Monday, February 29, 2016

2016 book 37

Joshilyn Jackson's The Opposite of Everyone
Sometimes Jackson's books are a little hit or miss for me--but this one was definitely a HIT. It centers on a woman, a high-powered attorney in Atlanta with a rough past, who has a lot to deal with when some family secrets start to emerge. I was one hundred percent rooting for her the whole time (and also one hundred percent rooting for her to get with her love interest). There's also a great, and wholly satisfying, ending. If you need a book about a badass lady getting stuff done, and also some emotional catharsis and crying, pick this one up ASAP. A/A-.

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

Sunday, February 28, 2016

2016 book 36

Janet B. Taylor's Into the Dim
You guys know I LOVE time travel books, and I really WANTED to love this one. But I didn't. It centers on a teenage girl--kinda sickly and frail, but smart, with a photographic memory--whose mother died in an earthquake a year earlier--but she's convinced that her mother DIDN'T die, and in fact, she's right, because her mother is TRAPPED IN THE PAST and only she can save her!!!! Also there are EVIL time travelers, too! And all that actually makes sense, as far as these things go, and so she goes trekking off to the Middle Ages and chills with Eleanor of Aquitane, and meets a helpful Jewish girl (I appreciated the accurate historical look at anti-Jewish sentiment during this period) and all sorts of other things happen, it's all very exciting (it's also all VERY rapey, which is probably also historically accurate, but like, I could have done with less of it). Too bad things bog down with STUPID ROMANCE and the hints of A STUPID LOVE TRIANGLE. YA books, why you gotta do me like that. Who has time for romance when you're running for your lives in the freaking PAST? Plus it feels like every other YA romance/possible love triangle that's ever been written. I am way past over it. Anyway, this is the start of a series, and if you're into that sort of thing, it's pretty well-written. I am, clearly, not really into that sort of thing. B/B-.

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

Friday, February 26, 2016

2016 book 35

Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan's The Royal We
At first, I was worried about rereading this for FYA book club--would it be as good as I remembered? etc--but as soon as I started, I got completely sucked back in again and would have read the whole thing in one sitting if I hadn't had other plans! Anyway, the Fug Girls' take on Kate Middleton is super entertaining, only occasionally cheesy, and surprisingly action-packed! Good stuff!

I see that there is an edition with "a new bonus chapter"--anyone have the details on that?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

2016 book 34

Theresa Rebeck's I'm Glad About You
I was mainly interested in reading this because I loved Rebeck's previous novel, though I admit there was sort of a morbid interest in Rebeck's take on an actress, after all the drama she had working on Smash. And although there is plenty of Hollywood dirt stuff going on, primarily this is the story of a young actress in New York and the guy she left behind in Cincinnati--who's just gotten married (there is a third POV character, a somewhat douchey journalist, but he's pretty minor). Anyway, it's all very readable and entertaining and even a little bit more solid, writing-wise, than it has to be. I did wish there was no rapiness, but maybe that is too much to ask for sometimes. I did like it a lot! A-/B+.

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

Monday, February 22, 2016

2016 book 33

Tanita S. Davis' Peas and Carrots
The latest from Davis, a Coretta Scott King honor award winner, is a really sweet, simple, and realistic look at a complicated family, the foster care system, sibling and friend relationships, and more. I also really appreciated the depiction of minorities, particularly the middle-class family at the center of the story. I wished there had been a little more at the end, but it did leave me with a nice, hopeful feeling. Really good stuff. A/A-.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

2016 book 32

Tamora Pierce's Lady Knight
The final book in Pierce's Protector of the Small series is a satisfying conclusion--though it is super grim at times. I really appreciate that Pierce keeps romance on the backburner for the series--it's all very realistic for what Keladry is going through, and I liked the way her feelings on the matter were depicted. It's just so rare in a series of this kind. High five, Tamora Pierce. A/A-.

Friday, February 19, 2016

2016 book 31

Tamora Pierce's Squire
The third book in Pierce's Protector of the Small series is great, just great! I was totally crying from sheer joy (and a little bit of sappiness) at the end. Pierce doesn't shy away from the horror and darkness of war, particularly now that protagonist Keladry is a young adult, but there is also still plenty of the girl-power awesomeness of the first two. I am so grateful that the library added this series, as I had no idea it existed and it's really fun and satisfying. A/A-.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

2016 book 30

Tamora Pierce's Page
I am just rip roaring through this series! This second one centers on Kel as she works her way through the page system, still dealing with sexist morons, but with more friends--and more ANIMAL FRIENDS!!!! She learns and grows a lot, and I really appreciated the focus on her adolescence. Great, great. A/A-.

