Tuesday, April 25, 2017

2017 book 74

Val Emmich's The Reminders
Whoops, I accidentally read a book by a white dude, not having looked into this author beforehand (and he's not just any white dude: he played the cute young coffee guy Liz briefly dated on 30 Rock! Which explains all the Hollywood stuff in this book!). Anyway, this debut novel focuses on two people: a little girl with HSAM, that thing that Marilu Henner has where you remember every single thing that ever happened to you on every single specific date, and a Hollywood actor whose partner has suddenly died, and he's awash in grief, and goes to stay with some old college friends (the parents of the little girl). I liked both of these characters and their respective journeys a lot, and thought the exploration of grief was really moving, but the little girl's narrative voice didn't always work for me, and the end was a little predictable. Still, an entertaining and cute story. B+.


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A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on May 30th.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

2017 book 73

J. Courtney Sullivan's Saints for All Occasions
Sullivan's latest is fine, though not my favorite of her books--it doesn't have that special spark to distinguish it from every other book about a complicated family with secrets. Also, it ended just when it was getting interesting! I did like the look at the mid-century Irish immigrant community in Boston, but the generation after felt a lot more generic (I guess I appreciated the nods to diversity, but I wished to see more from those characters). I also thought the descriptions of the cloistered convent where one character lives were pretty interesting. But like I said. It ended just where I was finally getting into it! The plot and characters just felt underdeveloped. I think this will be popular with book clubs though. B.

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A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on May 9th.


2017 book 72

Lisa Ko's The Leavers
Ko's debut novel received the Bellwether Prize, which is awarded annually by Barbara Kingsolver to a novel that deals with issues of social justice. But this isn't a moralizing sort of story; it's a personal story about a young man who feels lost, and about belonging, and about the way cultures intersect and don't. The protagonist is a Chinese-American boy in New York City who, after his mother doesn't come home from work one day, is eventually adopted by a pair of white college professors and moved upstate--and renamed. His story is compelling, but I admit that the second half of the novel--when his mother's story comes into play--was a lot stronger for me. The interplay in their narratives was really well-done. Just a moving and well-written story. A-.


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A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on May 2nd.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

2017 book 71

Robin Stevens' Jolly Foul Play
When you are in the middle of a couple of different books and just feeling meh about them, the only cure for your reading rut is an awesome middle grad historical British boarding school mystery! (My reading ruts have very specific cures.) The fourth Wells and Wong book is just as good as I remembered, as the Head Girl of their school is murdered--apparently by one of her prefects!--and everyone's secrets are starting to spill out. It's up to the Detective Society to solve the case and save the day--and the school! Yeah!!

Monday, April 17, 2017

2017 book 70

Becky Albertalli's The Upside of Unrequited
I really, really liked Albertalli's first book, so I was very much looking forward to her second, and it did not disappoint. It's one of those lovably chaotic and relatable and heartwarming-but-not-TOO-cheesy YA books, with a really cute and compelling narrative voice. It centers on a teen--the chubby one of a pair of twins, who always has a hopeless crush and never does anything about it--and what happens when her sister gets her first girlfriend. Lots of good diversity here too. Super nice fluffiness. A-.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

2017 book 69

Elizabeth Strout's Anything is Possible
Strout's latest is basically a sequel to My Name is Lucy Barton, in that it returns to Lucy's hometown and its various denizens, including the Bartons themselves. I think it's tackling some different themes--there is a large sense of kindness and family and love here, despite the fair share of small town secrets--but it's just as excellent as its predecessor. Just gorgeous writing and characterization--Strout is so good at taking these little pieces of a person's life and using them to show the whole. Great, great stuff. Totally the sort of book you can just get lost in. A.


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

Friday, April 14, 2017

2017 book 68

Robin Stevens' First Class Murder
Ah, finally, a text and a title left alone for the American audience! How can you improve upon perfection? Heh. Anyway, the third Wells and Wong book finds the pair investigating a spy--and a murder!--on the Orient Express--hampered by competing detectives and Hazel's disapproving father. These stories definitely hold up on a reread.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

2017 book 67

Robin Stevens' Poison is Not Polite
I was pleased to see that the second Wells and Wong mystery is less Americanized in the version that came out here (though the original title is better--Arsenic for Tea!). This is a classic English house party murder mystery--except that the house in question is Daisy Wells', and most of the suspects are related to her. Having read it before, I can say that the story totally holds together and is just as satisfying a second time.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

2017 book 66

Robin Stevens' Murder is Bad Manners
Despite having a bunch of library books checked out right now, I had a hankering to revisit the Wells and Wong series! I'm reading the American versions now, which besides having inferior titles, are also totally Americanized! Like, let American children figure out that cookies are called biscuits in England--it is totally inauthentic to change that for American audiences. And like can Americans not figure out what a bunbreak is from context? Does it really need to be explained? OK, petty griping aside, I love this series and this is a great introduction to the characters, their friendships, Hazel's issues as a person of color in a very white 1930s England boarding school, not to mention their mystery-solving skills. So delightful.

2017 book 65

Laini Taylor's Strange the Dreamer
Ah, new Laini Taylor, you made me feel so many feels. For the first few chapters, I was messaging a friend who had already read it like "This jerkface is such a JERKFACE!!!!!" "This is making me SAD, this poor lil librarian boy!!!" "Why aren't there any GIRLS?" Rest assured that eventually girls do appear, and they are interesting! And poor lil orphan librarian boy gets cool stuff to do too. Taylor is an accomplished world-builder and pulls in a lot of interesting mythology and lore and gods and ghosts and monsters here, to great effect, and her characters are all compelling, multi-faceted, and so on--I just wish her romances were less OVERWROUGHT. They are so melodramatic that it really pulls me out of the otherwise awesome story a bit. Like there are world-changing events going on, can you save your makeout sessions for later? I also had many feels about the end and am so angry I have to wait months and months to see what happens next. A-.

