Friday, September 30, 2016

2016 book 165

Tessa Dare's Do You Want to Start a Scandal
I generally trust Tessa Dare to tell a smart, funny, and sexy story, and this was no different, even though it started off very abruptly. Like, build things up a little, girl! Let me get to know the characters before they're accidentally getting caught in a library (because the heroine is beyond-disbelief stupid) and everyone assumes they've been getting into trouble, so therefore they have to get engaged. Maybe since this book continues both Dare's Spindle Cove series and her new Castles Ever After series*, she assumes we remember this specific young woman and her Mrs Bennett-esque mother (at one point her mothers tells her to TALK LESS, SMILE MORE OMG hahaha), but like, that's every romance character (she's from this book, and from a novella I haven't read). At least the dude is both a wealthy marquess AND an undercover secret government agent with a DARK PAST (he's also the older brother from this book). I just kept wanting them to run away and solve crimes together. Instead, they have frequent floridly described makeout sessions. Hey, that works, too. The plot picks up eventually, but I did definitely want more from the female friendships. I liked the end a lot, though, This one is definitely on the sillier side, even for Dare. B+.

* Dare seems to have dropped the central conceit of this series, wherein a rich old man has left various castles to each of his goddaughters. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

2016 book 164

Silvia Moreno-Garcia's Certain Dark Things
At first when I heard about this book, I was like, are vampires coming back into fashion? I don't wanna read a vampire book. But Moreno-Garcia has a lot of goodwill with me due to her first book, so I figured what the hey! Anyway, this centers on a street kid in Mexico City--a place where vampires are supposed to be banned, except the pretty girl he meets on the subway turns out to be a vampire, on the run from a vampire drug war. I really like the way Moreno-Garcia uses vampire folklore from different cultures and thought this was super compelling, though found the psychopathic vampire chasing the vampire girl to be pretty gross (I mean, I know that's the point, just like, giving you all a content warning). I thought the end was fitting but did wish it went on for just a bit longer--or maybe I just cared about the characters and wanted to know what would happen to them, after! In summary, if you are gonna read a vampire book, this one is a pretty solid choice. B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on October 25th.

Monday, September 26, 2016

2016 book 163

Maria Semple's Today Will Be Different
Semple's latest is in the same mold as her bestselling Where'd You Go, Bernadette, dealing as it does with frazzled motherhood and marriage in a complicated age, but it doesn't hold together quite as well for me. It has some really intriguing parts--I loved the parts about the protagonist's long-ago work as the art director of a cartoon show, and the reveal of her family background was very well done--but it is a bit scattered, and the end just felt very abrupt. Now, it is also highly readable and entertaining! Semple is super funny and I love the way she tells a story. This just kind of veered away from being compelling and then came to a screeching halt, sort of. B/B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on October 4th.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

2016 book 162

Sally Andrew's The Satanic Mechanic
The second Tannie Maria mystery is perhaps more interested in Maria's personal life than in the murder mystery part of things, but I had no major problem with that. As Maria's new romance is progressing, she's dealing with some serious PTSD from her abusive former husband. And meanwhile, a San man who's part of a group that's just won a big land claim trial is murdered right in front of her. I really like the characters here; even if her love interest isn't particularly interesting, everyone else is, and I especially like the people who write in to her advice column. I hope to see more in this series, for sure. Content warning for mentions of marital rape. A-.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

2016 book 161

Sally Andrew's Recipes for Love and Murder
The first book in Andrew's Tannie Maria mystery series, about a middle-aged South African widow who writes a cooking/advice column for a local newspaper and who gets involved in a murder investigation when one of her correspondents is killed, somehow manages to be both serious/realistic, and super cute. Like several of the women, including the protagonist and the murder victim, are survivors of domestic violence, and Andrew doesn't shy away from the trauma of that--but also Tannie Maria is so sweet and Andrew tells such a heartwarming story (despite the murder) that I cried from cuteness more than once. I am so here for meddlesome middle aged ladies solving crimes (and maybe finding new romance). A-.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

2016 book 160

Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown
I keep thinking that I am just not in a reading mood lately, but it turns out I am totally in a reading mood if it means rereading one of my favorite books for book club! And this was just as good as the first time around--it just hits all my sweet spots--it's funny, a little romantic, focuses on underrepresented populations in history, and has MAGIC. It's the first in a trilogy and I cannot wait for the next one.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

2016 book 159

Paulette Jiles' News of the World
Jiles' latest centers on an old man in Texas just after the Civil War--normally he makes a living by traveling town to town, reading out newspapers from near and far, but now he's been tasked with returning a little girl, kidnapped by the Kiowa, to her relatives. I loved both these characters and their relationship, and the western atmosphere is really well done. There is a pretty sweet shootout scene, too. I did think some things wrapped up a bit too neatly--there was never a ton of narrative tension--but this was an enjoyable read. Content warning for someone attempting to buy the little girl for nefarious purposes. :( B+.

