Thursday, July 31, 2014

2014 book 180

Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl
I'm not sure why, but I liked this a lot more than the first time I read it (and I liked it just fine then), so thanks, FYA book club! The relationships between Cath and her sister and Cath and her (awesome) roommate are especially strong, and even if I think Levi is /too/ perfect, I like how supercute he is with Cath. I also like how funny and sort of self-aware the book is. This may now be my second-favorite Rainbow Rowell book (Attachments has a special place in my heart for whatever reason).

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

2014 book 179

Lori Rader-Day's The Black Hour
Oh man. This started off really strong and was super compelling--it's about a college professor who was shot by a student she didn't even know, and now she's returning to work, and about her new grad assistant--who's way too interested in her case. But about halfway through, just as it's revealing a bunch of clues, it somehow completely bogs down AND gets mildly ridiculous (various dudes are always grabbing the protagonist and "press[ing] his mouth hard to [hers]" out of nowhere). And the grad assistant does things he MUST know are stupid based on the available evidence. And I mean, it's not hard to guess what's going on. I did like how things wrapped up, but this definitely could have been a little shorter. B/B+.

Monday, July 28, 2014

2014 book 178

Carola Dunn's To Davy Jones Below
Sorry for the radio silence--I was busy MergeFesting it up and haven't read a word since Wednesday! Anyway, I'm back to the Daisy Dalrymple series. In this one, newlyweds Daisy and Fletcher are sent on a cruise from England to America for work purposes, accompanied by various characters from earlier books (Phillip and the Americans, and Dunn's dialect for them is ridiculous as ever) and a few new ones. Obviously murder and mayhem ensue, though I will say I did not at all guess the solution to this one, which made for a nice change. B+.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

2014 book 177

Elizabeth Peters' Crocodile on the Sandbank
I've been meaning to read the Amelia Peabody books for a while, since I loved Peters' Jacqueline Kirby mysteries so much, and this first one did not disappoint. Amelia is a rich spinster heiress (well, a 31 year old heiress, which makes her a spinster in the 1800s), off to travel the world--particularly Egypt--to see all the things she's studied over the years. Soon she's basically adopted an English girl (granddaughter of an earl) abandoned by her scheming lover and has taken everyone else in hand as well. I love her--she's stern and opinionated and hilarious. She's also kind of racist/Orientalist/paternalistic, though I am pretty sure that's the character's period-appropriate voice, and not the author's. I do wish there hadn't been a little description at the beginning describing her marriage and children--I mean, spoilers!! Not that her love interest can't be seen coming from a mile away. Oh yeah, and there's mysterious mummies threatening everyone and whatnot. The actual mystery takes a little too long to resolve and is VERY OBVIOUS, but I really enjoyed the characters here. This weirdly reminded me of the Gail Carriger books, except, you know, without werewolves and vampire. But the characters and the main couple are very similar. Anyway, fun read. B+.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

2014 book 176

Dylan Landis' Rainey Royal
This is one of those books that I feel like I didn't quite GET. It's somewhere between a novel and a novel-in-stories, all revolving around a young girl, the titular Rainey, an artist living in New York in the 1970s whose father is a womanizing jazz pianist and whose mother has abandoned them to go live on an ashram. All the characters are at least a little bit unlikable, and the men are wholly unlikable and entirely disgusting. Just disgusting. The sections with Rainey and her art are strong, and some of the sections with Rainey and her friends (particularly the one where we see the mysterious Tina's home life), but mostly this book just depressed me and left me wanting more. I'm not sure how intentional that is. B.

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

Sunday, July 20, 2014

2014 book 175

Robin LaFevers' Mortal Heart
The final book in LaFevers' His Fair Assassin trilogy (after Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph) centers on the third girl assassin mentioned in the first two books--the girl who was left behind at the convent while her friends were sent on dangerous missions. She wants a mission of her own, and when she learns she's intended to be the new seeress, and be isolated for the rest of her life, she decides to take fate into her own hands and goes on the run. Of course, her path eventually leads to her friends, making this a solid conclusion to their stories as well. And lots of insane secrets are revealed along the way. I once again had issues with the way the romance was written here--SO much telling instead of showing, at least at first--but at least her love interest is . . . well, interesting. And I'm really not sure how to feel about the author romanticizing a kind of sad political match (always a danger when writing about actual historical events, I guess, even if magic is involved). I mean, this was fine. The end is kind of bonkers in a good way? And I really like all the world-building involving the gods. There is a lot here that I want to talk about with someone! I dunno, B/B+.

