Sunday, July 31, 2016

2016 book 136

J.K. Rowling et al's Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
I probably haven't read a play since college, so I wasn't sure how this was going to go, but it's a quick and enjoyable read (even if some of the stage directions are too novelistic, like, "his face turns white"--how is an actor going to do THAT?). I mean, I am primed to love any and all Harry Potter related content, so found this satisfying--there's some good Hermione stuff, some lame Dumbledore stuff, a lot of heteronormativity, but also a lot of moments that made me cry and/or cheer. It's fairly predictable but that's ok. I don't know that I am eager to see this on stage (it's no Hamilton), but I am glad this content exists and that I read it.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

2016 book 135

Amy Stewart's Lady Cop Makes Trouble
The sequel to Stewart's Girl Waits With Gun is more of the same, though I was definitely way more interested in the characters than the story this time around. When things start off protagonist Constance is now a deputy, but not really officially--and when a prisoner escapes on her watch, things aren't looking great for her new career. She's determined to catch him and prove herself. That part isn't as interesting as her making some career women friends (including a reporter!) and trying to figure out how to help a new prisoner who cheerfully confesses to shooting someone. I appreciate the feminist perspective here, but I guess I just wish this was slightly more /exciting/? I mean, it is all based on a true story, which limits the excitement, I guess! Anyway, it is well written and I enjoy Constance very much. And I LOVE the cover. B+.

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

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

2016 book 134

Miranda Beverly-Whittemore's June
The plot synopsis of this novel made me look past that I was pretty meh on Beverly-Whittemore's last one, but I was pretty meh on this one too. It centers on a young woman, depressed, living in the bordering-on-derelict house that belonged to the grandmother who raised her, when a man shows up telling her she's inherited 37 million dollars from a movie star who might have had an affair with said grandmother--and his daughters are determined to prove he didn't. This is all interspersed with flashbacks to the summer before her grandmother's marriage, when a movie was being filmed in town, and there's a little neighbor girl (apparently in love with the grandmother? possibly genderqueer?) working on the set. Oh, and the house is sentient? Things vary between being implausible/being draggy, particularly in the modern chapters ("instead of doing a DNA test, let's INVESTIGATE!") and being melodramatic, though I did enjoy the parts involving the movie set. I mean, this was fine, just not really my thing. B.

Monday, July 25, 2016

2016 book 133

Tracy Barone's Happy Family
This starts off really interestingly--it's the early 60s and a young girl gives birth, then immediately flees the hospital--and her baby is taken in by the family of a young orderly on staff before being adopted by a childless couple. I was really interested in those three stories--the two families and the girl--but then things skip ahead 40 years to the now-adult Cheri, a struggling academic in the year 2002, stuck in a marriage with a washed-up documentarian (so then there were two things that annoyed me on top of wanting to know about all the other characters: she works on the Ancient Near East, a field I know WAY too much about to enjoy reading about for fun, and plus there are all these really artificial political conversations that scream "HEY! It's 2002!!!"). Cheri also, somehow, used to be a police officer, and that comes up as well (you would think between the ANE and the cop stuff, I would really relate to this character, but I found her annoyingly wishy-washy). And I'm not even going to get started on the black housekeeper character. I really wanted to like this, but I didn't care about most of the characters, found the dialogue to be really unbelievable, and thought the whole thing was kind of a slog, until the mildly silly ending. SIGH. B/B-.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

2016 book 132

Gail Carriger's Imprudence
As much as I enjoy this world and these characters, I felt just a little bit impatient with this followup to Garriger's Prudence. Once again, I wasn't feeling the romance--which played a much bigger part here than in the first one--and there wasn't much to speak of, plot-wise (attacks for a reason that is not revealed in a timely manner, secrets for no reason, the inevitable journey on a dirigible, etc). At least the mild Orientalism is balanced out by a character who calls out imperialism? And Alexia is in fine form, and I liked the budding romance between two ladies. But otherwise I was kind of eh about this? B.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

2016 book 131

Laura Thompson's The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters
OOOHHHH y'all it is a new bio of the Mitford Sisters--the first since the last sister, Deborah, passed away in 2014, so I was hoping it would be more no-holds-barred than some of the others. Thompson takes her task seriously, though--I mean, of course there is plenty of gossip here, but there are also extensive footnotes and literary analysis. ANYWAY: MITFORDS!!! [If you are sort of going "who?" right now, read this right away! The Mitfords were the daughters of an English Lord and they all came of age in the 1930s and Nancy was a novelist and Jessica was a Communist and Debo became a Duchess and was sisters-in-law with Kick Kennedy and Diana was married to the head Fascist in England and Unity hung out with HITLER. And the sixth, Pam, was like, I'm living on a farm, peace out.]

