Thursday, July 20, 2017

2017 book 128

G.L. Carriger's The Sumage Solution
I like Gail Carriger, so figured I'd try her latest, her first under the G.L Carriger name, a contemporary novel set in San Francisco involving gay werewolves and mages and various other supernatural creatures. And I am here for gay werewolf erotic romance novels, don't get me wrong (I mean, how much Teen Wolf fanfic did I read back in the day?), but I kept getting distracted because the mage protagonist works in a government office and has the most inappropriately sexual conversations with his coworkers and boss. Do supernatural societies not have HR??? Otherwise, this was an entertaining story, even if it did follow the usual story beats. B+.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

2017 book 127

Jennie Melamed's Gather the Daughters
Hoooooo boy. Let me start with a trigger warning, which I'll explain in a minute, but just imagine giant flashing lights here. So this story is set on an isolated island, in a community that fled the wastelands of our world several generations ago and set up their own little religious cult community. And here is where the giant flashing trigger warning lights are: because it is a community where one of the central tenets is incestuous sexual abuse of children. And also the usual patriarchal cult bullshit where girls are married off as soon as they're fertile. The story is told from the POVs of several girls, nearing or just past puberty, and all are heartbreaking and real. The other stuff going on is not too hard to figure out if you've ever read a book or seen a movie before, but the story itself is well-done, if utterly nauseating. Another one of those that is well-written but that I for one plan never to revisit and cannot really recommend it in good faith unless you have a strong stomach. B/B+.


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

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

2017 book 126

E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Apparently this year marks the 50th anniversary of this book, which of course made me want to reread it. It is a testament to the writing here that the story feels so timeless, even this many years since its publication. Is it because the narrative voice is so witty, the characters so likable and funny, the story so engaging? How many generations of children have dreamed of hiding overnight in a museum? I truly think this is a perfect book.

Friday, July 14, 2017

2017 book 125

Vic James' Tarnished City
The second book in James' Dark Gifts series, after Gilded Cage, is more of the entertaining if slightly overwrought same. This one is even more no-holds-barred though, as the resistance ramps up, the ruling elite clamps down, and everyone gets into some murder and mayhem. This series is a little bit goofy but I still am excited to see where it goes next. B+.

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A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on September 5th.

2017 book 124

Louise Erdrich's Future Home of the Living God
I am both intrigued and depressed by this wave of post-apocalyptic fiction that is looking at issues of women's fertility. In this one, an unexplained event is causing evolutionary throwbacks--things seem to be going backwards. And so a pregnant woman begins writing a diary for her unborn child, chronicling political and natural events, domestic and larger-scale, as she (a Native child adopted by white upper class parents) meets her birth family, and is also wanted by the authorities because of her pregnancy. Compelling stuff and wonderfully written. I also loved everything about a local saint appearing in visions to gamblers. Erdrich is one of my favorite authors and this is an interesting departure for her. A.

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

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

2017 book 123

Veronica Chambers' The Go-Between
This was an entertaining if slight YA book about a teen girl in Mexico whose mother is a famous telenovela star who moves the family to LA for work, where the girl begins attending an elite high school. And then her classmates assume she is there on scholarship, and she just . . . goes with it. And of course lying about your entire life is complicated! There is also an underbaked plot that could have been great about the girl getting into cooking and befriending the school's fancy chef, as well as an underbaked romantic plot. Still, I needed something frothy as a palate cleanser and this did the trick. B/B+.

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

2017 book 122

Linnea Hartsuyker's The Half-Drowned King
This is the first in a trilogy, retelling the story of the rise of the first King of Norway, from the POVs of a young man and his sister who become central to the various political conflicts. Normally I am not super interested in violent epics, but the writing here kept me intrigued, and I was of course very interested in the sister's story as she chafes against the roles women are confined to in the 9th century, and instead takes inspiration from legendary tales. Parts of this were a bit slow, and there is a lot of carnage (and mentions of rape), but I will refrain from googling so I can be surprised at where the story goes in subsequent volumes. B+.

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A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on August 1st.

Monday, July 10, 2017

2017 book 121

Jennifer Egan's Manhattan Beach
Egan's latest is eagerly awaited--it's her first since A Visit From the Goon Squad won the Pulitzer-- is, maybe surprisingly, a fairly straightforward historical novel. Still, it is a really EXCELLENT historical novel! It centers on a young woman growing up in Brooklyn in the 1930s, her relationship with her father (shades of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn there), and what happens after he disappears--and what happens years later when she encounters the mysterious man she met with her father one day. And meanwhile, its WWII, and she gets a job at the Navy Yard to support her mother and disabled sister, and everything about her job was really fascinating! Anyway this is perhaps not a literary groundbreaker, but it is immensely satisfying, and sometimes that is just as good. A/A-.

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

Sunday, July 09, 2017

2017 book 120

Natasha Pulley's The Bedlam Stacks
Pulley's second novel, after The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, is more of the delightful same, though this one is more interested in South American/Incan folklore and the British East India Company. It centers on a young man, injured in his work for said company, recuperating in an unwelcoming home, when he is talked into going to the deep forests of Peru to obtain quinine treee samples. Honestly, this all could have been very boring, but I was so interested in the protagonist's relationship with his guide, and all the things they uncover. I really liked the collision of fantasy and nature here. And the end was great. A-.

