Wednesday, December 13, 2017

2017 book 210

Sage Blackwood's Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded
This was a very cute MG fantasy centered on a girl at the titular school, who has to band together with her friends to save the city with magic and heart and the occasional crossbow. The book doesn’t make light of the cost of war but there are some funny moments, and I especially liked all the little magical schoolgirls (and Anna!). I also liked that it talked about things like the inaccuracies of history lessons. Good stuff. A-/B+.

Monday, December 11, 2017

2017 book 209

Erika Johansen’s The Fate of the Tearling
The conclusion to Johansen’s Tearling trilogy improves on a second reading, when you can see her laying the groundwork for how things are going down. There is still a lot going on, but not in a bad way, and I appreciate how she humanizes (some of) her villains in this volume. Still a lot of sexual violence and rape threats, which I personally prefer less of in my epic fantasy. I’ve read that the author is planning more books set in this universe, and I’ll read them, or anything else she writes, because she has a deft hand with plot and characterization.

2017 book 208

Erika Johansen's The Invasion of the Tearling
Another gripping one, even though I have read it before! In the second Tearling book, the narrative is divided between the young queen, and a woman from our near future (a future that feels nearer every day, frankly), which answers a lot of questions about the world and how it came to be. Unfortunately this volume ramps up the sexual violence, which does make a lot of it hard to read. Still a solid story though.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

2017 favorites!

All right, we've reached the point in the year where I admit to myself that I am not going to read any more of the big 2017 books and have succumbed to the peer pressure to tally up my favorite books and albums!

2017 was mostly a terrible year but I did get to see Hamilton on Broadway with two of my closest friends and also I knitted several giant shawls, so I call that a win. It was also a great year for STUFF!

Alicia's Top 10 Albums of 2017 (in alphabetical order)*:

Aimee Mann's Mental Illness
All Our Exes Live in Texas' When We Fall
Alvvays' Antisocialites
Belle and Sebastian's How to Solve Our Human Problems (Part 1)
Charly Bliss' Guppy
Coco Hames' Self-titled
Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton's American Dream
A Giant Dog's Toy
Slowdive's Self-titled
Sweet Spirit's St. Mojo

*I acknowledge that this list is not very diverse.

Alicia's Top 11 Books of 2017 (in alphabetical order):

Naomi Alderman's The Power
Kristin Cashore's Jane Unlimited
Louise Erdrich's Future Home of the Living God
T. Kingfisher's Summer in Orcus
Meg Howrey's The Wanderers
N.K. Jemisin's The Stone Sky
Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere
Elizabeth Strout's Anything is Possible
Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give
Scarlett Thomas' Dragon's Green
Gabrielle Zevin's Young Jane Young

Here's hoping to a better 2018 with lots more great books and music!

2017 book 207

Erika Johansen's Queen of the Tearling
Rereading this for book club, I was struck anew by what a compulsively readable book this is. I mean, I've read it several times and remembered it pretty well, and I still had a hard time putting it down. I will say that, having now read the third book, it seems clear that Johansen had something different in mind when she wrote this one, but that is not a major complaint. I really enjoy this story of a young queen coming into her own in the far future with the help of magic and her trusty Guards. Content warning for many mentions of rape, though there are no graphic depictions.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

2017 book 206

Elizabeth Hand's Waking the Moon
This was a weird moment to read this particular book, because a large part of my brain was yelling "BURN IT ALL DOWN!" and almost cheering on the character trying to resurrect the moon goddess and her matriarchal, sacrificial murder cults, despite the, y'know, murders. But to back up for a second: I like Elizabeth Hand a lot, though I do find some of her books to be a bit unsettling, and this was definitely one of those times. The action starts at a mysterious college in DC in the 1970s, where warring religious secret societies enter the lives of some first-years. The protagonist is your usual girl who feels out of place and doesn't really know what's going on and is consumed by feelings for various beautiful people, and then things go very awry and her story picks up almost twenty years later. I did like this book but thinking about it too much makes my head hurt, and I am not gonna get into the inappropriate yet mystical romances. It is VERY atmospheric though. A-.

Monday, December 04, 2017

2017 book 205

Mitali Perkins' You Bring the Distant Near
This seems to be marketed as a YA title, I assume b/c Perkins' previous works were YA, but this is definitely a crossover title. It centers on three generations of Indian-American woman as they struggle to reconcile their cultures and their issues with each other (there is also a fair amount of focus on their romances). Very readable and great characters, if a teensy bit on the cheesy side. Nothing wrong with the occasional multicultural heartwarming read! A/A-.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

2017 book 204

Frances Hardinge's A Skinful of Shadows
Hardinge is an author I have heard good things about, ans her latest novel seemed really interesting—set at the beginning of the English Civil War, it centers on a young girl from a family with mysterious powers that she wants nothing to do with, so she ends up on the run to escape them—and to maybe find a way to save her brother from their clutches. I really liked this and loved how it wrapped up. A-.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

2017 book 203

Catherine Lloyd's Death Comes to the School
The fifth Kurland St Mary books finds our protagonists dealing with marital discord (after a pair of miscarriages) as well as the murder of the awful local schoolteacher, who may have been killed after writing a series of poison pen letters. Of course, the former could be handled with one honest conversation, but the latter is a fairly interesting mystery. I still enjoy this series a lot. B+.

