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-.

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+.

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.

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-.

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.

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+.

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-.

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.

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.

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-.

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+.

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