Friday, July 31, 2015

2015 book 181

Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown
Guys, historical fantasy as a genre is my JAM, and Cho makes things even more interesting by having the main characters both be people of color, dealing with a lot of hatred and prejudice. One protagonist, a former African slave raised by the Sorcerer to the Crown (of England), has now become the sorcerer himself, and a very racist campaign has begun against him. The other protagonist is a half-Indian girl who knows nothing of her family, but has some strong magical talent (she is also AWESOMEEEEEEEE in basically every way). Political stuff, magical stuff, and even a little romance ensue, and it is all INCREDIBLY charming. It looks like this is the first in a trilogy, and I can't wait for the next one. A.

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

Thursday, July 30, 2015

2015 book 180

Erin Gough's The Flywheel
I think I find overly neat YA romance-type books more tolerable when they're about lesbians, b/c it's just so RARE! The main character here is a teenage lesbian enamored of the girl who flamenco dances at the tapas place across the street from her father's cafe. There's also some drama, as her father is on an extended vacation (????? What kind of single parent of a teenager/small business owner goes on a months-long trek across Mongolia??????) and things are falling apart at the cafe, so she drops out of school to take care of things, AND she's having some friend issues (this was super realistic), etc. Then, like I said, things wrap up overly neatly. But that's fine. It's a good exploration of gay teens figuring out their deal, coming out at their own pace, etc. B/B+.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

2015 book 179

Anne Tyler's A Spool of Blue Thread
I was excited when my library e-book of this came in, since it made the Booker longlist this morning! But I was kind of left wondering why. It's a perfectly fine book--the story of a mildly dysfunctional family across a couple of generations--and Tyler tells the story well--I definitely wanted to keep reading. It's not earth-shattering though. There are some nice moments--I like the jumping back in time to get at the truth of the family stories--but there's way too much focus on prodigal son Denny, who isn't really that interesting, and next to no attention paid to the family daughters (I did like everything with Stem, though). I guess I appreciate award attention being focused on women writers working in the domestic sphere, as it were, but this one didn't have me jumping up and down in excitement or anything. On the other hand, I historically have been angry about whatever wins the Booker beating my own personal favorites, so who knows. This was pretty good. B/B+.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

2015 book 178

Mary Balogh's First Comes Marriage
I had planned to save Balogh's Huxtable Quintet for vacation, but heck, there's five of them, why not get an early start? There's not much to the plot of this one, but it was very sweet. I liked watching the main couple fall in love, and I liked that the heroine was a cheerful sort who is admired by everyone for her good nature. The guy is your typical stuffy rich snob, at least until he meets said cheerful lady and learns to relax a little. I mean, other things happen, but not enough for me to write a lengthy paragraph or anything. This one was definitely on the cozier side of the historical romances (as opposed to some of the crazier ones). B+.

Monday, July 27, 2015

2015 book 177

Genevieve Cogman's The Invisible Library
Well, this was a mostly entertaining and interesting book about a young (sort of?) woman, a Librarian at the titular Invisible Library, which exists outside of time. Her job is to enter different versions of the world to collect rare books. It's pretty cool. And then she gets a mentee and a weird new assignment--in an alternate London full of Fae and on the brink of chaos--that quickly turns dangerous, and it's all pretty fun, if occasionally overdone.  It looks like this might be the start of a series, but not the one I want to read! I'm super interested in the Library, not in a detective solving crimes in an alternate version of  London. That's been done, you know? I mean, this certainly hints at a greater mythology for the Library, so I assume we'll get some of that in the midst of magical historical crime solving, but still. B/B+.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

2015 book 176

N.K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season
Jemisin's latest--the start of a new trilogy, yay!!--is another complicated, amazing, bonkers piece of fiction. It's set in a world where, periodically, major natural disaster extinguish large swathes of life on earth. There are also people who can control rocks/the ground, considered very dangerous (though some are discovered as children and taken to a central sort of facility where they are trained and controlled and their powers are hopefully used for good). I don't want to say anything else for fear of spoilers, except that, as always, there are powerful and moving characters (ladies and men!), a very interesting universe, and a compelling storyline. I'm not actually sure if it's fantasy, sci-fi, or some hybrid, but it doesn't really matter--it's AWESOME. A/A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on August 4th.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

