Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 book 306

Fiona Wood's Cloudwish
This is set in the same world as Wood's first two novels, featuring some of those main characters as secondary characters, which is always nice. I like feeling like there's a solid world to a book. And the main character here is great--she's Vietnamese-Austrialian, at a fancy school on a scholarship, and so there are some interesting racial/cultural/class things going on. The problem is that the entirety of the book is about her having a crush on some popular dude, and she wishes he would like her, and suddenly he is super into her, and is it b/c of magic or is it real? And like, he is not at all a fully fleshed out character and I kept hoping she would meet some other, better boy to like! And it ends on a note that doesn't really wrap anything up except for the relationship, which I guess is realistic but like, I cared about everything else so much more. B.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 book 305

Eloise McGraw's The Moorchild
I liked McGraw's Greensleeves a lot, so decided to check out something else by her. This was a very different sort of story, but no less compelling. And it's a Newbery Honor Book! It centers on a young girl growing up in a small town--who is actually a fairy changeling, cast out from her former home. It has a timeless sort of quality that I really appreciated. I wish more of McGraw's books were available as e-books, I'd really like to read them. A/A-.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 book 304

Sarah MacLean's The Rogue Not Taken
Well, this was a little disappointing, after I enjoyed Maclean's last series so much. It just feels really rote and formulaic, and I guess I expect more from her. It centers on the youngest of a set of noveau riche sisters whose coal miner father has recently been made an Earl, and society gossips about the girls like crazy. So after an incident at a garden party, Sophie decides to escape society, mainly b/c circumstances don't go her way b/c she's kind of dumb. Meanwhile, she gets tangled up with a famous rogue of a Marquess and the usual blahdy-blah commences. Obviously he's not even REALLY a rogue, and he has a sad past and daddy issues, and none of it is super compelling, it's just a waiting game till they inevitably get their sh*t together. I was honestly kind of bored and infuriated at the same time while reading this. It's also weirdly repetitive, like it needed one more pass with an editor with a thesaurus (the word "crass" is used like 40 times). Meh. B.

Monday, December 28, 2015

2015 book 303

Carola Dunn's Miss Jacobson's Journey
On the one hand, hooray for Regency romances with Jewish characters! On the other, nothing much happens in this one, even though a plot summary makes it sound exciting: a young British Jewish woman meets her intended, takes one look, says NOPE, and decides to accompany her uncle to Europe to assist him with his medical research. Now it's like nine years later and her uncle has died, buttttt she can't just go home b/c there's a war with Napoleon! Somehow the Rothschild brothers convince her to accompany two British dudes who are smuggling gold to Wellington (she has good language skills)--one a handsome young anti-Semitic lord, and the other . . . her former intended, who is now hot. But then they just like ride around in a carriage for a while and have conversations, it's kind of dull. The depictions of Jews are also a little weird to this Jewish reader--I am one hundred percent certain that the author is not Jewish. I mean, they're positive depictions, which is nice, but it's all a little . . . romanticized? I believe this series predates Dunn's Daisy Dalrymple books, or at least, those are slightly more entertaining. Still, yay Jewish characters. B.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

2015 book 302

Stephanie Burgis' Courting Magic
I really liked this latest story in the Kat Incorrigible series--we've fast-forwarded a few years into the future, which means Kat is more interesting and more capable--and also is being pressured by her family to find a husband. I did wish this had been a full-length novel--there's good material here, with Kat teaming up with some eligible bachelors to find a thief using magic, plus various romantic entanglements, and it all would have been better if there was MORE of it! Still a fun read though. B+.

2015 book 301

Stephanie Burgis' Stolen Magic
The third book in the Kat Incorrigible series is more of the same, but there's nothing wrong with that when the same is super cute! In this one, Kat has to deal with a whole bunch of her sister's disapproving in-laws, a possible murderer, stolen magical portals, and a mysterious woman who knows a lot about Kat's family.  It's all very action-packed and fun.

2015 book 300

Stephanie Burgis' Renegade Magic
The second book in Burgis' Kat Incorrigible series is more of the charming same, with more serious magical shenanigans this time around, as her family takes a trip to Bath for the healing waters (and to find some society husbands). Heh.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

2015 book 299

Stephanie Burgis' Kat Incorrigible
I'm closing out the year by rereading some nice cute fun books to give my brain a little break. Plus, there's now a fourth book in this Georgian-era England magic YA fantasy series so obviously I have to refresh my memory! Anyway, this book is about a 12 year old girl in old timey England only there's MAGIC and cool stuff happens. Great sister relationships here, too.

Friday, December 25, 2015

2015 book 298

Jaclyn Moriarty's A Tangle of Gold
OH man, I think I need to take a breather to digest everything that happened here and how awesome it was. Moriarty manages to wrap up her story in a satisfying--and unexpected way--and still throws a bunch of twists, actions, romance, political intrigue, etc. I mean, good stuff. I want to start reading it again immediately so I can fully absorb everything and just sit with it for a while and enjoy it. Actually, what I want MOST is for more books set in this universe! Anyway, this is highly recommend and totally awesome. A/A-.

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

2015 book 297

Jaclyn Moriarty's The Cracks in the Kingdom
The second book in Moriarty's Colors of Madeleine series does a great job building on the first two, with more dramatic reveals, budding romances, adventure, danger, friendships, and sheer super awesome world-building. I mean, just all around excellent storytelling.

2015 book 296

Jaclyn Moriarty's A Corner of White
I'm rereading this because the third volume comes out pretty soon, and also because it's great, and also because I've forgotten a lot of the details since the last time I read it! It was almost like reading it for the first time again (though I did remember the big end reveal). I love that Moriarty has created two connected worlds here, populated with vibrant and funny and interesting characters, and even managed to throw in a couple of little mystery elements. Totally, totally holds up.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015 book 295

Rose Lerner's Listen to the Moon
Lerner's latest--the third in her Lively St Lemelston series, set in a small town in Regency England--focuses on the valet and maid of the characters from the first book. Lerner is really one of the only authors of historical romances whose books aren't always about Dukes and Earls and other fancy people, which is really nice! Anyway, they enter into a marriage of convenience for job purposes, which is perfect, because they're totally into each other! Seriously, they are very . . . enthusiastic about each other. I really liked all the characters in this and enjoyed watching the relationship develop. My only complaint is a couple of longish speeches toward the end that struck me as mildly unrealistic, but that was super minor. Lerner's stories are as engaging as always. A-.

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

2015 book 294

Susan Barker's The Incarnations
Sooooo this is the story of a taxi driver in modern China who begins receiving letters from a mysterious person claiming that they have known each other, and been tied together, for multiple past lives. Parts of this are relentlessly grim and there was a lot of sexual violence, but on the whole this was a fascinating look at parts of China's history, and at one interesting and flawed family. I definitely liked how this wrapped up, too--though I did guess part of the ending, I was surprised by the rest of it. Strong writing.  B+.

Monday, December 21, 2015

2015 book 293

Cindy Pon's Serpentine
This is one of those books that just has a few too many things going on, so it starts to feel a little bit clumsy. Our protagonist is the handmaid to a well-off girl in ancient China, and oh yeah, she's also a serpent demon. And her mistress is a lesbian. And her love interest can see ghosts and was raised by monks. And a demon dude keeps showing up to offer exposition and hit on her. And a bunch of demons/zombies are roaming around. Plus other stuff. It's all pretty interesting but the writing is definitely overly dramatic most of the time, and it just didn't quite work for me. I might check out the inevitable sequel? B.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

2015 book 292

Elizabeth Hand's Wylding Hall
AHHHHH this book was so creepy and cool! I think if I had read it a week earlier, I'd have considered it for my favorites-of-the-year list, even though it gave me major willies. It's centered on a British folk revival band in the 70s--well, really it's the current day and everyone is telling the story (a la a rock doc) about the band recording an album at a crazy old manor house in the 70s--at least until their lead singer mysteriously vanished. AHHHH and it's so creepy and good!!! But seriously, I am gonna have nightmares. I am so glad I live in a house that was built in like 2005. A/A-.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

2015 book 291

Claudia Gray's Lost Stars
Technically, the title of this seems to be Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Lost Stars, but that is ENTIRELY RIDICULOUS. Anyway, a bunch of Star Wars-related books have come out in the leadup to the new movie, and I tried to read a couple of the others but they were not great, Bob. This one, however, IS pretty great. It's set during--and a little bit after--the events of the original three movies, and it's centered on a pair of kids on one of the far-out planets, who grow up together, and train together, dreaming of being Imperial pilots. And eventually, one IS an Imperial pilot--and one ends up flying for the Rebellion. Star-crossed sci-fi lovers, y'all! The writing here is great (and reminds me to catch up on Gray's Firebird trilogy, since I liked that first one a lot), the story is compelling, almost everyone from the movies makes an appearance, and it's nice for the world to feel more fleshed out. I would have honestly liked this even if it wasn't Star Wars related. A/A-.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

2015 book 290

D.E. Stevenson's The Four Graces
I am just so immensely grateful to the publishers who reissue charming and mild old British books for my reading pleasure (and also to Amazon for putting this one as a daily deal). It's just nice to read something light and NICE. This one is set in a small town in England on the tail end of WWII (so there is some flinging around of the word "Japs," be forewarned), and centers on the village parson and his four daughters (their last name is Grace, hence the title) and how their happy lives become chaotic when various visitors come to town. This is billed as the fourth in a series, but it looks only tangentially related to the others and thus works as a standalone. I do wish it had a sequel, though--I want to know more about Tilly! A-.

Favorite Books of 2015!

Without further ado, I present my most beloved books of 2015!

Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown
Rachel Hartman's Shadow Scale
Erika Johansen's The Invasion of the Tearling
Patrice Kindl's A School for Brides
Naomi Novik's Uprooted
Rainbow Rowell's Carry On
Laura Ruby's Bone Gap
Jane Smiley's Langdon Family Trilogy (Early Warning and The Golden Age both came out in 2015)
Melanie Sumner's How To Write a Novel
Ursula Vernon's Castle Hangnail
Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life

Monday, December 14, 2015

2015 book 289

Jennine Capo Crucet's Make Your Home Among Strangers
Crucet's first novel focuses on a young woman, a Cuban-American first-generation college student, very much out of her element at an elite liberal arts school in New York, dealing with that culture clash AND with a mother back in Miami who has gotten involved with a thinly-veiled version of the Elian Gonzalez case. I think the college parts were stronger, or maybe it's that I just relate to those more since I was actually a college student in 1999-2000. :) She does really nail those ALMOST moments of young adulthood. Parts of this were alternately frustrating and heartbreaking, but it all felt really REAL. The end was a little more wrappy-uppy than it needed to be, but otherwise I thought this was a really strong debut. A-.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

2015 book 288

Courtney Milan's Once Upon a Marquess

1) Why did I think starting the new Courtney Milan book at 11:30 pm was a good idea???
2) WHY isn't the sequel--hell, the whole series!--available RIGHT THIS MINUTE. If it was, I would honestly stay up all night reading them all.

Anyway, this is the first book in a new 7-book series; this one is centered on a young woman whose family has fallen from grace--her father, an Earl, and her older brother were convicted of treason! AND it was the young man she loved whose testimony put them away!!! But now, eight years later, she needs his help, and he is all too happy to assist. As always, Milan has populated this world with lovely characters, great friendships and families, a little bit of mystery, and a couple you want to root for (he has night terrors and a very silly sense of humor, she has an awesome secret talent and two troublesome younger siblings). Swoon city. A/A-.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

2015 book 287

Sarah Ward's In Bitter Chill
I dunno, this was a perfectly fine mystery set in a small town in England, with all that entails. It centers on a recent death (actually, two deaths) that may be tied to a long-ago kidnapping, where one girl came home, but her friend never did. It's pretty entertaining, though I picked up a few things way earlier than the detectives did, and the melodrama ramps way up toward the end. Also, the main detective is romantically interested in THREE different women involved with the case, and one of the other detective's antipathy toward his upcoming wedding is mentioned a lot but never really delved into--unless this is the start of a series where that will be addressed? I mean, these characters were interesting enough that I might read a sequel. B.

Friday, December 11, 2015

2015 book 286

Christine Heppermann's Poisoned Apples
I'm not a huge fan of poetry--you have to pay so much more ATTENTION to it!--but these poems are not subtle. They just about beat you over the head with their themes and messages. So in that sense, it was an easy read! I liked the use of fairy tales and there was some humor, which was nice. And the messages (re; body image/eating disorders, expectations of femininity, friendship, relationships, sex, etc) would maybe be helpful for a teenage girl? I'm not sure how well the accompanying photos worked, though--some of them are a little on the nose. It's not really thought-provoking to have it all spelled out. And some of them feel dramatic for the sake of drama. Which is all perfect for a teenage girl! Luckily, I'm not a teenage girl any more, and don't need empowering poetry. (Also, for something trying to break down gender stereotypes, it's very heteronormative.) B.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

2015 book 285

Martine Leavitt's Calvin
Soooo this is a book about a schizophrenic teenager who becomes convinced he's Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes, and oh yeah, he sees/hears Hobbes, and the solution to this problem is to hike across Lake Erie to Bill Watterson's home in Cleveland. It kind of works, except for the romance-with-childhood-friend-Susie angle. B/B+.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

2015 book 284

Chinelo Okparanta's Under the Udala Trees
Sometimes when a book ends up on a ton of best-of-the-year lists, it's kind of pretentious and dense, but this one was extremely readable and compelling. It's the coming of age story of a young woman in Nigeria, starting during their brief civil war, when her mother sends her away--and she falls in love with another refugee, who's not only from the enemy side, but is also a girl. Yup, just when you think you're getting a harrowing war story, you are instead getting a lesbian coming of age story! (Not that parts of it aren't harrowing--Nigeria isn't exactly gay-friendly, and most of this book takes place in the 70s.) Protagonist Ijeoma is great, she feels really REAL and I honestly just loved her. I found her relationship with her mother--and particularly both of their relationships with Christianity--to be fascinating.  Deservedly on many best of the year lists. My list is more FAVORITES than "best," but this is definitely one of the best-crafted and best-told books I have read this year. A.

2015 book 283

D.L. Carter's Obstreperous (Book One)
The sequel to Ridiculous is apparently being released in three parts due to formatting issues--I do hope they work harder on parts two and three, because this one had some major comma issues (my pet peeve). Anyway, the main plots involve a claim on the recent inheritance of the ladies from the last book, as well as romances for the two younger sisters of that couple (seemingly with a pair of identical twins, which means some inevitable/annoying mistaken identities). For some reason this one stressed me out a little more than the last one, and since it's not complete, I'm not sure how to grade it. I think I'll wait until all three parts are out before coming back to this.

Monday, December 07, 2015

2015 book 282

D.L. Carter's Ridiculous
Never has a book had a more appropriate title than this one, in which an impoverished relation poses as her (dead) (male) cousin to provide for her mother and sisters, which is all well and good till she meets a super hot guy and promptly falls for him. Not to mention all the excitement of surviving a LONDON SEASON! Seriously, the characters here are charming and cute, and this book is hilarious in every way. I could make some minor quibbles, but why, when this is so adorable. A-.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

2015 book 281

Merrie Haskell's The Princess Curse
I'm a sucker for books reworking the story of the twelve dancing princesses--this one is set in a small Eastern European kingdom in medieval times, and centers on a young herbalist's apprentice, who's determined to break the curse to win the prize that will allow her to buy herself a place in a convent to continue her education. All sorts of excitement ensues, and I like that things went in a slightly unexpected direction. This book begs for a sequel, but I'm not sure if one will ever come out. Alas. A-.

Friday, December 04, 2015

2015 book 280

Faith Sullivan's Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse
I've never heard of Sullivan before, but this book is apparently the latest of several set in a small town in Minnesota, and I liked it enough to investigate the others. It centers on a woman and her life, across most of the 1900s. She has ups and downs, but through it all is consoled by literature--particularly the books of P.G. Wodehouse. I will say that the first, say, 2/3rds are much stronger than the end third--things just start to feel a little stilted and false. But I really enjoyed it, for the most part. A-/B+.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

2015 book 279

Susin Neilsen's We Are All Made of Molecules
Neilsen is a former writer for Degrassi, and it seems like she still has her figner on the pulse of young people, because this novel rang really true to me. It's the usual popular girl-nerd boy blended family sort of thing, but the characters all feel real (minus the girl's constant malapropisms) and it made me cry more than once. Maybe the end is a bit too pat, but I didn't care, I thought this was a really nice book. Warnings for some rapiness. B+/A-.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

2015 book 278

Lucy Parker's Act Like It
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books gave this one a rave the other day, and since it was about a fake relationship, I decided to check it out--fake relationships are one of my favorite tropes. This one involves two actors in a play in London--she's stuck playing opposite her ex every night, and he plays the villain of the piece, and is also a major tabloid bad boy. So of course the behind-the-scenes folks decide they should act like a couple to bring more attention to the show, and help his reputation. I liked both these characters a lot and found this book really enjoyable, minus the very unbelievable late obstacle they have to overcome for their happy ending. Otherwise, pretty cute. B/B+.

Monday, November 30, 2015

2015 book 277

Becky Albertalli's Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda
I have read a lot of positive reviews of this book, so I don't know why I only just got around to reading it now (maybe FYA book club has me burned out on contemporary YA). It is a super cute book about Simon, a gay high school sophomore, who has been anonymously emailing with a classmate who is ALSO gay--when their correspondence is discovered by a guy who decides to casually blackmail Simon into helping him get with one of his girl friends. Like Simon doesn't have enough to deal with with trying to come out, trying to figure out who he's falling for over email, and dealing with other high school stuff (like the school play) and family stuff. Like I said, it is all pretty cute, and if it wraps up a little too neatly, well, the world could do with a few more nice gay romance books. A-.

2015 book 276

Ann Leckie's Ancillary Mercy
So this was a pretty great conclusion to Leckie's Imperial Radch series--it's been a long time since I was this interested and invested in a sci-fi series. I do wish these books didn't have a bunch of extras at the end--it means the end of the story comes before I'm ready for it! That's obviously a minor quibble though. I really especially loved all the AIs here. Good stuff. A/A-.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

2015 book 275

Ann Leckie's Ancillary Sword
The second book in Leckie's Imperial Radh series manages not to feel too middle-chapter-ish, being chock full of outer space political action and intrigue, and a few little moments that made me tear up. I really am pretty engrossed in this world Leckie created, and find her protagonist to be entirely compelling. A/A-.

2015 book 274

Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice
I'm not even gonna TRY to explain what's going on in this book, b/c it's kind of complicated and I don't read enough sci-fi to be able to articulate it clearly. I will just say that I liked it much more than I expected to, thought the gender stuff was interesting, and liked the main character and found her mission compelling. Now I'm off to see what happens next. A-.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

2015 book 273

Pam Munoz Ryan's Echo
I'm an adult, so sometimes middle-grade books don't work for me, and this was one of those times. The concept was cool--there's a magical harmonica and it passes through the hands of three young people during the turbulent 1930s and 40s, with a very fairy tale framing device--and most of it was fine, but it was just TOO on the nose/moralizing/educational/cheesy/ SOMETHING. Not subtle, anyway. B.