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A review copy was provided by the publisher, this book will be released on August 1.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

2017 book 119

Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere
Ng's sophomore novel, after the highly acclaimed Everything I Never Told You, totally lives up to and builds upon its predecessor. It's set in Shaker Heights, Cleveland, in the late 90s, and centers on two families who end up intertwined-- teens and adults both (I was a high schooler around this time and appreciated the appropriate period references, as well as the occasional Pittsburgh references). It is also the story of a fraught inter-cultural custody battle and how that heightens all the tensions of the town. Maybe that makes it sound boring but it's beautifully written and totally compelling--I also loved all the art talk. Really a very strong second novel, very recommended. A.

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

2017 book 118

Kelly Jones' Murder, Magic, and What We Wore
This was a really fun historical fantasy mystery romp--maybe for Gail Carriger fans, though there is less of a focus on romance. It's about a young girl who discovers that her father--a spy for England in Regency times--has been murdered, and determines to become a spy herself and avenge him. Luckily she has magical sewing glamour powers and a talented maid on hand to help in her quest! Jones does a good job looking at the precarious financial situations of women in this period, and if the mystery is not super well developed, it is still just a super enjoyable read. A-.

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

Friday, July 07, 2017

2017 book 117

Zinzi Clemmons' What We Lose
This is perhaps more a meditation on loss and identity than a straightforward novel--I don't know anything about the author but this book feels very personal. It centers on a young woman, whose South African mother has recently died of cancer. That is basically it! I didn't love the narrative voice here--it felt too matter of fact, maybe, to really draw me in--but the character felt real. B+.

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

Thursday, July 06, 2017

2017 book 116

Kristin Cashore's Jane, Unlimited
Cashore's latest--her first since her Graceling trilogy--is a standalone that shows she is a great author across multiple kinds of stories. This centers on young Jane, a recent college drop-out at loose ends after the aunt who raised her dies, who is invited to a very mysterious and fancy isolated home by an old friend--and her aunt once made her promise that if she was ever invited to said house, she would go. So she does. BUT this is not one of those books about a poor girl being seduced by the rich lifestyle, and although the house is chock full of secrets, this isn't a mystery--instead, it is a story of possibilities. Here, I will quote the official copy: "Then her story takes a turn, or rather, five turns." Yallllll . . . . alternate universes are one of my very favorite things and this is a very interesting and fun version. It also goes somewhere I didn't expect. VERY ENJOYABLE. A/A-.

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

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

2017 book 115

Ruth Nichols' A Walk Out of the World
Inspired by this piece about obscure childhood favorite books, some friends and I were talking about our own obscure childhood favorites, and one enthused about this one. It's a pretty typical portal fantasy-- a brother and sister walk through the woods into another world, one full of magic and political intrigue, and they may be the key to solving various issues. Comparisons to both Narnia and the Tolkien books are apt. I would have definitely loved this as a child, but as an adult, I wished for a little bit more to the story. Great ending though. A-/B+.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

2017 book 114

Mackenzi Lee's The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
I have seen this book getting a lot of buzz, and was excited to read a historical romance centered on a young bisexual lord who is secretly in love with his biracial best friend, and is about to embark on a year-long tour of the Continent with said friend and with his younger sister (who yearns to be a scholar). BUT the plot here is just beyond far-fetched! Like you can excuse one or two completely ridiculous plot elements, I guess, but once you've hit four and climbing, there is no reason to be invested in the story anymore. (And that is not even getting into the fact that an honest conversation would clear up 100 percent of the angst here--my pet peeve in a book.) I thought this was going to be a cute romance, but it is actually a very silly historical action-packed novel that happens to have some cute romance in it. I was much more interested in the characters dealing with historically-accurate attitudes toward their sexualities and ethnicities than in how they were going to get out of their 10th stupid scrape. And they do get into some stupid scrapes, because the main character is frequently very stupid. Just a frustrating book. I loved the sister, though, and am somewhat tempted to read the inevitable sequel about her. B.

Monday, July 03, 2017

2017 book 113

Maria Turtschaninoff's Naondel
The second book in the Red Abbey Chronicles, after Maresi, is actually a prequel--the story of the woman who founded the abbey. I will say that there is a lot of sexual violence in this book, since said woman are the wives and concubines of a power-hungry and cruel man. Normally that would turn me off of a book completely, but the women here, and their relationships and journeys, were so compelling to me that it was worthwhile. A/A-.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

2017 book 112

Naomi Alderman's The Power
Oooohhh lordy, do I have a lot of so-called feels about this book. It's not out in the US till October, but it's been out in England for a while, and I just really felt like I NEEDED a book where the premise is that girls the world over suddenly develop electricity powers. and can awaken it in other women, and THEY TAKE THE EFF OVER. I mean, that last part is hyperbole, but barely. There were moments when I was simultaneously teary eyed and cheering as women took vengeance against men abusing them, but then there were some parts that were not-cheerable at all. Really great characters and plotting here, though I do think the framing device could have been sliiiiiightly more subtle. But then stories like this perhaps cannot be subtle. It was blurbed by Margaret Atwood and A.L. Kennedy, and I think you can favorably compare this to The Handmaid's Tale (which is kind of weird if you think about it, but the point still holds). Anyway, I still really want electricity powers. The end. A.

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Content warning for . . . Lots of bad stuff that goes down.