Tuesday, September 30, 2014

2014 book 232

Anne Helen Petersen's Scandals of Classic Hollywood
I'm a huge fan of Petersen's essays on The Hairpin, also called Scandals of Classic Hollywood, and the way she contextualizes celebrity and media, so was super excited for this book--which did not disappoint. Although a few of the celebrities she focuses on were also featured in her column, the content here is almost entirely new (disappointingly, the pictures are all at the end of the book, and not interspersed as in her online essays--very annoying if you're reading on a Kindle). I kind of miss her slightly-less-formal writing tone, but the writing here falls nicely between academic and popular history. And all the stories are great! I thought the section comparing Judy Garland and Dorothy Dandridge and the look at masculinity as embodied by Montgomery Clift/Marlon Brando/James Dean were particularly strong.  I will say that it doesn't entirely flow when reading it in one sitting (some sections seem to follow more logically than others), but each chapter is just a gem. A/A-.

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

Saturday, September 27, 2014

2014 book 231

Karen Rivers' Finding Ruby Starling
I was a little worried at the premise of this book--it's about an American 12-year-old who's messing with a Google-Image-like search thing and finds a British girl who looks exactly like her, and determines that they're twins. Twins separated at birth is a tired trope, and also, that's totally illegal now! BUT the book addresses all that, and even if the reveal didn't really work for me, the two girls were so great and the story was so readable that I didn't even care. The whole thing is told in their emails (and emails to friends and relatives), along with some bad 12-year-old Tumblr poems.  Anyway, it was just super cute and I enjoyed it immensely. B+.

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

Friday, September 26, 2014

2014 book 230

John Darnielle's Wolf in White Van
Full disclosure: John Darnielle is a friend of a good friend of mine, and I have chatted with him at parties; also, I am friends with many people who work at his record label, though I am not particularly a fan of his band (I recognize that this is a personal failing).

So, based on the above, I was a little leery of reading his book--and honestly, I read the first few pages at least five times and kept putting it down. But all the music dudes I know were SO enthusiastic about this, and it was nominated for an NBA and on the NYT bestseller list, so I figured I'd really make an effort to plow through and be part of the zeitgeist. Plus, I mean, John Darnielle is really nice! He once kindly participated in a conversation with me about sweet tea vodka when I was (very) drunk on said beverage. (That was a long time ago, please don't judge me.)

OK, so, the book. As noted above, the early pages made my eyes glaze over (they are very LITERARY), but the writing style quickly settles down to tell the story of a disfigured guy (basically he's Arse-Face from Preacher, but more intellectual) who runs a mail-order game out of his home, and then two of his players experience a tragedy. I guess it's useless to complain about the scarcity/flimsiness of women characters, since this is basically a book about a mostly-reclusive guy--though the male secondary characters feel much more fleshed out/thoughtful. But look, in general, this is a dude book. This is particularly a book for nerdy dudes who like metal and role-playing games. It's very well written, and I did enjoy it, but I didn't feel connected to it. B/B+.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

2014 book 229

Hannah Pittard's Reunion
Pittard's second novel (after the excellent The Fates Will Find Their Way) is just as strong as her debut. Thematically, it's similar to Jonathan Tropper's This is Where I Leave You, in that it centers on three (dysfunctional-ish) adult siblings who reunite for their father's funeral, though I feel like Pittard is telling a slightly different sort of story. Her protagonist is also dealing with a crumbling marriage, but her issues are more realistic--no shock jocks are involved, for one thing. Anyway, this was a really interesting meditation on a very complicated family (the protagonist and her siblings are their father's first children--he had several more by his four later wives). I liked this a lot and don't meant to keep comparing it to some dude's book, it's just that I keep seeing trailers for the movie. I kind of hope this book becomes a movie, because the protagonist is actually a semi-failed screenwriter, so it would be entertainingly meta. Plus I'd like to see these characters come to life. A/A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on October 7th.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

2014 book 228

Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford
I rewatched the Cranford miniseries last weekend, which prompted me to finally read the book (despite warnings that the miniseries was actually better). And . . . the miniseries is actually better! Of course, it's very different, featuring a lot of characters that aren't even in the book. The book still has a great sense of humor, but parts of it do drag on. And the edition I had stopped somewhat abruptly--I'm not sure if it was incomplete, but I don't really feel like reading any more of it so I'm not going to try and find a different version.