2015 book 272

Julia Claiborne Johnson's Be Frank With Me
Well, this was a super cute/satisfying/engaging first novel, centering on a young woman who's dispatched out to LA to assist a famous reclusive novel with her long-awaited second novel--and ends up being in charge of the woman's eccentric (but charming) young son. I really feel like this book could be a big hit with a lot of audiences--it's VERY pleasant but not cheesy or anything, just really a delight to read, and with a few nice little surprises. Totally enjoyable. A/A-.

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

2015 book 271

Lois McMaster Bujold's Paladin of Souls
The second book in the Chalion series is a solid follow-up to the first, and I especially liked it because it centered on a middle-aged woman, which I rarely see in fantasy fiction. I also love the way the religion is used in this series, though I won't go into specifics because of spoilers. There's a nice, satisfying romance, lots of action, and just really strong characterization. Great vacation reading. A/A-.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

2015 book 270

Robin Stevens' First Class Murder
The third book in Stevens' Wells and Wong series (about two fourteen year olds solving mysteries in the 1930s) is a straight up homage to Murder on the Orient Express, as Hazel's father comes from Hong Kong to take the girls on a tour of Europe on the famous train--and of course there's a murder. BUT there are also several other amateur sleuths on board getting in their way! And it's hilarious. I really appreciate Stevens' take on the racism of the day (and how Hazel reacts to it), as well as the period-appropriate anti-Semitism. And the friendship between the girls is very well-done. These books are just DELIGHTFUL. A-.

Monday, November 23, 2015

2015 book 269

Robin Steven's Arsenic for Tea
The second book in Stevens' Wells and Wong mystery series (after A Murder Most Unladylike) is just as charming as the first, but ramps up the tension with its plot--Hazel accompanies Daisy to Daisy's family home (manor? fancy house, anyway) for the holidays/Daisy's birthday, and when a most unpleasant guest is murdered, a bunch of relatives are suspects. This series reminds me of what I liked about the earlier Flavia de Luce books, but already is willing to expand its horizons much more than that series ever was. Plus the characters are a lot more fun and slightly more realistic. It's not too hard to guess the end, but Stevens lays it all out nicely and does keep some red herrings in the mix--and anyway, this IS aimed at a younger audience, but manages to entertain this adult as well. A-.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

2015 book 268

Heidi Heilig's The Girl from Everywhere
The concept of this book is GREAT--a girl has been raised on a ship where her father is the captain, and he has the power to navigate anywhere, anytime, even fantasy worlds, as long as they have a relevant map. Unfortunately, her father is also a heroin addict, obsessed with returning to a time before her mother died in childbirth, hoping to prevent that sad end--but will it also erase his daughter from existence? This book gets super bogged down in Hawaiian politics (interesting, but there's too much of it) and a love triangle that is a total waste of space, but the way it ends makes me intrigued to see where the series is going next--it looks like all the stuff I found annoying might be done with! B.

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

Friday, November 20, 2015

2015 book 267

Eloise Jarvis McGraw's Greensleeves
I'd never heard of this book or this author before (though she apparently wrote some of the later Oz books), but it's one of the ones Nancy Pearl had reissued, which was enough of a reason to check it out (another reason: it's $1.99 for Kindle right now). Originally published in 1968, it's the story of an eighteen year old girl completely at loose ends--she's the child of divorced celebrity parents who have raised her all over Europe, and she has no idea who she is, where she belongs, or what she wants to do with her life. So when a family friend enlists her help in determining if an elderly woman's will--with a number of odd bequests--was tricked out of her, she's happy to go undercover as a beehived waitress in Portland, Oregon, and get to know the locals. And it's all super sweet and funny and a little bit sad and endlessly charming. It's also an interesting look at 60s culture, particularly regarding relationships. Really, just wonderful. A/A-.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

2015 book 266

Marissa Meyer's Winter
The conclusion to Meyer's Lunar Chronicles series is action-packed and fairly gripping, as the characters from the first three books band together with the Snow White character to start a revolution to topple the evil queen (the rebellion has more than a few shades of Mockingjay). Despite being OVER EIGHT HUNDRED PAGES LONG, this book did leave me with a lot of unanswered questions. Like, the first 815 pages are all action and whatever (which starts to get a little exhausting at page like 700), and then the last ten are wrap-up. The balance is just a little bit off. Maybe if someone had edited out some of the awkward romance scene between the four couples (yes, there are four couples!), things would have been a bit more streamlined. I mean, I found this as engrossing as the first three, but these books are pretty goofy. B/B+.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

2015 book 265

Mindy Kaling's Why Not Me?
My sister picked this for Thanksgiving Sister Book Club, and I was pleased b/c I like Mindy Kaling and her first book was pretty good. This one is also pretty good--more personal stories, lots of pics, etc. I mean, if you like Mindy Kaling, you'll like this book, presumably? Actually, my favorite part was the chapter where she imagined her life as a high school Latin teacher, and it was a very sweet romantic comedy! I was all like, I wish she would write a novel! And then realized I should probably just give her tv show another chance, haha. I did think it was interesting that she mentions a lot of men she works with or has worked with--but only once mentioned a woman coworker by name. Give your lady writers some props, Mindy! B+.

Monday, November 16, 2015

2015 book 264

Elsa Hart's Jade Dragon Mountain
Here's something a little unusual, at least in America--a mystery set in China during the early days of the Qing Dynasty. It features an exiled librarian, who finds himself at the edge of the kingdom--just days before the Emperor is supposed to visit. And THEN he finds himself trying to solve the murder of an elderly Jesuit priest. Really interesting stuff here on culture, religion, astronomy, storytelling, etc, and there are a few good red herrings. Although the author is a white lady, things don't seem to veer too much into Orientalism (though I am not an expert and may just not have noticed). Definitely an enjoyable and entertaining read. A-.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

2015 book 263

Ursula Vernon's Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible
Vernon's latest is in the model of her Dragonbreath books--mixing comics/illustrations with text, aimed at like the 8-10 year old crowd. It is also a super cute and funny take on the Sleeping Beauty story, with hamsters! Hamster princess Harriet is cursed to prick her paw on a hamster wheel on her 12th birthday--but she realizes that means she has to REACH her 12th birthday, and is thus INVINCIBLE, and thus can go on all sorts of crazy adventures. Of course, the curse does catch up with her eventually, and it's all full of Vernon's trademark wit. Great stuff. A-.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

2015 book 262

Sarah Vowell's Lafayette in the Somewhat United States
It seems like Vowell has been working on this book for a few years, but I'm sure that she's happy it was published during Hamilton-mania, when everyone is extra interested in America's Favorite Fighting Frenchman! Of course, this book isn't really a biography of Lafayette; being a Sarah Vowell book, it's also about the Revolutionary War, French-American relations, and the fact that the United States have never really been "united," per se. It jumps around a lot. I wonder if this would work better as an audiobook, since it reads like having a very long conversation with a very chatty friend who is prone to digressions (I liked the one on the Touro synagogue!). With an audiobook, though, you'd be missing the adorable illustrations (I am particularly partial to the one of Franklin in a fur hat). B/B+.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

2015 book 261

Rebecca Podos' The Mystery of Hollow Places
I love a good YA mystery, and this was a pretty good one! It centers on a teenage girl who looooves mysteries (her favorite book is Rebecca and her father writes medical mysteries), and she gets a doozy to solve. Her mother left when she was small, and she's been raised by her father (and lately a stepmother)--but now her father has vanished, leaving behind only a stone that's part of her favorite bedtime story--the story of how her parents met. So she's off to solve both disappearances, with the help of her best (only) friend and her friend's cute older brother (no worries, the romance here is both realistic and not at all a focus, so refreshing in a YA book!).  The ending is maybe a little bit too cheesy, but I liked the characters and pacing here a lot, and there's nothing wrong with a solid wrap-up. B+.

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

Monday, November 09, 2015

2015 book 260

Ilana C. Myer's Last Song Before Night
Look, this book has a lot going on and I'm too tired to even BEGIN to explain it, so I will just say there is magic, music, action, romance, evil dudes, good dudes, and some pretty okay ladies. I think things would have been a lot stronger had things focused specifically on the young woman who's fled her home and longs to be a poet (a bard sort of role, highly honored in this world, but only men are trained), especially considering the way things progress. There are like 7 characters here splitting things up, which is fine, because they're mostly interesting, but it kind of diffuses the story for me. I ended up not really being invested in any of them. The writing here is strong, otherwise--this is a first novel, and I am curious to see what Myer does next. B.

Friday, November 06, 2015

2015 book 259

Patrick Ness' The Rest of Us Just Live Here
Patrick Ness' books are sometimes hit or miss for me, but this one was pretty aces. It centers on the normal kids in a town where crazy things are always happening--the kids who AREN'T the chosen ones, having to deal with the disaster, the kids who are just trying to make it till high school graduation. The protagonist has some complicated stuff going on--severe OCD, a lifelong crush on a girl friend, a politician mother, a recovering anorexic sister, an alcoholic dad, etc--and he just wants to make it out. But because all of his (and his friends') stuff is intermixed with some frankly hilarious summaries of what the "indie kids" are getting up to in their battle against the Immortals, it never feels too cliched (and I have read a LOT of cliched YA books lately). Most of the characters are pretty well drawn--I particularly loved his best friend for a variety of reasons, which you will understand immediately if you read this, as well as the relationship between the protagonist and his sisters--and the pacing is good.  Even the horny teen boy stuff was at a minimum, for which I am extremely grateful. Entertaining stuff. A-/B+.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

2015 book 258

Elizabeth Strout's My Name is Lucy Barton
Strout's latest (after, most recently, The Burgess Boys and the Pulitzer-winning Olive Kitteridge) feels like a smaller book than her earlier ones, but it still manages to touch on motherhood (and complicated mother-daughter relationships), the AIDS crisis, marriage, poverty (the class stuff here is VERY strong), and writing itself, as the writer protagonist reflects back on her time in a hospital after an appendectomy. The writing here feels really incisive, to me, and Strout says a lot in a slight space. A/A-.

