Sunday, July 31, 2011

At Last!

As of this post, I will finally be caught up from my ill-advised and not-on-purpose week away. As of tomorrow, I can start devoting posts to single titles--or maybe two at a go if I've had a good day of reading. But, for a while I hope, no more of these multi-book posts. They kinda hurt.

'The Forgotten Waltz' by Anne Enright is a book that I will freely admit I wanted to read because I kinda loved the cover. Sadly, the cover has fuck all to do with the contents of the book. Yes, there's a middle-class, middle-ish-aged lady on the cover, but that's all the cover model has in common with Gina, the protagonist. And, worse, the whole book is a rather depressing detailing of Gina's affair with a married man. It's quite well-written and I'm sure there are readers out there who enjoy this sort of thing, but I'm not one of them. Gina was not, to me, at all a sympathetic character. I never really understood her motivations for much of anything that she did. To be fair, I don't think she ever really understood them, either. I kept reading, hoping for some redemption or something, but never got it.

'No Proper Lady' by Isabel Cooper is an historical romance with elements of time travel and paranormal. The premise is quite good, the characters are realistic and sympathetic, and the whole reading experience was pleasant from start to finish. I don't really want to say much more, because this is really one worth reading for yourself. I also admit to quite liking the cover, mainly because the half-undone gown isn't just for titillation, it's showing the heroine's tattoo and a quite impressive bruise. I like this proof that ass-kicking has its cost.

'The Aviary' by Kathleen O'Dell is a lovely, fairy-tale-ish MR. I thought, at the beginning, that it was going to be a rip-off of 'The Secret Garden', but it's not. It has magic and birds and kidnapping and ghosts and all kinds of other really interesting stuff. It's set in 1903 (which I only found out after looking up a film that is mentioned in the book), which it has to be in order for it to be at all believable. Not the truly magic stuff, but the stage magic and kidnapping elements would never work in a contemporary setting.

And...oh...I know there was one more. Crap. What was it? Well, it's obviously not so superfantastico that it can't wait until tomorrow.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Final Catch-up

I should be back on track on Sunday. This will actually take me through Wednesday night's reading, so I'm officially all caught up.

'To the Moon and Back' is the latest Jill Mansell novel and, once again, I'm in love. Ms. Mansell has the Brit chick lit thing down. Her books are smart and funny and touching and full of charming characters and the requisite adorable animals. Also, the apparently necessary scene of Our Heroine (in this case, Ellie) being caught outside in a state of near nudity (in this case, a dressing gown, but, sadly, no wellies). I gotta tell you, though, that this one did not start out easy and it kinda broke my heart a little bit. But, as is so very, very necessary in these sorts of things, Ellie got her Happily Ever After--and so did nearly everyone in her tight-knit circle. If you're looking for the perfect book to accompany a bubble bath and a glass of wine, then Jill Mansell should be your go-to girl.

Colson Whitehead has written a zombie novel called 'Zone One'. And, because it's Colson Whitehead, it's really well-written and smart and full of some delicious metaphors and descriptive passages. But, it's the Zombie Apocalypse and I, for one, am completely over it. The next time I read about the ZA, I kinda hope it's in the newspaper.

'When She Woke' is Hillary Jordan's follow-up to 'Mudbound', which won all kinds of prizes and accolades. I never read it, so had no expectations of this second book. Which is probably good, because, from what I understand, 'When She Woke' is completely different from 'Mudbound'. 'When She Woke' is a sorta-kinda dystopic retelling of 'The Scarlet Letter'. Of course, I hated 'The Scarlet Letter' with a fiery zeal. Thankfully, WSW only uses Hawthorne's novel as inspiration and jumping-off point and I really, really liked it. There's a touch--well, maybe more than a touch--of Margaret Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale' and some really nice Underground Railroad parallels. It's also got a very, very lovely cover, which I am shallow enough to admit influenced my desire to read the book. Also, I was quite pleased by the fact that there were No Zombies. There were, however, religious fanatics and they're probably more frightening than hordes of the living dead, at least to me.

Yay! I'm all caught up! Here's hoping I can stay that way.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Almost There...

Nearing the end of the catch-up list. Looks like tomorrow I'll be all caught up. Remind me never to be a week between posts again.

