Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 book 322

Melina Marchetta's Finnikin of the Rock
Decided to close out the year rereading this series, though I wasn't expecting to finish this one tonight (I'm having some sleep issues). Still love this story so so much, even with the inferred/attempted rapes. Ah, Evanjalin, you are my favorite. Such great world-building here. Even having read this several times, I cried at a couple key moments. Melina Marchetta is really the best.

Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 book 321

Cecilia Grant's A Lady Awakened
I'm aware that there's a trope in romance wherein a lady pays a guy to marry her, knock her up, and quietly divorce her (though obviously, it never gets to that last one), and this is soooooort of along those lines: our heroine is young and recently widowed, and her husband's terrible brother will inherit the estate (the estate she has worked SO HARD to improve! She's re-thatched roofs and started a school!) UNLESS she turns out to be pregnant with an heir. She knows she's not, and she has one month to rectify that--with the help of the new gentleman next door, exiled from London for his mildly dissolute ways. She'll give him a bunch of money in exchange for daily . . . deposits. This actually turns out to be hilarious, because she does NOT enjoy the act (her husband was also the worst, I guess it runs in the family) and her thoughts about the proceedings are GREAT. Eventually she gets into things . . . like 2/3 of the way through! Meanwhile, she's educating him on landlord stuff and they're improving both their estates in big ways. It's super cute, if paternalistic. I liked how things wrapped up and I liked the writing here a lot. This is the first in a series, and I'll definitely be reading the others. A-.

2014 book 320

Mary Jo Putney's Sometimes a Rogue
I really liked this at the start--it's actually the 5th in a series and I went and looked up the others and they were all on sale for Kindle and I allllllmost bought them ALL. However, I didn't, and I'm glad I refrained, because this book bogged down quite a bit in the middle and managed to become kind of flat--weird, because there was a LOT going on. The story centers on a young woman, whose twin sister--a duchess--is both going into labor AND about to be kidnapped. So she pretends to be her sister, and is kidnapped herself. Luckily, her brother-in-law's friend who happens to be a Bow Street Runner also just happens to come to visit at that exact moment, and soon is in hot pursuit. All of that resolves pretty quickly, at which point an earldom, a bunch of relatives, impoverished tenants, and an illegitimate child are all thrown into the mix--and we're still only halfway through the book. It's all kind of silly and too much. Which is a shame--the characters are likable, funny, and highly competent people. Unfortunately, a lot of the dialogue is stilted and there's a lot of over-explaining, not to mention an over-use of exclamation points in the second half of the book (I admit to over-using them myself, but in a book, they're a little much). Things do pick back up toward the end (though the reveal of the kidnappers is ENTIRELY ridiculous), but in general, this one was a bit of a slog. B/B-.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014 book 319

Kat Yeh's The Truth About Twinkie Pie
SUPER cute and moving middle grade book about 7th grade GiGi, whose older sister has just moved them from South Carolina to Long Island so GiGi can attend a fancy school--where she's immediately befriended by the popular boy, and thus immediately finds the popular girl an enemy. But really this is about GiGi and her sister, and the stories of their dead mother, not to mention lipstick and FAMILY SECRETS. Even though I guessed a couple of plot points, nothing about this felt trite or cliched--all the characters were really great, strongly written, and real, and I loved the way this ended. There are recipes after every chapter, which does impede the flow of the story a little, but some of them are things I actually want to try making. A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on January 27th.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

2014 book 318

Sarah Maclean's Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart
God, are these titles wordy. In the final book in the Numbers series, the focus is (finally) on born-of-a-scandal sister Juliana and the Duke of Leighton, but everyone else makes an appearance too (Georgiana is particularly prominent). I can't help but notice, having read three of these in a row, that Maclean's books have a definite pattern to their seduction scenes. At first I ascribed it to the dudes in the first two books being identical twins, but now it's just a thing. Anyway, this one was fine, though mildly less interesting since I knew the main plot beats from the book about Penelope. I am a little sad that no one has married Allendale in either series! That guy is great. Maybe he's secretly gay, but that's no reason for him not to get to make out with someone.  B/B+.