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

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

2015 book 257

Gail Carriger's Manners and Mutiny
The final book in Carriger's Finishing School series--a prequel series to her Parasol Protectorate books--is a great finish, full of action, romance, spying, social justice, secrets, great friendships between women, and a lovable mechanical dog. What more could you want from a book, really? Seriously, this was great, just super fun. A/A-.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

2015 book 256

Lisa Lutz's The Passenger
Lutz has really been breaking away from her Spellmans mystery series (my beloved!) with her last couple of books, and although this one does have some mystery elements, it's really more in the thriller vein. It centers on a woman whose husband is laying dead at the bottom of the stairs, and though she seems to be innocent, she goes on the run, adopting different names and identities as she crosses the country. It's all very exciting and interesting, but a lot of it rings kind of false--the character Blue, as fun as she would be in a movie, does not at all feel like an actual human, and the big reveal at the end was pretty easy to see coming. Still, it moves quickly and has Lutz's trademark wit, so it's entertaining throughout. B/B+.

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

Friday, October 30, 2015

2015 book 255

Sarah Avery's Tales from Rugosa Coven
This was an unexpectedly delightful series of three stories/novellas all involving some of the members of a coven in New Jersey--one, a lawyer dealing with being married to a Methodist, not to mention being haunted by his recently deceased parents; another, a woman crippled by OCD; and the third, well, let's just say there's a mysterious dude with gills involved. Not to mention coven politics, tarot readings, inflatable art installations, and a lot of tattoos and piercings. I loved all the matter-of-factness of their lives and their relationships and their day jobs. Really just funny and charming and magical. I hope Avery writes another book soon. A/A-.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

2015 book 254

Stephanie Kennedy's Hey Did Darling
Look, if you discovered one of your favorite childhood books--about a bunch of 8th grade girls who form a band and then pretend to be boys because SEXISM, hey, the 80s were a somewhat different time!--was available as an e-book on Open Library, you too would stay up late reading it and delighting in every hilarious moment.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

2015 book 253

Kate Elliott's Cold Magic
I'm not even going to try to explain the setting/world-building in this book, because it's totally bonkers (an afterword reveals that Elliott created the world with the input of her three teenage children and two of their friends, which explains EVERYTHING): there's magic, there's steampunk, there's a spirit world, there's dragons, and all sorts of ancient civilizations (Romans, Celts, Phoenicians, etc) are all still around and ruling Europe in the 1800s. Like, whaaaaat. The characters and the plotting kept me interested, though--the protagonist is a young Canaanite/Phoenician girl (can I admit that half the reason I kept reading at first was b/c I was hoping some Judeans would pop up?) who finds herself suddenly in an arranged marriage with a powerful magical dude, and all sorts of political things are going on, and also FAMILY SECRETS. I really loved her relationship with her best friend/cousin, and even found the way the romance built to be mildly interesting. I mean, there is a lot going on here--a LOT--but it moves pretty quickly and it's all really compelling. B+.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

2015 book 252

Kate Morton's The Lake House
I have loved most of Morton's past books, with one exception, and this is sort of somewhere in between. It's the usual people-in-the-present-uncovering-past-secrets thing, centering on a young police detective who's been forced to go visit her grandfather in Cornwall after leaking information to the press, and then she gets interested in a long-unsolved case from 1933 involving a missing boy. Meanwhile, one of that boy's sisters is now an elderly best-selling crime novelist who knows more than she said at the time. Things flash back and forth between decades and characters, mostly to good effect--I was not super interested in the detective's personal life, which was too on the nose related to the past case. And then the end made me roll my eyes a little bit. Morton just takes it one step too far. Otherwise this was enjoyable, but that end was so ridiculous as to sour things a bit. B/B+.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

2015 book 251

Dana Chamblee Carpenter's Bohemian Gospel
Sooooo I am way too boggled by the ending of this book to think about the beginning! I will do my best to summarize. This novel is set in 13th-century Bohemia, and focuses on a young girl--with some very uncanny abilities--who's been raised in a convent. But now she's saved the life of young King Ottakar (a real historical dude!) and is whisked away to Prague to make sure he stays healthy--and also because they're totally into each other. I admit to being way more interested in her powers and her religion-related activities than in her obviously ill-fated romance with a king, but things generally move along at a good pace and I liked both characters. The religion nerd in me really appreciated where her journey led, and the epilogue left me wanting more. There should have been more!! B/B+.

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

2015 book 250

Han Kang's The Vegetarian
Publisher's Weekly is touting this as "the first must-read book of 2016," but I think that's overstating things a bit. It centers on a woman who, after an unsettling dream, becomes a vegetarian, and it's narrated in turns by her husband, her brother-in-law, and her sister--so the central figure is always something of an enigma. As a vegetarian, I found it a little weird that vegetarianism comes hand-in-hand with a mental breakdown (the depiction of vegetarianism here is not very flattering), and as a human, I didn't really enjoy all the scenes of marital rape. There's an interesting dreamy sort of atmosphere that fits thematically, but on the whole, this didn't really thrill me. It just left me with a lot more questions than answers. B.

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

Friday, October 23, 2015

2015 book 249

Lily King's Euphoria
King's latest (after Father of the Rain and others) is very, very heavily inspired by the life of famed anthropologist Margaret Mead, and particularly an interlude in her life where she and her second husband encountered the man who would become her third husband--in real life, anyway. A lot of the agency is taken away from the Mead character here, since it's all narrated by the man who falls for her as they all investigate various tribes in New Guinea, and we only get a few brief diary entries from her perspective. Or maybe the way King changed the story just pissed me off and that has colored my perspective on the earlier sections. I did quite like this until the end--the love triangle is interesting, as is the husband's jealousy of her professional success--but I really don't see why King made the narrative choices she did when the real story is so much more colorful and satisfying. She does spent a bit of time opining on the nature of tragedy, which actually makes me madder about how this ended, since it doesn't rise to that level. UGH. B/B+?

2015 book 248

Heather Demetrios' I'll Meet You There
Well, this sure was an FYA book club book, in the same mold as most of the others we've read recently. Let me list the elements:

--dead dad
--drunk, depressed mom
--girl determined to get out of her podunk town and get to college! She is an ARTIST and likes to quote famous lines about art and make collages, which are METAPHORICAL.
--boy just back from Afghanistan, newly sans a leg
--best friends with limited character development
--quirky older mentor/friend/boss
--sappy ending with too much focus on the romance and not on the girl's life goals

I would have liked this book better if I hadn't recently read twelve just like it. The love interest, the wounded Marine, is actually a great character, but everything else just feels like a super big YA cliche. B.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

2015 book 247

Mette Ivie Harrison's His Right Hand
The sequel to Harrison's first book, The Bishop's Wife, is more of the same--a Mormon woman, wrestling with her own issues, finds herself involved in a murder investigation--though the case here is a bit different, as her husband's friend and fellow bishop is murdered, only it turns out he was biologically female. (According to an author's note, this book was apparently written after a friend's child came out as trans, and there is some feeling here of trying to help people accept others' sexualities and genders, or of making Mormon seem less un-accepting, or something.) The mystery itself was a bit all over the place, but I enjoy the protagonist and her family, and Harrison has pretty good timing. I would definitely read another of these if this does turn into an ongoing series, but I do hope the author works on building an actual /mystery/ a little bit more. (Not that I don't enjoy the in-depth look into the Mormon community, just the mystery feels sort of slapped-on.) B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on December 1st.

2015 book 246

Angela Slatter's Of Sorrow and Such
I've never read anything by Slatter before, but this novella makes me want to read more! It centers on a witch in a small village, and her knowledge that trouble could come knocking on her door at any moment. Which, of course, it does. The small town has a very unpleasant dark underbelly--they always do, though, don't they--which complicates things. The protagonist is one of my favorite types of characters, a practical witch with a secretly soft heart. I also really liked the relationships between various women in this book, and seeing how they helped each other (or didn't). It's all kind of creepy and cool. A-.

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

2015 book 245

Robert Galbraith's Career of Evil
The third book in JK Rowling's pseudonymous series falls into the grim/gritty/grisly side of things even more so than the earlier ones, as a serial killer is obsessed with Cormoran and Robin and is stalking them with some pretty awful things in mind. Besides the serial killing, there are also mentions of rape, pedophilia, and other gross stuff, so be forewarned. As always, the pacing here is great--I read the whole thing pretty much in one sitting and could barely put it down for bathroom breaks. I still HATE Robin's fiance in a big way, which does inform some of my feelings on this book, but Robin is great, Cormoran is great, all of the suspects are viable and suitably creepy, etc. Solid stuff. A-.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

2015 book 244

Lois McMaster Bujold's The Curse of Chalion
This is one of those books that's been on my to-read list for forever, but it got bumped up when a friend told me it had a really interested religious system that I'd be into reading about (also, it's $3.99 for Kindle right now). And she was right! The story centers on a man, previously a high-ranking army officer/landed gentry type, who was purposely sold into slavery instead of ransomed after a battle went badly. Now he's made his way back into his home country, where he gets assigned to the task of tutoring the princess, and they get caught up in some crazy political (and religious!) stuff. Now, I did have some complaints: his love interest could have used some personality, and the bad guy is pretty rapey. But the author has a good sense of pacing, the princess is pretty cool, and I liked how it all came together. Lots of fun action and intrigue and gods and goddesses! A-/B+.