2015 book 175

Maggie Lehrman's The Cost of All Things
Teenagers already do some really insane and stupid things--so imagine how much worse it would be if they had access to magic spells (that are semi-legal, at best). This book is being marketed as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets We Were Liars, and that . . . is somewhat accurate. It's narrated from the POV of four characters--Ari, who gets a spell to forget her dead boyfriend; his best friend; a friend of Ari's who has purchased a pretty intense friendship spell (interesting issues of consent here); and the actual dead boyfriend. Everyone lies and everyone's magic has side effects and interactions, and I thought this was amazingly realistic considering the premise. Teenagers gonna teenage, and these ones sure do. The end is crazy/melodramatic but this was a very fun read. B+.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

2015 book 174

Natasha Pulley's The Watchmaker of Filigree Street
I am pretty sure this is Pulley's first novel, and it's kiiiiinda of a great one? It's set in Victorian London, where a young government telegraph operator receives a mysterious pocketwatch--which eventually saves him from a huge bombing. This leads him to its Japanese creator, who has an unusual ability (I mean, besides clock-making), and eventually to a young woman who wants to be a physicist, but stupid sexist society is not cooperating! I feel like Pulley does a good job with the Japanese-people-in-London aspect of thing, and the relationship between the clockmaker and the young man is really excellent. I did have some mixed feelings about the physicist, but really liked how Pulley ended things (I almost used a clock pun there but refrained, are you happy?). Yes, this was right up my alley, very good stuff. A-.

Monday, July 20, 2015

2015 book 173

Erin Bow's The Scorpion Rules
I accidentally read a sci-fi-ish book and I LOVED IT. OH GOD, HOW I LOVED IT.  The premise here is that it's several hundred years in the future, after the polar ice caps have melted and a bunch of wars have been waged over water, so an AI from the UN was like "eff it" and bombed a bunch of cities and TOOK OVER EVERYTHING. Now world leaders have to send their kids off to be hostages--and if they get involved in a war, their kid DIES. Our protagonist, Greta, a princess from Halifax, has grown up as a hostage and not really thought much of it--at least until a cute boy who doesn't understand the rules becomes a new hostage, and war between their countries seems to be looming. (This boy is kind of a dud, and is really the only weak spot in the book for me, even though he is Jewish, which I appreciated. I did like that Greta seems to be canonically bisexual, though.) I also kind of loved all the mentions of my hometown Pittsburgh, even though most of them are offhanded threats to blow it up. Anyway! This was great, and went in a lot of unexpected directions. I was a pretty big fan of Bow's first two books, but this was a pretty interesting leap forward, and I can't wait to see what she does with this world next (apparently a companion novel is in the works). A/A-.

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

Sunday, July 19, 2015

2015 book 172

Elly Griffiths' The Zig Zag Girl
I really enjoy Griffiths' Ruth Galloway series, and was excited to read this new stand-alone from her, but it was pretty disappointing. It's 1950, and a young police detective gets involved with a case that he's SURE relates to his work during WWII, when he was part of a unit mainly made up of magicians, working on illusions to trick the Nazis. And that's all really interesting, and all the magicians are great characters! But I guessed the killer really early on, and the motive was amaaaaazingly stupid. Like, so stupid. I /did/ like that the detective's best friend magician is way smarter than he is and figures out a lot more, but seriously, the solution to this one was DUMB. B-.

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

Saturday, July 18, 2015

2015 book 171

Jacqueline Kelly's The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate
The sequel to The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is more of the same--it's early 1900s Texas, and a little girl, taught by her grandfather, longs to be a scientist, but everyone is sexist! Your feminist hackles will be raised! In this one, a major storm in Galveston sends a cousin to stay with the family, but she's not really as much a character as a plot device. The foreshadowing here is seriously heavy-handed, too, though maybe that's to be expected of a middle-grade book? So they'll like, notice it. I like Calpurnia and her brother Travis a lot though, and find their animal-saving adventures to be pretty entertaining. B.

Friday, July 17, 2015

2015 book 170

J. Kathleen Cheney's The Shores of Spain
I believe this is the final book in Cheney's Tales of the Golden City series (after The Golden City and The Seat of Magic), and it's a pretty good wrap-up. It mainly involves the two main couples trying to solve the murder of the women's mother, or at least to track down the stolen journal that holds the key to the mystery. As always, there are politics (both fantasical and real) to deal with, along with some poor li'l children and whatnot. Marina and Joaquim's story definitely takes center stage here, or at least is more interesting than Oriana and Duilio's. I dunno. I think the very end just left me feeling a little bit flat. Still a fun series though! B+.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