2014 book 317

Sarah Maclean's Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord
And clearly I should have read this series before the Scoundrels one, which I now see is CLEARLY a sequel series--in this one, we meet young Georgiana, as she flees to a house in the country that serves as a refuge for girls in all sorts of trouble (it's an awesome house of women, where all the servants are women in men's clothes). But she's not the main character--the main character is the young woman who runs the house, which is a complicated thing because her Earl father is a terrible gambler (and has put her up as a wager more than once), and she's trying to protect her girls and her little brother (the future Earl). Meanwhile, the twin brother of the guy from the last book is asked by Leighton to track Georgiana down, bringing him pretty quickly to this eccentric household. Obviously he and the earl's daughter start making out immediately, drawn together by erotic Roman statuary. Because, of course. And then there are the many dumb obstacles that get in their way, SIGH. I like Maclean's writing and characters a lot, but these books are pretty silly. Charming, but silly. B/B+.

2014 book 316

Sarah Maclean's Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake
There were SO many references to the Duke of Leighton and his love match in Maclean's Scoundrels series that I should have guessed it was going to be in one of her earlier books! I mean, it's not even the B-plot here--they're just meeting--but I'm excited to see that story play out. Anyway, the actual plot involves a wallflower/spinster who decides to finally live life or whatever, and asks the rakish Marquess she's had a crush on for a decade to make out with her. He does this in exchange for her chaperoning his recently-discovered sister around and introducing her to society. Also, he totally likes making out with her, so win-win. And somehow he's always around when she's accomplishing other items on her living-life list, which inevitably leads to more makeouts.  I liked all the sibling stuff here, especially the wallflower and her sister, but Maclean used the word "lave" about eight too many times for my particular tastes. That word is NOT sexy.  B/B+.

Friday, December 26, 2014

2014 book 315

Greer Macallister's The Magician's Lie
It's 1905, and a small-town policeman has captured a lady magician, the suspect in her husband's brutal murder. She spends the evening narrating her life story to him, and he lets her, to try and win her trust--but seriously, how are /you/ gonna trust a /magician/? They deal in illusions! Fellow NC residents--the Biltmore in Asheville plays a part in events. Now, this book was definitely engaging, and I loved the look at a touring magic act at the turn of the century, but the writing is occasionally heavy-handed and the villain is unbelievably villainous (though he is VERY creepy). The magician also has some sort of healing ability, which manages to be relevant to the plot several times! I did wish that the policeman was a little more fleshed out, but I guess that wasn't really the point of things. I liked the lady magician a lot, so let's say B/B+.

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

Thursday, December 25, 2014

2014 book 314

Norma Klein's Domestic Arrangements
I'm still making my way through my Lizzie Skurnick books, and this one was a major change of pace from the All-of-a-Kind Family! I mean, basically the first thing that happens is that the dad walks in on his 14-year-old daughter having sex with her boyfriend in the middle of the night. The entire time I was reading this, I was just like, "is this what 1970s New York was really like??/???/??" My god! Anyway, it's about a precocious 14 year old girl who's just starred in her first movie--with a topless scene--and now fame is starting to intrude on her life and family (not to mention her jealous, horny boyfriend, who I absolutely hated). Plus everyone is having affairs and gross film producers are trying to enlist her for a musical version of Lolita (their interpretation of the novel is pretty disgusting). THE SEVENTIES! I don't even know what to think about this book. I wish the older sister had been more fleshed out, and I thought it ended really abruptly, but the girl's narrative voice is pretty engaging. I wish FYA would assign books like this to the book clubs, because this would be a fun one to scream about over lunch. B/B+.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

2014 book 313

Sarah Maclean's Never Judge a Lady By Her Cover
Now, here we go: the story of Chase. Obviously this one came out before I read all the other ones, so I knew Chase's identity--but it's honestly more fun reading them that way! Maclean handles it really deftly--she's very careful with pronouns--and drops enough hints that when the reveal comes at the end of book 3, you're like OHHHHH YEAH. It works. I also really really love that the mysterious bad-ass owner of the gambling hall is (SPOILER) secretly a girrrrrrrrrl. A girl who, unmarried, had a baby at sixteen even though she was the daughter of a Duke! Damnnnnnnnn. And now she's determined to marry a viscount to give her daughter a better life/reputation. Too bad she's super into the powerful (and helpful!) newspaperman from the previous books. And too bad he's got a dark secret and is being blackmailed by an evil, treasonous Earl. Things go more or less as expected, to a more or less satisfying end. (I think I am getting burned out on historical romances.) B/B+.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 book 312

