Thursday, March 31, 2016

2016 book 58

Dorothy Sayers' Clouds of Witness
The second Lord Peter Wimsey finds his older brother, the Duke, arrested for murder! And the dead man is their younger sister's fiance! And she's definitely keeping some secrets too. Sayers definitely kept me guessing with this one--there are soooo many clues and red herrings--but it totally all makes sense in the end and is abundantly satisfying. I did wish the lawyer's speech at the end was slightly less lengthy, but that's a minor complaint. I really find these books so calming, though maybe that is weird to say about a murder mystery. A-.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

2016 book 57

Mo Daviau's Every Anxious Wave
Daviau's debut novel may have been written JUST FOR ME--it centers on TIME TRAVEL and INDIE ROCK! Cat's Cradle even gets a shoutout! Anyway, it's the story of a guy, an aging indie rocker, who owns a bar and discovers a time travel portal thing in his closet (don't question it) and he and his buddy set up a business sending people back in time to awesome rock shows. I mean, that is genius. But then things go awry, and his friend ends up trapped in Manhattan in the year 980. And the bartender has to call in a cool young astrophysicist (a lady!) to save the day. I didn't find their inevitable romance entirely compelling--I wished she had been slightly better developed, or at least not seen only through his eyes, and I could have done w/o mentions of rape--but really enjoyed all the time travel shenanigans. This book was super fun. B+.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

2016 book 56

Dorothy Sayers' Whose Body
Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries have been recommended to me a few times, and I honestly wanted to read something on the lighter side after my past few books (isn't it sad that murder mysteries are considered light reading?). And this was definitely light, and pretty funny, and a little bit clever. It involves Peter (the usual upper class goofball who's secretly sharp as a knife) getting called in when an acquaintance finds a dead body in his bathtub. There is also the case of the missing rich Jewish man (many of the characters here are casually anti-Semitic, which is certainly appropriate for upper-class British people in the 1920s, but I didn't feel like /Sayers/ was being anti-Semitic). Are these cases connected, and can Peter fit all the pieces together? I mean, it's pretty obvious who the murderer is, but I liked seeing the process of figuring it out, and really enjoyed the characters here. Very entertaining and just what my brain needed. A-. (BTW, the first three books in this series are available in a Kindle bundle for just $7.99, click the link above to check it out!)

Monday, March 28, 2016

2016 book 55

Louise Erdrich's LaRose
Louise Erdrich is one of my all time favorite authors, so I've been savoring this one the past few days--though I think I could easily have read it in one sitting. It centers on two families, neighbors and friends; one day, while out hunting, the father of one family shoots the little boy of the other family--and decides he should give them his own little boy to make amends, impacting both families in expected and unexpected ways. It's also a portrait of the community--lots of characters drifting in and out of the narrative, which makes it feel a little busy at times, but also makes it feel more alive. And there are some teenage girls in this book who are just amazing. I would give this book an A based on their scenes alone (the titular LaRose is pretty great too). Erdrich tackles so many things--grief, loss, love, coming of age, sexual assault, bitterness, revenge, storytelling, family, war, etc--and then just sticks the landing in a way that made me want to high five someone. I read the last page like three times. It just really resonated with me. A for sure.

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

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

2016 book 54

Elizabeth Poliner's As Close to Us as Breathing
Well, this book was the perfect palate cleanser to the last book I read--maybe the beach setting helped wash all those horrible images away? The funny thing is, this book also deals with a tragedy--from the very first page, we know the narrator's little brother is going to die, hit by a car--but it's handled so much BETTER here. Part of that is the narrative voice--the protagonist, now an older woman, is looking back on the summer she was 12, in 1948, when her large and complicated family visits their beach house in the Jewish section of Connecticut--but partially it's just the way the story is crafted. (It's very well-crafted.) I really felt like I KNEW all of these people--and not just because they reminded me of my family, because only a few of them did--Poliner just breathes life into all of them, and all of their experiences, big tragedies and small ones, and little moments of grace. Just lovely. A.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

2016 book 53

Ashley Hope Perez's Out of the Darkness
So this is being described as a novel about a major disaster--an explosion at a school in Texas in 1937--as a backdrop for a story about love, family, segregation, racism, etc. Which is accurate. But is also a novel about a young girl being molested by her stepfather. This is why trigger warnings are a thing! I don't want to read books about young girls being molested, I find it upsetting (I think understandably). I am especially tired of picking up YA books that I think are going to be literary and moving, and having them be super rapey. I mean, half the town thinks she should marry her stepfather, so gross! I cannot deal with this sort of thing anymore--and that's not even getting STARTED on the extremely crazy and bummerific ending--which I live-chatted in a Slack channel b/c I was so horrified (and bemused). One friend said it sounded like misery porn and I honestly have to agree. Ugh. Publishers, can't you use words like "harrowing" for stories like these, so we know?  B-.