2015 book 169

Patrice Kindl's A School for Brides
Kindl's latest, a sequel/companion to Keeping the Castle, had me in RAPTURES OF DELIGHT. One of the stepsisters from the previous book is now running a finishing school in their tiny Yorkshire town, and all the girls there are worried they'll never meet any eligible men to marry. So it's very convenient that a young man breaks his leg nearby, and then several of his friends come to visit! We only get to know a few of the girls, but they're all interesting and likable (one, a budding scientist, is even named Rosalind Franklin!) and I was definitely rooting for all their respective romances to work out. There is even a touch of mystery and intrigue. It was just so easy to get caught up in this book and completely lose track of time. And I was FURTHER delighted to discover that Kindl plans a trilogy set in the town, and cannot wait to see what happens in the third one. These books are so charming and fun, while lightly pointing out that sometimes being a woman in olden times was a trial. A!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

2015 book 168

Patrice Kindl's Keeping the Castle
A new Patrice Kindl book is out today--and it's a sequel to THIS Patrice Kindl book, so of course I had to reread it so it would all be nice and fresh in my mind. It's a sweetly silly Jane Austen-y sort of book about a young woman who HAS to marry for money to save her family and their crumbling castle (there's always a crumbling castle), and there are various stepsisters and suitors and puppies and new friends all in the mix. I found it just as enjoyable on this second read, and look forward to reading its companion.

Monday, July 13, 2015

2015 book 167

Melanie Sumner's How To Write a Novel
Well, this was just an absolutely charming, moving, and hilarious book about a girl who's determined to write a novel and make a million dollars for her family (her widowed mother and her eccentric, maybe on-the-spectrum? brother). But REALLY it's a novel about family and love and loss and friendship and the power of writing! I thought the mother-daughter relationship was really interesting, too--one of the best I've read in a long time. Now, is this book perfect? Probably not. IS the end a serious deus ex machina? Totally. Does the narrative voice really sound like a twelve-and-a-half year old's? WHO CARES? I loved this.  It gets an A.

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

Sunday, July 12, 2015

2015 book 166

Corey Ann Haydu's Rules for Stealing Stars
In this middle-grade novel, four sisters dealing with a mentally ill mother discover that the closets in their house each have a sort of magic, and the youngest sister--the narrator, who longs to be accepted by her older sisters as an equal--has the most magic of all. There's also a whole fairy-tale thing woven through (their father is a folklore professor). In general, I liked this a lot, though sometimes the protagonist's decisions didn't make a lot of sense and seemed to be just to build plot. And I think some of this would be kind of scary for younger kids (I found a lot of it to be somewhat creepy). But the stuff with the sisters and their relationships was pretty well-done, and the writing is strong. B/B+.

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

2015 book 165

Val Brelinski's The Girl Who Slept With God
The titular Girl of this novel is the older sister of our protagonist--they're a pair of teenagers growing up in an extremely devout family in Idaho in 1970. Middle daughter Jory is mildly rebellious, but her older sister believes herself to be a servant of Christ--and when she comes home from a mission trip pregnant, she claims an angel from God impregnated her for holy reasons. And then their parents sort of exile the two girls, leading Jory to befriend normal (non-churchy) local high school students--and an ice cream man. Plus a very awesome elderly neighbor. Grace . . . has some other stuff happen. I did have some mixed feelings about the ending--mainly because it didn't go the way I wanted it to go. But isn't that the mark of a good book--that you care so much about and are so invested in the characters that you get actually angry when things don't go their way? I think I really loved this, even though I'm mad about it? The writing is beautiful and Jory is pretty realistic. There is also an adorable kitten. A-.

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

Friday, July 10, 2015

2015 book 164

A.J. Rich's The Hand That Feeds You
Look, I admire the backstory to this book, but this book is . . . not great. It centers on a young woman, a grad student, whose boyfriend dies (apparently mauled by her dogs), at which point she realizes everything she knows about him is a lie--and that the other women in his life are being murdered. The thing is, she is an amazingly stupid person, so you don't really sympathize with her for being fooled by a charismatic sociopath. I mean, really, she does all the dumb things amateur detectives in mysteries do, and then some. Plus there is way too much other stuff going on--romantic drama, etc. OK, there are some great dogs in this, but the heroine is a real idiot about everything, so it's a very frustrating read. The writing is also a little awkward at times, and there's a rape plot that I'm not sure is necessary, especially when her therapist characterizes it as part of a pattern of self-destructive behavior! I almost didn't finish this b/c it annoyed me so much, but then it was like, I'd already sunk so much time in, I might as well make sure I'm right about everything. And I was.  C-.