Sarah Maclean's No Good Duke Goes Unpunished
So now we get the story of Temple, the third co-owner of the gambling hall in this series, also known as "the Killer Duke" because he may or may not have killed a woman. A young pretty woman he may or may not have seduced. A young woman who was DEFINITELY supposed to marry his father the next day (though he didn't know who she was). He has no memory of the night in question, because obviously she drugged him and threw blood everywhere to make it seem like she'd been ruined and run off with a guy, except she drugged him too much and threw too much blood and had no idea he was about to be her step-son. OOPS. Now she's back, willing to reveal that she's alive, because her brother has lost all his money in Temple's gambling hall--INCLUDING the money she needs to run her orphanage! Because of course she runs an orphanage. Now, again, most of the plot of this book would not exist if she was just HONEST with him, so I found their back-and-forth a little tiresome. Surely you can still flirt-fight if he knows you need the money and your brother had no business losing it. I mean, you still know what happened on THAT FATEFUL NIGHT and he is desperate to know! Ugh. On the other hand, there's an adorable pet pig, and she's pretty awesome--skilled with doctoring and with a right hook. My kind of dame. B/B+.

Monday, December 22, 2014

2014 book 311

Sarah Maclean's One Good Earl Deserves a Lover
Now, THIS is the kind of historical romance I can get behind. Like the Courtney Milan and Tessa Dare books, it's part of a series that shares characters, so the world feels a lot more robust. And there's none of that wishy-washy back-and-forth here, because this romance is a slow build (well, as slow a build can be that takes place in like two weeks of story). ANYWAY, in this one, science-minded Pippa--one of the sisters of the woman from the first book--approaches Cross--one of the co-owners of the gambling hall with the dude from the first book--with a desire to learn about, let's say, the mechanics of marital relations, as her wedding day draws near. Of course her fiance is perfectly nice, but they're not in love at all, and she finds Cross much more compelling (it's ok, he's secretly an Earl! That's not a spoiler, it's the first scene of the book). There is a little bit of the "I'm in love with her, but I'm a bad man and must let her go for her own sake" going on, but Pippa's brilliance wins the day. Really fun and just delightful in general. I am very much looking forward to the other two books in this series. A/A-.

2014 book 310

Eloisa James' When Beauty Tamed the Beast
This is another one of the books in James' fairy tale series, and it's  . . . fine. I liked both the characters a lot (the Beauty here is a very pretty/smart/sassy girl with an unfairly ruined reputation, whose relatives decide to marry her off to the Beast, who's really just a surly guy with a bad leg), but it was another one of those stories that is all just will they/won't they get married, when they OBVIOUSLY will, so jsut do it already, and then work on your medical reforms (he runs a hospital out of his manor, she is all about patient relations). Maybe I am not the target audience for these books if I'm more interested in how they make their hospital nicer as opposed to their silly relationship. I mean, I also like the love scenes, don't get me wrong, but a lot of times the obstacles to the marriage seem really forced, and this was one of those times. (I should say, at first pretending to call off their engagement is part of their flirting and is actually pretty funny, but then they start denying their LOVE and it gets tedious. You love each other, deal with it.) B/B+.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014 book 309

Sarah Maclean's A Rogue By Any Other Name
So in this first book in the Rules of Scoundrels series, our dude is a man who was cheated out of pretty much everything but his title on a game of cards and is hellbent on revenge like ten years later, and meanwhile the guy who got all his property has lost a very pretty piece of it to ANOTHER guy, who has added it to the dowry of his eldest daughter, a spinster (she had a courtship go bad early on and things have never quite worked out since). (Also meanwhile, the dude has built himself a nice fortune by co-owning a famous gambling hall/den of iniquity with characters who will presumably star in later books.) Handily, the dude and the girl with the dowry were actually childhood friends, but instead of asking nicely, he basically kidnaps her into marriage. Because he is a ROGUE. I actually really liked both these characters, all the other characters, their world, Maclean's writing in general, etc, BUT this is one of those books where if either party was ever honest about his or her feelings, the book would immediately end, so things have to be dragged out. I mean, you know how things are gonna end in a romance novel! Don't make the suspense the eye-rolling dumb kind! The epilogue has me pretty psyched for book two, though.  B/B+.

