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.

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.

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.

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-.

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+.

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-.

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+.

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-.

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.