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-.

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+.

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+.

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-.

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-.

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-.

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-.

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?