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

Saturday, July 19, 2014

2014 book 174

Sally Beauman's The Visitors
Some historical novels feel overstuffed with the research the author did--and some feel like novels created solely by the author, where all the historical personages feel like real people and the details don't feel extraneous. This is one of the latter, focusing on a young girl who, after surviving a bout of typhoid fever that killed her mother, is sent to Egypt, where she befriends the daughter of an archaeologist--not long before King Tut's tomb is uncovered (there is a lengthy list at the beginning of the book of which characters were real people and which are completely fictional, but all the interactions are pretty seamless). This is interspersed with the girl in the present day--now a 90 year old woman being interviewed by a documentarian. Beauman subtly raises points about history erasing women and children, which I really appreciated. In general, I really liked this, though would have liked to see more of the romance that was heavily telegraphed (and which was kind of adorable), and thought the (also heavily foreshadowed) contentious relationship with the governess needed a lot more development/explanation (I found it mildly puzzling). Still--really an interesting book, especially for history nerds like myself. A-/B+.

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

Thursday, July 17, 2014

2014 book 173

Charles de Lint's Seven Wild Sisters
The sequel/companion to The Cats of Tanglewood Forest is pretty much as charming as the first one. This one centers on Sarah Jane, the middle of seven sisters, who's befriended an elderly Lily and accidentally gets caught up in fairy affairs--dragging all her sisters in after her. I really liked all the girls, and the story is suitably fairy-ish, but again, it's the Charles Vess illustrations here that are tops. Must be read in print or as a color e-book to be fully appreciated. B+/A-.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

2014 book 172

Phoebe North's Starbreak
The sequel to Starglass (the Jewish sci-fi spaceship book) was kind of a slow starter for me--partially because I didn't remember a lot of details from the first one, and partially because the protagonist is almost solely motivated by her desire to meet the boy (of another species) (HE'S A PLANT!) she's got a psychic connection with (or something? I didn't remember ANYTHING about him from the first one). I mean, she's on this whole new planet, and her life is in danger from a variety of things, and she still is just thinking about this random dude ALLLLLL the time. Be more interesting!! The second half is stronger--interesting political stuff is going on, and I do like how it ended--but in general I liked this less than the first one. B.

Monday, July 14, 2014

2014 book 171

Carola Dunn's Rattle His Bones
This is a fairly exciting outing in the Daisy Dalrymple series, involving a gemstone theft and a murder at a natural history museum (so much antiquated talk about dinosaur fossils!). I will say that I was really put off by the narrative referring to Jews as "Hebrews"--it's not clear that it's a /character/ referring to them that way (which would be historically accurate, if still offensive) or the author (in which case it's just offensive). I mean, that's not relevant to the story, it just made me angry. Anyway. B.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

2014 book 170

Carola Dunn's Styx and Stones
In the 7th Daisy Dalrymple book, Daisy's brother-in-law asks her to figure out who's been sending him a slew of nasty letters. Which inevitably leads to a MURDER! And there are plenty of suspects, for a change. Plus we get more of Daisy's relatives/Alec's daughter, which is nice. I find this series so enjoyable! B+.

2014 book 169

Emily St John Mandel's Station Eleven
I'll admit to not having really looked at the description before I started this--something about an actor?--but having enjoyed the author's other works (particularly Lola Quartet and Last Night in Montreal), I was gung-ho to read it no matter what it was about. And sure enough, it starts with a production of King Lear where the actor playing Lear suddenly has a heart attack on stage. BUT THEN! A flu pandemic hits! And to my complete delight, it suddenly turns into a post-apocalyptic story! Things mainly focus on a group of traveling performers--an orchestra and a troupe of Shakespearean actors that includes a little girl who was in the production of Lear that started things off--but we flash back to the actor's life before his death, along with the pre-pandemic lives of others who knew him. Maybe it sounds like a mish-mash, but it isn't at all, it's wonderful! Seriously, I loved this--really, really strong writing, amazing characters, a fair amount of post-apocalyptic action, a creepy prophet, comic books, etc. I really hope this is a hit because I thought it was amazing. A and a strong contender for my favorites-of-the-year list.