Monday, October 19, 2015

2015 book 243

Patricia C. Wrede's Talking to Dragons
The fourth book in Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles is actually the first she wrote, so it's impressive how she managed to get everything to fit together. This one has a little too much schlepping randomly around the forest, but I do like how everything wraps up.

2015 book 242

Patricia C. Wrede's Calling on Dragons
The third book in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles is great mainly b/c it focuses on witch Morwen and her cats. Lots of the usual fun magical wizard-fighting intrigue and adventure, though I could have done with slightly less of the accidentally transformed rabbit. I love all these characters, though!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

2015 book 241

Patricia C. Wrede's Searching for Dragons
Still sick, still reading books about dragons and princesses and kings and magic.

2015 book 240

Patricia C. Wrede's Dealing with Dragons
I am feeling super sick and puny this weekend, which means the Enchanted Forest Chronicles are the perfect thing to reread. I love sensible Cimorene and her friendship with dragon Kazul, the pacing here is excellent, there are lots of funny parts, etc etc. I'm so glad these are available for the Kindle now.

Friday, October 16, 2015

2015 book 239

Hester Young's The Gates of Evangeline
This is one of those books that I only kept reading to see if I was right about the mystery. I was. There is just WAY too much going on here. The protagonist is a woman whose young son recently died of a brain aneurysm, and now she's been assigned a job to go to Louisiana and write a book about a long-unsolved cold case involving a missing little boy from a prominent/wealthy family. Also, she is now having visions of dead children (including the missing boy). Also, there is a love interest whose family may be tied to the cold case. ALSO, every Southern character is a horrible stereotype; seriously, it's almost offensive. The way she writes their speech! Except for the super rich characters, who are stereotypes in a different way. There is some okay stuff here on grieving, and some interesting closeted characters, but this book was SO CRAZY and so all-over-the-place that I couldn't really take it seriously. B-.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

2015 book 238

Ursula K. Le Guin's The Tombs of Atuan
Recently, a friend recommended the Earthsea books to me, but I got more than halfway through A Wizard of Earthsea and complained that Ged was kind of lame, so was advised to read this one first instead. The problem with reading these classics now is that I've read SO many books that were influenced by them, not to mention their mildly dated attitudes (I kind of wished wizard Ged was less influential on teenage priestess Tenar--it's like his inspirational speeches give her meaning. Find your own meaning, girl! I get that they sort of rescue each other, but he's the driving force). Anyway, I enjoyed this one much more than the first, and am kind of interested in Tenar's journey, but still don't give a crap about Ged, and won't be revisiting his whole coming-of-age story. I think the moral here is to be wary of recommendations, because I feel obliged to read and like them, and it starts to feel like homework. B+.

Monday, October 12, 2015

2015 book 237

Courtney Alameda's Shutter
Sometimes I am not really into the books we read for book club, and this was one of those times. It has an ok concept--it's basically our world, but with ghosts and undead creatures, and there's a big organization that handles them, led by the descendants of some of the great fictional monster-hunters (mainly people from Dracula). Our protagonist is a Van Helsing with a taagic backstory and a father with absolutely no redeeming qualities, a love interest whose skin color is once compared to a hazelnut and once to a five-shot latte, and a couple of other sidekicks who don't really have much in the way of personality (one is a nerd, one is a ladies' man). Everyone is super stupid, like, if you talk all the time about how Dracula might be a danger, you should maybe read the book and notice the VERY OBVIOUS clues around you, and also don't keep secrets, my god. Anyway, she and her three dude compatriots are all attacked by a powerful ghost and will die unless they exorcise it (oh, the book is called "Shutter" b/c she catches ghosts using an old-school film camera). There is a lot of action here, so things move along quickly, and I had no issues with the way things wrapped up, but the writing is pretty overly dramatic. I also personally am not into horror, but this was more on the gross/gory side than the creepy side. It's super gross at parts though. Not for me. B/B-.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

2015 book 236

Nancy Mitford's Highland Fling
I have no idea why Duke recently added this to their e-book collection, but I am never gonna complain about access to Nancy Mitford! This is her first novel, so not really as compelling as some of her later work, but entertaining for sure. It's mostly all set at a house party in Scotland, where some Bright Young Things have a bit of a generation gap with the older attendees. There are shenanigans, a romance, and a lot of silliness. This definitely has Mitford's trademark humor, but is also a lot sweeter than some of her better-known works. Warnings for period-accurate racism and anti-Semitism, otherwise nothing to complain about. B+.

2015 book 235

Mercedes Lackey's The Fire Rose
Mercedes Lackey has written like ten million books, so I've never been sure where to start, but someone suggested I might like her Elemental Masters series. This first one is a loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but with some fun additional plot--it's 1905 California, the Beast is a powerful sorcerer dude/railroad baron who tried to transform into a wolf and the spell went badly wrong, and the Beauty is a great academic girl who finds herself in dire straits and ends up taking a job reading and translating books for the Beast (who can't read b/c he's a weird wolf-man). Now, this book was mostly enjoyable, but I had a few problems, primarily the bad guy, who is beyond villainous. Like, his hobby is actually raping girls who have been tricked into sex slavery. I'm NOT making that up or exaggerating, it's what he does for fun, and he totally wants to rape the main character. I also could have done with less of her assuming no one will ever like her b/c she's an academic/plain. Like, paragraph upon paragraph is devoted to her thinking this. We get it. But I mean, obviously rapey villain is worse. I also thought this was too long--it dragged quite a bit in the middle and I was eager for things to just HAPPEN already, and then everything happens all at once in like the last five pages. By the end, I was sick of both of the main characters and I am not planning to read any more in this series. B-.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

2015 book 234

Elena Ferrante's My Beautiful Friend
Well, I'm finally reading Ferrante's Neapolitan novels, and they certainly are worthy of the critical acclaim they've received. I will say that this was a little bit of a slow read for me, mainly because the book (and series, I think) centers on a friendship/rivalry between two girls in a small, poor area of Naples as they grow up, and I found the relationship somewhat stressful to read about. Ferrante really brings this neighborhood and its denizens (and their ever-shifting alliances) to light, and the end made me very curious about what's next, but I may need a little break before I read the next one--they're pretty dense and a little bit exhausting, emotionally. A-.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

2015 book 233

Rainbow Rowell's Carry On
OK, so, like, even if I /didn't/ know the background to this book, I couldn't help but keep mentally comparing it to Harry Potter--at least until about a third of the way through, when I got so caught up in things that I briefly forgot Harry Potter existed. There is a lot of good stuff going on in Rowell's fantasy debut--pretty interesting world-building, great characters, whatever, BUT then there is a murder mystery!! And some other mysteries. And it's all really satisfying (EXCEPT for poor Lucy, oh Lucy, you did make me cry)! The love story could maaaaybe have been built up a bit more, but I liked how it all went down, and I definitely liked how things wrapped up. Rowell really has a knack for writing characters you just root for, and I loved her sly little take on chosen one/magic school stories. I was worried this couldn't possibly live up to my high expectations, but it DID, and I want to read it again immediately. A/A-.

Monday, October 05, 2015

2015 book 232

Julie Murphy's Dumplin' 
Let me preface my complaint by saying that I think the marketing did this book a slight disservice--because I was led to believe this book was about a confident fat teenager who enters the beauty pageant her mother runs, and also has a hot love interest, and while the latter two things are true, the most important one--her confidence--is not. Which is soooo realistic, of course! She is a super realistic teenager with super realistic teenage problems and drama. But I wanted a heroine who kicks ass from day one, and doesn't spend the whole book learning to kick ass (with the help of some magical drag queens and adorable sidekicks). This is just a me thing, I realize. I liked most of the book very much--good female friendships, good explorations of grief, lots of Dolly Parton--but thought it veered a little bit into cheesy territory and needed more character development for the love interest and the best friend. Great cover and generally cute story, though. B/B+.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

2015 book 231

Claire Vaye Watkins' Gold Fame Citrus
I am perpetually pleased that literary post-apocalyptic books have become a genre, and this is a pretty strong example of the genre. It seems to be set in the near future--though its release is timely, since part of the problem is a massive drought in California (there's also a whole thing with a giant dune desert thing encroaching on North America). Our protagonists are a young couple living in a starlet's mansion in the mountains of California--at least until they encounter a little girl and decide they need to find a more stable life. Which inevitably ends up involving a cultish group headed by a mystical dude--you know the type, he's just like every other cult leader ever. I think I liked this a lot, and liked how it wrapped up, though I definitely feel I should warn everyone that it's all sort of a bummer. But like, what else is a literary post-apocalyptic books gonna be like? B+.

Friday, October 02, 2015

2015 book 230

Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows
You know, I didn't even know this was the start of a series till I got to the last pages and realized nothing was going to be resolved. It's a good set-up for a series--lots going on, lots of characters, lots of moral ambiguity--but I was still a little disappointed. Of course, that's my own fault! Anyway, Bardugo's new series is set in the same universe as her Grisha Trilogy, and you /do/ kind of have to read that one if you want to understand anything about the Grisha, though I think it's set in another country entirely. Basically it's a heist story, where a motley crew of six people have to accomplish an impossible prison break! And all fall in love! Seriously, six people, three couples--not that I wasn't rooting for the couples, it's just weird that every character has a love interest (and it's one of the other characters!). Also, only five of the six are POV characters, so the 6th is pretty under-developed, comparatively, and somewhat weirdly. I guess this sounds like a lot of complaints for what was generally a pretty entertaining story. I think I just have a higher bar for Bardugo based on her past work, and this one was not quite there. It was good though! B+.