2014 book 308

Maia Chance's Snow White Red-Handed
This book should have been right up my alley-- it's the 1800s and the main characters are a pair of actresses who are posing as maids to make a living after leaving their troupe, and they've come to Europe with their rich employer, where a couple of folklore professors are hanging out because they've just discovered a house that may have belonged to Snow White and the Seven Dwarves! And then the rich husband is murdered! But then things start to slide into ever-increasing ridiculousness, with disguises, secret identities, more murders, ten million suspects, a gambling ring, a secret society of dissolute college students, treasure hunters, fortune hunters, multiple romances, etc. It's honestly farcical. I could hear the Benny Hill music playing during some of the scenes. The editor really needed to simplify things and it would have been a much stronger story. B/B-.

Friday, December 19, 2014

2014 book 307

Mary Balogh's The Escape
The plot of the third Survivors' Club book is kind of a mish-mash of the first two, as Benedict, who has two badly damaged legs from the war, and who has been ostentatiously missing from the previous books, meets a pretty young widow who has to leave town in a hurry (to escape terrible in-laws), and of course he goes along to protect her, and of course they fall in love, and of course things work out pretty well. There's a pretty great dog, and everything was cute, but I wasn't quite as into it as the last couple. B/B+.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

2014 book 306

Mary Balogh's The Arrangement
The second book in the Survivors' Club series was as charming as the first, and I really liked both the parties involved here. Our dude is the youngest of the Club, blinded in the war, running away from an attempt to marry him off to a girl who pities him. He flees to his childhood home, and soon the local rich folks are trying to trick him into marrying their daughter--only to be thwarted by her poor mouse of a cousin. And then they KICK THE COUSIN OUT of their house, and she has nowhere to go! So he proposes to her, and they are super cute together. The coda on their happiness is postponed by dumb miscommunications--again, if a plot point can be resolved by one honest conversation, I hate it--but in general this was really sweet. B+.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

2014 book 305

Mary Balogh's The Proposal
I joked on Twitter recently that I was only going to read historical romances until new books start coming out again--but clearly it was only sort of a joke! I am burned out, man, and these books are easy and entertaining. In this series--the Survivor's Club series--there's a group of men and one woman who all survived hardships and horrors in war, and recovered together and bonded and now they get together once a year to hang out and basically be a therapy group (I mean that in a positive way). One of them, Hugo, is grousing about needing a wife for various reasons, when the others joke that he should just wander down to the beach and tell the first woman he meets that he's a rich war hero who was given a title for his service. And then when he DOES go down to the beach, he sees a pretty young widow sprain her ankle, and obviously has to help her before the tide comes in! But can a businessman make it work with a noblewoman? (Obviously yes.) I actually really loved the interplay between these two--lots of funny teasing--and how they were willing to share their grief with one another. The dialogue was awkward at times, but in general this was well-written, and forewent the fake-ish obstacles to romance. A-/B+.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

2014 book 304

Eloisa James' The Ugly Duchess
This is apparently part of a series doing a play on fairy tales--obviously this one draws from the ugly duckling story. The dude in question is a young earl whose father has gambled away most of their estate and started in on the accounts of his ward--our titular young girl, slim and boyish and still a teenager. The father insists the young dude (also a teenager) marry the girl to get her sizable inheritance and hide his crimes--and then the dude realizes he actually is super into her. Their marriage is great--at least until she overhears his father and learns she was married for her money (except not really), and promptly kicks them both out (she can run the estate better than they can, for sure). So her young husband obviously turns to piracy. Now, years later, he's returned, determined to win her back, and meanwhile she's become the most fashionable woman in Paris and London. It's rare that I feel this way, but I actually wanted to read more about them! I generally want the couples in romances to work out their issues and get together, but I was actively rooting for these two. Their early married days are just so sweet, I honestly felt sad for the years they missed. A-.