Thompson focuses primarily on Nancy and Diana--her thesis seems to be that their relationship and personalities dominated and shaped the other sisters--but is less nakedly sympathetic to Diana than Mary Lovell was, while clearly finding her fascinating (Thompson, to my relief, talks about what a freaking bigot Oswald Mosley was and doesn't attempt to make excuses for Diana). I also loved how much attention was paid to Nancy's life and works (if I had to guess, I would say that Thompson liked Debo and Nancy best). As usual, there is little about Pam (surely there is more information on her apparently late-in-life lesbianism) and not too much more about Unity, and some fairly critical remarks on Jessica (perhaps fairly), but of course I completely devoured this! I also appreciated that Thompson tries to come at things from a psychological and feminist point of view, to varying degrees of success, in my opinion. Her discussions of the Mitfords' mother and her relationships with her daughters was spot on, though. Oh, MITFORDS. You really did exemplify an era.  (Thompson also does a good job of explaining why me, and endless other people, being excited about MITFORDS! is a thing.) RELEVANT TO MY INTERESTS. A/A-.

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

Monday, July 18, 2016

2016 book 130

Alissa Johnson's A Gift for Guile
The second book in Johnson's Thief-Takers series, after A Talent for Trickery, is more of the historical-romance-cum-mystery same, focusing on the younger sister and friend/co-worker of the couple from the first book (as predicted). This one didn't work quite as well for me--the pacing was a little bit off (it dragged at times) and there are like, weird interludes where they play badminton. Sure, whatever. I just wasn't super invested in either the romance or their macguffin quest. I did like that the couple makes an effort to clearly communicate, which is a nice change of pace, but it all eventually descends into the usual melodrama. I did like how things wrapped up and will maybe check out more in this series (if any are forthcoming), but am just feeling kind of meh about it. B.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

2016 book 129

Jean Hegland's Into the Forest
I guess this is now a movie starring Ellen Page, which is how I first heard about it, but you'd think this book would have been on my radar before: it's about a pair of teen sisters living deep in the woods in a cabin, alone, after society has sort of fallen apart. I love those realistic post-apocalyptic books! This one didn't quite work for me--mainly b/c the narrative voice just never rings true. It's ostensibly narrated by a seventeen year old girl, and even though she dreams of going to Harvard, there is just nothing realistic about it! I don't mean thematically, I mean it sounds like a literary adult writing it. It just threw me out every time. Even a pretentious teen would not write that way. Still, parts of this are very well-done--particularly everything with their father, and with plants--but the improbable event that occurs halfway through just bugged me and it was sort of all downhill from there. Content warning for rape and other stuff. C.

I just went to rate this on Goodreads and I'VE READ IT BEFORE. I completely blocked it out! Please ignore the first sentence of my review.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

2016 book 128

Mara Wilson's Where Am I Now
Wilson--best known for her work a child actress and (at least to me) a popular Twitter account--has written a nice little memoir/essay collection about her time working in movies, her mother's death, her family, her teenage and college years, and how she's now started to really find herself. Parts of this made me cry and parts made me laugh out loud, though a couple parts made me think like, why is someone still in her 20s acting like a wise ol' owl. Like, she is not far enough removed from like, toxic friendships to reflect on those, maybe. BUT most of this is really well-written and entertaining and uplifting and stuff. I like her narrative voice a lot. B+.

