Monday, October 16, 2017

2017 book 180

Carol Rifka Brunt's Tell the Wolves I'm Home
This was my first time rereading this novel since I first read it, back when it was one of my favorite books of 2012. I sometimes treat my book club as an excuse to revisit books I've loved and to make my friends talk about them with me. :) I think this held up really well--it still felt really visceral and moving, but I had forgotten how uncomfortable some parts of it are. It's set in the 80s and centers on a girl whose beloved uncle has just died of AIDS--and then the partner she never knew he had gets in touch with her. There are other interesting family dynamics at work here too. I just like this book a lot.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

2017 book 179

Chloe Benjamin's The Immortalists
This book centers on four Russian-Jewish siblings in 1969 New York who go to see a fortune teller who tells each of them the day they will die, and then the story follows each of them until their fateful days. I enjoyed parts of each of these stories, primarily Klara's struggles to be taken seriously as a magician, but I found both her ending and her elder brother's to be beyond implausible, and young Simon, a gay man in early 80s San Francisco, was largely a cliche. Benjamin attempts to end things on a hopeful note with eldest Varya, but I found this whole book to be kind of a bummer. Parts of it were really interesting, but I felt like it was trying too hard to be a Serious Literary Work Saying Something Profound About The Human Condition. B.

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

Friday, October 13, 2017

2017 book 178

Leila Sales' Once Was a Time
I am always here for TIME TRAVEL FRIENDSHIP books, and this was a pretty solid one. It centers on ten year old Lottie, living in England during WWII, hanging out with her best friend Kitty, with a dad who studies TIME TRAVEL for the war effort. And one night things get a little crazy and Lottie finds herself in modern times America--all alone, and with a hefty helping of survivors' guilt for leaving Kitty behind. I will say I found parts of the first half of his book implausible--not because of the time travel, but because of some of the character elements. But all the adults in this book are great--hooray for a helpful and somewhat realistic librarian, and hooray for kind foster parents. And the back half of this book was pretty great and had me weeping just a little bit. Good stuff. Makes me want to reread Charlotte Sometimes. A-/B+.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

2017 book 177

Laurie Colwin's Happy All the Time
I saw this book mentioned here and since it only cost 78 cents, figured it was worth a shot! Sometimes you just want to read a pleasant book about pleasant people! And this was actually pretty funny. It was written in the 70s (and is VERY 70s New York) and centers on two guys, cousins and best friends, and the stubborn women they marry. I was of course partial to the cranky Jewish girl determined to hide her soft interior, but all four are very likable, even if not very fleshed out. I mean, not much happens here besides pleasant people hanging out, but that was pretty good all on its own. A-/B+.

2017 book 176

Rachel Hartman's Tess of the Road
Hartman's latest is set in the same universe as Seraphina and Shadow Scale, but is not a direct sequel—instead it focuses on one of Seraphina's human half-sisters, a stubborn, troubled, irrepressible young girl who runs away from home and ends up on a quest straight out of her beloved stories. I found this book to be unexpected in a lot of ways, but really appreciated the story Hartman is telling about womanhood and family and finding—or making—a place for yourself. And I loved where it ended, and can’t wait to see what happens next. Content warning for a couple mentions of sexual assault. A/A-.

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

Sunday, October 08, 2017

2017 book 175

Rachel Hartman's Shadow Scale
I'm still reacquainting myself with the world of Seraphina before the new book in that universe comes out, and I forgot how intense this second volume in! A completely terrifying antagonist makes an appearance and many more political situations are afoot. I do love the world building here, and the characters are all really interesting. Total deus ex machina though, heh.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

2017 book 174

Rachel Hartman's Seraphina
Hartman has a new book coming out in this universe in February, so I wanted to reread this and its companion to re-a quaint myself with the world—not that I really need an excuse to reread a book I love! And I do still love it!

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

2017 book 173

E.K. Johnston's That Inevitable Victorian Thing
All I knew about this book going in was a) the awesome title, b) the author, who I generally like, and c) it had a cool-looking cover. So imagine how delighted I was to discover this story takes place in an alternate world where Queen Victoria was apparently like "colonialism is dumb, let's unite the empire" and married her kids and grandkids off to rulers across the empire, instead of their European cousins. (It is unclear how this affected the Russian Revolution, though the United States are no longer so united.) Also she made it so her daughter could inherit the crown instead of having it go to a son. So now it is several generations later, and three young women are preparing for their debuts (because they still have those, whatever, let's just roll with it)--and one of them is secretly the Crown Princess, undercover. There is also a whole thing with a computer genetics/matchmaking system run by the Church of England. There is no way to describe this without sounding silly, I am starting to realize, but it is super charming and kind of fluffy over a steely interior. I wish to live in a world like this one (I initially typed “love” instead of “live”—that, too). A-.

