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+.