Tuesday, October 25, 2016

2016 book 176

Margaret Atwood's Hag-Seed
I've been dragging my feet on reading this one, a little bit, mainly b/c the other books I've read in this reimagining Shakespeare series have been kind of mediocre. But I needn't have worried--Atwood's take on The Tempest--a play within a play, set in a prison!--is totally engrossing. And honestly, educational! The Tempest is not a play I know super well, but I really learned a lot about it from reading these characters discussing the work. My main complaint is that Atwood leans way too heavily on the rap version of Shakespeare thing. For one thing, it's like the recent Lin-Manuel Miranda SNL sketch about the enthusiastic substitute teacher. For another, reading rap verses on a page will NEVER have the same effect as hearing them, and honestly, it didn't feel authentic at all. By the end I was pretty eye-rolly about it. But like, otherwise this was good? B+.
Content warning for a lot of discussion of rape threats in a Shakespeare play. 

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

Sunday, October 23, 2016

2016 book 175

Megan Shepherd's The Secret Horses of Briar Hill
Oh lord, this is a weepy. Like sheer ugly crying through the last bunch of chapters. But what did I expect from the story of a little girl living in a tuberculosis clinic in England during WWII--a little girl who sees winged horses in the mirrors, and becomes determined to save one who is injured. Beautifully written and illustrated, a magical story--but seriously, bawl city. A/A-.

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

Friday, October 21, 2016

2016 book 174

A.S. King's Still Life with Tornado
King's latest (after I Crawl Through It) finds her once again experimenting with surrealism, but in a much more low-key and relatable way. It centers on a teenage girl who has stopped going to school. stopped making art, and is in a fair amount of denial about recent events in her life--and about her family. I did find the narrative voice somewhat tiresome at first, but as things progressed, I got much more into her story, and by the end, I was pretty sucked in. Really interesting and compelling. B+.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

2016 book 173

Becky Chambers' A Closed and Common Orbit
The sequel to A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is more of the delightful same, focusing on two of the characters from the previous book--an AI with a lot to learn, and her techie friend. The AI's storyline is perfectly interesting (I particularly liked her fascination with tattoos), but it was the techie's backstory that I found really compelling. Still, I love the portrayal of friendship and discovery here--there may be all sorts of unusual aliens running around, but this is at its heart a story about family. I will definitely keep reading whatever Chambers writes. A-/B+.

Monday, October 17, 2016

2016 book 172

Ashley Weaver's A Most Novel Revenge
The third Amory Ames mystery finds Amory and her husband at a house party at the request of her cousin--and all the other guests are the very same guests who were there years ago when someone mysteriously died. And then one of them wrote a notorious novel about it, ruining the others' lives! So Amory is on the case--what DID happen that night, years ago? And will someone be murdered again?? I mean, duh. This was pretty fun, though not quite as engaging as the first two. I did like that Amory's marriage is on much more solid ground in this one--let's get some Nick and Nora action going with this series! B/B+.

Friday, October 14, 2016

2016 book 171

Erika Johansen's The Fate of the Tearling
Well, I will say, that was not what I was expecting--not that I was sure /what/ to expect, exactly. Johansen adds a slight horror element to her fantasy/scifi hybrid world with this one, which kind of just made things feel all over the place. I did like the continued investigations into the birth of their society, and how things fell apart, but there is . . .  a lot going on. Warning for more rapiness than in the previous books, or at least more evidence of a rapey society where people with power feel entitled to grope those who are powerless. (Johansen is prescient.) I actually did like the end quite a bit and cried a little, even as it left me feeling a little bit empty. I have Thoughts but don't want to be spoilery. Anyway, I will definitely read more by Johansen--she is one of the few writers I can just sink right into, and I love her book nerdery--but this was a B/B+ to me.

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

Thursday, October 13, 2016

2016 book 170

Erike Johansen's Invasion of the Tearling
The second Tearling book is a solid middle chapter--it advances the political intrigues from the first one, while doing more to explain the world and how it came to be (through the story of a battered wife in near-future Manhattan, content warning here). I mean, it's good enough that I just read it in one sitting EVEN THOUGH I HAD READ IT BEFORE.