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

Friday, July 11, 2014

2014 book 168

Carola Dunn's Dead in the Water
Boy, this is an easy series to breeze right through, thanks to the deft writing and likable characters. Likable except for the murder victim here, that is! The 6th Daisy Dalrymple book finds Daisy and Alec in the midst of a murder investigation when they're just innocently trying to have a weekend enjoying some boat races (and hang out with more of Daisy's relatives). Then a super nasty and rude crew-man suddenly dies! I actually liked how this one ended, and the nice thing about historical mysteries is that they can't help their shoddy police work, b/c it was like a hundred years ago and they barely had forensics (fingerprints are the new hotness in these books). Anyway, more of the same if you're into that sort of thing, which I am.

2014 book 167

Carola Dunn's Damsel in Distress
The fifth Daisy Dalrymple book finds Daisy being enlisted by one of her friends to help foil the kidnapping of an American heiress (and boy, if you thought the old-timey dialogue was bad before, wait till there are AMERICAN characters!). This isn't really a mystery per se--eventually they figure out who's behind the kidnapping, but it's not like there are a lot of suspects or anything--but it's well-plotted and action-packed. And all the romances finally start getting somewhere. We also get to meet some of Daisy's relatives, which is highly entertaining. Solid entry. B/B+.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

2014 book 166

Merritt Tierce's Love Me Back
Oh man, I'm not sure where to start with this one. First--the writing is AMAZING. Really strong, really evocative. But man, it's one of those books where you want to give the protagonist a shake and scream, "Get your life together!" Said protagonist is a young waitress, a teenage mom, working at a fancy steakhouse and living a life full of sex and drugs. I have never worked in a restaurant, but have heard stories from friends who have, and it seems like Tierce really nails that atmosphere. She also totally nails the experience of watching a girl with all the potential in the world just kind of fall apart. There's a lot of sex, but most of it isn't sexy in the slightest--it's all so seedy and sad. And yet I really liked this! But boy, did it make me glad I'm not a teenager/early twentysomething anymore. A-.

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

2014 book 165

Carola Dunn's Murder on the Flying Scotsman
The fourth Daisy Dalrymple book features a murder on a TRAIN! And there are tons of money-grubbing horrible relatives to suspect! Now, I did find it hard to believe that so many people would casually chat about their horrible plans to get an old man to change his will to a perfect stranger on a train (ok, Daisy knows two of them, but there are like twelve), but whatever, maybe they're supposed to be extra-gauche? At least we get to know the Chief Inspector's adorable daughter, who's running away from her racist grandma and comes to hang out with Daisy on the train. These mysteries are pretty silly/light in terms of plotting, but I really enjoy them and hope Daisy and the Chief progress to making out soon. B+.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

2014 book 164

Miriam Forster's Empire of Shadows
The second book in the Bhinian Empire series (after City of a Thousand Dolls) has almost a completely different cast of characters, though readers of the first will realize quickly why some of them are so familiar (I can't tell if it'd be a spoiler to say why! I think it's obvious from early on, but I read the first one really recently). Anyway, it centers on a young woman, cast out from her shape-shifting tiger people, who's joined an order of elite bodyguards and has been hired to protect a noblewoman who's at the center of Imperial affairs. Meanwhile, there is a super cute nomad boy chafing against his own responsibilities--and chasing after his more irresponsible brother. I really loved everything about this--the characters, the setting, the writing, the different ways women wield power--and am seriously excited to see where the series will go next. A/A-.

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

2014 book 163

Mary E. Pearson's The Kiss of Deception
First of all, this title is TERRIBLE. Just getting that out of the way. Don't judge this by its terrible title. Actually, the description could go either way, too-- a princess, on the day she's supposed to marry a prince she's never even seen, runs away with her ladies' maid to make a new life for herself. Only the prince AND an assassin both come looking for her, leading to an inevitable love triangle. (This is the part of the description that worried me, but the material mostly rises above it.) Pearson does a clever thing here, not revealing which dude is which right away, which adds a layer of tension to the story. And it's a pretty solid princess-coming-of-age-and-learning-stuff story, for sure. There's also a whole thing with does she or doesn't she have a magical gift that looks like it'll come into play more in later volumes. I do wish the maid had become a POV character before the last 30 pages (it just feels awkward at that point, and she's interesting enough to have carried more of the story), but the other three balance each other pretty well. I mean, the assassin's motivations are dumb as hell, but it's still an entertaining read, and I really liked where it ended. I'll definitely be reading the next one. A-.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

