Monday, May 30, 2016

2016 book 98

Daniel O'Malley's Stiletto
I am hesitant to say /anything/ about this book, because I don't want to spoil the first one for friends who haven't read it yet, so I will just say that there are two new POV characters--interesting and likable and badass, just like in the first book! And things are action-packed and exciting and occasionally slightly gory. I liked this so much, though the very end is mildly silly. I have no idea if there will be more books in this series, but if there are, I will be eagerly awaiting them. A/A-.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on June 14th.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

2016 book 97

Daniel O'Malley's The Rook
It has been several years since I first read this, but the long-awaited sequel is coming out in just a couple of weeks, so it was time to revisit (since pretty much all I remembered was the protagonist's first name). Said protagonist works for a secret organization in England that deals with paranormal stuff--she's one of the weirdly powered higher ups there. Or at least she was, until a traitor in their midst caused her to lose her memories. Now she has to impersonate her former self, figure out who the traitor is, deal with paranormal emergencies, and help run this entire operation. It's a ton of fun. I was worried it wouldn't hold up, but it really does. I cannot wait to see where the story goes next. A/A-.

2016 book 96

Dorothy Sayer's Busman's Honeymoon
So Peter and Harriet are finally married, and go right away to the new house they've purchased in Harriet's hometown--only nothing is ready, and the previous owner is missing, and obviously foul play is afoot. I loved the descriptions of the wedding and the way their marriage was depicted, and also appreciated the looks at the psychological toll being a detective might actually take, but once again found the casual anti-Semitism off-putting (I know it was written in the 1930s, but STILL).  I like the Peter Wimsey mysteries a lot, but find that they sometimes drag a little, and this one was no exception. Still an entertaining enough read though. A-/B+.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

2016 book 95

Claudia Gray's Bloodline
I really enjoyed Gray's first novel set in the Star Wars universe, so was eager to see her take on Leia--and see her take on those crucial events between The Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. But this kind of mires down in politics--which is, I mean, the point! It's showing how the First Order and the Resistance formed from the New Republic! But I felt like the pacing was a little bit off. I really liked (some of) the new characters, but I doubt they'll show up in the movies, so then I'm sort of wondering . . . what is the point? Obviously I loved seeing Leia doing her Leia thing (with Han featured), and it's nice to have some of those questions answered, but but but. It just didn't really hit home for me. Not bad at all, just not the dazzler I hoped for. B/B+.

Monday, May 23, 2016

2016 book 94

Alethea Kontis' Trix and the Faerie Queen
The second book in Kontis' Trixter series finds Trix and his friends on another magical quest, but at least this time they run into a few of his sisters to liven things up. Like its predecessor, this one felt a little bit underbaked--I just wanted things to be a little deeper. I mean, it's all fun and exciting, but there's not a lot beyond that.  I'm not emotionally invested in these characters, at all. But it /is/ pretty fun and exciting, so there's that. B/B+.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

2016 book 93

Alethea Kontis' Trixter
This is the first book in a sort of companion series to Kontis' Woodcutter Sisters series (which seems not to have been picked up for any more books, which is a major shame), focusing on their adopted brother, who can talk to animals. He's run away from home after receiving a vision from his birth mother, sending him straight into a bunch of fairy-tale adventures. I liked this a lot, but it didn't feel like a /whole/ story to me--more the first half of one. Luckily the second book is out already! B+.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

2016 book 92

Elly Griffiths' The Woman in Blue
In the latest Ruth Galloway mystery, Ruth's friend Cathbad (I love that guy) is housesitting when he thinks he has a vision of the Virgin Mary--only it turns out he actually saw a young model, about to be murdered. Ruth gets pulled into the case when an old friend of hers, a woman priest, begins to receive threatening letters that may be related to the crime. I'm honestly more interested in the ever-growing cast of characters here than in the mystery in a lot of these books, but this one balances both nicely and is a quick and entertaining read. I also like that so much of the story here involves people talking about religion, always a topic of interest to me. Definitely one of the stronger outings in the series. A-.