Monday, April 10, 2017

2017 book 64

E. Nesbit's The Lark
Today I made the exciting discovery that a) E. Nesbit wrote books for ADULTS, and b) this adult novel centers on a pair of plucky cousins! Plucky down-to-earth young ladies are my favorites! And these two are in something of a pickle: their guardian has gambled away their inheritances and has left them high and dry (with a house and 500 pounds) to make their way in the world. Which they do, with aplomb, and with a lot of sheer hilarity I had not entirely expected from Nesbit. Too delightful, and just what I needed. A.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

2017 book 63

Gail Honeyman's Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
When this book begins, you're going along like, oh, I see, Eleanor is one of those narrators who's a little offbeat, socially inept, maybe on the spectrum, but she'll learn just enough to have a cute romance or something, like in The Rosie Project. And then you realize Honeyman is sowing the seeds for a totally different kind of story--one that is a lot more heartbreaking and upsetting, but still a bit hopeful. I will just lay out a general content warning here, though the warned content is counterbalanced by some really nice examples of human kindness. Ah, this was really good, I think it is going to stick with me for a while. A/A-.


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A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on May 9th.

2017 book 62

Rachael Herron's The Songbird Sisters
Just throwing this out to the romance authors out there--maybe dooooooon't have your male love interest explain about consent to a character who has been sexually assaulted? I get that you want to be relevant/address "issues"/be educational, but that is kiiiiiiiiinda gross. Like mega mansplainy? Like I was not really into the characters in this book compared to its predecessors before that conversation, and that absolutely killed it for me? Jesus, you can't have a rich country singing dude "heal" a woman who feels damaged with the power of his words and his penis. Men are not going to rescue women and it is bizarre to read! Get a therapist, girl! Yoy. B-.

2017 book 61

Rachael Herron's The Songbird's Call
The second book in Herron's Darling Songbirds trilogy follows the same formula as the first in terms of story beats, but I found the characters in this one (the middle sister, the "chubby one," and the local sheriff) more compelling--like the first thing the couple does is rescue a kitten! I am here for this! Herron attempts to bring in real life issues like domestic violence to some good effect, which I appreciate. I am now off to read the third one, which I do hope varies slightly. B+.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

2017 book 60

Rachael Herron's The Darling Songbirds
The first book in Herron's trilogy about a trio of sisters who used to be famous country singers--and now are struggling in various ways--centers on oldest sister Adele, who makes her way to her father's hometown after her uncle's death, to deal with his various businesses--and to deal with the bartender who wants to buy his saloon. These two are mostly cute together, though Adele has some moments of incredible bitchery (she is very cruel about an alcoholic woman the reader knows is her love interest's mother) and slut-shamery (Adele is sexy in a classy way, not like all those OTHER women in their low-cut tops). Otherwise this is nice, light entertainment, and I am curious to read the followups. B/B+.

Monday, April 03, 2017

2017 book 59

Agatha Christie's The Body in the Library
A few months ago, I watched a bunch of the Miss Marple mysteries on Hulu, and this one was my favorite (primarily because it involved Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous constantly bragging about how awesome her friend Miss Marple was, but also because it was just a cleverly told mystery), so I was interested to see the source material (which does differ in some large respects). And it was just as good--really well-plotted and with a hilariously dry narrative voice. I love how all the important police dudes are like "But what does Miss Marple think???" the whole time. Old ladies getting stuff done. Totally my jam. A/A-.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

2017 book 58

Jacqueline Winspear's In This Grave Hour
In the latest Maisie Dobbs book, WWII has just been declared, and Maisie is asked to investigate the murder of a man who came to England as a Belgian refugee during WWI. There is also a whole thing with a little girl evacuated to her family's house, who doesn't speak. I like the characters in this series a lot, and like that Winspear is just as focused on them and their lives as on the mystery aspects, but the latter were a bit weak here for sure. And the writing is occasionally awkward--lots of awkward exposition, lengthy monologues, etc. Still, I am interested in these characters and their journeys, and certainly plan on reading the next one. B/B+.

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

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

2017 book 57

Benjamin Alire Sáenz's The Inexplicable Logic of My Life
I really liked Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, but the author's latest didn't really hit those high notes for me. It's about a teenage boy, his adoptive gay father, his best (girl) friend and her neglectful mother, another friend, nature vs nurture, whatever. It kind of goes around in circles and the writing and dialogue felt really awkward and slow to me. There is also just a lot of melodrama. There are some interesting thoughts about loss but the material just didn't connect for me. B.

Monday, March 27, 2017

2017 book 56

Robin Stevens' Cream Buns and Crime
The latest book in Stevens' Wells and Wong series is actually a series of short stories involving the duo and their friends, with interstitial material on codes and ciphers, baking, recommended detective stories, etc. I was of course more interested in the former--the latter is definitely geared to a younger audience, but it's all stuff I would have loved when I was a kid. Anyway, it's all a lot of fun, if not quite as compelling as the full-length novels in this series. And it definitely ends on a high note. A-.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

2017 books 53, 54, 55

I just got home from a trip where I did not bring my laptop, and I am tired, so I am blogging my vacation reads in one entry.

Kathleen Flynn's The Jane Austen Project
Up until the end, I'd have said that this book was way better than it needed to be. It's about a pair of time travelers from a dystopian future who are tasked with befriending Jane Austen, recovering the lost manuscript of a novel and her lost letters, and maybe find out why she died--which is all very ridiculous, but I am kind of here for it. And the main character being a Jewish woman doctor who has to hide a lot of her identity to fit into Regency times is pretty interesting. I didn't love the end, but this was definitely an entertaining read. B/B+. A review copy was provided by the publisher--this book will be released on May 2nd.


Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Rereading this for book club and it was a joy to revisit--such an amazingly vivid look at lower class life in Brooklyn in 1912 (complete with some very interesting opinions of Jews!). I still can't believe I read this in school in like 6th grade--not that we couldn't all relate to Francie, but this book has a lot of  . . . gritty and sordid parts. Still an amazing novel. Did you know Betty Smith lived in (and is buried in) Chapel Hill in her later years? A.


Stephanie Burgis' The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart
Burgis is a reliably good author, and her latest is a charming middle grade story about a young dragon who wants to discover her passion--and when magical hot chocolate transforms her into a human, she discovers her passion is chocolate (!!!) AND gets to have an adventure as she is trapped in human form and has to make her own way. This book was super cute and made me hungry. Excellent. A/A-. A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on May 30th.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

2017 book 52

Hannah Tinti's The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley
Tinti's long-awaited latest novel (after the great The Good Thief) was well worth said wait--it's one of those books you can totally rip through in one sitting, and you probably will want to. It's centered on a girl with an unconventional childhood, who, with her father, is maybe finally settling down--interspersed with tales from her father's criminal past. The two stories gradually intersect to strong results. I was not super into the daughter's love interest, who takes up way too much space in the story, but enjoyed her interest in astronomy, her dealings (and her father's) in a small town, family secrets coming to light, grand theft auto etc. Really entertaining and gorgeous writing. A/A-.

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A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on March 28th.

2017 book 51

Elif Batuman's The Idiot
Batuman's first novel is a semi-autobiographical tale involving a Turkish-American freshman at Harvard in the mid 90s, who falls for a totally unbearable and pretentious Hungarian guy, and so a lot of this novel involves them having meandering conversations and I wanted him to just GO AWAY. It was all very realistic to being in college in the 90s, which is maybe my problem! (I did love all the little period details--I was in college just a couple years later and nodded knowingly throughout. Also, this book made me miss taking totally random and fun college classes.) But seriously, I hated that guy so much and the story feels like wading through molasses whenever she is with him, or thinking about him, or emailing him, which is most of the time. It just felt so claustrophobic. Maybe that is the point, but I can't say I enjoyed it that much. B.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

2017 book 50

Darcie Wilde's A Purely Private Matter
The second book in Wilde's Rosalind Thorne series is just as entertaining as its predecessor--I love historical mysteries where ladies get things done! In this one, Rosalind is asked by a friend of a friend to help prove she is innocent of adultery--so the child she is carrying won't be labeled a bastard. Wilde does such a good job highlighting the issues of women in this era, while also filling her books with super awesome ladies. The mystery here is a bit convoluted but the storytelling is riveting--though I do hope the love triangle is resolved sooner rather than later, because that has the potential to become really repetitive. Anyway, I look forward to reading more in this series for sure. B+.

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A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on May 2nd.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

2017 book 49

Catriona Lally's Eggshells
I had read several positive reviews of this that made it seem like it would be a sweet and satisfying story--my main concern was that it would veer into cheesiness. Instead it is aggressively, annoyingly, disconcertingly quirky. The narrator is supposed to be "whimsical" but instead reads as though she is a disturbed child locked into a fantasy world.  Like, she sounds and acts less sensible than some nine year olds I know. Like, I was really worried she was going to do something terrible and violent. There are also some gross parts (ie describing unbrushed teeth in detail, horrifying for this dentist's daughter to imagine). I kept waiting for the story to lead somewhere, but though it hints at childhood trauma, nothing is ever addressed head-on, and I didn't feel like there was any resolution. Just a sad, mad protagonist. B-.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

2017 book 48

Tricia Levenseller's Daughter of the Pirate King
I am SUPER HERE for books about girl pirates and this one did not disappoint. It starts with the titular daughter of the Pirate King being captured by enemies--but it is all a ruse, and she just wants to search their ship for a piece of a map to a magical treasure!! Or whatever macguffin. And she can't possibly let herself get distracted by the cute first mate who's hanging around (this romance starts in a way that I found really awkwardly written, but it was working better by the end). There is action galore and all sorts of secrets to uncover (I /did/ guess all the secrets but they were still pretty satisfying). This book was super fun and I can't wait to read the sequel for more GIRL PIRATE ADVENTURES. A-/B+.

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Content warning for some gross wannabe-rapey dude pirates.

Monday, March 13, 2017

2017 book 47

Mohsin Hamid's Exit West
This seems to be an oddly timely novel, dealing as it does with a young couple, Saeed and Nadia, falling in love in an unnamed war-torn country, and then fleeing as refugees--which is where some magical realism starts to kick in, as their flight is through a mysterious doorway. I actually found the more realistic first half to be more compelling than the slightly more fantastic second half, though I did appreciate the look at how each character takes on adapting to and surviving in an uncertain new world. I don't know, I enjoyed this story and thought the writing was strong, but didn't really feel very connected to Saeed at all, and I wanted to see a lot more about Nadia. Anyway, it's a quick and interesting read. B+.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

2017 book 46

Claire Cameron's The Last Neanderthal
Cameron's latest, after the harrowing The Bear, is a slightly easier read than its predecessor. It centers on a Neanderthal girl in  . . . Neanderthal times? . . . who is struggling to survive and to maintain her family traditions. This is interspersed with the story of a (pregnant) archaeologist working on an important dig in France. I found the former much more fascinating--I think I just know too many stories about women struggling in academia and with finding grant funding AND with motherhood, though Cameron certainly nails all of that. But she REALLY nails the Neanderthal girl, and the modern segments put a lot of that story/history in context, so I suppose it all does work together. I also really liked the way she wrapped things up. A far cry from Clan of the Cave Bear. A/A-.