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

Monday, July 11, 2016

2016 book 127

Genevieve Valentine's The Girls at the Kingfisher Club
This was one of my favorite books of 2014, and I was glad to see that for the most part, it held up. It's a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale--but it doesn't have anything fantastical about it. It's set in New York in the 1920s, and centers on the twelve daughters of a cold businessman who are basically being held prisoner--but they sneak out to dance at a speakeasy almost every night, for a taste of freedom. Can't wait to discuss this one with my book group.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

2016 book 126

Sarah Domet's The Guineveres
This is one of the fall releases I was most looking forward to reading--it's about four girls growing up in a convent home, all left there by their families, but brought together by the one thing they have in common--all four are named Guinevere. They long to escape their dull days and return to the world--but everything changes when several comatose soldiers are brought to the convent to recover from The War (WWII maybe? It's not made explicit). The story is narrated by one of the girls, looking back on her youth, and occasionally dispensing information about the girls' futures, interspersed with stories about various female saints, and I liked it very much until the ending, which I found relatively disappointing from both a character and a storytelling perspective. I think it is meant to be bittersweet, but I found it fairly depressing, and it also left me with a few unanswered questions--and just a general sense of dissatisfaction. B/B+.

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

Friday, July 08, 2016

2016 book 125

Michael Chabon's Moonglow
The conceit of this novel is that, just before he died, Chabon's grandfather, tongue loosened by medication, told him all sorts of stories about his life (particularly his service in WWII). The story is imbued with so many details from Chabon's actual life--or maybe they are just details that FEEL like they're part of his actual life--that it creates a really interesting tension between fiction and memoir. I found the character of the grandfather quite compelling, especially as he ages, but being me, was way more interested in the grandmother, and, particularly, the narrator's mother. And I loved how Jewish it was--of course this aspect especially reminded me so much of my own life and my family, though our stories are mooooostly less dramatic/novelistic. But there are references to so many places I have been, and the narrative voice strikes just the right tone, that I almost felt like I was in conversation with the narrator. Anyway, I liked this very much, even if I did wish for more ladies. A/A-.

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

Thursday, July 07, 2016

2016 book 124

Sarah Beth Durst's The Queen of Blood
Here's the thing: this book is the start of a series that has the potential to be really good and/or interesting, but this first volume is SO formulaic that I'm honestly not sure! The world-building is cool--lands are controlled by a queen who has power over spirits who otherwise would destroy humans, and girls with the affinity to control spirits are trained as heirs. Our protagonist is from a village that was completely decimated, and she goes through the usual training/trials, etc, to try and prove herself worthy of being an heir. And there's also a whole thing with an exiled champion/former lover of the queen's. I mean, the writing is fine and the characters are great, but the plot is like cliche-o-rama, so majorly predictable. I liked that sex was treated matter-of-factly (and happened off-screen) and am intrigued by the whole sort-of-matriarchal society, and if the next book focuses on the political stuff, I might read it, but this is like . . . just a good example of the usual Hunger-Games-y fantasy book that I have read a million times lately. B.

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

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

2016 book 123

Kate Saunders' The Secrets of Wishtide
My new favorite genre is sensible middle-aged ladies solving crimes and getting things done, and this is an outstanding example! Set in Victorian England (and a little bit inspired by Dickens), it centers on a widow whose lawyer brother occasionally enlists her help with his cases, and this one seems simple at first--she's been hired by a wealthy man to investigate the past of the woman his son and heir hopes to marry. But things quickly become more complicated (though are a teensy bit predictable) and it's up to Mrs. Rodd to save the day! I liked this a lot--great characters, great atmosphere, great narrative voice, great stuff with family and female friendships. A/A-.

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

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

2016 book 122

Peter S. Beagle's Summerlong
It's hard for me not have giant expectations going into a new Peter S. Beagle book--The Last Unicorn is one of my top five favorite books, and I've enjoyed all the other ones I've read by him. And this was enjoyable enough, though on the seriously bittersweet side, for me. It centers on a middle-aged couple (and her lesbian daughter) and what happens when an entrancing new waitress comes to town (town being an island off Seattle). Magic and mystery ensue, but I found the ending mildly dissatisfying. Was it too realistic? Was it that this book felt a bit like Beagle calling it a day? Is that all just an extrapolation from the recent lawsuits and concerns about his mental state? Was it just that no book can ever be The Last Unicorn? I mean, nothing about this was bad and parts of it were very good, it just wasn't as magical as I wanted it to be. B/B+.