2016 book 169

Erika Johansen's The Queen of the Tearling
The third Tearling book comes out next month, so I wanted to reread the first two so everything would be fresh in my mind. For some reason, though, I wasn't in a rush; this book is long and I was like, what if it's not even as good as I remember? BUT IT IS! It's just really compelling! I don't know that Johansen is doing anything particularly new with this first volume, but she tells a story really well. Content warning that although I would not say the /book/ is rapey, the /society in the book/ is rapey, so there are a fair number of mentions of rape. But it isn't described in detail or anything.

Monday, October 10, 2016

2016 book 168

Katherine Arden's The Bear and the Nightingale
Although this book isn't out for a few more months, I've started seeing a lot of buzz about it and was eager to read it. The publisher compares it to the works of Neil Gaiman and to Naomi Novik's Uprooted, but I thought it had more in common with Catherynne Valente's Deathless. Set in the far north of 14th Century Russia, the story centers on a girl with a mysterious heritage, on Russian folklore, and on the clash of Christianity and traditional beliefs. I did think the middle dragged on a bit too long--or maybe I just got tired of dreading all these terrible men and beasts plotting against and being "tempted" by a young girl (historically accurate, I guess!). I mean, the narrative tension is thick enough to cut with a knife. There are some pretty awesome horses and hearth spirits, at least! And good relatives.  Eventually things come to a head, though I did wish for a little bit more of the end. Really evocative writing and great atmosphere--I look forward to seeing what Arden does next. A-/B+.

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

2016 book 167

Eloise Jarvis McGraw's Greensleeves
Whenever I reread a book, I am always struck by which parts stuck with me, and which I didn't remember at all. In this case, I remembered a teenage girl going undercover as a beehived waitress to investigate the beneficiaries of an unusual will--and learning a lot about herself along the way. I vaguely remembered that there was a romance, but not the somewhat intense love triangle. (I actually recently recommended this to someone who wanted to read something gentle, without much romance--whoops.) Still, the focus is very much on this girl's coming of age story, and I once again enjoyed it very much.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

2016 book 166

Lauren Oliver's Replica
Much is being made of the format of Oliver's latest--it's the story of two girls, told in parallel, but I guess in print you literally flip it over to get the second story (and can read it in either order), whereas the Kindle version has links so you can flip back and forth between the stories*, or read all of one and then all of the other, or whatever you want! It's pretty cool, especially once the stories come together. I did worry a little bit that because the WAY the story is told was being so hyped, the story itself wouldn't be that great, but I should have had more faith in Lauren Oliver! Both girls here are super compelling--one, a replica raised in a research facility full of human clones; the other, a girl who's had all sorts of medical issues and is not-fondly called "Frankenstein" by the mean girls in her class. Things are moderately predictable, but I didn't mind--the characters are really engaging. But because this is YA, there is a lot of emphasis on romance which I could personally have done with less of, and because of the format, I got confused at the somewhat abrupt ending and thought I had missed a chapter. Instead I am left hoping for a sequel! B+.

*This did . . . not actually quite work. Like, I would read chapter 4 of Lyra, and then click to read chapter 4 of Gemma . . . where there was a link taking me back to chapter 4 of Lyra. So then I was trying to read TWO chapters of each at a time, but getting caught up in the story, and then having to remember where I left off in the other one . . . I love this idea but the technology is not quite there yet.

