Saturday, February 28, 2015

2015 book 49

T. Kingfisher's The Seventh Bride
T. Kingfisher is a pen name of local author Ursula Vernon--I guess she writes more adult-oriented fairy tale fare under this name. This book was excellent, a dark, creepy, funny fairy tale sort of story about a young girl, a miller's daughter, who is betrothed to a mysterious local noble very much against her will--but things are even weirder than she imagined. On the other hand, a super awesome hedgehog befriends her. I really enjoyed this and want to read like twenty more books where she hangs out with that hedgehog. A-.

2015 book 48

Elizabeth Haynes' Behind Closed Doors
The second book in Haynes' series on British police detective Louisa Smith (after Under a Silent Moon) is pretty gripping stuff. Ten years ago, a British girl was kidnapped while on vacation with her family--a victim of sex trafficking. Now she's been found--in the middle of a police investigation into the local drug trade/various other criminal stuff. Lou worked the case ten years ago, and is one of the officers in charge of the current investigation, but pretty soon things are getting complicated. This was not as grim as it could have been, given the subject matter, and I really appreciate Haynes' emphasis on the importance of good police work. This is a series I really enjoy, highly recommended for mystery lovers. A-/B+.

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

Thursday, February 26, 2015

2015 book 47

V.E. Schwab's A Darker Shade of Magic
Schwab's latest (after the very awesome Vicious) is set in an alternate London--actually, three alternate Londons, each with varying levels of magic (and none resembling our own, much). Our protagonist is a guy with the very rare ability to move between worlds (and our other protagonist is a young woman he encounters, a pickpocket in drag who wants to be a pirate, great in every way).  Really interesting world-building and even better characters and action. This works just fine as a stand-alone, but it looks like a sequel is coming, and I'll be there in a heartbeat. A-.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

2015 book 46

Judith Claire Mitchell's A Reunion of Ghosts
Now THIS was right up my alley, dealing as it did with history, family, Judaism, tragedy, and sisters. The whole book is actually the suicide note of a trio of forty-something sisters, but it also tells their family history--and all about the curse on their family, since after all, the sins of the father will be visited unto the fourth generation. And their great-grandfather's actions as a German Jew during WWI were definitely pretty sinful. The three sisters are just great, great characters, and I loved their relationships with each other. I wasn't sure how things would wrap up, but found the ending very satisfying--I won't say anything more so as not to ruin things for anyone else, except: I really, really liked this. A/A-.

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

Monday, February 23, 2015

2015 book 45

Laura van Den Berg's Find Me
Ooh, it's a pandemic story! So it's the near future, and there's a pandemic, some form of Creuzfeldt-Jakob disease, where people get weird skin lesions and lose their memories and motor functions and then die. Our protagonist is a young woman living in a hospital with other people exposed to the virus, quarantined for the 10-month incubation period, undergoing scores of medical tests. It's the sort of story that relies more on atmosphere than a strictly logical plot, and terrible things happen to children, which I am really not into reading about. If I'd known this was another strong-writing-with-disturbing-content kind of books, I wouldn't have read it. I mean, it has its good points for sure--the ending was pretty good, though I wondered how, like, adopted children/adoptive parents would feel about it. I don't know, this had SO MUCH buzz and wasn't at all what I was expecting. B.

Friday, February 20, 2015

2015 book 44

Jane Austen's Persuasion
I was thinking about this book the other day--that Mary Balogh one reminded me of it, a little--so figured I was due for a re-read. I don't think I noticed before how perfectly judgmental and bitchy the narrator is about everyone who isn't Anne! And it's obviously not Anne thinking disparaging thoughts about all the other characters--she's much more of a Jane than a Lizzy. Jane Austen is so snarky. I love it.

2015 book 43

Claire Fuller's Our Endless Numbered Days
Fuller's debut novel centers on a girl whose father takes her away to live isolated in the middle of the woods, telling her everyone else is dead (he's a survivalist type), though things flash back and forth between her childhood in the woods and her time after returning home nine years later (dealing with her mother as well as the younger brother she never knew). Slowly the stories converge until we find out how she made it home, but not before some crazy stuff happens. Really strong and beautiful language here, with an ending that I'm still processing but that made me want to cry. I never know how to grade a novel that's unquestionably GREAT but that traumatized me. Let's call it A-/B+ on this one.