'Lola and the Boy Next Door' by Stephanie Perkins is an absolutely charming YA romance about first love and true love and friends and family and fabulous clothing and finding yourself and figure skating. Okay. Figure skating is really only tangental, but it's there. Perkins is an author who is quite adept at putting to paper all the hurt and confusion and self-centeredness of being a teenager without making you want to kill yourself or her characters. Lola is both charming and kind of an asshole, as teenagers--or anyone--can be. She's easy to root for and easy to want to smack upside the head, sometimes at the same moment. By the end of the book, I was glad and more than a little relieved that she had finally started figuring shit out. And, oh, the "Boy Next Door"? His name is Cricket, which I pretty much can't forgive, but, other than that, he's completely awesome and it's a damned good thing Lola shaped up or she never would have deserved him.

'The Stranger You Seek' by Amanda Kyle Williams is a solid, but unsurprising and fairly unexciting crime novel about an alcoholic former FBI profiler who gets brought in on a serial killer case. It wasn't bad, and I liked the character of Keye Street okay, but I'm not jonesing for the next in the series. I think the problem might be that I read too much crime fiction, so it takes something truly unique or somehow spectacular to get me excited. It's no fault of the authors', but lies entirely with me, the jaded reader.

Teri Hall's 'Away' is a sequel to 'The Line'. It's decent post-apocalyptic older-Middle-Reader fare, but I think I'm getting burned out on the post-apocalyptic thing. And on authors being coy with the causes of the apocalypsi and how the subsequent changes to society came about. It's always some vague technological or atmospherical or viral or eveolutionary "Event" (or some combination) , but it's always just "Shit happened and now the world is like this." Sometimes, an author can pull it off--usually by dropping enough clues through the narrative that an alert reader can piece together the series of events--but mostly it's just annoying. Or maybe I'm just reading too many post-apocalyptic stories written for younger readers. They can't all be 'The Hunger Games' or 'The Maze Runner' or 'Gone' and I should stop expecting them to be or just stop reading them altogether. But, I keep hoping that I'll find the next gem, rather than another series that's just okay.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Three More or Maybe Four

Still playing catch-up...

'The Postmortal' by Drew Magary has an awesome cover and an awesome premise and is pretty good, but not awesome. I quite enjoyed the first half, but the second half kinda felt like a different novel. Not a worse novel, just a different one and I think the (perceived) change in tone and theme just never quite clicked for me. And, okay, its cover says "comedy", but it ended up, while having some quite humorous bits, being, ultimately, a tragedy. Or tragedy-lite, anyway. I think I wanted something more Christopher Moore-esque, or even Max Barry-esque and it just never delivered the humor level I wanted. Which is nothing against the book, really. I think I just read it at the wrong time with the wrong expectations.

'Cold Kiss' by Amy Garvey is a YA zombie novel. Sorta. It is about a teenager who brings her dead boyfriend back, but there's no eating of brains. The zombie bit is kinda secondary, really. It's more a book about loss and grief and moving on and first love and second love and family secrets and there's really only incidentally a dead boy in the neighbor's garage and he's really just a metaphor. In other words, it's a solid mainstream YA about teen issues, but with a lovely paranormal wrapping to trick the 'Twilight' crowd.

'Sanctus' by Simon Toyne is the new Dan Brown novel. Okay, not really. It's a little better than the standard Dan Brown offering, but it does have the "OMG Christianity is based on a big fat lie!" central theme and some ancient artifacts and ciphers and lots of globe-trotting and a mysterious religous organization. It's highly entertaining, but not really much more.

And, okay, looks like I have time for a fourth.

'Ashes' by Ilsa J. Bick is a post-apocalyptic YA zombie-esque novel. But, unlike most zombie apocalypsi (because it sounds better than "apocalypses"), this one is caused by an EMP and the "zombie-ism" doesn't appear to be contagious. It also seems to only affect teens and young adults. It's quite an interesting take on the zombie story, but sadly ends up falling into cliche toward the end. OH! And it's one of those YAs that I hate. You know? The ones that don't have an ending of their own because they're part of a series? Yeah. This one had a big ol' cliffhanger and no real resolution of any to what I thought were the primary plot points. So, that sucked. But, Bick's take on the ZA is interesting enough to me that I might be willing to read further in the series. I'm just not going to seek them out.

And, with that, it looks like I'll be all caught up by the end of the week. Yay, me!

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Mini YA Binge

More catch-up.

'City of Lies' by Lian Tanner is a sequel to last year's 'Museum of Thieves'. There was some fear that, because this second volume wouldn't be set in the museum, it would somehow disappoint. However, fans of that first volume should be pleased with this second installment, which has parts set in the museum, so no favorite character is completely off-screen for the whole book. There are a lot of new characters introduced in this volume and some very interesting new facets to how Tanner's imagined world operates.