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

Sunday, September 11, 2016

2016 book 158

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
When you're tired and cranky, Harry Potter is the only cure. I will say that my dislike of Dumbledore has grown so much in the last few years that even in this first one I kind of want to kick him in the shins. But hooray friendship and teamwork and bravery and whatnot.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

2016 book 157

Laure Eve's The Graces
This is one of those books with a plot that sounds like a cliche--a girl moves to a new town, where she becomes intrigued by a trio of mysterious, beautiful, popular siblings, and wants to be part of their inner circle. Yeah yeah, it's been done before. BUT these siblings are maybe witches? Which actually still sounds like a cliche, I guess. It's all super silly, lots of descriptions of flowing skirts and knee high boots and golden boys, but things eventually devolve into overwrought melodrama, and the main character is terminally stupid. I think I'm past the stage where I commiserate with teen girls who want to be part of the school ruling class. Like, get over yourself, get some magic powers, and get off the pot, you know? Learn a life lesson from The Craft. Find a hobby. (I think this is aiming for a Twilight-y audience: the main character is never described, not even her hair color until she gets a makeover, so impressionable young girls can better imagine themselves hanging out with magical beautiful teens.) I did kind of like the ending but this book is VERY ridiculous. B.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

2016 book 156

Kelly Barnhill's The Girl Who Drank the Moon
Barnhill's latest, after The Witch's Boy, among others, is a perfectly fine middle grade fantasy story about witches, stories, and families of all kinds, and magical girls. I think it's one that would work better for younger readers than thirtysomething me--I wanted it to be a little more subtle, I guess. I loved the Witch and the titular girl, plus their dragon and monster companions, but some of the other characters are a little underbaked. And I guess this is a really nice book with a good message for adopted children, but again. that just doesn't resonate with me. A sweet story, I just wish there was a little more to it. B/B+.

Monday, September 05, 2016

2016 book 155

Melina Marchetta's Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil
When one of my favorite YA authors writes her first novel for adults, you had better believe I am THERE for it. And it's Marchetta at her best--some parts made me cry, but ultimately it gave me hope. Which is saying a lot, since it centers on the bombing of a bus of teenagers, and on the father of one of the girls, who is attempting to investigate the crime--which might relate to a major bombing from thirteen years earlier. But it is also about family, and love, and friendship, and grief. These characters all feel so real and are so compelling--Marchetta excels at characters--but the mystery-ish plot works really well too. I had to force myself not to stay up all night reading it. I mean,  I guess you could argue that some parts were a little pat, but I don't WANT to argue that, I just want to keep feeling how this book made me feel.  A.

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

Saturday, September 03, 2016

2016 book 154

Affinity Konar's Mischling
This was one of those books that I found engrossing while I was reading, but was never in a hurry to pick back up. As the second half dragged a little, I realized I was primarily reading out of a feeling of obligation as a Jew. That's a weird way to feel while reading a novel. Anyway, it centers on a pair of twin sisters being experimented on by Dr. Mengele at Auschwitz; since I once wrote a high school term paper on said Angel of Death ( . . . why?), I didn't really find anything here surprising--just sad. The whole thing is just sad. And then the end feels a little rushed and also left me with some questions. The characters are really well done and Konar does a good job differentiating their narrative voices, and I found Stasha and her journey to be particularly compelling, but like, it IS a book about terrible Auschwitz experiments and the survivors of same. Not an easy read. B/B+.

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

Thursday, September 01, 2016

2016 book 153

Fiona Davis' The Dollhouse
I keep starting books and just not feeling them, which honestly was also the case with this one, but I was determined to just finish one and to break my curse! The writing here is just awkward as hell and both storylines are completely ridiculous and full of majorly unrealistic moments. In the present, a woman living in the Barbizon (everything about her is basically a terrible rom-com, so I'm not even gonna get started) becomes intrigued by the mystery of one of the long-term residents, and that woman's story--of arriving at the famed hotel in the 1950s to go to secretarial school, though eventually things turn tragic--is interspersed throughout. This book is basically about a bunch of sad-sacks with a super stereotypical Puerto Rican friend for good measure. I just thought this was so dull and cliched, though I did chuckle a little when someone threatens to go to Gawker with a scoop--how untimely this book's publication was. Content warning for attempted rape. B-/C+.