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

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

2015 book 42

Mary Balogh's Beyond the Sunrise
I've enjoyed the other Balogh books I've read, so figured I'd check out this one--a recent reissue of a book originally written in the 90s. And I'm so glad I did, because it was awesome! It centers on a couple who meet and fall for each other as teenagers--only her father is VERY disapproving, because her love interest is the illegitimate son of a nobleman, and not a proper heir, and she's the daughter of a (French) count. Ten years later, they encounter each other again, in Portugal, during the Napoleonic War, and he recognizes her immediately--but doesn't realize that she's a SPY!! (He is also sort of a spy.) And not only is she a spy, but she has a vendetta for a mysterious French officer who brutally murdered a bunch of her relatives. Things are super action-packed and intense and GREAT and they just spend one hundred percent of their time bickering and I love it. I wish more romance novels were like this. A-.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

2015 book 41

Sandra Newman's The Country of Ice Cream Star
This was one of those books that I enjoyed while I was reading it, but was never in a big hurry to pick up again once I'd put it down. I mean, it's set in the future, in an America where a plague kills everyone once they turn like 20, so bands of children have to make their way however they can. Ice Cream is 15, and her older brother now has the plague, and she's determined to find a cure--especially once they run into a man who claims to be thirty. But meanwhile, there's a fair amount of rape, violence, and other mayhem. It's not super pleasant reading, even though I was pretty invested in Ice Cream's story. Newman is doing some great things with language here, and her character names especially are pretty inspired. On the other hand, I definitely feel like this could have been shorter--things move really slowly until the second half of the book, which soon becomes even more relentlessly grim. I'm not sure about this one. It has a GREAT narrative voice, but it's really, really bleak. B.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

2015 book 40

Margo Rabb's Kissing in America
Rabb's latest (after Cures for Heartbreak and a super cute mystery series) centers on a teenage girl coping with the sudden death of her father, falling hard for a cute mysterious boy at school, and getting into romance novels. When her love interest ends up in California, she convinces her best friend to enter a scholarship battle/reality show in LA so she can secretly go see him. A crazy (and pretty crazy entertaining!) road trip ensues. There's a lot here about family, grief, friendship, poetry, love, and so on--really good stuff. The protagonist is kiiiind of annoying about the boy she likes, but in a VERY realistic teenage way. And the writing towards the end was a little clunky--but despite that, I really liked how things wrapped up. There are some really, really great adult lady characters too, always appreciated in a book aimed at teens. A-.

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

Thursday, February 12, 2015

2015 book 39

Camille DeAngelis' Bones and All
YES, folks, it's time for a new entry in the annals of the monsters of YA--teenage Maren is afflicted with a condition that occasionally turns her into a cannibalistic monster (it all started when she was a baby and ate her babysitter) (an author's note explains that she is meant to be a ghoul). Every time she accidentally eats someone, she and her mom have to flee the area, and her mom is over it (and super afraid of her own child), and leaves Maren behind. Now Maren has to go road tripping--maybe to find her absent father and get some answers? This book is very very darkly funny, and there's minimal romance, mainly b/c Maren only gets the uncontrollable urge to eat people who are really nice to her (mainly dudes trying to make out with her).  Turns out there is nothing I love more than a teenage girl eating dudes trying to get into her pants. Amazing. A-.

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

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

2015 book 38

Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life
I've been reading this book for several days--it's looong (but moves quickly!)--and just couldn't wait one more day to find out what happened. Instead I stayed up way past my bedtime because I was so engrossed in this world--and worried about these characters. The story more-or-less centers on four college friends--Jude, Willem, JB, and Malcolm--who all end up in New York in their 20s, and it follows them for several decades thereafter, touching on issues like race and class and art and success--though eventually some disturbing secrets are revealed. Mainly, to me, it was the story of the steadfast love and friendship between Jude and Willem (the other two fade out of the story at a certain point, replaced by a professor/father figure of Jude's) and it was incredibly moving. Now, some super bad sh*t is discussed in the book, so be forewarned about that, and I do feel like there is some stuff here that people could criticize (it is like INSANELY tragic, almost over the top). But I don't want to criticize it. I spent like the last two hundred pages reading with tears streaming down my face because I was so involved in the story. This is Yanagihara's second novel--after the also dark-but-excellent People in the Trees--and I really can't wait to see what she does next. A/A-.

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

Monday, February 09, 2015

2015 book 37

Edward Carey's Heap House
I'm not even going to try to describe the plot here, except to say there's a boy from a mysterious family and a girl who's the new servant and a bunch of crazy people and objects. It's all enjoyably weird at the start--it's kind of a whimsical story, very Dickensian but fantastic too. Things get mildly tiresome in the middle (and the romance in particular is not really developed at all, but I guess that's not really the point of the book), but pick back up towards the end as the boy learns crucial information and a bully cousin's secret is revealed. Great atmosphere and plenty of insanity make up for a lot. This is the first in a trilogy, and I think the second is due out this year. B.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

2015 book 36

Sara Ramsey's Duke of Thorns
OK, this is easily the most hilarious romance I've read so far, but I can't tell whether or not it's on purpose! Our girl is British but has mostly lived in Baltimore, when her father (the youngest son of an Earl) dies, leaving her in charge of his shipping business--which she quickly converts to privateering (semi-legal pirates!!). Then she decides to return to England to find a husband (for reasons that weren't entirely clear to me, something about her pirate captain not respecting her), and also there's a whole thing where her dead grandfather's will leaves everything to whichever granddaughter marries the best dude she meets at a random month-long garden party (?????). Of course, there she meets our dude (and the title here is WAY too on-the-nose, since he's the Duke of Thorington, that's just TERRIBLE), and HIS deal is even crazier--he's the oldest of a TON of siblings (and the younger bunch may or may not be illegitimate), and he somehow got cursed by an Egyptian curse that made him super rich, except now his friend has BROKEN the curse and he's lost everything and needs to marry off his sibs, stat. And that's just the first twenty pages! So she's looking for someone meek who won't interfere with her business, and he's determined to marry her off to his youngest brother (who is appalled by her American manners) and obviously they are super into each other and all other plans go by the wayside. Things get somewhat less crazy/entertaining toward the end, but I liked all these characters a lot and will probably read more books by Ramsey. B+.

