Sunday, August 31, 2014

2014 book 210

Juliet Marillier's The Caller
The final book in the Shadowfell trilogy is a solid conclusion to the series, as Neryn works to complete her training in time for the rebellion to take place. Marillier does a good job showing growing civil unrest in a subtle way, and showing how hard it is not to just rush in (spoiling larger plans in motion). Really strong characterization and plot; the writing is a bit overwrought, especially at the end, but that kind of works in an epic fantasy setting? Definitely a good final chapter. A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on September 9th.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

2014 book 209

Fiona Wood's Wildlife
The publisher compared Wood to Melina Marchetta, so of course I was eager to read it! I'd also compare it to Jaclyn Moriarty--so many good Australian YA authors are making their ways to the US, and it makes me wonder who I'm missing! ANYWAY. This is about two girls whose school does a nine-week session at a wilderness camp--one girl is dealing with friend and boy drama, and the other one with the death of her boyfriend (but she's new at school, so no one knows this). I appreciated that even the more villainous characters are given some depth, and Wood writes realistically about teenage relationships and sex. I have literally zero interest in camping or, in general, being outdoors, but still really enjoyed the descriptions here. I enjoyed just about everything about this, in fact! Really a strong stand-alone contemporary YA book. A-.

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

2014 book 208

Claudia Gray's A Thousand Pieces of You
Gray is the author of a bunch of fantasy-looking books that I haven't read, but I might have to change that, because this book was pretty awesome. It's about a girl whose parents are genius physicists, who have discovered a way to send people's consciousnesses to their bodies in other dimensions (theoretically) (I LOVE books with alternate dimensions!!!!!!). Anyway, now one of their grad students has murdered her father, stolen the technology--and jumped to another universe. So their other grad student convinces her to follow him and get REVENGE! But things are even more complicated than they first appeared--and I loved every second. Really strong characterization, good plotting and pacing (even if some of it was easy to guess, though I'm not complaining at the gratification of being right), and even the romance worked for me. This feels like the first book in a series, even though it comes to a satisfying conclusion, and I will one hundred percent be reading the next one. A/A-.

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

Friday, August 29, 2014

2014 book 207

Jessie Burton's The Miniaturist
If you know me at all, you know that I LOVE dollhouse things and tiny things and particularly little tiny miniatures of food, so I was predisposed to like a book that included any of these elements. The story takes place in Amsterdam in the 1600s, and Burton really brings that era to life. The protagonist is a teenage girl who's been married off to a wealthy merchant much older than her--and who doesn't seem inclined to actually, you know, be married (instead, he buys her a fancy dollhouse to occupy her time, and the miniatures she orders are . . . eerily accurate). You might suspect the reasons for his disinterest, which are . . . problematic in a time and place full of religious fervor. Warning: bad things happen to animals, and worse things happen to humans. But the story still somehow has a hopeful feel, even as it leaves one big question unanswered. I liked it, though. B+.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

2014 book 206

Ellen Conford's And This is Laura
Yay, it's the latest from Lizzie Skurnick books, the imprint that reissues classic YA! I did read some Ellen Conford books when I was an actual YA (well, more of a tween type) (Dear Lovey Hart, I am Desperate was a particular favorite, but A Royal Pain was also great--BETTER than the Princess Diaries!). ANYWAY. This was a very charming book about a twelve year old who feels like the only one in her family who isn't outstanding--at least until she starts getting psychic visions. I was surprised at how satisfying I found this as an adult reader, I have to say. Good work, Ellen Conford, and thank you to Lizzie Skurnick for putting this one back into the world. (And thanks in advance for reissuing Lisa and Lottie--though I still have my childhood copy!) A-.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

2014 book 205

Louise Penny's The Long Way Home
I approached the latest Inspector Gamache book with quite a bit of trepidation, as I thought the series had ended (and the last book felt really final, in a good way). Now, it seems, Gamache has retired--to Three Pines, of course, b/c an idyllic small town with multiple murders is obviously where you want to spend your waning years--and dumb Clara is asking him to find her missing husband, Peter. As a reader who thinks Peter is THE WORST, this is kind of a letdown of a plot. And the writing is VERY heavy-handed. Lots of "Gamache only wanted peace, and now she had taken that peace away" and "Clara saw what she most feared in his eyes. She saw fear" "But Clara knew deep down she had set something terrible in motion"--by the way, those are all paraphrased from a TWO PAGE SECTION. Tone down the drama ten notches, Louise Penny. Things proceed pretty slowly from there, only to ramp up at like 80 percent in, just in time for a truly ridiculous ending. So my trepidation was warranted. C.