2016 book 29

Tamora Pierce's First Test
I needed a bit of a mental palate cleanser after that last book, so was glad to see the library had added a Tamora Pierce series I'd never read! I was a little put off at first--basically the first thing that happens is that a giant spider monster EATS A KITTEN--but by the end I was super into it. It focuses on Kelandry, the first girl who wants to train to be a night after the famous Alanna--but everyone is a super sexist jerk and they put her on probation and make her prove herself! But of course she wins everyone over with her skill and niceness, and beats the crap out of the dudes who are jerks. Yeah!!! Girl power!! I did wish Pierce had been a little more creative with her world cultures, because there are weird stereotypes re: East Asia and the Middle East, but nothing /too/ awful. And there are some really nice warrior women (including the protagonist's mom!) AND an amazingly adorable flock of sparrows. Good, fun stuff. A-.

Monday, February 15, 2016

2016 book 28

Alexander Chee's The Queen of the Night
This book has gotten so much positive buzz, but I . . . did not love it. Maybe the article on the theory of adaptation has ruined books for me? The protagonist and her love interest are certainly guilty of insta-love; also, she definitely describes the breasts of other women on more than one occasion. MALE AUTHORS, amirite? It's also that, although I found her story interesting, I never actually CARED about her or anything that happened to her. ANYWAY, this is the story of an opera singer, inspired by a real historical singer, rising to fame as the Second Empire of France is falling, and what happens when she is approached about starring in a brand new opera--which happens to be the exact story of her secret past! The first 2/3rds flash back and forth in time, to varying effect; things move along better toward the end, but like I said, I never really cared about anything that happened. Maybe it was all of the specific discussion of many, many operas--I am not at all interested in opera and this book would have been a lot shorter without all that (and I do think it could have been shorter). The writing and plotting are all very operatic, too. In retrospect, I was not the ideal reader for this book.  B.

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

Friday, February 12, 2016

2016 book 27

Anna Richland's His Road Home
This was a pretty cute and not-too-cheesy contemporary romance about an Army medic in Afghanistan who has to invent a fiancee for Reasons, and choose a random woman from his hometown--and then when he's badly wounded rescuing a little boy, she gets the call. I love the fake engagement/marriage trope, so this was right up my alley, and I thought their relationship built realistically. I also liked that both characters are minorities and he's a disabled vet, but it feels really natural--no one is beating me over the head and screaming "diversity!!" like they're all proud of themselves. Everyone in this book is super sweet and charming. And it's just 99 centsB/B+.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

2016 book 26

T. Kingfisher's The Raven and the Reindeer
Ursula Vernon's latest book under the T. Kingfisher moniker (for books intended for older audiences) is her take on the Snow Queen fairy tale--and no surprise, I liked it way better than Frozen! Vernon has a distinct gift for creating animal companions--seriously, so many GREAT animals in this one. Some good people too; I particularly liked the plot development that happened about halfway through involving a mysterious young woman. And of course the main character is likable. But the animals! Ha. A-.

Monday, February 08, 2016

2016 book 25

Mary Balogh's Lady with a Black Umbrella
A few of Balogh's out of print books have been reissued as e-books this week, and this one looked like it might be delightfully silly. And it WAS. There's a rich dude, and he's robbed and getting beat up by hooligans, when he is rescued by a tiny woman with a large umbrella! Who then pays all his debts! Which is humiliating for him, and he dislikes her, but they're thrown together b/c she wants help in introducing her younger sister around for the Season. It is honestly really funny in general--it's an older book, so there are a few off notes (a villain threatening rape, the hero jokingly threatening to beat the heroine, etc), but on the whole everyone in this book is likable and nice and it's a pleasant read. Seriously, I loved this heroine so much, she was all about rescuing gentleman, puppies, and prostitute--and nothing was gonna stand in her way. Heh. B+.