Friday, February 06, 2015

2015 book 35

Robert Repino's Mort(e)
This is a really interesting companion to two other books I've read recently--Grasshopper Jungle and Blacksad. In this one, humanity is basically eradicated by a plague of ants (some of the ants are giant!!), masterminded by the QUEEN ant, who has also invented a hormone that turns animals into more people-ish creatures, who have joined the ants in revolution! Our main character is a housecat named Sebastian, who becomes the famous assassin/soldier Mort(e), but never stops longing for his doggy best friend Sheba, lost in the days before everything changed. There is also a super cool dog named Wawa (yes, delightfully, after the deli). You guys, this book is CRAAAAAZY, but also really compelling. Warning: bad things happen to animals, both before and after they change. Bad things happen to people, too, but eh. There's a whole bunch of business about religion that I could have done with less of (in lieu of more cat/dog/ant adventures), but it all comes together in the end, and in general this was VERY entertaining--and surprisingly moving. A-.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

2015 book 34

Shannon Hale's Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters
The third--and final?--book in Hale's delightful Princess Academy series finds things getting a bit more serious as war is looming. And just when Miri thinks she can finally go home (and get officially betrothed to her love interest), the king commands her to go tutor up a trio of royal cousins and get them ready to be potential brides for the king of the country threatening war. When she arrives, things are more dire than she ever could have expected--the girls live alone, in a swamp in the middle of nowhere, and spend their days hunting for food (there is a super sweet alligator-wrestling scene). Plus there are some nefarious things going on in the town. Miri is the best, though, and deals with all this moooooostly ably. The three new girls are great, too, as are all the returning characters. And when a big secret is revealed, I just about jumped out of my chair. Hale really has a way with plot! And her writing is great too--these books are just really charming. I am now determined to buy the set for a little girl of my acquaintance. A/A-.

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

Monday, February 02, 2015

2015 book 33

Marie Rutkoski's The Winner's Curse
Ah geez, this has an inauspicious start for sure, and things do not really improve from there. Our protagonist is a wealthy girl, daughter of a high-powered general in the conquering army of whatever land they're in, but she refuses to join the military because she loves MUSIC. OK, that's fine, but in basically the first scene, she buys a slave. I mean, she feels SUPER bad about it. Slavery is bad! (This is not reallllllly a dis on Rutkoski, but it is kind of hard to make slave owners sympathetic even if they do feel REALLY BAD about their slave owning.) Anyway, the sections from the POV of the slave are a lot stronger, because he's secretly very smart and observant--for a purpose, of course. This is a great contrast to the girl, who's amazingly and annoyingly clueless about everything, despite being someone who is supposed to be a brilliant strategist. Things pick up eventually, plot-wise, but the writing is over-the-top dramatic and I have MAJOR issues with a slave-owner friendship/romance. I just can't get past it (even once the situation changes). Making the romance a central part of a story like this is a real weak spot, for me, and I'm tired of YA books doing that when they could be telling a much more powerful sort of story. I feel like Rutkoski is going for a Romeo/Juliet thing here, but, ugh, NO. I wouldn't have finished this if it wasn't for book group. B-.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

2015 book 32

Elizabeth Essex's Almost a Scandal
This was a pretty a'ight historical romance wherein our heroine, a girl from a navy family with a whole mess of brothers, takes her youngest brother's place on a ship b/c he's run away to be a churchman and she wants to preserve the family honor. And, let's be real, she totally wants to go to sea. (Even though it's WARTIME.) Her love interest is a friend of her brothers', the first lieutenant on the ship, who pretty quickly realizes who she is, but lets her stay because she's super competent and they need all the good men they can get, even the ones who are actually women. Things moved a little bit slower than I might have liked (plot-wise, not romance-wise), but there are some pretty good battle scenes. I don't know, I was super into this girl but the romance felt kind of rote. B/B+.

2015 book 31

Kelly Link's Get in Trouble
I don't normally read books of short stories--it's too jarring to me to read them all in one day or so, my preferred reading method--but obviously I make an exception for the fantastic (in all meanings) Kelly Link! Her stories are so weird and wonderful, and these are some of her finest. I think I loved the Paul Zell one best, and the Oz one, though of course I am partial to stories with superheroes. And the two featuring ghosts creeped me out so badly that I was up past 2 am last night, afraid to sleep. Great, great stuff. A-.

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