Monday, August 25, 2014

2014 book 204

Julie Schumacher's Dear Committee Members
Schumacher's latest (her second adult novel after a few YA books, including The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls) will feel insanely familiar to anyone who has ever worked in academia. It's the story of a creative writing and literature professor--the sort of washed-up guy who has written a bunch of autobiographical novels about his affairs, and now teaches at a middling Midwestern college, but somehow Schumacher makes him likable (ok, I mean, definitely at more than one point I was like, "WHAT A DICK!" but he kind of owns being a dick?). The hook is that the entire novel is told in letters from this guy--especially letters of recommendation, with the occasional department-related memo and personal letter thrown in. It's somehow equally hilarious and depressing, and it really works. A/A-.

2014 book 203

Terry Pratchett's I Shall Wear Midnight
This really feels like a great conclusion to the Tiffany Aching books, so I was EXTRA delighted to find out Pratchett is working on a fifth one. YAY for more Tiffany. In this one, Tiffany goes up against the evil spirit of a witchfinder who's causing a lot of chaos and strife. She also gets a new love interest and starts mentoring other talented girls! YAY again.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

2014 book 202

Terry Pratchett's Wintersmith
Tiffany really causes a lot of major crises for such a sensible girl, doesn't she? I mean, on the one hand, she's accidentally making the Wintersmith fall in love with her, and on the other, she's organizing all the girls to help Annagramma be a good/useful witch. I guess everyone has good days and bad days.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

2014 book 201

Jennifer L. Holm's The Fourteenth Goldfish
I fully admit to only knowing Holm from her Babymouse series, and only now finding out that she's written a bunch of Newbery Honor books as well. I imagine this one will only add to her list of awards--it's a really solid and sweet story with kind of a When You Reach Me vibe (that is HIGH praise coming from me), though it feels aimed at a slightly younger audience. Anyway, it's about eleven year old Ellie, the daughter of a pair of (happily divorced) theater types, and her grandfather--a scientist who has used a rare jellyfish to reverse the aging process. And now he's been arrested for breaking into his own lab--because he, of course, looks like a teenager. Soon Elli is caught up in his attempts to reclaim his samples and win the Nobel. There's a lot of great stuff here about family, growing up, and there's a thin subplot about making new friends and learning to branch out. All very satisfying stuff. The NYT liked it too! A-/B+.

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

2014 book 200

Terry Pratchett's A Hat Full of Sky
I like how, in these books, Tiffany makes mistakes (BAD mistakes!), but fixes them and learns from them (with the help of Granny Weatherwax). Lots of interesting and funny characters in this one. I don't love all of the Discworld books, but Pratchett's witches really work for me.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

2014 book 199

Terry Pratchett's The Wee Free Men
What's the best way to cure reader's block? Tiffany Aching! There's so much here to like, especially the humor. I also like that being a witch basically means being practical and willing to get stuff done. Get it done, Tiffany.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

2014 book 198

Cary Elwes' As You Wish : Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride 
Yes, it's true: the actor who played Westley in The Princess Bride has written a book about the making of the VERY AWESOME movie (based on the VERY AWESOME book, one of my all-time favorites), and it is just as delightful as you might imagine. So many fun behind the scenes stories! And it's not just Elwes--there are plenty of asides/anecdotes from all the other actors, as well as William Goldman, Rob Reiner, and Reiner's producing partner Andy Scheinman. I mean, you know, it's a book by an actor (with a very competent ghost writer), it's kind of cute and fluffy, but it will WARM YOUR FREAKING HEART if you love the movie like I do. Which I think most people do. Most of all, it will make you need to rewatch the movie IMMEDIATELY, so I'm just going to go ahead and do that right now. Rated A for ADORABLE.

(I mean, ok, I'd love to have gotten a lot more from Robin Wright about some of the scenes they didn't share, and I kind of got all cultural-theory on things when Elwes called her a "cool girl" who "could hang with the guys"--I find the "cool girl" trope fascinating. And I mean, it's not like there were any girls to hang out with!)
A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released in October.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

2014 book 197

Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman's The Fall of the Kings
The third Riverside book takes place about forty years after the second, and I loved seeing Katherine as a powerful ol' (well, middle-aged) lady. I also loved how much of the plot involved arguments over the proper way to study history (hooray for primary sources and social/cultural history!). The rest of the plot involved romance and magic and wizards and kings. I really feel like the end (oh, the end!!) leaves room for another in the series, and I'd be happy if one came to be. A-.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

2014 book 196

Jaclyn Moriarty's The Ghosts of Ashbury High
I still think this is the weakest of the Ashbury/Brookfield books--there's a little too much going on, with the exams and papers and blogs and multiple POVs (Toby and Em are the best though), and it kind of drags a bit in the middle, but man, does it stick the landing. Great ending.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

2014 book 195

Kanae Minato's Confessions
I think the best word for this novel is "gripping"--I sped through and read it all in one sitting b/c I HAD to know what was going to happen next. It's the story of a young Japanese woman, a middle school teacher and single mother (much rarer in Japan), whose beloved little daughter is murdered by a pair of her students. And in the wake of the little girl's death, she's resigned from her job--but not before getting her revenge. Told through her POV as well as several students' and other related parties, this has tons of twists and turns and a fairly effed-up ending that had me saying "That is EFFED UP!" out loud. This was a bestseller in Japan for a reason--it is a crazy-ass thriller. The translator has done a solid job as well--the writing flows and feels really natural. I have no idea how to grade a book this insane but I really enjoyed it, so A-.