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

Thursday, July 09, 2015

2015 book 163

Scarlett Thomas' The Seed Collectors
Thomas's latest (after Our Tragic Universe, The End of Mr. Y, PopCo, and others) features more of the themes she works with so well--religion, enlightenment, academia,, mysteries, etc. The story here focuses on a complicated family and their connection to a mysterious plant whose seed pods grant you enlightenment--but then immediately kill you. Almost every character in this book is sort of horrible, but also sort of sympathetic, making for some compelling reading. I personally enjoyed that some sections are from the point of view of a robin. Nobody writes such weird, wonderful, interesting books as Thomas, and this one was no exception. A-.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

2015 book 162

Mary E. Pearson's Heart of Betrayal
The sequel to Kiss of Deception (GOD, these titles are bad) starts off a little bit slowly, but eventually picks up steam and gets pretty good, though I won't go into specifics to avoid spoiling the first one. I will say that I wish there was less of the protagonist pretending to be into kissing guys she doesn't actually like (for political reasons)--it kind of depressed me, and things do get a teensy bit rapey (not actual rape, just threats of rape--not much better). Luckily there are some kisses with the guy she does like to balance things out. Not to mention some really interesting stuff with the religion/history of the various countries in this world--but you know I'm a nerd for that sort of thing! And Pearson does have a way with a cliffhanger. I think this wasn't quite as strong as the first one, but it definitely has me excited to read the third. A-/B+.

Monday, July 06, 2015

2015 book 161

Judy Blume's In The Unlikely Event
I have been waiting foreverrrrrr (GET IT??) to get this e-book from the library, so it was inevitable that it would be at least a little disappointing by the time I read it. The first half is really strong, centered on a teenage girl growing up in New Jersey in the early 1950s, though there are POV sections from basically everyone else in her town, too, as all their lives are changed by a series of plane crashes (this is all apparently inspired by true events). I really liked this first half--I could relate to the teenagers, and it was all so Jewish, and all of the characters really made this town feel inhabited. But then things sort of descend into drama being wrapping up more-or-less neatly. I guess I forgot what Judy Blume books are like? Or maybe I just expected something a little bit different based on the first half. I mean, it was fine, it was certainly engaging. I just found some of it to be a let-down. B.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

2015 book 160

Julia Dahl's Run You Down
The sequel to Dahl's excellent Invisible City is more of the same, which is great! After the events of the first book, reporter Rebekah is well-known to the Haredi population of New York, so when a young man's wife dies in what he considers suspicious circumstances, he gets in touch, asking her to investigate. This is all interspersed with the story of Aviva, Rebekah's mysterious mother. As the two stories start to intersect, a LOTTTTTT of suspension of disbelief is required, but it's all still really well-crafted and interesting. I was also fairly stressed out by some of the stuff in the second half as a bunch of neo-Nazis are introduced, but I /am/ Jewish, so that may not be the case for some readers. I really hope this series keeps on going, and not just because it appeals to my specific interests. :) A-/B+.

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

2015 book 159

Jen Chaney's As If! : The Oral History of Clueless
If any movie deserves to have a 300+ page oral history, it's Clueless. (I freaking love Clueless.) Chaney manages to keep things interesting and flowing for all those 300+ pages too, and makes an effort to five some cultural context by not talking to just the cast and crew, but to a bunch of Jane Austen scholars, the fug girls, and even Ta-nehisi Coates! Anyway, if you love Clueless like I do, or at least find oral histories of movie-making interesting, you should check this out, because it's really well-done. And thank goodness Clueless is on Netflix, because I need to go watch it right now! A/A-.

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

Friday, July 03, 2015

2015 book 158

Lexie Dunne's Supervillains Anonymous
The sequel to Superheroes Anonymous is more of the delightful same, with a plot that I won't get into as it spoils the first book, except to say there is still a lot of action, quipping, and a touch of romance. The writing is still a teensy bit awkward, but the characters are all interesting, and the plot has a ton of momentum. Definitely a fun, light read. B+.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

2015 book 157

Jo Walton's The Philosopher Kings
The second book in Walton's Thessaly series (after The Just City) takes place twenty years after the first one, as Athena's City has fractured into several different cities/factions, and Simmea (the main character of the first one) is killed, leading Apollo to go on a quest for vengeance--which turns into something else entirely. I loved all the mythological/religious stuff Walton is playing with here, though was still not super enthused by all the philosophical discussions (they are relevant, of course!). Still, there's plenty of action, and I loved all three of the POV characters (Apollo; Arete, his daughter with Simmea; and teacher Maia), and I /really/ loved everything with Apollo and his family. The end was a GREAT and totally bonkers change-up, and I am eagerly awaiting the third one, which is gonna be crazy. CRAZY. A/A-.