Friday, January 29, 2016

2016 book 19

Libby Cudmore's The Big Rewind
I finished this book a little while ago, and still can't decide what I think about it. It's the story of Jett, a 20-something in Brooklyn, temping instead of following her dream career as a music journalist, part of an extremely hipster-y community--when one of her friends/neighbors is MURDERED! But like, it's not a straight up mystery; it could just as easily be a sort of New Adult/women's fiction story, because so much of it is Jett thinking about old relationships, and music, and mix tapes (this book VERY MUCH nails young romance, music, and the connections therein). So it's sort of both of those kinds of stories, but also neither? Which is cool? But confusing? I definitely wished this actually had been more of a mystery. I want to see a series where Jett sets up as a hipster PI. I would read the hell out of that. B/B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on February 2nd.

2016 book 18

Jeffe Kennedy's The Talon of the Hawk
Before I even START writing about the story here, I want to say that the cover is like one thousand percent offensive. Ursula is a bad-ass, competent warrior princess and she would not be wearing a strapless top! Come on! Anyway. This is a disappointing follow-up to the first two--I hadn't mentioned this, but the characters have a religion with three sister goddesses, each an analogue for the three sisters of the story, and that is all pretty interesting. There's also a theme with each sister gradually losing her loyalty to their father, and I was interested to see how that would play out with Ursula, his heir. But the romance here actually kind of put a damper on the plot--it doesn't feel as natural as the other two, just the love interest constantly cajoling her about being into him (and it's not like she's not attracted to him, but like, after the first ten times she expresses her disinterest, maybe leave her alone a little). (I also admit to kind of hoping she'd be into the helpful librarian lady who's been hanging out for all these books, but heteronormativity carries the day.) Their mostly-bickering romance just takes up too much room in the story, especially compared to the previous books. And it turns out there is also a lot of troubling abuse in Ursula's past, and of course only the love and touch and reassurance of a man can cure the princess of her sadness and make her see her worth. It's like this fun series suddenly got super dark and I am not into it. And then all the political stuff I thought this series was building to is addressed in like five pages--very anti-climactic. Sigh. B/B-.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

2016 book 17

Jeffe Kennedy's The Tears of the Rose
The second book in the Twelve Kingdoms trilogy takes on the story of the youngest princess--the famous beauty--and picks up where the first left off, with that princess mired in grief and pregnant. At first, she's not as interesting as her sisters, but she's still fairly compelling. I liked that the story is sort of how she learns to wield political power, though wish that wasn't spurred on by a dude being kind of mean to her--and of course he's her love interest. Like the first book, I actually liked the romance here--I think these books are billed as romances but the romances aren't the main thing--there's so much else going on!--and so it's nice when things sort of work out. This one ends on a doozy of a cliffhanger and so of course I'm going to immediately read the third one (I admit to also being curious about the romance intended for the warrior sister). Side note, these books have a fairly silly narrative voice that is trying to meld "old fashioned" sort of writing with modern slang. I'm not sure how on purpose any of that is, but it does sometimes knock me out of the story, and it was especially egregious in this one. Still, it's a FUN read, so that goes a long way. B/B+.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

2016 book 16

Jeffe Kennedy's The Mark of the Tala
The first book in Kennedy's Twelve Kingdoms series is your typical epic fantasy--three princesses, each more beautiful than the last, the oldest is a strong warrior, the youngest beloved, and the middle one feels invisible. At least until she meets a mysterious man and finds out there are a bunch of family secrets to uncover, not to mention a lot of political intrigue and romance at hand. I did like the romance here, actually, though the sex scenes have some laughably bad terminology (the stuff we all like to make fun of in torrid romance novels). Oh, and there are shapeshifters! It's all just on this side of goofy but I liked it a lot anyway. And it's just $2.51 for Kindle right now!  B/B+.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

2016 book 15

Jacqueline Winspear's Journey to Munich
I've been thinking a lot about the last book in the Maisie Dobbs series, and I almost wish Winspear hadn't burdened Maisie with so much personal tragedy--it would have been interesting to see her try to balance her crime-solving abilities with a more traditional/happy life. Instead, this book finds her traveling to Munich in 1938 to try and get a British industrialist out of Dachau (on behalf of the British secret service, no less), which of course gets complicated. I found a lot of this to be implausible, wish Maisie would give fewer monologues, and was surprised by where Maisie is when the book ends--but I'll probably keep reading. B.