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

Monday, July 04, 2016

2016 book 121

Caroline Leavitt's Cruel Beautiful World
Weirdly, this is the third book I've read recently with references to the Manson Family--this is truly the summer of Manson and looking back on the turbulent 60s, I guess! Of course, it's not a main focus here--the story here is about a woman and her two adopted daughters (relatives taken in after their parents died) and what happens when the younger runs off with one of her high school teachers in the late 60s. Parts of this are majorly heartbreaking, and parts didn't work as well for me, but I was very into the story of the adoptive mother and would have been happy to read a book just about her. Really good stuff on family, and grieving, and finding love again here. B/B+.

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

2016 book 120

Sarah Kuhn's Heroine Complex
If you like your urban fantasy superhero-flavored, then this is the book for you! It's pretty cute and effortlessly diverse, focusing on the personal assistant (and best friend) of San Francisco's premier superheroine--but the assistant has some secrets of her own, and some issues come to a head when she's forced to impersonate her boss. Like a lot of urban fantasy, this is fairly predictable, with amazingly cliched romantic scenes and some underbaked characters (the protagonist's little sister in particular), but it was pretty cute and managed to throw in a couple of surprises. I just wished it had slightly more depth. B.

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

Sunday, July 03, 2016

2016 book 119

Tana French's The Trespasser
AHHHHHH new Tana French!!! So intense and crazy!! This latest in her Dublin Murder Squad series focuses on rookie Antoinette and her partner, working the homicide of a pretty young woman, but maybe it's more than the usual domestic? I was sure I had figured it out very early on and so spent the entire book reading in an even more heightened state of tension, wondering if I was right, and then alternately being annoyed that neither detective was picking up the obvious. But I appreciated French's look at being the only woman on a police unit like that, and really sympathized with Antoinette. And I definitely thought French stuck the landing. I seriously could not put this down to go to bed, so it's the usual engrossing stuff--it just wasn't the strongest in this series, to me. B+.

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

2016 book 118

Mary Robinette Kowal's Ghost Talkers
Kowal's latest is a departure from the world of her Glamourist Histories, but still a compelling read. It focuses on a young woman during WWI, part of a special group of the British Army--they're mediums, and dead soldiers report to them to get up-to-the-minute intel. But soon it becomes clear that a traitor is in their midst, and is targeting said Spirit Corps. I think the concept here was great, and was definitely emotionally invested in the characters--I cried more than once--and I think Kowal does a good job with the hardships of war. The sort of mystery element--tracking down the spy--was not as effective for me, and I definitely wished the heroine was threatened with rape fewer (or no) times. It seems like this is the start to a series, and I'm intrigued enough by where things ended that I would probably read another one. B/B+.

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

Saturday, July 02, 2016

2016 book 117

Ann Patchett's Commonwealth
New Ann Patchett is ALWAYS a treat, and this one felt somehow unexpected. It's sort of domestic in sphere but feels far ranging, focusing on two complicated families--or rather, families that become complicated when one husband marries the other wife and their children become step-siblings, having effects ranging far into the future. Not that any plot is the point here--I felt like the point here was really the characters, and how they grow, and change--or don't change. Just really engrossing and interesting. I feel like I'm talking around things, but I'm not sure how to describe it, except to say that I liked it VERY much. A/A-.

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

Friday, July 01, 2016

2016 book 116

Darcie Wilde's A Useful Woman
Hooray for a historical mystery set in Regency England! All my Jane Austen and romance reading prepared me to like this quite a bit, and the story mostly lived up to my high expectations. It centers on a woman whose father ran off after some major financial problems, and now she survives by helping gentlewomen with party planning and other useful things. But! An acquaintance is found dead at Almack's! And his sister asks her to investigate! And his sister is engaged to the man SHE hoped to marry! Also there is a Bow Street Runner on the case! The solution was pretty predictable and I wasn't super interested in the love triangle being set up for future books, but I found the main character to be interesting and liked seeing all the relationships between the women, as well as their class tension. I would definitely read another one in this series. B/B+.