2014 book 162

Carola Dunn's Requiem for a Mezzo
The third Daisy Dalrymple mystery takes a break from weekends at manor houses for a murder at the opera! Lots of artistic temperaments and affairs mean plenty of suspects when a singer is poisoned on stage. I mean, it's not hard to guess what actually happened, but it's still pretty satisfying. Plus, the romance between Daisy and the Chief Inspector seems to be coming along nicely. There is some historically-accurate anti-Semitism here, but the "good" characters talk about how wrong this is, so I guess it's ok? B+.

2014 book 161

Rainbow Rowell's Landline
At last, it is here, the long-awaited (by me) return to adult fiction for Rainbow Rowell! And obviously it was charming and delightful. It features a sitcom writer named Georgie whose marriage is not doing great, and whose husband takes to kids to Omaha for Christmas while she stays in LA to work. The, while staying at her mother's, she uses the old landline phone to call her husband--only she's calling him in the past. Basically, this is the portrait of their relationship/family, and I spent a LOT of it wondering how autobiographical it is. There are some great side characters--I especially liked Georgie's sister and mom and everything with their pugs--though Georgie's writing partner is a real weak point. And the writing itself feels a bit awkward at times. BUT is is still all super cute and I am glad it exists. Side note, there are discussion questions--really goofy discussion questions, like "Are you old enough to remember talking on a landline?"--on the very next page after the book ends, which is kind of jarring. Give us a couple pages to digest an ending, book designers! B+.

Monday, July 07, 2014

2014 book 160

Carola Dunn's The Winter Garden Mystery
The second Daisy Dalrymple book is in the same mold as the first--Daisy goes to write a story on a fancy old house, and stumbles onto a MURDER! It's a very different cast of characters, though. I really like the writing in these, even if this particular one doesn't have enough realistic suspects to be super compelling. There is, however (spoilers!), an adorable secretly gay couple (this is revealed toward the end, officially, but is telegraphed pretty early on). Anyway, I like this series a lot, even if the plotting here isn't super tight. B/B+.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

2014 book 159

Jaclyn Moriarty's The Spellbook of Listen Taylor
Jaclyn Moriarty writes such weird and charming books! This one is definitely the weirdest, though I liked it just the same. It's about a complicated family with a Family Secret (which they meet weekly to discuss), and the seventh-grade girl in the family who discovers a spellbook (though the spells are all pretty unusual and may or may not be working). For what I think is supposed to be a YA book, there's a lot of focus on the adult characters, but I appreciated that. And I loved how things wrapped up, even if it was all kind of silly. B+.

2014 book 158

Jaleigh Johnson's The Mark of the Dragonfly
Whoops, I accidentally read a steampunk book! It was pretty cute though, about a girl in a weird fantasy world that I don't feel like explaining who's really gifted with machines. When she discovers an injured girl bearing the dragonfly tattoo that mark's the king's favor--and then realizes a creepy dude is after the girl--they go on the run on a crazy ol' train. I actually liked this a lot, despite the tendency for the main character to explicitly discuss her feelings, as opposed to just like, HAVING feelings. It's . . . not subtle. Otherwise the writing was good, and there were a few twists I didn't see coming. Definitely an enjoyable story. B/B+

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

2014 book 157

Charles De Lint's The Cats of Tanglewood Forest
This is one of those books that benefits from not being an e-book--the Charles Vess illustrations are just gorgeous, and I'm not sure how or even if they translate to Paperwhite. Anyway, this is a middle-grade book about a little girl who is bitten by a snake, and all the local cats work some magic to turn her into a kitten and save her life. But obviously she'd rather be herself again, leading to a really nice magical journey type of story. Again, the illustrations here are really tops, and perfectly match the sort of old-world folktale feel. Apparently there's a sequel out now, and I'll definitely be checking it out. A-.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

2014 book 156

M.J. McGrath's The Bone Seeker
McGrath's latest Edie Kiglatuk mystery (after White Heat and The Boy in the Snow) finds Edie officially working for the short-handed police after one of her students is murdered, in a case that may tie in to some very crazy government goings-on, though there are plenty of suspects. Like the previous books in this series, there is a LOT going on, but the cultural stuff is so well-done that it doesn't even matter. Edie and her family and friends are amazingly compelling. The sections from the POV of a Guatemalan lawyer are a bit of a weak spot in the first half, but as things start to come together, I was riveted. I really enjoy this series, and can't wait to see where it goes next. B/B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on July 24th.