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

2014 book 194

Jaclyn Moriarty's Feeling Sorry for Celia
WHAT SHUT UP I CAN REREAD ALL THE JACLYN MORIARTY BOOKS MULTIPLE TIMES IN A YEAR IF I WANT TO AND IN THE WRONG ORDER TOO. If you can point me toward another author as delightful as Moriarty, I will happily read her works instead, but until then . . .

2014 book 193

Jaclyn Moriarty's The Year of Secret Assignments
Normally when I have to read or reread a book for a book club, I try to do it as close as possible to the meeting date, so everything is fresh in my mind. But I was SO EXCITED to reread this one that I couldn't wait two more weeks! Anyway, I liked this just as much as I did the first time I read it--it's so charming and sad and delightful and laugh-out-loud funny (the trial transcript in particular makes me giggle). I love love love this book.

Friday, August 15, 2014

2014 book 192

Martha Woodroof's Small Blessings
Oh, boy. This comes REALLY close to being a good book, but misses the mark for me. The writing is just not quite there, and the characters/plot are all bordering on ridiculous, especially as things go on. On the other hand, I was very relieved it wasn't one of those books about a philandering professor (btw, it is VERY UNETHICAL to date one of your students, even if she's thirty-seven! I had a lot of other problems with this book, too, but discussing that would involve spoilers). I quite liked where it seemed to be heading in the first third, but then it got crazier and crazier and I just kept on reading to see what would happen. I think if you classify this as like, women's fiction, instead of literary fiction, it might be a little easier to take. There's a lot of promise here, but it wasn't for me, at all. B/B-.

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

2014 book 191

Rachel Aaron's Nice Dragons Finish Last
Aaron's (author of the Eli Monpress series, which I keep meaning to read) latest is a very enjoyable urban fantasy-ish story set in a far future Detroit, in a world where a comet his earth and restored magic to everything (just go with it). Our protagonist is a nerdy dragon whose mother, as punishment, has trapped him in the form of a human and told him to make something draconian of himself, or she'll eat him. He soon encounters a young mage on the run and they have some pretty entertaining and action-packed adventures. I particularly liked seeing the dragon interact with his siblings (mildly insane and hilarious seer Bob was a particular favorite). Really fun story overall--I do wish a proofreader had gone through it one more time, as there are more than a few minor typos, but they are minor, and I'm kind of picky, etc etc. I'll definitely be reading more in this series. B+.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

2014 book 190

Elizabeth Peters' The Curse of the Pharoahs
I was excited to dive back into this series, and at first the hilarious narrative voice was enough to sustain me, but by halfway through, I was kind of bored. How many cursed tombs can there be? I don't want to read an entire series where they just go to Egypt, do the Orientalist thing, dig up some tombs, and try and solve murders. It's very much a rehash of the first one with a new cast of (not very interesting) characters. I mean, the fact that Emerson and Amelia are married now makes for some fun moments, but man, things really drag until the ending and the big reveal. B/B-.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

2014 book 189

Haruki Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
NEW MURAKAMI! I don't read a lot of books by men, but exceptions will be made, and Murakami is a permanent exception. This one has plenty of the usual Murakami themes and motifs, but still feels like a departure somehow--the characters and plot feel really fresh.  The story revolves around the titular Tsukuru, an engineer whose new girlfriend convinces him to confront his past, and in particular, confront the four friends who suddenly stopped speaking to him when they were twenty (an event that still haunts him). It's a really compelling story--I feel like I was totally immersed in it, much more than with some of Murakami's other works (of course, I was equally immersed in the Jaclyn Moriarty book I read yesterday, so maybe that's just my mood this week). I will say that I had some seeeeerious mixed feelings about the big reveal, and wished the ending had been a little more conclusive (reading it as an e-book, I didn't noticed I was at the end until it just ended--and it felt abrupt). Definitely I wish a few of the hanging plot points had been resolved! But it's not like this was a mystery, and I guess resolving things isn't always Murakami's style. That did knock some points off of my grade though. A-/B+.