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

Friday, May 20, 2016

2016 book 91

Jeffrey Toobin's American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes, and Trial of Patty Hearst
Look, if Jeffrey Toobin--who mainly writes books about legal stuff, including the one The People vs OJ Simpson was based on--is gonna write a book on Patty Hearst, I am THERE, ok? And this was freaking RIVETING. Hearst apparently did not cooperate with the book, but it is still fairly sympathetic toward her--I mean, I have no idea how accurate this portrayal is--it seems well-researched but who knows how it's spun--but it /feels/ accurate. And like I said, totally riveting presentation. I thought the depiction of how COMPLETELY INSANE the 1970s were, especially in California, was very well-done (this was a great followup to the Charles Manson's Hollywood eps of You Must Remember This, not to mention Emma Cline's excellent The Girls). And Toobin really TRIES not to let being a white man interfere with his story--my main quibble here is that he offhandedly mentions Nancy Ling's boyfriend forcing her to turn tricks, and several times thereafter Toobin calls her "the sex worker"--which maybe she was? But he never really says so otherwise? And it's not really a flattering characterization the way he presents it? That lack of information on a lot of the players was where this struck me as weak--I could have used a lot more backstory on Hearst and her sisters, for instance--though I guess that is not really the story Toobin is trying to tell. Still, I sometimes struggle with nonfiction and had no problem sitting down and plowing right through this, so it's definitely entertaining. And insane. I love it. A-.

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

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

2016 book 90

Mary Balogh's Only Beloved
The final book in the Survivor's Club series focuses on father figure George, and it's kind of boring--basically on page one he's like, "hmm, all my friends are married, I want to get married too" and goes and proposes to the sister of the love interest from book 4, and they get married, and then vaguely resolve their past issues while smiling at each other a whole bunch. OK, great. I did appreciate that this romance features older-than-usual characters--she's 39, and he's 48 (his age was never mentioned before, but I really felt that he had been aged down here with a ridiculously early marriage and fatherhood to make the timeline work and have him still be relatively sprightly). I mean, you never see middle-aged people in a romance novel like this, so that was kind of cool, but aside from like one very silly and melodramatic scene, the story was pretty dull. Pleasant, but dull. Also, for some reason the total heteronormativity/presentation of gender roles kind of rubbed me the wrong way in this one--I'm really not sure why. Maybe because the heroine was perfectly happy with her life, maybe because the survivors ending up with SEVENTEEN children between them is the happy ending. I mean, they also have better mental health, which is why I found this series interesting in the first place (the main characters all have PTSD), but this was a little bit of a bland way to wrap up the series. B.

Monday, May 16, 2016

2016 book 89

Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn
So basically this is one of my all time top five favorite books, though I was spurred to reread it this time after using it this weekend in a game of Bring Your Own Book. I'm super psyched that it's on Kindle now, and the Deluxe Edition comes with the sequel novella, Two Hearts (which makes me straight up weep), so I definitely recommend that version! It's funny to read this now, at the age Molly Grue is in the novel--is that why I now think she is by far the best character? Especially considering this was written in the 1960s! It's totally timeless.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

2016 book 88

Elizabeth Hand's Generation Loss
I loved Hand's Wylding Hall, and have been eager to read more books by her, so I decided to start with the first in her Cass Neary mystery series--which, no surprise, is not really a conventional mystery. Cass is a washed up, messed up photographer, who is sent by a friend to interview a less washed-up reclusive photographer on an Island in Maine, where everyone is a little bit weird, there are all sorts of missing teenagers, and things are growing increasingly creepy. Cass is a great character, even if you sometimes want to give her a shake--or a kick in the shins. There isn't much to the mystery, per se, but the story itself is satisfying and I'm looking forward to seeing where Cass heads next--though maybe I'll read something else as a palate cleanser first. TW for Cass being a rape survivor, though this is not discussed in great detail. B+.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

2016 book 87

Meg Rosoff's Jonathan Unleashed
Rosoff's books are often a little bit off-kilter, and her first novel for adults is no exception. It centers on Jonathan, a young man in New York City working at a dumb job and in a mildly unfulfilling relationship. He also is the recent caretaker of his brother's two dogs, and kind of jokingly thinks they're running his life? This book was compulsively readable, but Jonathan is a certain kind of Nice Guy--he one hundred percent feels entitled to attention and affection from random women--and so I was never sure if I wanted to be rooting for him or not. I did like that there was a genderqueer character, though am not one hundred percent sure how I feel about the presentation of said character (magical genderqueer friend?). I guess I liked how it ended? GREAT dogs though, I was into these fictional dogs. B.

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

2016 book 86

Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night
I think this may be Sayers' most famous work, and for good reason. It's also an interesting one to read as a modern feminist. It may have been written 80 years ago--but the more things change, the more they stay the same, and whatnot. Anyway, this one is primarily from Harriet's perspective (yay!) and finds her back at her old Oxford women's college trying to track down a poison pen/vandal plaguing the campus--and it might just be one of the professors. The mystery here is interesting, and I was proud of myself for figuring it out (though it does raise some interesting issues), but let's be real: the romantic in me was busy cheering for Harriet and Peter and the rest was kind of secondary. :) A/A-.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

2016 book 85

Jennifer Haigh's Heat and Light
Haigh's latest--after News From Heaven--is also set her in fictional Western Pennsylvania coal mining town, Bakerton--but now the town is overrun by fracking. This one didn't work as well as its predecessor, for me--it's a novel, but parts read like short stories, and there is just a little too much going on. I felt like the characters were all given short shrift--there just wasn't enough to them, even with the occasional random flashback chapter. I mean, I would have read a whole book JUST about possible-trans farmer Mack and their partner. And one late reveal is pretty obvious to anyone who's ever seen The Sixth Sense (or read the internet). It's a really great and interesting look at the fracking industry, though (environmentalists don't come off too well, either), not to mention small towns, families, etc. And Haigh's descriptions, particularly of the Pennsylvania landscape and general atmosphere, really struck home for me. She's a very evocative writer. This one just didn't quite land for me. B/B+.