Monday, September 22, 2014

2014 book 227

Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You The Sun
Nelson's second YA novel (after The Sky Is Everywhere) is receiving a lot of buzz, and deservedly so, as it's a lot stronger than her first. It centers on a pair of twins--Noah and Jude--and the secrets that tore their relationship to shreds. Noah's POV sections take place when they're 13/14--while they're just starting to fall apart--and Jude's when they're 16, after a family tragedy (there's kind of a lot going on here, but in a good way). I loved everything about Noah's lovelife; Jude's romantic stuff was a little bit of a weak point for me. Anyway, I really liked this, and especially liked how it concluded. A-.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

2014 book 226

Gail Carriger's Waistcoats and Weaponry
The third book in Carriger's prequel-to-Soulless series--about a girl's finishing school that trains them to be spies, and also it's on a dirigible--is even better than the first two. There are tons of twists and turns, lots of fun new character development (and plot developments!), and the story ties directly into the Soulless books (all the werewolf politics stuff starts here!). I just really enjoy these characters, and particularly the friendships between the very different girls--I like that Carriger gives them all a chance to shine, and that they appreciate each others' skill sets. Sophronia is the best, of course. What a fun heroine. I can't wait to see what she'll get up to next--it looks like the next book will wrap things up. A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on November 4th.

Friday, September 19, 2014

2014 book 225

Amy Zhang's Falling into Place
So I guess this has a Before I Fall/If I Stay/Thirteen Reasons Why sort of vibe, centering as it does on a teenager who has decided to kill herself via a car accident, but isn't entirely successful, as the story flashes back to why she's done it. It's a good story, though some moments are overwrought/trite/unbelievable (how could one teenager, even one so supremely bitchy, have ruined so many classmates' lives? come on now). And the whole thing with the narrator was not really my thing. To be fair, the author is still in high school, so this is actually a pretty solid accomplishment--the writing really feels polished. I mean, it didn't grab me the way Before I Fall or Thirteen Reasons Why did, but I'd definitely recommend it to fans of those books. I did like it more than I liked If I Stay, for sure. Congratulations, teenage author Amy Zhang, a random blogger has said you are better than a bestselling author whose movie is currently in theaters. B/B+.

2014 book 224

Sarah Waters' The Paying Guests
I really enjoy Waters' books about historical lesbians (and other things), and this one was no exception. Our protagonist is 26-year-old Frances, whose father has recently died, revealing the family's precarious financial situation--and so she and her mother have had to take in a married couple as lodgers. It's quickly obvious that things aren't going to go well, and when they go wrong, they go pretty disastrously wrong. I did think parts of this moved a little bit slowly (though that just may be the unbearable tension talking--things are SO unbearably tense!), but it's another really strong story from Waters. B+.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

2014 book 223

Charis Cotter's The Swallow: A Ghost Story
So this is the story of two girls with opposite problems--Rose, who sees ghosts, and feels invisible, and Polly, who wants to see ghosts, and wishes for time alone away from her crazy family. Both head to their attics for some solitary reading time--only it turns out they share a wall, and end up becoming friends. And soon they're dealing with a malicious spirit and wondering whether Rose is a ghost herself. Of course, some of the way this goes is not too hard to figure out, but that doesn't mean I wasn't straight up sobbing for like the last quarter of it. Really charming and creepy--charmingly creepy? A-.

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

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

2014 book 222

Kelly Barnhill's The Witch's Boy
Sooo there is kind of a lot going on here (in a good way), and I will try and unpack it: in a small village on the end of a kingdom, a woman guards (and occasionally uses for good) a jar of powerful magic, a role passed down by generations of her family. And then her young twin sons build a crappy raft and one of them drowns--and everyone says the wrong boy survived. Meanwhile, a practical girl living in another kingdom dreams of being a fisherman like her mother--but when her mother dies, her father moves them deep into a weird ol' forest and returns to a life of banditry. There is also a whole thing with some mysterious stones that used to be people (or at least, beings). Naturally these stories converge. I really liked the writing here, and the characters are all interesting (I particularly liked a baby wolf). Occasionally there's a little bit too much of "and she knew she loved her friends" when they met like a day earlier, but whatever, it's a kids' book. Otherwise, it's totally solid and a very engaging read. I don't know if a sequel is planned, but I'm totally up for the further adventures of Aine and Ned. A-.