Monday, August 11, 2014

2014 book 188

Jaclyn Moriarty's The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie
FINALLY I have gotten my hands on a copy of the third Ashbury/Brookfield book, and it did not disappoint. I didn't know how a book centered on Bindy--the insufferable top-of-the-class know-it-all of previous books--would go, but I softened toward her pretty quickly. She's just so CLUELESS! But it's not entirely her fault. Poor Bindy. And, ok, things get totally insane toward the end, but I was still kind of crying over it all. Now I kind of want to reread all of these in the correct order! A-.

2014 book 187

Carola Dunn's The Case of the Murdered Muckraker
Boy, this one was a real weak link in the Daisy Dalrymple series. Maybe it's b/c it's set in New York, with all of the (exceedingly stupid) cops talking in big broad lame-sounding New York accents, maybe it's that the mystery itself isn't very interesting, despite an attempt to bring in and explain Tammany politics, but this was just really, really boring. Even the addition of a couple of hilarious and nosy old sisters and a cameo from Bessie Coleman can't save things. C.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

2014 book 186

Marie-Helene Bertino's 2 a.m. at the Cat's Pajamas
This is a really, really strong debut dealing with a large cast of characters in a Philly neighborhood--primarily Madeline, who only wants to show off her singing and ends up expelled from school, her teacher, still hung up on her crappy prom date, and the owner of the titular club--which is about to be shut down. The novel tells the story of all these characters and more over one day as they all converge on the club--and it's pretty great. There are a few moments of writing that'll stop you in your tracks, but most of the time I was totally caught up in the story. I loved all these characters and all the details of their neighborhood. Really well done. I am super feeling this trend of novels about jazz clubs. A/A-.

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

Friday, August 08, 2014

2014 book 185

Ellen Kusher's The Privilege of the Sword
YESSSS this book was perfect in every way (at least for this particular reader). Set eighteen years after the previous volume, this one finds a young girl being basically blackmailed by her uncle (a character from the previous book) into coming to live with him and learning to sword-fight. And it's AWESOME. Even when the teenage characters are being dumb or doing dumb things, you're not like "ughhhh you're so dumb" you're like "aw, you're so dumb, but you'll learn!" And mostly the teenager characters are doing awesome things, including learning confidence (and sword-fighting) and exploring their sexuality and challenging jerks to duels. And at the end I was just like, "YEAH! Teenagers doin' it for themselves!" Seriously, this was super fun and great. A.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

2014 book 184

Ellen Kusher's Swordspoint
I can't remember how I discovered this series existed--probably Metafilter--but I'm glad I did! It's set in a slightly alternate world where people use hired swordsmen to fight for their honor, and it's about the most adorable couple of dudes that ever made out. Lots of action, plotting, class stuff, etc. My only minor complaint is that I think the story would have been a bit stronger if we'd seen more of the duchess (or maybe I just wanted more ladies doin' stuff--luckily it seems the sequel takes care of that). Anyway, I loved the way this ended and found it thoroughly enjoyable. A-.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

2014 book 183

Rhys Bowen's Queen of Hearts
The latest book in the Royal Spyness series, featuring a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, is definitely more interested in the characters than in mysteries. I mean, the murder doesn't even happen till 60 percent of the way through (though there is some earlier rumbling about a jewel thief). But I am always interested in what Georgie is up to--in this case, accompanying her mother to America to her mother can get a quickie divorce in Reno, but of course they end up in Beverly Hills hobnobbing with Charlie Chaplin and other Hollywood types. (Though things do get a bit grisly toward the end, it's very light on the whole.) Georgie's love interest is improbably there, but that's par for the course for this sort of book. I will say that it is long past time to stop dumb obstacles from keeping them apart. They need to get married, stat, so things actually feel like they're progressing. B/B+.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

2014 book 182

S.E. Grove's The Glass Sentence
OK, there is no way to even begin describing this world in a way that will make any sense or make you want to read it, so I won't even try (it was recommended to me by someone in one of my book groups, and every word he said had my eyebrows going higher and higher on my face). Suffice it to say there's a cool concept here, a pretty good main girl character on a journey to Do Stuff, some cool pirates, etc. Really good pacing and lots of danger and adventure and map-reading. I really liked the end and am very intrigued by where this series will go next. B+.

Monday, August 04, 2014

2014 book 181

Elizabeth Little's Dear Daughter
Can I say that this book was moderately goofy, but I liked it a lot anyway? It centers on a young woman--a famous celebutate type--who's been in jail for murdering her mother (though she doesn't remember committing the crime) when she's released on a technicality and goes searching for clues to the real killer. The plot is pretty ridiculous if you examine it at all closely, but the narrative voice is really engaging and the pacing is strong. The very end is also a little silly, but in general I'd recommend this as a fun summer read. B+.

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