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A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Friday, March 10, 2017

2017 book 45

Eva Ibbotson's Which Witch
After my last few books, I wanted to read something on the sillier side, and this certainly obliged. It's the story of a very black wizard in England who decides he has to marry and have a child, and so he holes a competition for the local witches--one of whom is a very white witch who longs to be a black witch! And then an orphan, an earthworm, an ogre, and an enchantress come into play. Now, this is certainly a little bit sexist (though it does have some very funny women characters) and a few parts are APPALLINGLY racist/stereotypical, in that casual 1970s way, but it was cheerful and whimsical (and occasionally dark) otherwise. B+?

Thursday, March 09, 2017

2017 book 44

Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give
I saw just last night that this was number one on the NYT bestseller list this week, and that is honestly thrilling, because it deserves to be. Before publication, this was getting a ton of buzz as the "Black Lives Matter" book, and it is certainly a very human look at a teenage girl who gets caught up things after her childhood friend is killed by a cop right in front of her after a traffic stop. But it is also a really amazing story about a girl, about a great family (the relationships between the protagonists and her parents are especially well-done), class issues, white privilege, code-switching, injustice, and so much more. If my only beef if with the overly-positive portrayal of the protagonist's white boyfriend, well, that is pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. Everyone should read this book, and especially privileged people should read this book and really try and think about their privilege and maybe how they can try and improve things for everyone. Or just read a good story, whichever. A/A-.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

2017 book 43

C.S. Harris' Where the Dead Lie
The 12th Sebastian St Cyr mystery is exceedingly unpleasant, as it involves St Cyr trying to track down a serial killer who rapes and tortures children. So like, yeah. And this is sliiightly balanced by how much I love his marriage (though a new character introduced in that arena is SO CLEARLY a spy and a murderer and it is making me so angry that that isn't addressed in this book), but that is not enough. And maybe if the mystery itself was better, this would be less awful to read, but it's just St Cyr bouncing around trying to figure out which disgusting man is also a disgusting serial killer--there aren't really any clues and the resolution isn't that satisfying. I mean, I will keep reading this series, but I did not enjoy this one. B-.


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

Monday, March 06, 2017

2017 book 42

Octavia Butler's The Parable of the Talents
Oh good gravy, Octavia Butler was a prescient woman. In the second Earthseed book, the daughter of the protagonist from the first book is piecing together her mother's writings and philosophies--while chronicling the rise of a white supremacist/evangelical/tyrannical presidential candidate who talks "of making America great again." There is a line like "Their leader has come to power. They have acquired...if not legitimacy, at least a shadow of sophistication." Ugh. This book would have been hard to read even in better and less frightening times, but reading it now was honestly horrifying and I just found parts of it to very upsetting. And that's not even getting into the fairly tragic mother-daughter story. This was so good but it REALLY bummed me out. A-.

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Content warning for a lot of rape, child abuse, and other violence.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

2017 book 41

Robin Stevens' Mistletoe and Murder
Here is how much I love the Wells and Wong series: I was eager to read this EVEN THOUGH it was Christmas themed! Luckily, it was also Cambridge themed (no worries: Gaudy Night is referenced), as the girl detective society goes to visit Daisy's brother (and other acquaintances) for the holidays--where foul play seems to be afoot, and where a rival detective agency is also on the scene! I love it so much!!!!! I really find these characters so fascinating, and Stevens does a really good job with acknowledging the racism of the 1930s. She is also great at writing a story that truly is appealing to all ages. GREAT stuff. A.

2017 book 40

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower
At Comic Book Book Club last week, one of the members said people kept comparing our current country's situation to books like 1984, but he thought Butler's Earthseed series (particularly the second one) was way more relevant--so I thought I'd reread them, since I haven't read them since college. Or maybe I've never read them, or maybe reading them now makes everything more resonant, because holy hell, did I not remember any of this. It's the story of a black teenage girl in California in the very near future (slightly less near when this was written in the 1990s), who a) has some very definite thoughts about God, and b) is pretty sure society is about to collapse even more than it already has, and maybe she should be prepared. And she is. She is great. A/A-.

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Content warning for mentions of rape and other violence (though there are no graphic details).

Thursday, March 02, 2017

2017 book 39

Heather O'Neill's The Lonely Hearts Hotel
I am a fan of O'Neill's from way back (Lullabies for Little Criminals was great) and was excited that this book was getting a lot of buzz, being compared to The Night Circus, etc. I guess it is Night-Circus-y, in that there is a circus and a tiny bit of magic, but it's way more depressing and less epic? There is a lot of physical and sexual abuse of children and all sorts of things I found really hard to read. I mean, it's just relentlessly cruel/weird/unpleasant/frustrating/obsessed with sex. ( I am all in favor of sex-positivity but there is a REALLY odd focus on sex here.) I mean, I cared enough to keep reading, just to see what would happen, but I was just left feeling puzzled and sad for most of the book. I did kind of love the very end though. B?

Monday, February 27, 2017

2017 book 38

Elizabeth Wein's The Pearl Thief
I was more than a little wary when I saw that a prequel to my beloved Code Name Verity--ONE OF MY TOP FIVE ALL TIME FAVORITE BOOKS--was being released, but this story--involving a teenage Julia at her recently deceased grandfather's estate in Scotland dealing with some missing pearls and a missing scholar--is a different kind of story altogether. But Julia is still Julia, and spending time with her--and her friends, including a librarian with a genetic disorder and a shotgun, and two Traveller teens--is a delight (even if she didn't solve the mystery as quickly as I did). Plus, I am now positive that Julia is canonically bisexual, for those who are interested in that little factoid! This is another great story about friendship and family and overcoming the odds and archaeology and everything great in the world (aside from two scenes featuring unwanted sexual advances, anyway). Elizabeth Wein, thank you for giving me a little bit more Julia. A/A-.