Monday, September 28, 2015

2015 book 229

Adrienne Celt's The Daughters
This was a very pretty little book about a line of mothers and daughters, their musical talents, their storytelling, and so on. It centers on Lulu, a successful opera singer who has just given birth, as she meditates on motherhood and on the stories she was told of her great-grandmother in Poland. The writing here is really strong, but I did wish for a little bit /more/, particularly about Lulu's mother Sara. And about the Jewish people on the other side of the great-grandmother's town--there are some interesting hints dropped here that aren't really followed up on. B/B+.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

2015 book 226

Alison Goodman's Eona
I've been reading this book off and on for almost a week--more off than on, frankly, because I wasn't as nearly as into it as I was the first one. The protagonist feels a lot weaker here--I say weaker despite her dragon power because she's whinier, easier to manipulate--and she spends way too much time thinking about romance stuff, because Goodman sticks a (gross)  love triangle in the story (the first volume was blessedly without romance). Don't you have bigger things to worry about, like a civil war and all your mystical dragon stuff? And maybe don't be attracted to a dude who intended to rape you to access your power. By the end, I honestly hated almost everything about this book, and was so disappointed about it after loving the first one! I only finished it b/c I had already read so much of it and spent so much time on it (it's over 600 pages!).  UGH.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

2015 book 225

Theresa Romain's It Takes Two to Tangle
There was not really enough going on here, plot-wise, to make me care very much about any of the characters, but it was diverting enough reading on Yom Kippur. B.

Monday, September 21, 2015

2015 book 224

Alison Goodman's Eon
It took so long for this to become available from my library hold list that I forget where I saw a recommendation for it, but in some great synchronicity, Rae Carson recommended it just today over at Tor. It takes place in what seems to be a fantasy version of imperial China, where there's a whole thing with dragons that are aligned with the Chinese Zodiac, etc etc, and our titular protagonist is one of twelve boys who may have be chosen as a Dragon Apprentice and get glory and power and whatnot. EXCEPT our protagonist is actually a GIRL, and a disabled one at that! There are some really interesting political/cultural/gender things going on here, some great secondary characters, and good pacing. There is one thing that Eon is really dumb about, though, to the point where I had to keep putting the book down because she was being so dumb. But she works it out eventually, and things get pretty exciting, and I already bought the sequel because the library doesn't have it as an e-book. A-.

2015 book 223

Melissa DeCarlo's The Art of Crash Landing
Well, I'll say one thing for this book--I started reading it (stupidly) at 11 pm, and just couldn't stop till I was done.  I mean, it wasn't amazing or anything, but it had really good pacing, enough that I couldn't put it down! It's about an aimless 30-year-old who finds out she's pregnant, leaves her lame boyfriend, and goes to Oklahoma, where she's inherited her recently deceased grandmother's house--but mainly it's about her trying to figure out her mother's life. This was all a little bit over-dramatic and occasionally cheesy, but there are some great characters here (I particularly liked Luke and Tawny, and the protagonist's stepfather). I did wish for a more careful proofreader--there were noticeable typos/lack of commas, and that always bugs me. But otherwise, this was pretty good. B/B+.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

2015 book 222

A.S. King's I Crawl Through It
I have been, historically, a big fan of AS King's novels, but this one didn't quite work for me. I appreciate that King is experimenting with her fiction, I just am not personally into surrealism in my novels (I find it distracting, trying to sort out what the heck is actually going on). Her characters--four teenagers, all at least a little bit troubled--are interesting and likable and sympathetic, I just didn't understand what they were DOING half the time. Her depiction of a survivor of date rape is pretty compelling, nonetheless, and I did like how things wrapped up. I just would have liked this more if it had been a bit more straightforward. B/B+.

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

Thursday, September 17, 2015

2015 book 221

Mary Balogh's Only a Kiss
I was a little worried before starting this latest book in Balogh's Survivor's Club series, about a group of men and one women who have severe PTSD from the Napoleonic Wars, because it was the one focused on the women and Balogh's love interests for her women have disappointed me in the past (they tend to be jerks). Luckily, this guy's only thing is that he's kind of bored with his life! He needs a purpose. He has had a nice, easy life, and inherited a title, and so he decides to go check out his new estate in Cornwall--where our girl Isobel lives, because her husband (who was tortured to death in front of her) was the previous heir. The romance has a believable build, the pacing is strong, there's a pretty great subplot with a smuggling ring, AND there are some scrappy cats and dogs. I actually CRIED at one point. This may be a high point for Balogh for me. A/A-.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

2015 book 220

Rebecca Hahn's The Shadow Behind the Stars
Hahn's second YA fantasy novel (after A Creature of Moonlight) is just about as interesting as her first. It's narrated by the youngest of the three mythical Fates--the one in the eternal guise of a maiden, the one who spins wool into the threads of people's destiny. When a human girl comes to their home one day, it leads to a series of events that may cause the world to fall apart. I liked this a lot, but wished there was a little more THERE there, just a little bit more! More of the human girl, and more of the Fates, and more of the aftermath. Great writing though, very evocative. B/B+.

Monday, September 14, 2015

2015 book 219

Cecelia Holland's Dragon Heart
Well, this book is UNUSUAL, which made it an interesting read? It certainly didn't follow the usual fantasy tropes? But I'm not sure it worked--at least, not for me. It centers on a royal family dealing with an Emperor/colonial menace, trying to remain independent. Youngest daughter Tirza can't speak, jsut make noises, only it turns out she can talk to dragons. This book kind of gets grindingly depressing, the colonials are perpetually thinking rapey things about the locals, and the end made me think--what was the point of this? Like, I said, it was interesting, but not in a way that struck a chord with me. B.

2015 book 218

Julianna Baggot's Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders
I think the concept of this book is pretty cool--a cult author, her missing final book, her daughter and granddaughters and their unusual lives--but it was just a little bit muddled. It took me several days to read, which is unusual for me! There are some good things here but it was just a slog to read for some reason. B/B+.

Friday, September 11, 2015

2015 book 217

Juliet Marillier's Tower of Thorns
The second book in Marillier's Blackthorn and Grim series (after Dreamer's Pool) is a pretty strong followup to the first, as Blackthorn and Grim have to deal with breaking a curse--with the company of an old friend of Blackthorn's. Both characters are still totally traumatized by PTSD (partially caused, interestingly, by imprisonment) and their friendship and reliance on each other is really unusual for the fantasy books I read--and I appreciate that SO MUCH. We also get Grim's backstory this time, which manages to be fitting and a bit unexpected. Some of this was a little predictable, but the central relationship is great and I actually really liked all the monks in this one. I am really into Marillier's world-building and can't wait for the next one. A-.

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

Thursday, September 10, 2015

2015 book 216

Angela Thirkell's Pomfret Towers
I was so excited about this book that when I finished it, I immediately attempted to blog about it from my phone (I was babysitting)--of course, that didn't get much beyond the title, but that shows you how caught up I was in this charming and slightly silly story. It was written in the 1930s and it's about one of those house parties rich British people always seem to be having, but there's lots of interesting class stuff and some sly looks at the author/publishing types. There are some annoying people but no one is a villain, most of the characters are nice, and there are some super funny moments. I was just delighted the whole time I read this--Thirkell's writing really carries you along. I can't wait to read more books by her. A/A-.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

2015 book 215

Rysa Walker's Timebound
Sometimes, when I am in the middle of a book, I am so annoyed or excited about it that I immediately put the book down and start one of my little blog entries. For this book, I wrote and then deleted THREE different entries before I even hit page 100, because I was sooooo frustrated. So the story: Kate is a teenage girl whose grandmother is secretly from the future and worked for a time-travel agency, and now someone else is CHANGING THE PAST and founding a religion (!!) for nefarious reasons and Kate must stop them! Anyway, eventually the story picks up as Kate must prevent her grandmother (and thus, herself) from being erased from existence. Kate is suuuuper stupid though, it honestly got a little wearing after a while. And I couldn't even with the dumb boy love triangle stuff in this book. Every time I got annoyed enough to stop reading, though, something interesting would happen! (Unfortunately, at least once this involves a dude being rapey.) I didn't actively enjoy this book until past page 250, it was a major slog to get to that point, and I hated that the big ending involved the ridiculous romance and not EXCITING TIME TRAVEL STUFF. I also think the way her mother is treated is total BS. And yet I still want to know what happens next. UGH. B/B-.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

2015 book 214

Sigal Samuel's The Mystics of Mile End
Samuel's debut novel is delightfully Jewish. It's set in a Hasidic neighborhood in Montreal, and deals with a slightly dysfunctional family (and some friends and neighbors) and their varying relationships with Judaism and with kabbalah--not to mention with each other. I really enjoyed the brother-sister relationship at the heart of this book, though found some of the secondary characters to be a little underdeveloped, and particularly wished that their mother was less of a cipher. I also didn't entirely buy the sister's motivation for her spiritual journey, but found her experiences to be effective. It's generally a really engaging story, and I liked the ending. I am not sure how much non-Jews (or non-religion-nerds) will get, but maybe the human relationships will carry them through? A-/B+.