Friday, July 04, 2014

2014 book 155

Rebecca Makkai's The Hundred-Year House
Makkai's second novel has strong writing and a decent concept, but the execution is a little uneven. It centers on a historic house, once the home of an artists' colony. In the present time, a college professor and her husband--she's the heir to the estate--come to live in the coach house, where he hopes to secretly find archives about a poet he studies, and instead uncovers a bunch of family secrets. That was all well and good (the family secrets are fascinating), except that it's one of those plots that involves a complete lack of communication between spouses. If they ever had one actual conversation, there'd be no story--which annoys the heck out of me. Like, ANNOYS. I really didn't like the way this section wrapped up, either. But then we flash back to the 1950s, and a woman in an abusive marriage--and we get to see some of those secrets play out in the novel's strongest section by far. The last two sections show the colony at its height--and confirm some more secrets--and then show the building of the house. It's really readable and I think book clubs might enjoy dissecting it, it just didn't quite work for me. B.

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

2014 book 154

Edan Lepucki's California
So I spent my Fourth of July reading a novel about the collapse of America! It's set in the near-ish future (2050s?), and America has basically gone to hell through various weather and societal collapses. A young couple has been living out in the woods for a couple of years, basically getting by on their own, when the woman realizes she's pregnant, and they go in search of a larger community. But things aren't how they expected. This never got as harrowing as I feared it would (which is a good thing), but has a nice sense of tension throughout. Very strong writing and great characters--a very solid debut. A-.

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

Thursday, July 03, 2014

2014 book 153

Carola Dunn's Death At Wentwater Court
I enjoyed that Daisy Dalrymple book I read a couple years ago, so decided to start the series from the beginning. This is a strong opener--Daisy, longing to be independent, is setting up as a journalist, and goes to a country estate to do a piece on the house, when there is a MURDER! There are lots of suspects and secrets and sympathetic characters, and Daisy is integrated into the mystery-solving team in a fairly realistic way. Plus, cute police detective! There are a few too many bits of 1920s slang inserted (lots of "old bean"s "pip-pip"s and "what ho!"s and the like, it's all very silly) but this was definitely enjoyable and a solid read. A-/B+.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

2014 book 152

J. Kathleen Cheney's The Seat of Magic
The sequel to The Golden City is just as much fun as the first one (although note I have the dates totally wrong in that first entry--this fantasy/mystery series is set in Portugal in 1902). Once again, our intrepid heroine, siren Oriana, and her half-selkie love interest are investigating a series of murders, ones that may be targeting magical creatures. And there are still a bunch of political implications and spy business from the first one. Exciting plot, and the romance proceeds at a nice pace. I also really liked where this ended up, and look forward to reading the third in the series. A-.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

2014 book 151

Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You
Beautiful portrait of a 1970s biracial family after the death of their teenage daughter, flashing back and forth in time to illustrate their lives, from their Chinese father's issues with racial discrimination in academia and their mother's desire to be a doctor, to the three children's experiences as they come of age. I really, really liked this, and thought all five characters were outstanding. A.

2014 book 150

Emma Healey's Elizabeth is Missing
So this is a book about an old woman with SEVERE dementia, convinced her best friend is missing, but conflating everything with the actual disappearance of her sister seventy years earlier. This was an EXTREMELY frustrating read--there's no way a woman with this kind of memory problem should EVER be left alone, which she frequently is. It took me out of the story quite a bit and made me just infuriated. And things just move way too slowly--there's a lot that's obvious to the reader that just takes forever to be revealed--it feels like the novel is just spinning its wheels. Which is appropriate for a novel about dementia, but is kind of annoying. I guess this is supposed to be reminiscent of a book like Turn of Mind, but it was just not as engrossing. B/B-.

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