2014 book 303

Courtney Milan's Unraveled
The third in the Turner Series is pretty great--it focuses on cold and haunted middle brother Smite (as revealed in the earlier books, their insane mother named her boys after Bible verses) falling for a girl mixed up with a mysterious crime boss (she needs protection as a single woman raising a boy she grew up with--they were both raised by ACTORS). Anyway, we finally get the backstory on the abuse he suffered as a child, on his dealings as a magistrate, etc, as he basically hires Miranda to be his mistress for a month (with the promise of a hefty payout). Obviously they fall in love, have to foil the crime boss, hang out with his brothers, etc. There are also SEVERAL secretly gay guys, one of whom was a big jerk in the earlier books and now works on redeeming himself. It's nice. A-.

Monday, December 15, 2014

2014 book 302

Courtney Milan's Unclaimed
AH HAHAHAHAHAHA (insert more cackling here)--this was even better than I had guessed. So brother Mark has published his philosophical treatise on male chastity (it's a surprisingly lady-positive work) to great acclaim. He's gotten a weird cult following of young dudes who make hand signals and talk about how many days they've been chaste. He's even been knighted by young Queen Victoria! And now they're offering him a spot on some big important Commission. BUT a local asshole wants that spot, and is offering a reward to anyone who can seduce Mark! So a courtesan of his acquaintance (Jessica)--who wants to make enough money to never have to sell herself again--takes him up on it. But darned if Mark isn't super charming, and darned if Jessica isn't feisty and fun (and super pretty). There are some great bits here with a money-grubbing reporter and Mark's fame in general is pretty hilarious. There's too much flip-flopping around the central romance--it starts to feel padded at a certain point--but once again, the badass lady figures out how to properly solve things. Big ups for nice sibling relationships, too. B+.

2014 book 301

Courtney Milan's Unveiled
Since I enjoyed Milan's Brothers Sinister so much, I decided to check out one of her earlier series, the Tuner Series. In this first one, Ash Turner (a brilliant man who's made his money in trade but is SECRETLY ILLITERATE, oh my god, I can't even), gets revenge on a family that's wronged /his/ family by proving they're illegitimate, making him heir to the duke-dom. BUT they have left pretty daughter Margaret there, pretending to be her father's nurse, to spy on him! Too bad he's SO CHARMING and she's a big ol' softie. This is somewhat less interesting/funny than the other Milan books I've read, but I really like how Margaret is kind of a bad-ass by the end. Plus there's a GREAT subplot about Ash's younger brother writing a hilarious philosophical work about chastity (I fully expect that to be a whole thing in one of the later books when he inevitably meets a tempting woman). B/B+.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

2014 book 300

Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment
I one hundred percent read this book b/c of this piece on The Toast--I love Pratchett's books about the witches, but have been less enamored of the other Discworld books I've read. This one had its very funny moments, and I very much enjoyed reading a silly novel about a girl who pretends to be a boy to enlist in the army to try and find her missing brother . . . only to discover she's not the only secret girl. But I mean, you could just as easily read that Toast article and get the gist. B/B+.

Friday, December 12, 2014

2014 book 299

Tessa Dare's Any Duchess Will Do
Tessa Dare writes the CUTEST and funniest historical romances--even if they don't really hold up to much scrutiny (how many romance novels actually do?). In this fourth Spindle Cove book, a (formerly) dissolute duke (he is clearly nursing a dark and tragic secret) is dragged by his mother to Spindle Cove and she demands he pick a girl to marry, and she'll train her on how to be a duchess (she is desperate for grandchildren). He chooses the serving girl, making a side deal with her that if she fails the training, he'll give her a bunch of money so she can start a business (she wants to run a lending library!) and have freedom for herself and her sister. All in a week! Obviously they fall in love, blah blah blah. Dare doesn't really shy away from the class issues here, though obviously it's going to work out neatly (especially with the help of the couples from the first two books). Who cares, half their romance revolves around BOOKS and I am on board for that. A-.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