2016 book 24

Jeannette Winterston's The Gap of Time
So, this publisher Hogarth has commissioned a bunch of great writers to do "cover" versions of Shakespeare plays--upcoming ones are by Howard Jacobson, Anne Tyler, and Margaret Atwood. I'm not super familiar with Winter's Tale, so came into this book pretty fresh and unbiased. It's set in modern times, with various kings and queens of the play being transposed into big banking business guys, video game designers, chanson singers, etc. Unfortunately, the writing just doesn't feel polished enough--the black characters' POV sections feel really false/flat, and the use of conversational Yiddish from the Jewish character is completely over-the-top. None of the dialogue feels natural (maybe that's b/c . . . Shakespeare?). One character's name is occasionally misspelled (Zeno instead of Xeno). Like, this is a high profile project from a prominent author, how did it not receive the utmost attention to detail? Also, and this is not Winterston's fault, but it is just so hard to sympathize with Shakespeare's mad kings. I really liked her author's notes on the text, but this was just not super compelling to me. That may be an issue with the source material, though. B.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

2016 book 23

Kaitlyn Greenidge's We Love You, Charlie Freeman
Well, this book was kind of crazy. I actually had to put it down for a couple of days because I was so stressed out about things that MIGHT happen to the characters. But let me back up: this is the story of an African-American family, chosen to live with/raise a chimpanzee at a research institute--chosen because they know sign language. But the institute has a troubling past, and flashbacks to their early studies reveal some distressing things. It's also has a coming of age element regarding the two daughters who are supposed to treat this chimp like their brother, but who have a lot of other stuff going on. There is a really interesting examination of racism in America here, along with family issues, sexuality, and scientific ethics. I definitely wished there was a little bit MORE here--I think the last third could have used a little more padding--but on the whole, this was a very strong debut. A-/B+.

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

Friday, February 05, 2016

2016 book 22

Gavriel Savit's Anna and the Swallow Man
The first thing I'm going to say is addressed to publisher marketing teams: don't compare a book to a really great and well-loved bestseller like The Book Thief, because the new book will not benefit from such heightened expectations. The second thing I'm going to say is that I definitely judge books set during WWII with a more jaundiced eye, because there are so many of them and they all want to be Important. So, I guess, take this review with several grains of salt. It's the story of a little girl in Poland in 1939, and what happens when her linguist father is taken away (they don't seem to be Jewish, so apparently for political reasons) and she encounters the mysterious Swallow Man and winds up accompanying him on his journeys. I feel like this is going for a dreamy fairy tale-ish vibe, but it also doesn't really shy away from the horrors of war, and particularly the horrors faced by a growing girl during war, so that didn't always mesh well for me. (Don't worry, the Swallow Man isn't rapey, but plenty of other men in this book are predatory, so warnings there.) I also kind of felt like the book just STOPPED, as opposed to ending. Seriously, what happened at the end? I was just left hanging. Ugh. Why was this book so over-hyped? It's not really satisfying at all. I mean, it's ok, but really. B.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

2016 book 21

Jacey Bedford's Winterwood
There is kind of a lot going on in this book, but it's all my jam, so let me bust into caps for a moment: MAGICAL HISTORICAL STORY ABOUT A WOMAN WHO IS A CROSS-DRESSING PIRATE CAPTAIN AND ALSO A SECRET WITCH! Like whaaaaaaat, that is amaaaaazing. Oh, ALSO, she is being haunted by the ghost of her beloved husband. And then she comes into possession of a magical mysterious box of a macguffin, not to mention a half-brother who's also half rowankind (sort of a magical person-like thing who is sort of enslaved?), and they're being pursued, and there's all sorts of magical stuff going on. Honestly, I liked this a lot, but I've already sort of forgotten half the things that happened b/c it's a bit meandering--like, this could have been a lot tighter and more effective. But there's some fun stuff going on, even if the heroine is a dope a lot of the time. She's still really cool and sympathetic, and the world-building here is really interesting. It looks like this is the start of a series, though this works perfectly well as a stand-alone. I'll definitely be checking out the next one. B+.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

2016 book 20

Tessa Hadley's The Past
Hadley's latest is one of those stories about a mildly dysfunctional British family--the four siblings, now grown, have reunited at their grandparents' house to decide what to do with it, and there are various relatives and hangers-on about the place. I /did/ wish that there wasn't so much involving a dead dog--like, I just could not deal with it, at all--and some of Hadley's writing is a little bit showy (plus she multiple times has people overhearing voices but not making out the words, it's a little repetitive). But the characters and their relationships are all compelling enough, and things improve when Hadley flashes back to the (titular?) past in the second half. This was interesting and enjoyable enough, it just feels like a lot of other books I've read before. B.