Monday, September 15, 2014

2014 book 221

Jennifer Clement's Prayers for the Stolen
I'm not really sure what to say about this one--it starts off strong, if you like very depressing but beautifully written books (I do)--but kind of goes off the rails in the last third. I did like the end, though? Anyway, it's about a girl growing up in a tiny village in the mountains outside Acapulco, a village where the men all leave and the young girls are all stolen, so their mothers try and hide their beauty to protect them. The story starts to suffer when the girl (I guess I should mention that her name is Ladydi, as in Princess Diana) manages to escape to try and make a better life for herself--I just felt like all of that needed to be fleshed out a lot more. Like I said, I really liked the ending, which made up for some of what came before. B/B+.

Friday, September 12, 2014

2014 book 220

Jason Segal and Kirsten Miller's Nightmares!
I mean, I like Jason Segal a lot, and it's cool that he wrote a book, but I am 100 percent reading this for his co-author Kirsten Miller!!! (She wrote my beloved Kiki Strike books, among other things.) And this book was fine, I guess. I was annoyed at a lot of plot stuff being predicated on one character refusing to have a conversation with another--one of my least favorite fictional tropes. And a lot of the story is really predictable--I'm not sure if that's b/c I read a lot of this type of middle grade book or not. There are some funny moments, and some very enjoyable nightmare characters (I was partial to the gorgons). The illustrations definitely take the fear/tension down a notch--they're overly cutesy for the story being told. I mean, I'm sure a kid would like this, but it wasn't as awesome as I was hoping. B.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

2014 book 219

Simmone Howell's Girl Defective
I was continuing my exploration of Australian YA with this one, which seemed like it'd be right up my alley--it's about a girl whose father owns a record story--but it was a little disappointing. I really liked the first half--where the protagonist is somewhere between admiring and crushing on her badass older girl friend, and getting interested in the case of a local girl who drowned--but then things get a little bit boring/predictable/neat EVEN AS it seems like things are getting bonkers. I don't know. It was fine. B.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

2014 book 218

Mary Lawson's Road Ends
I've never heard of Mary Lawson before*, but she is now at the forefront of my mind, because this book was GREAT. It's about a troubled family in the 60s in the North of Canada, and what happens when their oldest daughter escapes their hold and moves to England, and they sort of crumble apart. They're all sympathetic characters, is the thing! It's told from the POV of Megan--who is AMAZING and gets stuff done--as well as her oldest brother, subsumed by a personal tragedy, and their father, unable to cope and also sort of subsumed by personal tragedies. And I'm not saying parts of this aren't grim, but parts of it are also very funny, and sweet, and hopeful, and all of it is wonderful. I really, really liked this. A.

This is a lie: I just checked and I've read another book by her that I also loved. Sheesh. Note to self: Mary Lawson is great and try to get that to stick in your brain!

Monday, September 08, 2014

2014 book 217

Maggie Stiefvater's Blue Lily, Lily Blue
AHHHaaaagHRHRSGGA new Raven Cycle book!!!!! I mean, do I need to say anything more than that? And should I, since I bet all of you are worried about spoilers? Let me be vague, then. This is super exciting and interesting and full of great characters, just like the first two. Various people develop their skills. Various new characters come into play. The ending is just as much of a crazy-ass game changer as the endings of the first two books. I did feel like this one had a lot of STUFF going on and was maybe more plot-driven than character-driven, but I think that impression might change on a less frantic/excitable reread.  And again, let me thank Stiefvater for writing a series where romance exists, but where adventurin' takes top billing. Such adventurin'!! AND the books are such an interesting meditation on class! Ah, this series is so good. A/A-.