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A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on May 2nd.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

2017 book 37

N.K. Jemisin's The Awakened Kingdom
I am having wrist issues so can't type a lot, unfortunately. Here is what I wrote last time, which I still agree with.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

2017 book 36

N.K. Jemisin's The Kingdom of Gods
The third book in the Inheritance Trilogy is a fitting conclusion to the series, though I don't like it quite as much as the first two--I think I'm just not as invested in the characters in this one. It still is really interesting and action-packed, just not quite as resonant for me.

Friday, February 24, 2017

2017 book 35

N.K. Jemisin's The Broken Kingdoms
I think when I first read this series, this one was my favorite--I still liked it very much, but certainly saw the appeal of the first one even more this time, and am eager to read the third (and the novella) to see how it all comes together. Anyway, this one takes place ten years after the first one, and involves a fallen god, a blind artist with magical abilities, and someone attacking local godlings. Can they figure out what is going on, and can the world recover from the events of the first book? And will the story be moving and exciting and sad and wonderful? Um, yeah.

2017 book 34

N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
I kept wishing I could read something like The Inheritance Trilogy--something epic and engrossing and wonderful--and then I realized I could just reread The Inheritance Trilogy. :) (But if you have epic book recs for me, feel free to share.) I had forgotten a few of the details since the last time I read it, but the bones of the story have stayed with me. I like how Jemisin puts her own twist on the usual story of a girl coming to court to take her place as leader and deal with politics--not to mention gods.  And I found the narrative voice much more effective and interesting this time. Ah, NK Jemisin, can't you write a book every month?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

2017 book 33

Diana Wynne Jones' Dogsbody
I wanted to reread something to test Goodreads' new rereading function, and it had been long enough since I read this that I didn't remember the details any more. Anyway, it is a lovely story full of stars and dogs and star-dogs, as the dog-star Sirius is convicted of a crime he didn't commit, and his sentence is to be reborn on Earth as a puppy! Can he save the day in a dog's lifespan, with the help of the sun and a sweet little girl? Will the story be delightful along the way? I mean, it IS Diana Wynne Jones.

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Content warning for a lot of casual animal cruelty.

Monday, February 20, 2017

2017 book 32

Vic James' Gilded Cage
This very interesting first book in a trilogy takes place in a world where the monarchy in England was never restored, and the country is now ruled by a parliament of magic-users, where non-magic users have to serve a ten-year period of slavery for some reason that isn't entirely clear, but makes for a compelling story. (Sidebar: the Civil War in the US apparently involved issues of both slavery and magic, and the Union did not win. That's not pertinent here though.) Anyway, the central characters are two teenage siblings whose family is about to start their slavery period--one falling for a wealthy aristocrat (both these characters aren't super interesting but could become interesting later), the other falling in with a crowd of rebels--and the powerful youngest son of a magic-using family who has plots galore. I like the intersection of history, magic, and politics, so this book was pretty much right up my alley, even if it did have a couple of weak spots. I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes next. A-/B+.

2017 book 31

Kathy Hepinstall's The Book of Polly
This was recommended for fans of Joshilyn Jackson, which I generally am, so I figured I'd check it out, but it was just okay. It centers on a girl with an eccentric, older mother (the titular Polly), and the first half, which focuses on that relationship, is much stronger than the second half. The daughter is obsessed with the secrets of her mother's past, which, when revealed, are not that interesting (I mean, they could have been, but are not presented in a particularly interesting manner). There are also two attempted rape scenes, a very weird raft journey, and an ending that just can't bring it all together. Maybe one for a wine mom kind of book club, but not really my thing. B.


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

Sunday, February 19, 2017

2017 book 30

Meg Howrey's The Wanderers
Howrey's latest--after The Cranes Dance and Blind Sight, both of which I ALSO loved, and so clearly I need to pay more attention to this author--is an excellent, excellent literary novel about a trio of cosmonauts training for a mission to Mars--and the families they're isolated from. Just totally gripping, compelling, interesting, engrossing, and every other adjective that means I didn't want to put this down. I mean, this is much more psychological than action-packed, but it is not any less fascinating for that (and maybe more so). I have not read The Martian and so can't compare them, but I definitely highly recommend this. A.

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

Friday, February 17, 2017

2017 book 29

Scarlett Thomas' Dragon's Green
Sometimes when an author who normally writes for adults writes a book aimed at a younger audience, it feels majorly dumbed down--and I was not sure how Thomas, whose books are somewhat eccentric, would pull it off. But I should not have doubted an author I love, because this was GREAT. It's a middle grade fantasy full of magic, friendship, villains, annoying relatives, and best of all: BOOKS. I feel like most of these pieces are familiar to fans of middle grade fiction, but Thomas puts them together in a really smart way. It centers on a girl whose mother vanished after a mysterious worldquake (which wiped out the internet!!), and . . . well, I am not going to get anywhere with a plot summary, except to say magical adventures are afoot, an entire library needs to be rescued, the characters here are charming, and Thomas has set a lot of things in motion to sustain a series. A series I am VERY much looking forward to reading. VERY MUCH. A/A-.