2014 book 298

Isabel Quintero's Gabi: A Girl in Pieces
I've read a couple of positive reviews of this book, but I was actually actively avoiding it, because I hate the cover so much. Seriously, it is VERY off-putting (and yet it's actually relevant to the book). But then it came in as a library e-book, so, what the heck. And it's pretty enjoyable--it's about Gabi, a Mexican-American girl about to start her senior year of high school, dealing with one best friend who's pregnant and the other who's a gay boy whose parents have kicked him out of the house. Not to mention school stuff, and her meth-addict dad, and her first boyfriend. I was not really into the narrative voice--it's told as a diary, but some sections strain credulity--I just can't believe that she'd explain so much about herself and her life circumstances to her own diary. (Some parts are better than others at seeming like actual diary entries.) I also could have done without the high-school poetry--I can never tell if poetry in YA books is supposed to be good or bad, but either way, I'm not particularly interested in reading it. I mean, it's great to read a book about a girl achieving her dreams while dealing with a lot of drama, but it just didn't come together for me. I think I would have really related to this in high school, but as an adult, I feel more critical. B.


Yes, here it is, the eagerly anticipated list of my favorite books from 2014! (Note that I say "favorites" and not "best books I read"--there is a distinction.) I know the year isn't over yet, and there were 3-4 books I planned to read before putting this list out, but man, it started to feel like homework! So the rest of the year will probably be light reading and rereads.

This was a great year for women--there was really only one book by a man I even /considered/ putting on this list. (There are some male authors on my list of favorite comics/graphic novels--see below.)

Presented in alphabetical order with links to my reviews!

Favorite books of 2014!
--Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor
--Corrine Cuyvis' Otherbound
--Tana French's The Secret Place
--Shari Goldhagen's In Some Other World, Maybe*
--Erika Johansen's Queen of the Tearling
--Nina Lacour's Everything Leads to You 
--Lydia Millet's Mermaids in Paradise
--Jaclyn Moriarty's The Cracks in the Kingdom**
--Lauren Owen's The Quick ***
--Brigid Pasulka's The Sun and Other Stars ****
--Kate Racculia's Bellweather Rhapsody
--Rebecca Rotert's Last Night At The Blue Angel
--Jane Smiley's Some Luck
--Emily St John Mandel's Station Eleven
--Genevieve Valentine's The Girls at the Kingfisher Club
--Gabrielle Zevin's The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry 

Favorite Comics/Graphic Novels of 2014!
--Emily Carroll's Through the Woods
--Keiron Gillen and Jame McElvie's The Wicked and the Divine
--Jaime Hernandez's The Love Bunglers
--Raina Telgeimeier's Sisters
--Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples' Saga

* This one is out in January, but I worried it would get lost in the shuffle by next December.
** This is actually the second in a trilogy, so read the first one first!
*** If you decide to read this one, avoid reviews b/c it's better to be surprised about the big twist!
**** I technically read this in 2013, but it came out in 2014.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

2014 book 297

E.K. Johnston's The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim
I feel like a book with a title like this could go either way--in this case, it turned out to be awesome! It's set in Canada, in a world that is basically like ours, except dragons are real and plentiful. The titular Owen is the nephew of a famous dragon slayer (and also the son of a less famous one--he's been raised by his dad and his ridiculously cool lesbian aunts), who's recently moved to a small town, but the main character here is really narrator Siobhan, who is hilariously practical and matter-of-fact, and gets recruited to be Owen's bard. There are also a couple of other really cool high school girls. I loved how much this focused on friendship and hard work and bravery, and how there was basically no romance to speak of. And there's so much about history and society and industrialization, it really warmed my history major heart. Who has time to date when there are dragons flying everywhere??? The end is a real whopper, and I am very much looking forward to the sequel, out in March. A.