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

Friday, September 04, 2015

2015 book 213

Lorraine Heath's Falling Into Bed with a Duke
The title here really gets at the core of this book--it is basically about a girl who eventually sleeps with a Duke. This book is like thirty percent sex scenes and has little else going on, plotwise. Our dude has a tragic backstory--his parents were killed in a train accident when he was eight, and he and some other boys were raised by a crazy old Marquis. He also has a whole thing where he's dyslexic, but with numbers. Our girl is the daughter of some people who were in some other books by Heath--this one here is the first in a series, but set in the same world as a bunch of Heath's OTHER series and I definitely felt like I was missing backstory--and her whole deal is that she has a super big dowry BUT is opinionated and plain so the only guys who want to marry her are fortune-hunters. And do you know how these two meet? THEY MEET IN AN ARISTOCRATIC SEMI-ANONYMOUS SEX CLUB! Because he likes sex and she decides to lose her virginity to see what all the fuss is about. WHAT?!???!! Lorraine Heath, that is CRAZY. Anyway, this was pretty predictable, and while I liked the characters, I kind of found the story to be a little bit boring, and I didn't like that I felt like I needed to read 12 other books by Heath to understand the context here.  B.

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

Thursday, September 03, 2015

2015 book 212

Sylvia Izzo Hunter's Lady of Magick
The second book in Hunter's Series (after The Midnight Queen) finds Sophie and Grey in this fantasy world's version of Scotland for educational purposes, though political and magical plots soon come to light. Once again, I liked the pacing--everything feels built up to and nothing feels rushed; we get a chance to know all the characters. I did think it ended too soon, like there should have been one more chapter, but I guess that's just giving me more incentive to read the next book. Props for several adorable lesbians and for a nice portrait of the central marriage. A-.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

2015 book 211

Terry Pratchett's The Shepherd's Crown
Shut up, I'm not crying, you're crying. OK, everyone is crying, because this is Terry Pratchett's last book. Despite being apparently unfinished (it's a complete work, but I guess there would have been at least one more draft), it's a pretty great send-off to Tiffany, and to the Discworld. It mainly centers on Tiffany being overwhelmed with witch business (for spoiler-y reasons), a boy who wants to be a witch, and some elves determined to make trouble. But it ends on a really nice little hopeful note and I really was crying that it was over. A/A-.

Monday, August 31, 2015

2015 book 210

Sylvia Izzo Hunter's The Midnight Queen
Well, this book was as up my alley as any book could be, just about. It's set in an alternate version of historical England (both in terms of actual history and in terms of magic), and focuses on a young man at a magical version of Oxford, when things go terribly wrong and he ends up stuck at the house of a professor who hates him. Luckily, the professor's second daughter is basically the awesomest person ever, the kind of girl who's secretly studying magic and is also just a decent human being. There's also a housekeeper who's more than she seems and a ballsy little sister. (Great ladies here.) Not to mention a bunch of magical adventures, political machinations, and even a little romance. The pacing is good, and even the far-fetched plot twists worked for me. I liked this a whole bunch and am psyched that the sequel is out tomorrow. A/A-.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

2015 book 209

Lisa Goldstein's Weighing Shadows
Here's the thing: this book was frustrating as hell, because it came SO close to being REALLY good, and missed the mark. I wish an editor had really kind of dug in and asked for certain things to be developed more, because it feels like there's stuff missing. But the premise is great!! A young woman is recruited by a mysterious agency that it turns out sends people back in time to make small changes!! What, I love time travel! But there is definitely not enough disbelief about the whole time travel concept from the recruits. And then someone from within the agency who disagrees with their mission turns up, and the main character is like "what, I love the agency and am super loyal to them, you're crazy" and we have never seen her be grateful or happy about the agency at all, really. Major telling, not showing. But towards the end the plot gets so interesting, there is some great stuff with patriarchal vs matriarchal societies and female goddesses that I loved, plus fun time travel shenanigans. I really liked that part! The first half just feels so rushed and underdone, though. And historical dudes are always threatening to rape the main character (at least three rape threats!) which I could have done with less of. Bleah. B.

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

Saturday, August 29, 2015

2015 book 208

Susan Coolidge's In The High Valley
OK, I think I see why these last two weren't in print when I was a kid--they are super boring compared to the first three. This last one in particular is kind of a dud. It introduces a couple of new characters, but one isn't interesting and the other is pretty insufferable, at least until Clover teaches her otherwise, of course. And they then inevitably get married off, also of course. There's no conflict in these last two books and there's less cute stuff in this one, because Clover and Elsie are grown and married. What a disappointment this was!

Friday, August 28, 2015

2015 book 207

Susan Coolidge's Clover
I found out a year or so ago that the What Katy Did series actually has five books, not three! But I've been putting off reading the last two in case I didn't like them. Clearly, I'm finally getting to them. In this fourth one, Katy gets married, and then Clover takes their youngest brother out West for health-related reasons. Lots of funny little moments ensue, along with lots of descriptions of scenery and food. It's all a sort of cheerful industrious Christian sort of story (actually, the Christianity is sliiightly toned down here compared to, say, the first one in the series. Why did I love that book so much? I guess Katy is just that awesome?). All is nice and pleasant. No complaints, though I also wasn't really /excited/ by much of it. That's how these sorts of stories go, though.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

2015 book 206

Jaclyn Moriarty's The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie
What I really admire about Moriarty with this one is how effectively she takes Bindy from being someone who's COMPLETELY intolerable to someone who's sympathetic. And I like how she sneaks a little mystery element into the story. And I love all her characters, both the ones we've met before and the ones who are new here. She so nails being a teenager.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

2015 book 205

Jaclyn Moriarty's The Year of Secret Assignments
Jaclyn Moriarty's stories are like potato chips--you can't read just one Ashbury/Brookfield book! Haha. Seriously though, I'm not sure how this series became my comfort reading go-to, but they are immensely satisfying. 

2015 book 204

Jaclyn Moriarty's Feeling Sorry for Celia
I am feeling out of sorts today, and have started and failed to get into FOUR different books, which means I needed to reread some Jaclyn Moriarty.  I love that this is first and foremost a book about friendship and family, with romance a thing that's just sort of there but not at all the focus of the story. Instead it's about two nice girls having hard times making friends through letters! And helping each other. Hooray for great friendships and now I am off to read the second one.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

2015 book 203

Tessa Dare's When a Scot Ties the Knot
Tessa Dare writes the funniest, silliest, cutest historical romances, and her Castles Ever After series (where a rich guy has left each of his god-daughters a castle) is by far the pinnacle of her works, In this third one, Maddie is a naturalist/scientific illustrator who is painfully shy, and instead of going to London for her season, invents herself a love interest, a Scottish captain away at war, and diligently writes him letters. So imagine her surprise ten years later when same Scottish captain shows up at her Scottish castle and demands that they get married (he needs land to provide for his soldiers!). I was cackling with laughter throughout and totally rooting for this couple despite their ridiculous situation. Tessa Date, I love you, please write ten more books a year for me to read. A-.

Monday, August 24, 2015

2015 book 202

Kate Elliott's Court of Fives
I don't think I've read anything by Elliott before, but I'm going to change that pronto, because this was really entertaining. It's definitely on the Hunger-Games-y side, though it's just an athletic competition and not a battle to the death here--but the heroine is mildly Katniss-y and the hero is a nobleman version of Peeta. Anyway. The great thing here is really the world-building--there's race stuff (the heroine is biracial and people are SUPER racist to her), there's class stuff, there's two cultures clashing. And there's a GREAT and interesting family. Honestly, the romance to me felt really unnecessary, and I wasn't even sure that the protagonist was super into the guy, because she had so much other stuff going on! Who has time to make out with boys when your family is at stake??? Plus creepy mystical stuff is maybe happening! The very end was a little bit eh but I am definitely looking forward to seeing where this story goes next, and to exploring other worlds by Elliott. A-/B+.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

2015 book 201

Shira Glassman's A Harvest of Ripe Figs
The third book in Glassman's Mangoverse series finds Queen Shulamit solving the mystery of a stolen violin (I guess her kingdom is peaceful enough that she can solve mysteries in her spare time as a hobby? OK, sure). I immediately pegged the villain and so was mildly annoyed that it took the Queen so long to figure it out, but everything else about this was pretty charming. The writing is coming along, too. I just like reading and supporting Jewish-themed fantasy, but I'm glad that the series is improving and I'll probably read the next one when it comes out. B/B+.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

2015 book 200

Nina LaCour's Everything Leads To You
Rereading this for FYA book club, I was relieved to still find it completely charming! I mean, maybe not 5-star charming, but pretty high up there. It's hard to go wrong with cute teenage love, a Hollywood mystery, and lots of into on the production of a movie. I am sure there is a lot to poke holes in here, but I see no reason to. I really love LaCour's books and can't wait to see what she does next.

Monday, August 17, 2015

2015 book 199

Shira Glassman's Climbing the Date Palm
The second book in Glassman's Mangoverse series is stronger than the first. It takes place a few years later, and finds all the characters from the first one getting involved with a prince from a neighboring kingdom, who has come to find help for his engineer boyfriend, sentenced to death by the king (for both political and homophobic reasons). The writing here is a lot more confident,  although some of the dialogue is still awkward, and the engineer's "hilarious" jokes were . . . not. The characters are all likable, though, and I like the use of magic in this world. B/B+.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

2015 book 198

Shira Glassman's The Second Mango
I was SOOOO excited when I heard about this book--a fantasy novel that's straight up JEWISH! But I feel like it needed one more pass with an editor. The bones are pretty solid--young Queen Shulamit has only been queen for a couple months, and she's lonely since her girlfriend abruptly left the palace, so when she meets a woman warrior disguised as a man (who just happens to have a horse that can turn into a dragon!) they go off on a quest to . . . find a lesbian who might be into the queen? It's not a well-thought out plan and it's pretty crappy Queensmanship! Plus that all happens in like the first five pages--the friendship isn't really built up at all, they're just suddenly best lady-bros. There is good adventure here, so the story mostly works despite the awkward writing (sooo awkward, and don't even get me started on the random Yiddish interjections). I think the best part is warrior Rivka's backstory--those sections are much stronger. I really want to like this--JEWISH FANTASY!!!!--so I might give the second one a chance. B.