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

Thursday, November 23, 2017

2017 book 202

Kari Maaren's Weave a Circle Round
Maaren's debut novel reads like a modern Diana Wynne Jones story to me, which is one of th highest compliments I can give. It centers on a fourteen year old girl in Canada who just wants to pass through life—and high school—unnoticed, which is complicated when a pair of eccentric strangers move next door and become entangled with her sister, their stepbrother, and herself. The story touches on English poetry and mythology from around the world, had great characters and great adventures, and I pretty much loved it. A/A-.

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

2017 book 201

Jasmine Guillory's The Wedding Date
Do you want to read a super cute romance novel that might as well be a 90s romcom? Then order this book immediately! It centers on a black woman from Berkeley, the mayor's chief of staff, who meets-cute in a broken elevator with a cute white doctor who needs a date to his ex's wedding, and the usual romance story shenanigans ensue, but it was all very charming and I liked how Guillory handled the interracial romance. Basically a fun delight about the importance of good communication. A-.

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

2017 book 200

T. Kingfisher's Clockwork Boys
A new Ursula Vernon book is always an event, and this one is the start of a series, which is even better. It centers on your usual group of ragtag misfits on a suicide mission in a fantasy world, but of course with the usual Vernon sense of humor and twists and turns. Great stuff and can’t wait to see what happens next. A-.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

2017 book 199

Leni Zumas' Red Clocks
Continuing my habit of reading feminist dystopian fiction with this one—set in the near future, in a world where the US has finally granted personhood to fetuses, this story focuses on four women in a small town in Oregon. Obviously I found some of these women more compelling than others, but it was interesting to see them through each other's eyes. I think Zumas is a very fine writer, this is a very well done book, and I eagerly await whatever she does next. A-.

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

Thursday, November 16, 2017

2017 book 198

Karen McManus' One of Us is Lying
It is once again time for THANKSGIVING SISTER BOOK CLUB, where my sister and I read the same book and then discuss it during Thanksgiving break, sometimes over fro-yo. This one has a great premise--it is Breakfast Club with a murder mystery! Yes, five teens are in after-school detention, and one of them--who just happens to run a gossip app (why is it an app and not like a Twitter account? Who knows)--ends up DEAD. Who killed him, and what secrets are they hiding? Was it the brain, the princess, the jock, or the Judd Nelson one? The story is told from all four POVs and McManus does a pretty good job of making each character believable and interesting, and of ramping up the tension. The end is fairly silly, but I expected nothing less. B+.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

2017 book 197

Marian Keyes' The Mystery of Mercy Close
Ah, and now we arrive at the fifth Walsh sisters book, the one Rainbow Rowell recommended, and it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Protagonist Helen, the youngest sister, has appeared in all the previous books as a bit of a troublemaker, who eventually becomes a PI, and this story does focus on her trying to track down a missing former boy-bander—but it also deals quite a bit with her struggle with mental illness. It is less funny than its predecessors but just as moving and entertaining. I really liked how this one wrapped up. A-.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

2017 book 196

Marian Keyes' Anybody Out There?
The fourth Walsh sisters book is I think the strongest of the series (I say that without having read the 5th one yet)—even though I pretty quickly picked up what Keyes was throwing down, I still cried several times. This one centers on fourth sister Anna, who in the previous books was kind of hippy dippy, but now has her act together and works as a publicist for a cosmetics company in New York (which was of course  right up my alley). I really liked the family relationships and friendships in this one, particularly. Really surprisingly moving. A-.

2017 book 195

Marian Keyes' Angels
The third Walsh sisters book focuses on second sister Margaret—the “good one”—who, after her marriage falls apart, goes to stay with her best friend, a struggling screenwriter who lives in Los Angeles. I liked the narrative voice here, and the way things were gradually revealed, but I found this to be the least satisfying of the three I’ve read. Keyes also sometimes leans a bit too heavily on racial stereotypes, which feels unnecessary. I mean, I was still entertained, and Maggie is a great character, but this wasn’t my favorite. B.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

2017 book 194

Marian Keyes’ Rachel's Holiday
After the first Walsh sisters book, I was expecting something on the chick lit/women's fiction lighter side spectrum, but this was a bit more serious. It centers on middle sister Rachel, who is forced into a rehab center by her parents and gradually comes to terms with her drug addiction. It is super compelling and moving. A-.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

2017 book 193

Marian Keyes' Watermelon
Rainbow Rowell recently recommended the fifth book in this series on Twitter, but I am a completist and so I started with book one. The series focuses on five sisters from an Irish family; in this first one, eldest sister Claire has just given birth when her husband announces that he's leaving her for another woman. Like literally, the day she gives birth! So she goes home to Dublin to stay with her parents and two youngest sisters (I loved the sister relationships here) to try and figure out what to do next. At first I was like, this is a cute mid-90s women’s fiction sort of story with occasionally brilliant humor, but towards the end I was super engaged with the heroine's emotional journey—it just really resonated with conversations I am having with friends right now. There is a great moment where she just runs out of f—ks entirely and I was practically cheering. I will say that this did not seem like an accurate depiction of new motherhood to me, but it was a very entertaining story and I already have the rest of the series checked out from the library. A-/B+.