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

2017 book 28

Julianne Pachico's The Lucky Ones
Pachico's debut is sort of a series of interconnected stories revolving around Colombia in the 1990s and 2000s--when things were more than a little unsettled and disappearances were rampant. Some sections worked better than others--most of the characters are absurdly well-off, but when we finally get the POV of one of their maids, it's not that compelling (and features perhaps one coincidence too many). Just a few too many young, wealthy girls as characters--although I imagine that is a world the author knows well, I would have liked a little more variety. (But don't even get me started on the bunnies.) I did like how some of the storylines were unresolved, which of course fits in with the themes of the disappearances. Strong writing here, I just wished for a bit more from the characterization and plot. B+.


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A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on March 7th.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

2017 book 27

K.B. Wagers' After The Throne
The second book in Wagers' Indranan War series is more of the same, but heightened--lots more politics, action, outlaws (with hearts of gold), etc. It hits a lot of the same beats as the first one, though does harp a little more on men wanting equality in the matriarchal society (which would maybe feel more legit if so many of the primary and secondary characters weren't strong, powerful men). The villainous plotting is also fairly predictable and silly. The writing here is just not quite enough to grab me--I am mildly interested in where the author is going with this, but don't really feel invested in the world. Not sure if I'll read the next one. B.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

2017 book 26

Nina LaCour's We Are Okay
I feel like I somehow was super out of the loop not to know Nina LaCour--an author I LOVE--had a new book coming out this week until like a week ago, but hey, it is out and I did find out so it all worked out. This one doesn't have quite the depth of some of LaCour's other works--it's a bit shorter--but touches on familiar themes of grief, coming of age, family, friendship, romance, bisexual and lesbian teens, etc. I really liked the story here--it is full of raw emotion and it's pretty compelling. And the writing is stunning. A-.

2017 book 25

K.B. Wagers' Behind the Throne
This sci-fi book centers on a runaway princess (who left home to track down her father's killer and then she became a gunrunner, as one does), forced to return home after decades away after her sisters and niece are murdered--because it's a matriarchal (and Indian-themed) society, and so now she's the heir. The usual political and diplomatic shenanigans ensue, but the characters and world-building are likable and interesting, even if some of the plot points are a bit obvious. And I would describe the writing as "adequate" or "workmanlike." Maybe that all sounds negative, but I liked the book enough to want to read the next one in this series. B/B+.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

2017 book 24

Jessica Day George's Saturdays at Sea
The latest book in the Tuesdays with the Castle series is also apparently the LAST, which I am hugely bummed about, because this series is SO CUTE. It is full of adorable griffins and puppies--and in this one, a magical ship AND a quest for unicorns. I really feel like this series could have gone on a little longer--or at least, I would have been eager to read more magical adventures. A-.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

2017 book 23

Judith Flanders' A Cast of Vultures
I really, really enjoy Flanders' Sam Clair series, about an editor who finds herself mixed up in mysteries. Her writing is just really funny and engaging, and Sam is a likable and entertaining character. Flanders also tooooootally nails the intricacies of the publishing world--and I'm just as interested in her assistant and their office politics as I am in the case of the moment (this one involves a friend's missing neighbor, though things quickly grow more complicated--as they are wont to do, in a mystery!). I could quibble a bit with the plotting of this mystery, which relies on a lot of coincidences, BUT I enjoyed this book so much--seriously, really strong writing and characterization--that I don't even care. I can't wait for more from Flanders. A/A-.


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A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on February 21st.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

2017 book 22

Naomi Novik's Uprooted
Rereading this for book club was a special joy--it's so nice to have a story I can really just sink into and forget the world for a while. I had forgotten a lot of the details since the last time I read it, so it was nice to rediscover all the little things. I had especially forgotten how sort of dark and violent it was--but of course remembered all the good friendship and magic and prickly romance stuff! Typical Alicia. Still an A and I can't wait to see what Novik does next.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

2017 book 21

Mur Lafferty's Six Wakes
OK, this book has an AMAZING concept--it's a sci fi locked room murder mystery!! It takes place on a spaceship in the 2400s, heading from earth to colonize a new planet, and starts with all the crew awakening in their new clone bodies because all their previous bodies have been murdered! But they are all missing a looooot of memories, and have no idea who killed everyone, or why. And they all have a lot of secrets in their pasts! Now, the writing here is a little bit awkward--I definitely wished it would have been more polished. But the plot is great, and the last chunk moves a long really well. And NPR liked it! B/B+.


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Full disclosure: Mur Lafferty did signings at a store where I worked and so I met her several times. She is super cool and nice.

Monday, January 30, 2017

2017 book 20

T. Kingfisher's Summer in Orcus
Ursula Vernon's latest under her T. Kingfisher brand (for her less kid-friendly stories--though I think this would be fine for older kids) is just as good as all of her other awesome books, so hooray! Originally published as a serial, this story centers on eleven year old Summer, with a very overprotective mother, and what happens when Summer encounters Baba Yaga and is granted her heart's desire. There are so many great characters here (you will be rooting for birds and trees galore) and I loved everything about it. There are a couple of typos (let me proofread for you, Ursula Vernon!!!!) but who even cares because this is great. Glorious, even. A/A-.

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Full disclosure, Ursula Vernon did signings at a store when I worked there and I think she is super cool.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

2017 book 19

Claire Fuller's Swimming Lessons
Fuller's second novel (after the great but upsetting Our Endless Numbered Days) is the story of a family--or really, the story of a troubled marriage that ended when the wife disappeared--presumably drowned. Now it's years later and her husband (a famous writer) is sure he's seen her in passing on the street, but it's passed off as dementia as his daughters come to care for him. All of that is interspersed with the letters she wrote him--and hid in the books on his bookshelves--before she left. And those letters are so much more compelling than the modern stuff (none of those characters feel fully realized, especially the younger daughter's love interest who just hangs around to be an annoying fanboy--was I supposed to be rooting for them to make it?). I feel like there are so many literary novels about troubled jerkface writers cheating on their wives--and so I really found her perspective so interesting, as she deals with young motherhood, societal expectations, the loss of her own dreams, her philandering husband and his writing, etc. Emotional labor galore. I wish the book had just been her story because that's where it really shines--the rest is kind of sketchy. B/B+.