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

Saturday, January 23, 2016

2016 book 14

Jacqueline Winspear's A Dangerous Place
The eleventh Maisie Dobbs book features s bit of a time jump, as we find Maisie in Gibraltar during the Spanish Civil War, trying to recover from a plethora of personal tragedies. (This book is definitely on the downer side--not recommended if you're looking for a fun cozy.) And of course, she has almost literally stumbled on a dead body--a young Sephardic Jewish man, a photographer. Did he see something he shouldn't have? And are things ever that simple for Maisie? All of this needs to be taken with like twelve grains of salt, but it's pretty entertaining and I definitely still enjoy the characters. B/B+.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

2016 book 13

Susan Dennard's Truthwitch
I feel like this book has gotten a ton of positive buzz, but I was not super into it? It's the start of a four-book series and there is a LOT going on: there's interesting world-building, where people are different kinds of witches/have different kinds of powers (over wind, water, iron, and more esoteric things), and the main character is the titular rare and valuable truthwitch, who can sense when people lie. There's also a lot of political stuff going on, some magical prophecy stuff, some GREAT friendship stuff (the protagonist's best friend is very interesting and I especially liked their partnership), some romance/burgeoning romance, family stuff, etc etc etc. It felt a lot longer than it was, somehow, and the writing was a little awkward (definitely needed one more pass with a proofreader--a few comma errors, and, more egregiously, confusing "elicit" with "illicit"). I was a little more into it by the end but maybe that was just pop culture Stockholm Syndrome (as per Alan Sepinwall). B.

Monday, January 18, 2016

2016 book 12

Jessica Chiarella's And Again
Well, this was a excellent and entertaining novel about four people in Chicago, members of an experimental medical study wherein terminally ill patients are provided cloned--and cured--versions of their bodies, and their memories are implanted in those new bodies. But fresh starts aren't easy, and the four--a young painter, a congressman, a woman who's been paraplegic for eight years, and an actress with HIV--all have complicated lives made more complicated by their situation. This was a really fun and interesting read, very well-written--I mean, the publisher compares it to Never Let Me Go which may be on point thematically, but I don't think this story is trying to be a literary tour de force or anything. Anyway, I liked it. A/A-.

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

2016 book 11

Jenny Downham's Unbecoming
Downham's latest (after Before I Die, among others) centers on three generations of women in a complicated family in England, and what happens when teenage Katie's estranged grandmother is diagnosed with dementia and comes to live with Katie's family. And I mean, Katie has a lot going on--she has recently kissed her best friend, and while she's trying to figure out if she's gay, she's being ostracized at school, plus her newly-divorced mother is majorly stressed out, and her brother has an undiagnosed disorder. It's mainly the story of Katie and her grandmother, their burgeoning relationship, and how Katie is helping record her grandmother's memories--which in turn reveals the life of Katie's mother. It's all pretty beautifully written and moving, and if the end is a little bit too neat, well, these characters deserve it. A/A-.

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

Sunday, January 17, 2016

2016 book 10

Deanna Raybourn's The Dark Enquiry
The latest book in Raybourn's Lady Julia Grey series finds Julia and Brisbane and the usual crew on a case that involves her oldest brother--and a murdered medium. I really, really wish that by this point, Brisbane and Julia could just be badass partners solving crime together, and not fighting about it every five minutes, but I still liked this one better than the last one. Lots of fun twists and turns. B+.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

2016 book 9

Deanna Raybourn's Dark Road to Darjeeling
It hadn't come up in my little reviews of the previous books in this series, but one of the things I liked about it was the main character's relationship with her favorite sister, who happened to be a lesbian. Anyway, her partner has decided she wants to be a mother and live a conventional life, and gone to India to get married--and then her husband dies and she's worried it's murder, and she and her unborn child are in danger! So the whole motley crew heads to India to figure out what's up, and there are suspects and period-appropriate Orientalism galore. I do wish that the main couple would work together a little better at this point, and stop bickering--sometimes it felt like it was there just to pad out the plot. And I am a little leery of Raybourn's treatment of her gay characters between this one and the first one. There's only one book left in the series, so of course I'll read it, but this one was a little disappointing. B/B+.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

2016 book 8

Deanna Raybourn's Silent on the Moor
The third Lady Julia Grey mystery is just as delightful as the first two (I mean, if you can call a series delightful that deals so much with murder and the seedy underbelly of society), as our cast of characters finds themselves at a crumbling manor on the moor in Yorkshire--it seems our love interest now owns the place, but the previous occupants are still there, and everyone has a whole lot of secrets. And mummies. I have been rooting hard for the romance here, so this was a little bit heart-in-my-throat, but lots of action, intrigue, Bronte references, etc. Good stuff! A-.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

2016 book 7

Deanna Raybourn's Silent in the Sanctuary
I was in the middle of a book I was quite enjoying when I read the first book in the Lady Julia Grey series, and I was feeling it so hard that I immediately bought the second, which was just as enjoyable! In this one, Julia and many relatives and friends are all together at her father's converted abbey for a house party and for Christmas when there is a MURDER. I like that Raybourn takes her time setting the scene and introducing the characters and their dynamics before then, though. It makes things much more engaging. I am really into this series and glad my mom recommended it to me! And I'm sure I'll get back to that other book . . . when I've read all of these. A-.