2015 book 197

Hilary Liftin's Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper
Liftin--who has ghost-written celebrity memoirs for people like Tori Spelling, Miley Cyrus, Mackenzie Phillips, and Tatum O'Neal--has written a novel that is very very very much based on Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' marriage. Which is interesting enough, but I wasn't really a fan of the way she fictionalized EVERYTHING. All the celebrities, even all the film festivals are made up, but context doesn't always do enough to help figure out equivalencies. And the fake version of Scientology doesn't really seem sinister enough here. I think the problem is the narrative device--that this is actually a book by the Katie Holmes character--so it can't be dishy enough! I mean, it's entertaining, but most of the characters aren't really fleshed out, and it didn't have the fun tone I really wanted from this book (again, that rings true to the narrative voice). I dunno. B.

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

Friday, August 14, 2015

2015 book 196

Lisa Kleypas' It Happened One Autumn
The second book in the Wallflowers series is also pretty good--it centers on an arrogant Earl and a brash American nouveau riche girl--but I feel the need to complain about the rapiness of this series. In the last book, there was a gross old man who kept threatening to rape the main character (and WAS regularly having not-really-consensual sex with her mother), and the main character here is also threatened with rape. I like my romances sweet and happy and WITHOUT RAPE THREATS, thank you very much. I am definitely bailing on this series, as much as I like everything else about it, because the rapey dude in this one is the hero of the next! I don't care how poor you are, you can't kidnap a drugged woman and attempt to marry her against her will and then expect me to like you! UGH.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

2015 book 195

Lisa Kleypas' Secrets of a Summer Night
I love that the central premise of this series is four wallflowers at a ball decide to become friends and help each other find husbands. The husbands are almost (but not quite) incidental to the proceedings! I admit to not liking the dude here at first meeting (he is a little too persistent), but I warmed up to him pretty quickly, and I liked that he came from a middle-class family, instead of being the inevitable Duke. And the woman here is great too, very funny and tough, and in desperate need of a rich husband to support her family. But really, the friendships are the best thing about this one! It was super cute, and it's already pretty easy to see who the next couple will be, and it looks like it's a hilarious "I hate you! Because I love you!" sort of thing. Great! A-.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

2014 book 194

Fiona Wood's Six Impossible Things
So this is a companion novel to Wildlife, though I believe it was published first when the books came out in Australia--a few of the characters here make appearances in that book. This one centers on a teen boy whose father goes bankrupt and then comes out as gay, leading to a big move and a new school for the boy. Ugh, Fiona Wood, I love your writing, but your main character here IS a total creep! He falls for the girl next door jsut b/c she's pretty and then READS HER DIARIES! You do your best to redeem him but I can't get past it. I mean, I'm sure real teenagers would totally do that, but I am just way not into creeps as romantic leads. Also, this book needed way more Fred and Lou, and it all just makes me want to reread Wildlife. It looks like Wood has a third book in this universe coming out soon, and I'll definitely be reading that one. B.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

2015 book 193

Rhys Bowen's Malice at the Palace
I'm really starting to lose interest in this series. It's just the same, same, same, all over again--Georgie worrying about money, until a task and a place to stay falls into her lap. Georgie worrying about Darcy, until he wins her over again (I have hopes that things are finally going to progress, but god, it took long enough). Georgie complaining about her ridiculous maid. Georgie stumbling across a body and solving a murder. In this one, the queen asks her to show the prince's fiance around London, and the dead body in question is the prince's former mistress. There is some interesting stuff about unwed mothers, plus some ghosts!, but it doesn't really make up for how much this series is spinning its wheels, or the "hilarity" of a countess who doesn't understand English idioms (very overused). B/B-.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

2015 book 192

Laura Amy Schlitz's The Hired Girl
Well, this was just a CHARMING book about a young farm girl in 1911, super smart and dying to get a real education, who runs away from her beyond-discouraging family to be a hired girl to a well-to-do Jewish family in Baltimore. There is some interesting--and funny--stuff with religion here, plus some cats, some romance, and lots of talking about books. I especially liked the portrayal of the Jewish family. Really and engaging and moving story; if the heroine seems a little overly naive at times, well, she's 14 in 1911 and most of her worldview comes from the three novels she's read (I should really tackle Ivanhoe one of these days). A-/B+.

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

Friday, August 07, 2015

2015 book 191

Jane Smiley's The Golden Age
Wow. Smiley has really completed a tour de force with her Langdon family trilogy. I can't even single out anything for this one--which covers 1987 to 2019--because it's all woven together so seamlessly. Seriously, I am sitting here sort of stunned and speechless. I mean, it's not perfect--is it cheap to have one of the family members die on 9/11?--and Smiley's vision of the next few years in America are pretty grim. But there are so many HUMAN moments in this book. GREAT. A/A-.

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

Thursday, August 06, 2015

2015 book 190

Kelly Thompson's Storykiller
This book is basically like if Buffy met Fables, or if Buffy met Seanan McGuire's Indexing series. There's a teenage girl who's suddenly gotten a bunch of powers on her 17th birthday, there's a couple of new human friends, Robin Hood as a love interest, the Snow Queen as a reluctant ally, and a bunch of fictional characters plotting against her for various reasons. It's entertaining enough, though the romance was a little annoying, and there were a LOT of missing commas. Where did all the commas go??? I more or less liked how it ended. But if you're gonna read a book by Thompson, check out the new Jem comic book! It's GREAT. This one is just ok. B.

2015 book 189

Nicola Yoon's Everything, Everything
Normally, I DON'T read YA romances OR YA books about sick girls, but this was getting so much buzz that I figured I'd give it a shot. It centers on a teenage girl with "bubble boy syndrome"--she can't ever leave her house b/c her immune system is so compromised--and what happens when a cute boy moves in next door. At first, I was like, I'm too old to be reading YA romances, because I just kept thinking "Jesus Christ, her poor mother." I'm not really interested in teens being reckless because of TRUE LOVE with the first boy you've ever interacted with in my entire life. And then the plot twist toward the end! The writing here is really great, the main character is relatable and interesting, and I loved that she was half Japanese and half black, but man, this book annoyed me. BUT, that is because I am definitely not its target audience. Should have trusted my instincts and skipped this one. Recommended for ppl who actually like YA romances! B.

An advance copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on September 1st.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

2015 book 188

Amy Stewart's Girl Waits with Gun
Stewart's latest (after a bunch of cool non-fiction books like Wicked Bugs and Wicked Plants) is apparently based on a true story, though it doesn't get bogged down in details/transcripts/etc like so many based-on-a-true-story novels do. It centers on three sisters in 1914, and what happens when a rich sociopath runs his car into their buggy and then refuses to pay, and instead starts harassing them in increasingly terrifying ways. There's also a whole subplot where the oldest sister is trying to find a missing baby fathered by said rich sociopath. I know this is mostly a true story, so it can only go a certain way, but I one hundred percent want this to be the start of a mystery series! These sisters are GREAT. B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on September 1st.

2015 book 187

E.K. Johnston's A Thousand Nights
I wasn't particularly interested in reading a retelling of Scheherezade and the Arabian Nights--at least, not till I realized the author was E.K. Johnston, who wrote The Story of Owen and Prairie Fire. And also, it's /not/ really a retelling of the Arabian Nights story--not in any traditional sense. There IS a king, possessed by a demon, who has taken over 300 wives--and all of them have died quickly. Now he's come to a small desert village, and our protagonist is determined to save her beloved sister, and becomes his wife instead. And she does manage to survive longer than the other wives--but it's thanks to her sister, and to other women, not just her own cleverness. I loved how much of this was about how women wield power in quiet ways. Really great, very engaging. B+.

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

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

2015 book 186

Margaret Atwood's The Heart Goes Last
Atwood's latest is another near future dystopia sort of story, though not as complicated as the Oryx and Crake trilogy. In this one, there's been a major economic collapse, mainly on the east coast, and a couple living in their car and increasingly desperate decides to join a community called Positron, which is some sort of symbiotic prison/town set-up (this didn't make much sense to me). Once inside, things quickly turn out to be even more sketchy than a reader might suspect, and shenanigans (dangerous shenanigans!) ensue. There is some creepy consent stuff here, too. This was definitely entertaining, but I did have a lot of questions about it afterward--it didn't quite hang together, maybe because it started as a serialized story? B+.

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

2015 book 185

Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies
I feel like Groff is generally a well-regarded writer--I'm a big fan--but I fully expect this book to launch her into the stratosphere even more than Arcadia did. Her portrait of a complicated marriage is one of the most astonishing and riveting things I've read in a long time, and her characters are amazingly vivid. One moment had me sitting straight up and apparently clapping my hand to my mouth in shock (I am on family vacation and my mom asked if I was ok). The writing is also something I don't hesitate to call masterful. I just thought this was so strong--the whole concept, and the way it looks at family stories and the stories we tell ourselves. Strongly recommended. A.

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

Sunday, August 02, 2015

2015 book 184

Ashley Weaver's Death Wears a Mask
The second book in Weaver's Amory Ames series (at least, I HOPE it will be a long-lasting series), after Murder at Brightwell, is more of the captivating same, as Amory is asked to help investigate a jewel theft--and things quickly turn to murder. I especially like that this is a series where the main character works/cooperates with the police (like the Phryne Fisher books), which does add at least a little verisimilitude. And of course I love the setting. I was less excited about the issues with the protagonist's marriage being similar to the last book--if that keeps on going, it's going to get dull pretty quickly. Otherwise, this is a really fun and entertaining series, perfect for my beach vacation, or for any other time or place, really. A-.

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