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.

2015 book 183

Geraldine Brooks' The Secret Chord
Historically, I have been a huge fan of Brooks' novels, so a book about KING DAVID, flawed hero of my people, should have been a slam dunk. And it IS very well-written, don't get me wrong! But like, if you have ever read the story of King David in the Torah, none of this is surprising (though I had managed to forget just HOW MUCH rape there was). It's interesting that the whole thing is narrated by David's prophet Nathan--who is writing the story of David's life, presumably the version that later appears in the Torah, warts and all. And I liked the glimpses of little Solomon (man, how great would a novel about Solomon be!). I guess this just left me feeling a little flat, though it was a really engaging read and definitely evocative. It just didn't feel like it gave me any new insights or perspectives. That's hard, though, when working with a story this old. B+.

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

Saturday, August 01, 2015

2015 book 182

Stephanie Clifford's Everybody Rise
This book is getting a tooooooooon of buzz, but I wasn't really feeling it. It's about a young woman in New York in the early 2000s, the daughter of a social climber who eventually becomes one herself, and gets caught up in a morass of lies while hanging with the uber-rich New York elite. I'm not sure if we're supposed to sympathize with her--I didn't, really--but she's also not really interesting as a villain or as someone who's morally compromising herself. And the ending didn't feel earned, or even optimistic, since it takes place just before the economy goes downhill fast. I'm not entirely sure what the point of this was? But I admit to not really being interested in novels about rich New Yorkers and their hangers-on. B.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on August 18th.