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A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on February 7th.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

2017 book 18

April Daniels' Dreadnought: Nemesis - Book One
I am partial to superhero novels, but I think there's a lot to like here even for those of you who are less nerdy than I am! Daniels' debut centers on a teenage girl who's trans, but not out--largely due to her verbally abusive father--and what happens when she inherits the powers of a famous superhero--and suddenly her body looks the way she always thought it should. The writing and plotting here are both really solid--I was definitely caught up in the story, as the new teen superhero teams up with a cowgirl-themed classmate and deals with grown-up heroes and their superhero politics. Content warning for a few asshole transphobe saying asshole transphobic stuff. But seriously, this book was a lot of fun and I can't wait for book two. A/A-.

Monday, January 23, 2017

2017 book 17

Emily Bitto's The Strays
This book felt very familiar to me, though I can't conjure up what exactly it was reminding me of--maybe it's just that a middle-class girl becoming enamored of her friend's family's bohemian lifestyle is a trope? This one mixes in the 1930s Australian art scene, which does make it more interesting. The writing style here is very engaging and I definitely wanted to know what was going to happen, but found the resolution to be fairly unsatisfying and more than a little gross. Great commentary on women artists, women as wives and mothers, etc, though. B/B+.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

2017 book 16

Brittany Cavallaro's The Last of August
The second book in Cavallaro's Charlotte Holmes trilogy--about the teenage descendants of Holmes and Watson befriending each other and solving crimes--did not work as well as the first, for me. I feel like a lot of Sherlock Holmes adaptations lean way too heavily on the Moriarty stuff, and that is definitely the case here. The thing is that the mystery here--involving European art forgery and a missing uncle--doesn't really work for me either. It's kind of all over the place! The mystery is overly complicated and so is the relationship between the teen detectives (though I do find that more compelling--I think Holmes is a good depiction of a trauma survivor).  I still do want to see how Cavallaro wraps this all up, but given where this one ends, I'm just not sure what to expect. B.

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


2017 book 15

Min Jin Lee's Pachinko
This was really a fascinating and great book focusing on several generations of a Korean family, starting in the early 1900s, and what happens when they end up in Japan. Besides being a great story, it has interesting looks at things like colonialism, discrimination (of various kinds), politics, the economy, etc. I also feel like Americans don't often read novels about the Asian experience of WWII/the Korean War, and this was very well-done in that regard. But mainly it is the story of a family. I did wish for slightly more from the end but found this to be a very engaging read overall. A-.


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

Thursday, January 19, 2017

2017 book 14

Barbara Bretton's Spells and Stitches
I was pretty worried heading into this final Sugar Maple book that Bretton wasn't even going to address the boyfriend's child-related traumas as a magical baby (side note, why do women in fantasy books give their babies the dumbest names?) is born, but that turned out not to be an issue at all, which was great! What was not great was the boyfriend's little sister basically being brainwashed and kidnapped and becoming a sex slave. It was intensely upsetting, in fact, and it kind of just gets dropped. Totally gross. B-.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

2017 book 13

Barbara Bretton's Spun By Sorcery
The third Sugar Maple book continues a downward trend in this series--it focuses much more on the protagonist's ancestors and manages to be dull despite involving the witches of Salem. I spent most of the book wishing Bretton (or her editor) would learn to use a comma (and wishing the two protagonists would stop being so wishy-washy about everything). The conflicts and magical battles just feel so repetitive. Like, I guess I'll read the fourth one since it's the last one and presumably things will finally come together, but I am not excited about it. B/B-.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

2017 book 12

Barbara Bretton's Laced With Magic
The second Sugar Maple book was kind of a bummer after its predecessor! Sure, there's plenty of knitting and magic and magical knitting, but the plot hinges on the ghost of a dead child being trapped and tortured! And the author seems to think it resolves nice and neatly but I thought the end was kind of messed up. I mean, it's still a somewhat silly cozy fantasy type story and I did read it in one sitting, but man, seriously. Not a cheerful outing in this series. B.

2017 book 11

George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo
I normally don't prioritize books by white men, but was intrigued to read Saunders' first novel (after many short story collections), which supposedly centered on the death of young Willie Lincoln (son of Abe) in the White House. I found the sort of cemetery-ghosts-as-Greek-chorus/history-books-as-Greek-chorus style of narration to be interesting as a literary device, but somewhat annoying to actually read (will it be better in star-studded audiobook form?). But every time I put it down in disgust (most of the narrators are white men and some of them are gross, lots of talk of their protruding members and "sluts" and rape), I was like, well, I might as well pick it up again and read more, I want to see what happens to Willie. And it went pretty much how I expected it to go and was thus not particularly compelling (there are a few black voices in the second half, with period-appropriate bleak stories)--though the very last bit was pretty great, I'll give Saunders that. I imagine this is going to be popular but I wasn't really feeling its vibe. B.


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

Monday, January 16, 2017

2017 book 10

S. Jae-Jones' Wintersong
I am gonna take a shot in the dark and guess that S. Jae-Jones is a huge fan of Labyrinth, because her Goblin King--in a story about a young woman whose sister is kidnapped by said Goblin King--is basically David Bowie. Which, hey, I am ALSO a fan of Labyrinth and David Bowie, and so have no real problem with this. My major beef with this book is that, when there are two sisters in a book, why is one always an overlooked brunette genius and the other a flirtatious blonde who loves shopping and clothes? It's such a cliche in what is otherwise a decent story, full of Eastern European mythology and magic. (And David Bowie.) I mean, the second half descends into sheer melodrama, (omg such melodrama) and I could have done with slightly less discussion of music composition, but it was pretty entertaining and generally well-written. B/B+.