Friday, September 30, 2016

2016 book 165

Tessa Dare's Do You Want to Start a Scandal
I generally trust Tessa Dare to tell a smart, funny, and sexy story, and this was no different, even though it started off very abruptly. Like, build things up a little, girl! Let me get to know the characters before they're accidentally getting caught in a library (because the heroine is beyond-disbelief stupid) and everyone assumes they've been getting into trouble, so therefore they have to get engaged. Maybe since this book continues both Dare's Spindle Cove series and her new Castles Ever After series*, she assumes we remember this specific young woman and her Mrs Bennett-esque mother (at one point her mothers tells her to TALK LESS, SMILE MORE OMG hahaha), but like, that's every romance character (she's from this book, and from a novella I haven't read). At least the dude is both a wealthy marquess AND an undercover secret government agent with a DARK PAST (he's also the older brother from this book). I just kept wanting them to run away and solve crimes together. Instead, they have frequent floridly described makeout sessions. Hey, that works, too. The plot picks up eventually, but I did definitely want more from the female friendships. I liked the end a lot, though, This one is definitely on the sillier side, even for Dare. B+.

* Dare seems to have dropped the central conceit of this series, wherein a rich old man has left various castles to each of his goddaughters. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

2016 book 164

Silvia Moreno-Garcia's Certain Dark Things
At first when I heard about this book, I was like, are vampires coming back into fashion? I don't wanna read a vampire book. But Moreno-Garcia has a lot of goodwill with me due to her first book, so I figured what the hey! Anyway, this centers on a street kid in Mexico City--a place where vampires are supposed to be banned, except the pretty girl he meets on the subway turns out to be a vampire, on the run from a vampire drug war. I really like the way Moreno-Garcia uses vampire folklore from different cultures and thought this was super compelling, though found the psychopathic vampire chasing the vampire girl to be pretty gross (I mean, I know that's the point, just like, giving you all a content warning). I thought the end was fitting but did wish it went on for just a bit longer--or maybe I just cared about the characters and wanted to know what would happen to them, after! In summary, if you are gonna read a vampire book, this one is a pretty solid choice. B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on October 25th.

Monday, September 26, 2016

2016 book 163

Maria Semple's Today Will Be Different
Semple's latest is in the same mold as her bestselling Where'd You Go, Bernadette, dealing as it does with frazzled motherhood and marriage in a complicated age, but it doesn't hold together quite as well for me. It has some really intriguing parts--I loved the parts about the protagonist's long-ago work as the art director of a cartoon show, and the reveal of her family background was very well done--but it is a bit scattered, and the end just felt very abrupt. Now, it is also highly readable and entertaining! Semple is super funny and I love the way she tells a story. This just kind of veered away from being compelling and then came to a screeching halt, sort of. B/B+.

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on October 4th.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

2016 book 162

Sally Andrew's The Satanic Mechanic
The second Tannie Maria mystery is perhaps more interested in Maria's personal life than in the murder mystery part of things, but I had no major problem with that. As Maria's new romance is progressing, she's dealing with some serious PTSD from her abusive former husband. And meanwhile, a San man who's part of a group that's just won a big land claim trial is murdered right in front of her. I really like the characters here; even if her love interest isn't particularly interesting, everyone else is, and I especially like the people who write in to her advice column. I hope to see more in this series, for sure. Content warning for mentions of marital rape. A-.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

2016 book 161

Sally Andrew's Recipes for Love and Murder
The first book in Andrew's Tannie Maria mystery series, about a middle-aged South African widow who writes a cooking/advice column for a local newspaper and who gets involved in a murder investigation when one of her correspondents is killed, somehow manages to be both serious/realistic, and super cute. Like several of the women, including the protagonist and the murder victim, are survivors of domestic violence, and Andrew doesn't shy away from the trauma of that--but also Tannie Maria is so sweet and Andrew tells such a heartwarming story (despite the murder) that I cried from cuteness more than once. I am so here for meddlesome middle aged ladies solving crimes (and maybe finding new romance). A-.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

2016 book 160

Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown
I keep thinking that I am just not in a reading mood lately, but it turns out I am totally in a reading mood if it means rereading one of my favorite books for book club! And this was just as good as the first time around--it just hits all my sweet spots--it's funny, a little romantic, focuses on underrepresented populations in history, and has MAGIC. It's the first in a trilogy and I cannot wait for the next one.