Friday, March 18, 2016

2016 book 52

Corinne Duyvis' On the Edge of Gone
I keep accidentally reading sci-fi books this week, but it's ok, because they've all been pretty good ones. I had high expectations for this one, because I really enjoyed the author's last book, and this mostly met them! It's set in near-future Amsterdam, where the planet is dealing with a variety of natural disasters, and things are looking pretty bleak--when teenage Denise (biracial and autistic) discovers a generation ship about to take off, and is determined to win places for her family on board. The autism is handled really well and I think realistically, and I really enjoyed reading about Denise's experiences on the ship. I also appreciated that any and all romance was totally on the backburner, b/c it's a freaking apocalypse, after all! However, this book stressed me the eff out! It turns out I have a really hard time with characters breaking rules during an apocalypse. I think this really says a lot about me as a person, and not necessarily good things, heh. But it was weirdly upsetting to me. The end is also a little bit all over the place. But, all in all, pretty good. B/B+.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

2016 book 51

Jenny T. Colgan's Resistance is Futile
This book was VERY silly, but also VERY fun. It's about a young woman, a mathematician,  who finds herself part of a group of elite colleagues working on a mysterious government project. At first I was like, is this gonna be like The Rosie Project meets Popco? But it goes somewhere entirely different (and slightly goofier). Parts of this are predictable, but I was super into the romance and liked the sense of humor a lot. And I really didn't see the end coming. I'll definitely be looking for more from Colgan. A-/B+.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

2016 book 50

Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee's Maybe a Fox
OK, there is officially a trend of emotionally compromising middle grade books featuring foxes this year (cf: Pax). This one features two sisters who lost their mother when they were five and six, and now the older one has disappeared, leaving the younger bereft. There is also a little fox that feels a connection to the girl (for reasons that are obvious to an adult reader, but maybe not to the intended audience? Either way, I had no issues with it). Great book on families and grief and rock collecting, and the end had me bawling my eyes out. I could have done without a throwaway reference to spirit animals, which isn't necessary to understand the story and might be offensive to Native American readers. Other than that, great stuff. A/A-.

Monday, March 14, 2016

2016 book 49

Becky Chambers' A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
Several of my friends have raved about this recently and so I was curious about it, even though I don't read a lot of sci-fi--and it totally lives up to the hype! It's about the people--not all human!--on a spaceship that punches black holes into space to allow for faster travel--but really, it's about the people. Great characters here, ones I was rooting for the whole time. I was even into the various romances. There's lots of action and adventure too, and dare I say--it was all kind of adorable? Plus, the book itself has a great underdog sort of story--originally funded on Kickstarter, and now a nominee for the Orange Prize (oh, I guess it's called the Baileys Prize now). Anyway, really a fun read, the kind that makes me want to seek out more sci-fi. Luckily for me, Chambers is working on a companion novel! Yay. A/A-.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

2016 book 48

Emma Straub's Modern Lovers
Just when I think I never ever want to read a book about well-off New Yorkers again, Emma Straub goes and writes one so good that I have no problem admitting how wrong I was. It's the story of two intertwined families in Brooklyn, and marriages working and not working, and teens falling in love and in friendship, and nostalgia, and real estate, and music, and everything awesome. It's gonna be perfect summer reading for those of us who want something a little substantial but completely enjoyable. I think it's the first book all year that I really LOVED and was eager to get back to whenever I put it down. A.

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

Friday, March 11, 2016

2016 book 47

Sabaa Tahir's An Ember in the Ashes
The major downside of running the local branch of the FYA book club is not being able to put down a book that isn't working for me. And boy, did this one not work for me. It's the same sort of dramatic, formulaic mishegas that seems to be driving a lot of YA these days-- a girl, a boy, opposite sides of an evil empire, dramatic backstories, monsters from Middle Eastern folklore, a love quandrangle, etc. You get the picture. It's also very rapey (the evil empire is all about rape, torture, and slavery) and there is an Excessive Use of Capitalization. So basically, a lot of things I am not into in a book I wish I didn't have to read. I mean, the pacing is good, and the characters are interesting enough in that generic way, but this was just too unpleasant for me. I mean, the CONSTANT rape threats and general violence. Just too much for me. B-.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

2016 book 46

C.S. Harris' When Falcons Fall
The Sebastian St Cyr series is one that really works for me, because Harris allows the characters to grow and change--they aren't stuck in the same formulaic rut all the time. That, and St Cyr has a badass and intelligent wife whose input he values! Anyway, in this one, they're visiting a small village to try and find out more about his past--when a young widow is found dead, and St Cyr is asked to assist with the investigation. Things quickly get crazier from there, as multiple villains, red herrings, and Bonapartes come into play (also, trigger warning for mentions of rape). Another solid entry in the series. A/A-.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

2016 book 45

Seanan McGuire's Every Heart a Doorway
When I started this, I was so excited--it's a GREAT concept, and McGuire's writing felt so much more PURPOSEFUL than a lot of her recent work. It's about a special school--a school for children who have returned from various fantasy lands, to help them come to terms with the end of their magical adventures, all through the eyes of new student Nancy, who's just been sent away from an Underworld. But then McGuire decides to cram a murder mystery into this moving story, and there's just not enough THERE to support a mystery! Like, it is IMMEDIATELY obvious who the killer is, because there are only so many characters, and this whole book is only 176 pages. So that takes things in a bit of a downward direction--like, there are so many interesting avenues to explore, and that's where the story goes? And then the end is fairly anti-climactic. Sigh. This needed to be like fifty pages longer. B.