Monday, October 02, 2017

2017 book 172

JY Yang's The Red Threads of Fortune
The problem with a novella is that often the story is a little bit thin--I wished the first one had more to it just because I enjoyed it and felt like there was room for more, but this one needed more to make the story work, for me. It is just kind of all over the place and nonsensical a lot of the time. Various political plots are happening, and the prophet character just keeps changing her mind about who to trust. I was interested in her exploration of grief, less so in her stupidity. I also wished, in both this and its companion, that there had been more time for the romantic relationships to build. I think this universe is interesting, but I hope the next few stories Yang is planning are meatier. B.

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

Sunday, October 01, 2017

2017 book 171

JY Yang's The Black Tides of Heaven
This is one of a pair of novellas released on the same day—which makes sense, since the central characters are a pair of twins, children of the ruler of their empire. Their mother has promised them to the local monastery, but when one of the children turns out to be a prophet, plans change. I chose to read this one first because it explains more of the background of the characters and their world (I think the fantasy classification here is silkpunk, which so far I like way more than steampunk) but am eager to see what the other one has in store. A-.

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

Saturday, September 30, 2017

2017 book 170

Kendare Blake's One Dark Throne
The first book in this series was fairly formulaic, but the end intrigued me enough to want to read the second—and initially I thought this was a duology and things would wrap up here, but that seems not to be the case. Parts of this were too slow for me—I wanted things the audience knew to be revealed to the characters much quicker than they were—but once again Blake writes an intriguing enough ending that I am curious to see where the story goes next, even though I didn’t find this one super compelling. B/B+.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

2017 book 169

Elizabeth Jane Howard's All Change
All right, I am finally done with this series, which was admittedly addictive but also mildly annoying at times. (Howard seems to honestly think Archie is some sort of romantic figure when I found him manipulative and predatory--also she kind of keeps de-aging him but he is an old dude who creeps on vulnerable young women.) Anyway, this final volume--published more than a decade after the 4th one--finds the ever-growing Cazelet family in the mid to late 1950s, dealing with societal change and the usual personal misfortunes. This volume in particular had some completely over-the-top subplots and I could have done with less of a focus on thirtysomething horndog Teddy (also, a couple of the characters just completely disappeared--whatever happened to Wills?). I did like that it sort of wrapped up as Rachel's story--she was one of my favorites for sure. And it was nice to be immersed in another world for a while. B/B+.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

2017 book 168

Elizabeth Jane Howard's Casting Off
The fourth book in the Cazelet Chronicles is more of the same, as the family adjusts to post-war life, relationships change, etc. I am still primarily most interested in the women, but Hugh and Rupert were fairly compelling here as well. Edward remains the worst and although clearly the author wants me to find Archie romantic, I one hundred percent do not.

Monday, September 25, 2017

2017 book 167

Elizabeth Jane Howard's Confusion
The problem with reading all these books in a row is that all the events become sort of muddled and it's hard for me to say anything specific about this particular volume. I am a bit worried that a 40-something dude is going to mack on a young girl who sees him as a father figure, but so far he is reining it in. I mean, this is basically a soap opera, but I find the women still very compelling--Howard does not shy away from unhappy marriages, horrific childbirth experiences, etc. I still love Polly and Clary and so will plow forward. B/B+.

Friday, September 22, 2017

2017 book 166

Elizabeth Jane Howard's Marking Time
The second book in the Cazalet Chronicles picks up a year after the last one ended--in 1939, on the verge of war. I meant to note in my last review that some of the characters express anti-Semitic views, but the author clearly thinks this is bad, so I was feeling quite pleased with Ms. Howard, when she drops the descriptor "n-word brown" into the text in this one. Describing a skirt! What on earth! So then I was reading with quite a bit of side-eye going on, especially when said description recurred. What on earth sort of way is that to describe a color in the 1990s?? As for the plot, there are a ton of characters, and I am more interested in some (Sybil, Zoe, Clary, Polly) than others (Louise trying to be an actress, her philandering father Edward). I find these books fairly engrossing, even when Howard isn't focusing on the things I wish she would. B/B+.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

2017 book 165

Elizabeth Jane Howard's The Light Years
One of the Fug Girls mentioned the Cazelet Chronicles the other day, and the entire five book series--tracing a well off English family from the late 1930s to after WWII--was only 99 cents as an e-book, so I figured, why not try it? This first volume covers 1937 and 1938, and there are a lot of cousins to keep track of (I am positive that even the author got confused about the characters' relationships at one point), but it is all very riveting--affairs, secret lesbians, unexpected pregnancies, lumber mills, tree climbing, etc-- and only a tiny bit trashy. Content warning for a couple brief mentions of sexual abuse. Sidebar, apparently Howard's third husband was Kingsley Amis! I like her work better. A-.