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

Saturday, January 14, 2017

2017 book 9

Mette Ivie Harrison's For Time and All Eternities
The latest book in Harrison's Linda Wallheim series--about a middle-aged Mormon woman who finds herself solving crimes in her community--is the strongest entry in the series yet. In this one, her fourth son's fiancee asks Linda to meet her parents and see if she can suss out if one of her little sisters is being abused--which is harder to suss out than you might think, as the family is polygamous. And of course things only get more complicated from there. Meanwhile, Linda's own marriage is a little bit shaky due to conflicts over the Church's policy on LGBT individuals (the characters have a gay son), and reading about her experiences as a progressive Mormon woman is definitely fascinating and compelling to an outsider. This series is just really well-written as both a mystery series and a character study. Highly recommended. A/A-.


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

Friday, January 13, 2017

2017 book 8

Barbara Bretton's Casting Spells
Am I the target audience for a paranormal romance fantasy cozy mystery knitting series? You betcha I am. And this one is charmingly written, which is a bonus, because it could have been a lot sillier and I still would have liked it. PARANORMAL ROMANCE KNITTING MYSTERY!!!!! Like wow. I love it. I mean, of course it is mildly cheesy, and the mystery is perfunctory at best, and there were a lot of missing commas, but the author is CLEARLY a knitter, and it was just a super enjoyable read. A-.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

2017 book 7

Rufi Thorpe's Dear Fang, With Love
It's the mark of a good book that it's just as engrossing the second time you read it--which was definitely the case with this one! I mean, this certainly has a lot of elements I am predisposed to like--complicated families, discovering secrets of the past, discussion of Judaism, etc--but it is really the strong characters, and the interesting father-daughter relationship, and the depiction of mental illness that I find so absorbing. I am looking forward to discussing this one with my book club for sure.

Monday, January 09, 2017

2017 book 6

Katie Kitamura's A Separation
This is one of the big buzz books of early 2017, but it's one of those literary books that made me wonder if I'm somehow no longer smart enough for highbrow fiction. Am I like John Heard in Big, saying "I don't get it, I don't get it" in a mocking baby voice? I mean, this book was fine, and certainly the writing is strong, but . . . I don't get it. It's about a woman, recently separated from her husband, when her mother-in-law--unaware of said separation--sends her to Greece to track him down, because he's not answering his phone. But it's not a mystery, and there is zero narrative tension. It is a meditation on . . . I don't know what. Life? Marriage? Lack of closure? Something that I just don't get. B.

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

Sunday, January 08, 2017

2017 book 5

Elan Mastai's All Our Wrong Todays
This book has been getting a ton of buzz, and you all KNOW I am here for books about alternate universes and time travel, but I was a little bit concerned that it was going to turn out to be a dude book. But you know what, I loved it. It's the story of a guy who lives in a 2016 that is the 2016 people always imagined in the past--flying cars, house robots, whatever--but he's gone back in time and accidentally messed things up, and now he's trapped in OUR version of 2016 (would that this version of 2016 WAS a time travel accident). It's compelling, moving, and surprisingly philosophical. There is also some good action and romance! I suppose you could quibble about the love interest's strengths as a character, but there are some other really great women here--I really liked the versions of the protagonist's mother--and Mastai does kind of take on rape culture or at least seems aware it exists, so props for that, I guess? Anyway, the point is that I don't WANT to quibble, I just want to love this book. And I do. A.

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

2017 book 4

Agatha Christie's The Murder at the Vicarage
I recently watched the first few seasons of the Miss Marple mysteries on Hulu (then they recast the charming actress playing Marple and I stopped), which made me curious to read the source material. And even though I already knew the solution to this mystery, I found this to be an engaging read. I was a little bit surprised that it's not narrated by Marple herself, but by the titular vicar--though I can see how that would work better with a character like Marple--everyone gets to be surprised and amazed at her revelations! Either way, it's pretty funny and has great plotting. A-.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

2017 book 3

Grace Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
A friend with a young daughter who likes pretty much all the same books I do recommended this to me, and it was definitely right up my alley. It's a lovely middle-grade tale, about a little girl who goes off to find the Old Man in the Moon to find out how she can change her family's fortune. It's chock full of Chinese folk and fairy tales and it's just super sweet and totally magical.  I love stories about stories and this one came together really well. A/A-.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

2017 book 2

Julia Dahl's Conviction
Amazon says this is the final book in Dahl's Rebekah Roberts series, but I really hope that's not the case. Ostensibly a mystery series, these books are really much more about the Jewish community in Brooklyn--and here, how things were with the black community after the Crown Heights riots in the early 90s--and about reporter Rebekah herself, along with her family and professional troubles. I mean, the mystery here barely exists, but I still want to know what issues Rebekah will sleuth out next! If you are into more literary mysteries, this is definitely a series you should be checking out. A-.

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A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on January 10th.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

2017 book 1

Jacey Bedford's Silverwolf
The second book in Bedford's Rowankind series (after Winterwood) is more of the entertaining same--lots of action, magic, witches, shapeshifters, bad guys of the magical and non-magical variety, romance, etc. Not to mention the protagonist meeting her future mother-in-law and trying to hide her cross-dressing pirate past! I do think these books are a little too busy but they are definitely quick and fun reads. And LOTS of great badass women of various kinds. B+.


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