Friday, April 29, 2016

2016 book 78

Dorothy Sayers' Murder Must Advertise
In this outing in the Peter Wimsey series, Peter is undercover as a copywriter at an advertising agency--apparently Sayers once worked at a similar agency, so there are tons of details (I liked the details of the ads--it was all very Mad Men--but could have done with less detail on a crucial cricket match). Sayers actually starts the book in media res and it's not officially revealed that the copywriter is Wimsey until like chapter four, which entertained me. (I would complain about the lack of Harriet, but she is mentioned briefly, and I know she'll be back in the series soon--this one worked just fine without her.) The usual caveats for casual use of racist slurs applies--even Peter uses them in this book, to my chagrin. And if I ever forget to explicitly mention the racist slurs in one of my reviews, rest assured--they are still there. Only downside to reading this great series from the 1920s. B+.

For some reason, this one is $1.99 for the Kindle right now, click the link above to check it out!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

2016 book 77

Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven King
It's hard to know what to say about this without being spoiler-y. And it's hard to know how to feel about this book after so much build-up. I meant to reread all the others beforehand but never got around to it--I guess my enthusiasm for this series waned a little. It was mostly pretty good but parts felt like a cop-out and there were like twelve dei ex machina and not enough psychics and one fun new addition and I feel like I still have a lot of questions, particularly about the adult characters? But it was easy enough to devour it. I liked it. It just didn't hit the heights I expected. B+.

Monday, April 25, 2016

2016 book 76

Laura Lippman's Wilde Lake
Lippman's latest is a standalone centering on a recently elected state's attorney in Columbia, Maryland--a position her father famously held years earlier. Now she's working on a kind of weird murder case, and the story is also flashing back to a crucial summer in the 1970s and a couple cases of her father's (shades of To Kill a Mockingbird are intentional). Eventually, of course, these two stories start to converge, but not before Lippman touches on family, motherhood, romance, loss, race and class tensions, and more. I did have some minor problems with half the book being in first person and half in third, and wished this was a little more substantial, but it moves quickly and is pretty entertaining. B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on May 3rd.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

2016 book 75

David Levithan and Nina LaCour's You Know Me Well
I wasn't sure how this book was going to go for me--I LOVE Nina LaCour, but am not really into David Levithan. But maybe he's better when he's working with someone else, a la Will Grayson, Will Grayson? This actually has a Will Grayson-esque vibe: it centers on two queer teens--a sixteen year old boy, in love with his best friend/sort of boyfriend, and the girl from his calc class he encounters at a Pride event in San Francisco, who's afraid to meet the girl she's in love with, and also consumed with a lot of anxiety, and they become really nice, supportive friends during Pride Week. I liked/related to her sections more--his veer into the cheesy/dramatic and have some unrealistic dialogue--but both are pretty compelling, and I pretty much downed this in one sitting. I also just like that books like this exist. More cute little books for queer teens! B+/A-.

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

Saturday, April 23, 2016

2016 book 74

Karen Cushman's Grayling's Song
Newbery medalist Cushman's latest focuses on a young girl who has to go on a journey to save her mother, a local hedgewitch under an evil spell that's turning her into a tree. I think this is one of those books that a kid in the intended audience/age range would love, but that doesn't have enough depth to really enchant an adult reader. There is an EXTREMELY awesome mouse though. I love charming animal friends. B.

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

2016 book 73

Lydia Millet's Sweet Lamb of Heaven
Millet's latest (after the stellar Mermaids in Paradise) is another slightly off-kilter but enjoyable story. This one feels much more like a thriller--it centers on a woman and her daughter who are on the run from her sociopathic husband, who has no interest in them--but now that he's launching a political career, needs them back in his life.  There is also a sort of mystical overlay, which I found really interesting. The tension ramps up nicely, but I found the end kind of anti-climactic after all the build-up. I did like the sense of paranoia that imbues everything, I think I just wanted the end to feel a little bit bigger. Still a great book and obviously great writing. B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on May 3rd.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

2016 book 72

Dorothy Sayers' Have His Carcase
The eighth Peter Wimsey mystery brings Harriet Vane back into the mix, as she encounters a recently dead body and the two get themselves involved in trying to solve the convoluted crime. This definitely would have benefited from some editing--it drags quite a bit, and there's an overly lengthy description of solving a cipher (and I say that as someone who likes that sort of thing!). It also just sort of ends as soon as they figure it out. I was losing steam by that point anyway, so was kind of relieved. I realize all of this sounds negative when, for the most part, this was entertaining. I really like Peter and Harriet. B.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

