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+.