Monday, May 09, 2016

2016 book 84

Sarah Maas's Throne of Glass
I really feel like quitting the FYA book club is gonna be great for me--or at least will mean I'll be reading fewer crappy books. This is the usual cliched model of YA fantasy: a teenage girl, the BEST and MOST FAMOUS and also of course BEAUTIFUL assassin (she has "a brilliant ring of gold around her pupils" which is somewhat better than violet-eyed, I suppose), with a mysterious past, brought out of prison to work for the king and earn her freedom--IF she can defeat a bunch of warriors and win a competition to get the job. Very Hunger Games. Plus, there is a hot crown prince, not to mention a hot captain of the guard, leading to an overwrought love triangle. It's all very predictable. Even characters bonding over books and a sassy foreign princess friend couldn't make me like this. As for the writing--I will describe it as "workmanlike." So many adverbs, so much clumsy exposition!  It does get a little better as it goes on--but it's not particularly GOOD. Meh. At least no one gets raped? B-/C+.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

2016 book 83

Dorothy Sayers' The Nine Tailors
This Peter Wimsey spins a tale of a death that relates to a long-ago jewel theft, with all sorts of twists and tangles along the way. Not to mention a lot of discussion of bell-ringing (surprisingly interesting!). Not too much else to say, except that it was definitely satisfying, and I hope we'll see Hilary Thorpe again. A-.

Friday, May 06, 2016

2016 book 82

Claire North's The Sudden Appearance of Hope
North's latest novel (after The Fifteen Lives of Harry August, among others) is another book with an interesting concept and a somewhat muddled execution. It centers on a woman--the titular Hope--who, for some reason, no one remembers. Like as soon as they turn away, they completely forget she exists. Even her parents have forgotten her. So of course she has to become a talented thief to survive--and when she's planning a major jewel theft, an acquaintance commits suicide, leading Hope to investigate a mysterious new app called Perfection. For a while, things take on a sci-fi mystery/thriller tone that I was pretty into, but by the end I felt like the whole book was more of a thought experiment than a story.  It just kind of fizzled out. But like I said, really an intriguing concept. B/B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on May 17th.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

2016 book 81

Gwenda Bond's Double Down
The second book in Bond's Lois Lane series is more of the same--teenage Lois and her compatriots solving crimes, getting stories, having crushes, dealing with parents and sisters, etc--and it's all super fun. This one involves more weird super science, a mob boss, and a disgraced former mayor. I really hope more books in this series--and along these lines in general--are forthcoming, because they're pretty much the only superhero-related thing I care about these days! A-.

Monday, May 02, 2016

2016 book 80

Gwenda Bond's Lois Lane: Fallout
The first book in Bond's YA series on Lois Lane (the sequel is out today) finds teenage Lois settling with her family in Metropolis after a lifetime of changing schools because of her father's Army job--and she's determined to make friends and not get into trouble. At least until she gets sees a girl being bullied by a bunch of creepy gamers--and gets recruited to write for the Daily Planet's new teen-oriented website. I mean, there are no real surprises to the story here, but I found the narrative voice really engaging, liked that they threw Superman in as a character in a viable way (he's her internet friend), liked the general world-building, etc. I was mildly confused that the villainous stuff was called Project Hydra--SURELY you could have picked a name that isn't crucial to the Marvel universe?--but otherwise had no major complaints. Super fun. A-.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

2016 book 79

Roshani Chokshi's The Star-Touched Queen
This was a really interesting mixture of Indian folklore and Western fairy tales, centering on a young woman, daughter of the Raja, who's fated to marry death and destruction, and so is kind of an outcast. She's hoping to be a scholarly spinster, but her plans are upended when her father announces a plan to marry her off, and then things go a little haywire. I really liked how magical elements functioned in the story, and I mostly liked the depiction of marriage, and if the protagonist is occasionally really stupid--well, she's stupid in the way that girls in fairy tales are often stupid, and I can't fault her for that. I found the wrap-up satisfying and found myself wishing there was more to the story. B+.

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