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

2016 book 44

Jessica Day George's Friday with the Wizards
The fourth book in the Castle Glower series is pretty much as delightful as the first few, as the gang has to raise some griffins, battle an evil wizard, and grow closer as a family. Protagonist Celia is mildly bratty for part of the book, but works her crap out, and I really appreciated that we finally get to know more about her mother (who is very cool). Nice action, cute animals, and I'll be waiting for the next one. A-.

Monday, March 07, 2016

2016 book 43

Deanna Raybourn's A Curious Beginning
Raybourn's latest is the start of a new series, featuring a lady lepidopterist with very modern ideas, and a man who's a natural historian with a mysterious past and a fetching eyepatch. When the woman's aunt dies, she is suddenly whisked away to London by a Baron who claims her life is in danger--and it's apparent to the reader that he's right, though she's pretty much in denial about it. Soon murder is afoot and she has to figure out what the heck is going on (though it takes a little while to get there--a lengthy interlude at a traveling carnival is maybe not entirely necessary, but it does add some interesting color). Raybourn does a good job with the romantic tension--I was one hundred percent screaming "make out already!!!" in my head--but the big reveal is is preposterous that I could not EVEN with it. But I like lady adventurers getting things done, so I look forward to seeing what's next with this series. B+.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

2016 book 42

Stephanie Burgis' Masks and Shadows
Don't let the general description of "historical fantasy" fool you--Burgis' latest is a major departure from her adorable Kat Incorrigible series--which is not at all a bad thing. In her first novel for adults, Burgis explores the political scene of the 18th century--the story is set at the palace of Prince Esterhazy in Hungary, where some nefarious elements are plotting against the Hapsburg dynasty. It's also a kind of sweet, occasionally overwrought love story between a young widowed Baroness who loves music and the castrato who's come to visit and entertain (I will say that some of the descriptions of the castrato felt a little bit weird/othering). There also some interesting debate about class, not to mention some creepy supernatural elements! And Haydn is there, composing an opera! Things move along quickly and in general this is an entertaining sort of story--and one that feels different than a lot of the other books I've read lately. I especially appreciated the historical details and atmosphere--that was definitely very well done. I maybe wanted a little bit more character development though? B+.

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

Saturday, March 05, 2016

2016 book 41

Judith Flanders' A Bed of Scorpions
The second book in Flanders' mystery series (after A Murder of Magpies), about an editor at a publishing house, is more of the delightful same! The death here involves the owner of an art gallery, whose co-owner is an old friend (and long-ago ex) of the heroine. And of course the cop she's dating is the one in charge of the investigation! Things quickly go haywire, there are a ton of plausible red herrings, plus more inside scoop on the publishing world--it's all super fun and a great read, just the kind of mystery I like. Flanders is building up a cool little world here, and I definitely hope to see more of it. A/A-.

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

Friday, March 04, 2016

Thursday, March 03, 2016

2016 book 39

Brittany Cavallaro's A Study in Charlotte
This book was SO FUN!!! It's all about what happens when the great-great-great grandson of Dr Watson is shipped off to boarding school (on a rugby scholarship!)--the very same boarding school attended by Sherlock Holmes' great-great-great granddaughter, who is just as talented and troubled as her famous progenitor. Obviously a murder ensues--and it's the murder of a complete jerk who they both hate! And they have to band together and solve it--only things quickly get more complicated. And not just because they're teenagers! I really found the writing here super compelling and fun--I can think of a couple of weak spots but nothing major really--I honestly hope this is the start of a series because I want to read more of these ridiculous and awesome kids. A-.

TW for mentions of a past rape.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

2016 book 38

Patricia McKillip's Kingfisher
This book starts out simply--and interestingly--enough, with a young man, the son of a sorceress (who now runs a restaurant), going off on a quest to find his heretofore unknown father and brother. He soon runs across a small town with TWO magical restaurants and a girl who is desperate to flee. And just when you're like, oh, /that's/ what sort of book this is, we suddenly head to the capitol, where lots of political (and religious!) things are brewing. So the world-building here is kind of complicated--it's a world of magic, shapeshifters, cell phones, and Geo Metros--and there is a LOT going on. Being me, I was very interested in the various gods/goddesses and their worshipers, the way McKillip plays with mythology, and the hint of a matriarchal society coming into play, but I definitely wished things had been a little more straightforward. She seems to really enjoy being convoluted! Anyway, eventually all these crazy plotlines come together for some magic and mayhem and a generally satisfying end.  B+.