, trying to solve evil wizard problems and gettin' sh-t done! This volume will be of particular interest to librarians, as a chunk of it highlights the important of properly organized information. Seriously!! This is a plot point!! I love it! But don't think this is a boring story at all--it nicely balances small town doings with crazy adventures involving wizards and demons. The end gets kind of dark and crazy, but that just makes me more eager to read the 4th one. A/A-.

Friday, May 02, 2014

2014 book 93

Rosemary Kirstein's The Outskirter's Secret
It looks like the whole Steerswoman series is on Kindle now, hooray! I really liked the first one and have been eager to see what would happen next. In this one, the steerswoman and her friend/traveling companion go hang out with some nomadic tribes, and it is FASCINATING to see how the different cultures in this universe have maintained different pieces of knowledge (in-dept poetry analysis! miles vs kilometers!). Anyway, lots of exciting things happen and Kirstein keeps up a really good narrative pace, while also allowing for plenty of character development and even a few plot twists. This series is REALLY good. I mean, if you're into fantasy worlds set in far-future times where evil wizards are using advanced technology from our time to control things. And apparently I am into that. A/A-.