Monday, January 11, 2016

2016 book 6

Deanna Raybourn's Silent in the Grave
This was a Kindle daily deal a couple of days ago, and my mom thought I would like it. And I did! It's a mystery set in Victorian England, first in a series, centering on a young woman whose sickly husband has died, and she assumes it's his heart ailment--at least until a private detective hired by her husband tells her he thinks it may be murder. I really liked the writing here, and only correctly guessed some of what was going on, which was all pretty interesting. I also really loved the protagonist's large and eccentric family, and found the romantic tension between the protagonist and the detective to be well-handled. I am definitely going to read more of this series. A-.

Friday, January 08, 2016

2016 book 5

Charlie N. Holmberg's The Glass Magician
One of my number one pet peeves in YA lit is when kids run off to do something dangerous when adults are RIGHT THERE, waiting to help them. It turns out I also hate that when it's adults who are untrained magicians. In the first book, circumstances worked so that it all made sense; in this one, the protagonist is just dumb. On the other hand, my main complaint about the first one was that the relationship (teacher/apprentice and otherwise) between the two main characters needed more build-up, and we do get some of that here, plus she gets properly yelled at for being dumb. Thumbs-up! But it kind of has a majorly bummer ending, thumbs-down. I'm not sure if I care enough to read the third one--have any of you read this series? Is it worth finishing? B.

The Amazon Affiliates program is legal in NC again, so I'll be linking to books from now on, and will get a small percentage if you purchase one. Just FYI!

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

2016 book 4

Charlie N. Holmberg's The Paper Magician
This was a pretty cute, though occasionally gory, historical fantasy, centered on a young woman who's just graduated at the top of her class at magic school, and she wants to work with metal (each magician can only work with one man-made material), but is instead assigned to work with PAPER, ugh, so boring. Except of course it's not, and her mentor is a handsome young guy, who unfortunately is being targeted by BAD MAGICIANS so she obviously has to save the day. I obviously was super into her dog, A+ adorable animal writing here. B+ otherwise. All three books in the series are 2 bucks each right now for Kindle.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

2016 book 3

Alissa Johnson's A Talent for Trickery
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books was raving about this the other day, and it pretty much lived up to the hype! It's a Victorian romance-cum-mystery (well, more of the former than the latter), centered on the daughter of a famous thief and con-man, who after his death took her younger siblings and set up as a respectable family under an assumed name, and the police detective she used to work with, now a viscount, who needs her help solving a murder. Of course they are super into each other and it's all very cute, though it DOES interfere with the detecting a bit. Anyway, I liked them and their relationship, both romantically and in terms of crime-solving, and it looks like the next book in this series will be about her sister and one of the guys he works with, and that looks like a lot of fun too. B+.

Monday, January 04, 2016

2016 book 2

Sara Pennypacker's Pax
Y'all, purchase a box of Kleenex before you read this book, because the VERY FIRST THING that happens is that a boy is forced to give up his pet fox, whom he's raised since he was a little orphaned baby fox. Sob city. The story proceeds from there, as the boy and his fox--A BOY AND HIS FOX!!!!!--try to find one another (yes, the fox is a POV character!) as dangers come at them from all sides--mainly due to war creeping closer and closer. My only complaint about this story is that I wanted there to be MORE, because I was super invested in the characters. Definitely one for the pantheon of child-and-animal stories, PLUS Jon Klassen illustrations! Heartbreaking and somehow sweet. A/A-.

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

Sunday, January 03, 2016

2016 book 1

Katarina Bivald's The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
I was hoping to start my year's reading with something cute, but this was a little more on the meh side. It centers on a young Swedish woman who's been corresponding with a woman in a small town in Iowa (the eponymous Broken Wheel), exchanging books back and forth. Finally the Swedish woman is coming for an extended visit (the bookstore she worked at has closed and she's at loose ends), only to discover that her friend Amy has died. I liked all of the talk about books a lot, and the depiction of a small-town community, but the romance is way more tell than show, and the writing in general doesn't have a lot of life to it. I'm bummed because it could have been super cute but instead was sort of boring. B.

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