'Wisdom's Kiss' by Catherine Gilbert Murdock is apparently a sort-of sequel to 'Princess Ben'. However, having never read 'Princess Ben', I can honestly state that it is not necessary to the enjoyment of this volume. I love a good fairy tale, and this one had a lot to like. It has multiple POVs, which occasionally got distracting, but mostly worked quite well. It had a Happily Ever After that was very much not the HEA one would expect. There was magic and a wicked queen and a cat and a circus and lots of other clever, charming things. It's not going to change anyone's life, but it's a quite pleasant way to spend an evening.

One of my favorite of my recent reads was Curtis Jobling's 'Wereworld: Rise of the Wolf'. It's a good, strong YA fantasy series with a very interesting take on the myth of the were. It's also got plenty of fighting and magic and political intrigue and pirates and kick-ass female characters (it's a series that seems to be aimed at boys, so that last is more pleasantly surprising than you might imagine). It also has--dare I say it?--a lot of heart. Family and friendship play a vital role and, though both win through in the end, there are some very difficult challenges to get to the happy-ish ending. Ooooh...that reminds me of one of the things I liked very best about this book. See, I have this problem with MR and YA series especially, where the early volumes in the series are not complete stories. If, for whatever reason, the next volume isn't published, there's no ending, just an end. This book, however, did not have that problem. It has an ending. Yes, there's more stuff that could happen, and probably will. But, all the major action of this book? Done. Over. So, kudos to Mr. Jobling for not leaving me pissed off and frustrated. I'm actually really looking forward to future books in this series, rather than wanting to fling this one against the wall.

Okay. Looks like just a couple more days and we'll be all caught up. Finally. I really hope I don't stay away so long again in the future. This catching-up thing is a pain.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

That Was a Long-Ass Book

Yes, I'm talking about Neal Stephenson's 'REAMDE'. And, here's the thing, if it weren't written by Stephenson, I would probably be bitching and moaning that the book really needed a good trimming; that there are probably 200 pages of description of surroundings, or trekking, or clothing that could have been cut without the book losing any impact. But, it was Stephenson, so a.) I expect long-assedness and b.) he can make that boring shit pretty much not boring. I will admit that there were parts that I skimmed, some of it just because I was exhausted and needed to skip some of the more brutal goings-on. But, in the end, for a nearly 1000 page thriller, it mostly moved at a jaunty clip. It helped that Stephenson broke up the various players into smaller groups and only followed each group for a handful of pages before switching off to the next, which kept me from getting restless and talking out loud to the book in an attempt to move things along. I will also admit that some of the various plots held much less interest for me than others and, unfortunately, the ones I wasn't as fond of were, I think, supposed to be the primary focus of my attention, and the stuff I found most intriguing was supposed to be peripheral. In most thrillers, in fact, the scenes I was most interested in would have all taken place off-screen and been revealed in bits of boring exposition when the characters once again converged. And, that, ultimately, is why I'm not bitching about the length. Had Stephenson not been allowed such a tremendous page count, I would have proabably quickly lost interest in the central narrative, while my mind wandered to what might be going on with all those other characters we had met and who seemed like they might have important things to do to get us to the final saving-of-the-day.

'Those Across the River' by Christopher Buehlman is a creepy novel set in Georgia during the Great Depression. It's not until fairly late in the game that the reader comes to realize that this is an out-and-out horror novel, and not just a bit of a Southern Gothic. There are echoes of both Harper Lee and Shirley Jackson in these pages, leading to it feeling a bit like what might have happened had Stephen King been writing in Georgia, rather than Maine. The monster in this novel is a fairly common one, but Buehlman does a good job of not making it obvious from the get-go and instead allowing the reader to put the pieces together alongside the narrator. He also does a good job of building the pace and the tension until the final, deadly showdown erupts violently onto the page and then winds quietly down to an epilogue that manages to be both creepy and heartbreaking at the same time.

Slowly but surely I'm getting caught up with my list. I hope to be fully up-to-date by the end of the week.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I Didn't Mean to Be Away for So Long

Mostly because it means I now have about a zillion books I need to post on. Hmmm...maybe I'll break the list down into a handful of parts and spread it out over the next few posts. I think my typing fingers might appreciate that.

'The Familiars: Secrets of the Crown' by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson is the second in a MR trilogy about a trio of magical animals. I completely loved the first one, and thought this second entry was good. Unfortunately, this second volume ends on a cliffhanger, which pretty much annoys the hell out of me, but seems to be par for the course in series novels. But, if you've read the first one (which I highly recommend), you'll probably want to read this one, if for no other reason than to revisit some favorite characters. And, because bunnies are evil, which Epstein and Jacobson are apparently well aware of.