2016 book 71

Maggie Nelson's The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial
I've never read any of Nelson's other books (though The Argonauts was a majorly critically acclaimed work last year), but Graywolf recently reissued this 2005 memoir and it sounded so compelling that I went for it! It centers on what happens when Nelson is about to publish a work of poetry about the long-ago murder of her aunt, presumably by a serial killer--and then finds out that the cold case has been reactivated, and a new suspect is about to be arrested. It's not a true crime book, but instead centers on Nelson and her family, their inter-relationships, and their grief, loss, and confusion as they face the murder trial. Nelson imbues her story with some really resonant themes, making this a quick, but moving, read. Very well-done. A.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

2016 book 70

Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney's The Nest
The Nest of the title refers to a trust fund four siblings are going to inherit when the youngest turns forty, and a couple of them have been counting on it to get them out of some financial jams--too bad troubled oldest brother Leo has caused it to almost disappear. I found the siblings (and their relationships) to be realistic and sympathetic to varying degrees, but there are a lot of other characters being juggled here, too, and I wished we could have had more attention paid across the board. I did like how some pieces of the end came together, but the epilogue felt a little bit pat. Still, the story here is compelling and the writing has some really striking moments. Normally I think novels about rich New Yorkers are annoying, but this was pretty well-done. B+.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

2016 book 69

Lois Duncan's Down a Dark Hall
This month, our branch of the FYA book club decided to go rogue, and instead of reading the most recent Sarah Dessen book (too rapey), we went for a slightly trashy classic YA book. Lois Duncan is one of those authors who was ubiquitous during my formative years--though I only owned one book by her (Stranger With My Face!!! Long-lost twin sister astral projection dramarama!!!), I read it many, many times. This one was pretty amazing: a girl is forced to go to a mysteeeeerious boarding school so her mom and new stepdad can go on a four month long honeymoon (????), and the school is even more weird and creepy than she initially thought! The version I read had been updated from its original 1970s version (ie, cell phones exist), but I'm pretty sure the bones of the story remain the same. I also appreciated that almost every character was a woman. Anyway, I mean, this was a Lois Duncan book, so it was super entertaining but not like a literary masterpiece. What's that merit, a B+?

2016 book 68

Dorothy Sayers' The Five Red Herrings
So this entry in the Peter Wimsey series is, frankly, kind of dull. A guy is murdered at some combo artist/fishing resort in Scotland, and there are six suspects, and everyone runs around talking about train timetables and bicycles and it just DRAGS. None of these characters are fleshed out and even Peter doesn't have much to do, so I wasn't really invested in whodunnit. I also found the end mildly disappointing. I'm glad that Harriet Vane comes back into the picture in the next one--that should liven things up. B-.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

2016 book 67

Lyndsay Faye's Jane Steele
Despite enjoying Faye's previous books, I wasn't sure how to feel about this one--a retelling of Jane Eyre, only this Jane is a serial killer. Like, what. But I should not have doubted Ms Faye, who has a way with a turn of phrase and with a plot, and who is all to eager to make her Jane Eyre fandom--and her titular character's--clear. This book is definitely compelling and entertaining, and makes me wish actual Jane Eyre had occasionally taken a shiv to someone. OK, things bog down a little in the middle and the end is mildly goofy, but this was surprisingly fun, and I appreciated the looks at Sikhism and the Sikh Wars. B/B+.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

2016 book 66

Anne Tyler's Vinegar Girl
This is the latest in the Hogarth Shakespeare series--where modern writers rework classic Shakespeare plays. I was pretty excited to see Tyler's take on Taming of the Shrew, since it's a play I'm more familiar with. Of course, can any modern adaptation be better than 10 Things I Hate About You? And the answer is no, but this was pretty good anyway. Tyler cleverly modernizes things by making heroine Kate's father try to pressure her into a green card marriage so he can keep his research assistant, though Kate comes off less as prickly and more as maybe on the spectrum. I also wish Tyler hadn't chosen to kind of drop the younger sister's story entirely--I wanted a lot more from the sister relationship here, and disliked everyone constantly talking about how dumb and pretty the younger girl was (she's only fifteen!). But if you take it as it is, it's kind of a sweet book a la the movie Green Card (which is fine, but not nearly as good as 10 Things I Hate About You). I definitely liked this more than the Winter's Tale one. B+.