Monday, December 08, 2014

2014 book 296

Courtney Milan's The Suffragette Scandal
The fourth book in the Brothers Sinister series picks up ten-ish years after the last one, as the younger sister of the guy from the second book, having graduated college, is now running a women's newspaper. Her love interest has a complicated backstory that I won't get into, except to say that he finds out about a plot against her (from a jerk she rejected), and decides to thwart it for his own purposes (REVENGE!) and also b/c he thinks she's tops. AND all their flirting involves punctuation, so I was super into it. Meanwhile, there is a secretly gay long-term couple AND a pair of adorable lesbians falling in love (minor characters from the earlier books)! Plus sisters and suffrage! Milan's books are great because the romance feels like more of a slow build while the couple involved are working on some other project (ie stopping plots against feminist newspapers), as opposed to the insta-love with complications of some other romance novels. It just feels (slightly) more realistic. I mean, the end is fairly silly, and it didn't have quite the same spark as the other ones, but punctuation flirtation makes it an A-.

Friday, December 05, 2014

2014 book 295

Sara Raasche's Snow Like Ashes
I feel like I've seen this on a couple end-of-year lists, but it was just okay to me. The worldbuilding is complicated (and mildly silly), so I'm not even going to start trying to explain it. Our protagonist is a teenage girl, one of only eight exiles/refugees from a conquered kingdom (most of the people were slaughtered, a few thousand are in work camps), all determined to find the broken halves of a magical MacGuffin to restore their young king to the throne. There is a little bit of a love triangle here--and I was WAY more into the foreign prince than the young king--but mostly it's got some nice action and adventure. The writing is serviceable, though drags a bit at times, and one fairly obvious plot point takes way too long to be revealed, but it ends on a pretty strong note. This is the first in a trilogy (ooofffffff course), and I might read the next one? B.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

2014 book 294

Helen Rappaport's The Romanov Sisters
Now THIS is the book I wish we had read for Thanksgiving Sister Book Club--it has that nice narrative style going on, as opposed to the drier/more textbook-like tone of the Candace Fleming book.* It seems to be just as meticulously researched (there's hundreds of footnotes), though it absolutely downplays Nicholas' anti-Semitism. So if you're looking for a nice, rosy look at the Romanovs, this is your book. I liked it for how deep it got into the four girls (particularly Olga), obviously major objects of fascination in the western world. Parts of it are dull, and it doesn't delve into politics at all, but it nails all the gossip for sure. I also find it fascinating that Rappaport--like many other writers--calls the girls "the children" up to the end, even though the older two were in their twenties. The end is a bit of a letdown, but I'd say this is a solid work of popular history. B+.

*To be fair, the Fleming book is a MUCH better work of history. Maybe I shouldn't want it to be chatty.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

2014 book 293

Rachel Hawkins' Rebel Belle
This is not a book I'd have chosen for myself--Hawkins is the author of the Hex Hall series, and while I liked the first one, the second was dumb and I never finished it. But, it's the FYA pick of the month so. . . sigh. First of all, it reads like a parody of the South. Now I am pretty Pennsylvanian, but I've lived in the south for 13 years, so I think I can say that it rings kiiiiiinda false. There's also some weird Asian stereotyping (a minor character who never has any lines is always described as a "pretty, petite Asian girl"). And the narrative voice is amazingly terrible/unrealistic.That said, once the plot actually gets moving, it's more or less entertaining. Our main character, Harper, is suddenly gifted with paladin powers (whatever, go with it), and discovers she has to protect the hipster-glasses-wearing editor of the school paper, who she does NOT get along with.(Obviously he's a cute boy.) It's all VERY silly but in an early Buffy-ish sort of way. I mean, not to overstate it. It's fine, not great. There's way too much drama about Harper's lovelife and not at all enough crazy supernatural action, and the end is ridiculous (but kind of awesome? But ridiculous). UGH I DON'T KNOW. B?

Monday, December 01, 2014

2014 book 292

Julia Quinn's Just Like Heaven
Yes, it's another cute historical romance thanks to the public library! This one was charming and funny, though there was not a lot to the plot, mainly a couple realizing they're in love over a medical crisis and a London season, with thankfully few dumb miscommunications. It was a lot less, shall we say racy, than the Courtney Milan and Tessa Dare books I've read (I would describe the one brief sex scene as "perfunctory"), but the writing was strong and all the characters were likable. It looks like this is the start of a series involving a family that puts on a famously horrible musicale every year, which is easily one of the most hilarious concepts I've ever read, and it's used to great effect here. B+.