Kiersten White's 'Paranormalcy' was one of my favorite debuts of last year, and 'Supernaturally' totally lived up to the promise of that first novel. And, though the story isn't done, this middle volume didn't feel like a middle book. It was a story in and of itself, with enough information about what happened in 'Paranormalcy' scattered throughout that I could easily bring that first book to mind, but didn't feel like I had to wade through a book report-style plot summary. (And that completely made sense in my head.) I'm really looking forward to the third novel. White planted enough seeds of...something in this one that I know there's some big picture out there, but I have no idea what it might be and am curious as bleep to find out.

'All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky' is Joe R. Lansdale's first foray into Young Adult literature and I just have to say it's about damned time. Lansdale is a great storyteller, no matter what genre he chooses to work in (and I think he's worked in them all, except maybe Romance), so it's no surprise that this is yet another compelling yarn. It's set during the Dust Bowl years and centers on three kids whose lives have pretty much sucked and who decide, now that all their parents are out of the picture, to hit the road in search of something better. Along the way, they meet up with mobsters and hoboes and circus people. It's a little Steinbeck and a little 'Paper Moon' and all Lansdale. I'm not sure how wide an audience it will attract, but I'm pretty sure it won't be as widely-read as it should be. It's a good story, well told.

Well, I've got at least six more on my list, one of which is Neal Stephenson's nearly 1000 page 'REAMDE', so I think I'll stop now. I hope to get caught up next week sometime, but the week after may be more realistic.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Week? It's Been a Week?

I promised myself I'd be better about posting. Just goes to show that I can't even keep promises to myself. So, a lot to get through, since it's been so very long.

'The Lady Most Likely' is a collaborative novel by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Connie Brockway. And it's good. And sweet. And a nice summer read. But, the problem with a novel like this, with three different couples to be paired off before the page count expires, something has to give. Thankfully, it wasn't the romances themselves, which were all given the time to develop fairly naturally (house parties are wonderful for bringing couples together in a condensed time frame), but there was a serious lack of Sexy Fun Times. Now, I'm not one of those people who reads Romance just for the "naughty" bits, but I do want a bit of steam, and, with three stories to tell, this book barely managed a simmer. Honestly, though, if something had to be sacrificed, the sex is the least crucial to a good romance.

'Mercy Blade' is Faith Hunter's third Jane Yellowrock Urban Fantasy novel and it's The One Where Everything Changes. You know that novel, it happens in every UF series, but usually not until much later. The changes here are big and I'm very, very interested to see how they play out over the next book or two.

Hello, Bandwagon! I finally got around to reading George R.R. Martin's 'A Game of Thrones' and I am totally and completely hooked. In fact, I've already finished the second book in the series, 'A Clash of Kings' and have 'A Storm of Swords' wating in the TBR pile. There's no need for me to say anything, as there are entire websites devoted to the series, but I do have to wonder why I hadn't read these before now. Maybe some day I'll figure out what the hell I was thinking, but today is not that day.

'The Orchard' is an upcoming memoir by Theresa Weir and it was totally not my cup of tea at all. But, it was short, so I read the whole thing. It'll probably be a big hit with book clubs, especially in the Midwest.

I expected Maureen Johnson's 'The Name of the Star' to be something completely different than it was, which definitely colored my reaction to it. I liked it well enough once I got into it, but it took me awhile to appreciate it for what it was, rather than be disappointed by what it wasn't. I actually really enjoyed the last third or so and am hoping that Ms. Johnson writes more books with these characters, now that I know what not to expect.

'A Monster Calls' by Patrick Ness is an illustrated late middle-grade novel that was inspired by an idea from the late Siobhan Dowd. It's full of darkness and danger and folklore and melancholy and loss and stories that have a different lesson from the one you were expecting and it made me cry a little at several points. Not a happy vacation read, but a very good one.

And, finally, 'Daughter of Smoke and Bone' by Laini Taylor. I finished this one up last night and I really liked it, but it was one of those annoying YA novels that is part of a series and doesn't have a real ending of its own. Which kinda pissed me off. Especially since I liked the world Ms. Taylor created and her different take on the eternal war between angels and demons. In Taylor's mythology, neither side is all good or all evil, but has some of both and all the shades of grey in-between, as well. Her descripions of the characters and places are so vivid as to be almost visual. Unfortunately, in spite of the fact that the protagonist, Karou, is an art student who has 90+ sketchbooks in which she chronicles her life and in spite of the fact that Ms. Taylor's husband is Jim di Bartolo, who provided illustrations for her "Dreamdark" MR fairy novels and the cover illo for 'Lips Touch, Three Times', this book is entirely without illustration. Not that it needs it, but I can't help but feel that illustration would have enhanced the already vivid prose.