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

2016 book 65

Rufi Thorpe's Dear Fang, With Love
Thorpe's second novel, after The Girls of Corona Del Mar, felt like a bit step up to me--and I liked her first one! This one centers on a semi-estranged father and daughter--he was a teen when she was born and not really part of her life until she was twelve, and she's recently been diagnosed as bipolar, so of course taking her on a tour of Vilnius (to visit his grandmother's roots) is a GREAT idea. I found both characters really compelling and believable, and Thorpe has a deft touch with foreshadowing that had me going "oh s--t" a couple of times. I also appreciated the look at family stories and the things we tell ourselves, and particularly enjoyed all the Jewish characters and the way they were exploring their own stories. But of course, it's primarily a story and family and love. Great stuff. A/A-.

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

Friday, April 08, 2016

2016 book 64

Rick Riordan's Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer
Hooray: the library was finally able to get this as an e-book! Boo: I think I am definitely over Rick Riordan. I mean, look, this book is FINE. It's cute that the main character is the cousin of Annabeth from the Percy books. But the whole thing feels like a MAJOR Percy Jackson retread. Great, there's a Muslim girl in it, and she has some good action scenes. A dwarf who's into fashion and an elf who wants to learn magic, fun! But no one has any real character development. I was never invested in any of them.  I also for once wish things would hinge on the child of a goddess, not a god, but I guess beggars can't be choosers after a couple thousand years of patriarchal societies. Anyway, I'm not going to be reading any more of this series--I am beyond uninterested in the same story beats or in Loki's shenanigans. B.

2016 book 63

Dorothy Sayers' Strong Poison
In the 6th Peter Wimsey book--the one which was most strongly recommended to me--Peter is determined to prove a young woman--a mystery writer!!--innocent of killing her ex. And then he's determined to marry her. I will say this mystery was way easier to solve for the reader than the previous ones, but it was still super satisfying, and I am very excited to see how things progress from here. A/A-.

Monday, April 04, 2016

2016 book 62

Dorothy Sayers' The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
I skipped the fourth Peter Wimsey book because it was a bunch of short stories (though I plan to go back to it later), so on to the fifth! This one finds Peter dealing with an elderly man who died at the club--but did he die before his sister, or after? It matters quite a bit, will-wise, and so his lawyer friend has asked Peter to investigate the matter--and of course quite a few odd things and red herrings emerge and it is super entertaining as always. I love this series so much. I really especially love watching Peter interact with women. A/A-.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

2016 book 61

Mariko Tamaki's Saving Montgomery Sole
Tamaki is the co-author of two graphic novels I really like, Skim and This One Summer, so I was excited to read a YA novel from her. And for sure, while it deals with some of the usual themes of YA lit--outcast/non-conformist teens dealing with high school jerks--it never felt formulaic. Protagonist Montgomery, daughter of a lesbian couple, runs the school Mystery Club--which investigates ESP and the like--but things get complicated when an ultra-conservative preacher comes to town, and his son enrolls at their school. And then, of course, there is a maybe-magical amulet obtained from the internet. I will say that this book suffers from one of my pet peeves--if the main character had an honest conversation, there would be no plot, but of course it is realistic for teens to be secretive and dumb. I really liked all the characters here, I just wished there was more to the story--it was entertaining and funny, but somewhat insubstantial. B/B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on April 19th.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

2016 book 60

Emma Cline's The Girls
I'll start by saying: this book is way better than it needs to be. I mean, people are gonna read a fictionalized version of the Manson Murders no matter what--so that this book is a literary stunner is a major bonus. It's from the point of view of fourteen year old Evie--granddaughter of a major Hollywood celebrity*--who starts hanging out at the infamous ranch because she's intrigued by one of the older girls there. But it is kind of really about girlhood, about coming of age, about rape culture, about GIRLS, in a way that really resonated with me. Just a beautiful book. I'm not sure how I feel about the framing device--a much older Evie, at loose ends, encountering some beautiful young people at a friend's house--but it definitely works thematically. I think I just wished we'd seen more of adult Evie. Those are minor complaints, really--I think I'll still give this one an A.

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

*I recently listened to the Manson episodes of the You Must Remember This podcast and I SWEAR I remember one of the people who hung out with them briefly was the grandchild of someone famous--does anyone know who I'm talking about? Am I making this up?

2016 book 59

Dorothy Sayers' Unnatural Death
The third Peter Wimsey mystery is more of the charming same, as we find Peter investigating a cold case--an elderly woman who apparently died of cancer a few years earlier, but her doctor thinks she should have lived several more months. And of course things quickly get kind of crazy, with all sorts of entertaining twists and turns. This was written in the 1920s, so some characters are pretty racist--the n-word is used several times--but none of our heroes seem to be. And Peter has taken on an associate to do some investigating--an aging spinster, who is absolutely hilarious. I love this series so much. A-.