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

Sunday, September 07, 2014

2014 book 216

Maggie Stiefvater's The Dream Thieves
It's funny, the one thing I remembered from this book was the Ronan/Kavinsky stuff, which on this reading proved to be a surprisingly small part of the story. There's so much good magic stuff here, and great character work, and I appreciate how the romantic stuff is relatively minor. Off to read the third one!

Saturday, September 06, 2014

2014 book 215

Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys
The third book in this series comes out pretty soon, and I realized this is one of those series where it really helps to have all the details fresh in your mind, because there's a lot going on (which I mean in an entirely positive way! Stiefvater really leveled up with this series in both plot and writing). I love the intersection of magic and mythology and high schoolers on a quest. And I especially love Noah. Oh, Noah. Keeps on petting Blue's hair and you'll be just fine.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

2014 book 214

Carys Bray's A Song for Issy Bradley
Fair warning to mom friends: don't read this one, just don't. It's about what happens when a little girl dies of meningitis (which HAPPENS, it happened to the little daughter of a friend of a friend of mine and was devastating . . . like this book), and how her family deals with grief and their Mormon faith (Mormons should probably also skip this one) (The author is a former Mormon and and NAILS the details). The story manages to be completely heartbreaking while not feeling at all manipulative--a rare thing. But the end felt redemptive somehow. And obviously I enjoyed all the discussions of faith/Mormonism, especially from the two teenage children (a devout girl tempted by a cute boy, and her brother, interested only in football [soccer, this is set in England somewhere]). Seven-year-old Jacob's POV didn't always work for me--writing from the perspective of a small child is a hard thing to do well--but the other four characters were vividly drawn. Really strong overall. A/A-.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

2014 book 213

David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks
I consider myself a pretty big David Mitchell fan, even though I bogged down reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and never did pick it back up again (this book actually references that one, and Black Swan Green, and probably some other Mitchell books that I just didn't pick up on). So I was excited about this one, but in a . . . tentative way. Luckily, the opening section was GREAT and drew me right in. It focuses on 15-year-old Holly in 1984, running away to live with her sleazy older boyfriend (a reader can see this isn't going to go according to plan), and dealing with some Weird Sh-t. She is completely charming, even though she's kind of a dumb teenager (though weren't we all?). Then we jump ahead in time to an absolute asshole of a Cambridge student, who is honestly a terrible human being and exceedingly unlikable--at least until he encounters Holly. And the story keeps jumping forward in time, as we see Holly through the eyes of others (including ANOTHER person who is unbelievably horrible until he encounters Holly!), and find out more about the Weird Sh*t (which = more of Mitchell's interests in reincarnation, good vs evil, etc, manifesting themselves). The final section comes back to Holly herself (finally!!!), in the 2040s, when the world is . . . not great (post-apocalyptic, you might even say). So yes, it has more of Mitchell's playing with structure, but I feel like it has a lot more heart than some of his other books, and it certainly feels more readable/straightforward. Yes, I think I liked this a lot. A/A-.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

2014 book 212

Seanan McGuire's The Winter Long
It feels like the Toby Daye series is winding down, and I admit to being a little relieved--they're getting a bit repetitive at this point. Just how many mysteries about Toby's identity can there be? How many times can she change out of a bloody shirt (three or four in this book) or wake up after passing out (four or five in this book)? It also feels like she's drawing on some of her other works here (particularly Indexing), which is fine, it just adds to the sense of repetition for a McGuire completest. I was also a little annoyed that, although we find out WHO was behind the kidnapping and other assorted things that turned Toby into a fish, we still don't know WHY! And Toby never tells people who are kind of invested in the situation! I mean, I still enjoy the characters (particularly the Luidaeg, who gets some good development here), but I'm ready for the endgame already. B.

Monday, September 01, 2014

2014 book 211

Diana Wynne Jones' Hexwood
I'm still tracking down all the Diana Wynne Jones books I've never read, though I may stop that, because it seems I've read all the GREAT ones. This one has a plot too convoluted to even try to explain, though is entertaining enough. I might have liked it more if it was slightly more gender-balanced? Or if . . . I don't know what. It was fine. B.