I promise to try to do this more than once a week, but I don't hold out a lot of faith in my ability to do so.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Surprises, Pleasant and Less So

'Hounded' by Kevin Hearne is the first book in what might be a must-read Urban Fantasy series for me. It's got magic and old gods and a "talking" dog and all kinds of fun stuff. The protagonist is a 2100-year-old Druid who's in possession of a magical sword and gets caught up in godly politics and power plays. It moves quickly and is smart and sharp and funny. I went into reading it with absolutely zero expectations, and came away feeling like I had really "discovered" something. I can't wait to dig in to the next two books.

'Dukes to the Left of Me, Princes to the Right' by Kieran Kramer was pretty much the exact opposite kind of reading experience. I had loved Ms. Kramer's first novel, 'When Harry Met Molly, and so was prepared to love this one. Sadly, I only kinda liked it. It got really, really draggy in parts and lacked the warmth and humor that I liked so much in Molly. It picked up in the last quarter, but by then I was frustrated and more than a little bored. I hope Ms. Kramer's third book is more like the first than like this one. Otherwise, I think it's the end for the two of us.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Quick Hits, part 3

I promise to get back to posting more regularly and, therefore, writing a little more in depth, but I decided to take a mini-break from reading my September ARCs (with a couple of exceptions) and just read for pleasure. But, this also meant I didn't feel compelled to get my thoughts down in writing right away.

'Birds of Paradise' Diana Abu Jaber: I've been getting a lot of women's fiction sent to me recently, and I'm not sure why. I don't dislike it, but it isn't my first choice of reading material. Anyway...This is a good mother-daughter story that, in my opinion, was elevated above the crowd by its lush descriptions of pastries and the Florida fauna. There's some good relationship stuff here, but I wish the men were more fully realized characters, rather than seeming to exist only to serve as foils for the women.

'Icebreaker' Dierdre Martin: I didn't hate it, but it never quite gelled for me. I never got fully invested in the romance or cared if either the hero or heroine got their HEA, which is not what I want or expect from a Romance novel. And, on a side note to Ms. Martin and other similarly misguided writers: There are some females who find the Stooges funny.

'Kitty and the Midnight Hour' Carrie Vaughn: After reading ARCs for the two upcoming Kitty Norville books, I thought it was time to go back and read the first Kitty novel. Strangely, I'm glad I didn't start here, because I don't know if I would have continued with the series. It wasn't bad, it just didn't grab me and make me feel compelled to keep reading more about this character. But, I liked seeing how Kitty first met Cormac and, basically, how she got to be the Kitty she is now.

'A Lady's Lesson in Scandal' Meredith Duran: I don't have a lot of "keeper shelf" Romance authors, but Meredith Duran is one. This story was a little Eliza Doolittle and a little Anastasia and even a little Dickens. In spite of that, it mostly avoided falling prey to cliche, except near the end when there was an ill-conceived and fairly well unnecessary kidnapping. I don't think this was her best work, but it was still really good and reminded me why she earned one of the limited spaces on my "keeper shelf".

More Quick Hits

'Late Eclipses' Seanan McGuire: I've loved the Toby Daye novels from the beginning, and each successive volume just deepens and enriches the world and characters that McGuire has created. I held off as long as I could on this one, but still have a ridiculously long wait for the next.

'Heartless' Gail Carriger: Another series that I lovelovelove and wish had a new volume every month. Sorta Steampunk-y, sorta Urban Fantasy-ish, sorta Romance-like, there's just a lot to love about Ms. Carriger's fictional world. I also appreciate the fact that she's an author who's not above sharing a wink with the reader at the ridiculousness of some genre cliches.

'The Chase' Erin McCarthy: I don't get NASCAR, but I am totally hooked on McCarthy's contemporary romance series set in the world of stock car racing. They're not enough to make me want to spend my weekends watching cars go 'round a track, but plenty enough for me to put aside my admitted prejudices and devour each new volume in a single sitting.

'Beautful Dead: Summer' and 'Beautiful Dead: Phoenix' Eden Maguire: The last two volumes in a YA series that started off strong, but became a bit repetitive toward the end. However, I was invested enough in the characters that I couldn't not finish the series and see how it all ended. And, though the ending wasn't what I would have chosen, it worked and I wasn't too disappointed.