bookish posts monthly book list reviews

February 2015 round up

Books I’ve already talked about
Code Name Verity: audiobook review
The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
The Sand-Reckoner by Gillian Bradshaw
Perfect Couple by Jennifer Echols
A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar

Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand
The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia McKillip

Other books
Third Girl (audio) by Agatha Christie: Another Poirot mystery. This isn’t a huge favorite, in that it’s a later Christie and she is quite…odd about Young People and Drugs, etc. But it is interesting that it’s one of several Christie books to feature gaslighting, in one form or another, which makes me curious about that aspect.

The Secret of the Yellow Death by Suzanne Jurmain: Juvenile non-fiction account of the American doctors who were attempting to discover how yellow fever is spread. I found it informative, but wished that Jurmain had taken a harder look at the issues of imperialism & race which I felt lurking just behind the story.

The Just City by Jo Walton: Much like My Real Children, I have a hard time pinning down my reaction to The Just City. Thought-provoking, well-written, but for me ultimately not very satisfying. That being said, I was not aware that it is apparently the first book of a trilogy, so I don’t know the extent to which my reaction is simply confounded expectations–that is, I was looking for a story that wrapped up in one volume. I will definitely be reading at least the second book, and we’ll see where I am after that.

Above World by Jenn Reese: Interesting middle-grade SF, which was recommended by several trusted sources. I enjoyed it, although I didn’t completely love it. I’ve heard that the second book is really good, so I’m looking forward to that.

Perfectly Good White Boy by Carrie Mesrobian: I loved Mesrobian’s debut, so I was looking forward to her second (unconnected) book. Sean is a fascinating character, and it’s a quick, tight read that doesn’t sacrifice depth. I liked the portrayal of Sean’s decision to go into the military, which seemed thoughtful and nuanced from my outsider’s perspective. I think Sex & Violence hit me harder emotionally, but this one is very good.

The Shape of Desire by Sharon Shinn: I had an interesting reaction to this one in that I read it really quickly and read the second as soon as I could. And yet, I struggle with how much of Maria’s life, from start to finish, revolves around Dante and how little I could understand what she got from that relationship. I do know & believe that people do sacrifice things for those they love, and that’s not in itself unhealthy. But I never quite bought it in this instance.

Kissing Ted Callahan and Other Guys by Amy Spalding: Review coming closer to the release date.

Saint Louis Armstrong Beach by Brenda Woods: I read The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond last year and really liked it, so I decided to try some of Woods’s other books. Saint Louis Armstrong Beach is set in New Orleans before and during Hurricane Katrina. Like Violet Diamond, Saint is a compelling character who Woods shows with a lot of depth and care.

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs: Urban fantasy hasn’t really clicked with me in the past, but I really enjoyed the first book in the Mercy Thompson series. I have a couple of niggling questions about a couple of portrayals, but in general, I really liked the story and the characters.

Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss: Moss’s juvenile biography of Kenichi Zenimura does a nice job of presenting his life, while focusing on the baseball diamond he created while in a US internment camp during WWII. I really liked Yuko Shimizu’s art as well. I suspect this might work a bit better for kids who already know about the internment camps, but it’s definitely one to recommend to young sports fans.

Wildlife by Fiona Wood: I really loved this Australian YA. It’s told from two perspectives, Lou and Sibylla, as they go with their class on a wilderness term. While I often don’t find that multiple perspectives work that well, Wood absolutely nails it here. Lou’s diary especially reminded me so much of myself at that age: a little self-absorbed, a little pretentious, but also full of emotion. In Lou’s case, there’s some solid reasons for that. I also like the way the friendship between Lou and Sib is shown, tenuous and fraught.

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear: A rollicking steampunk Wild West adventure featuring authentically diverse characters, including BASS REEVES, aka the coolest person ever. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and Karen’s voice. It’s funny and sad and serious all at the same time. I thought the mystery aspect was fairly well done, although I did see the solution a bit earlier than the characters. All in all, if you want the feel of a Wild West yarn without getting metaphorically punched in the face, this is a good one.

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry: It’s sounds a bit odd to call a book that opens with a double murder hilarious, but this one is. Berry situates herself a little more firmly in history than she has previously done (although significant suspension of disbelief is required). I loved the humor, and the way the girls stuck up for each other even while disagreeing and arguing.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby: Review coming later this week! (Spoiler: It’s SO GOOD.)

Still Life with Shapeshifter by Sharon Shinn: My objection to the first book is not exactly here, because the relationship is between sisters in this instance. But some of it still stands; the way Amy is absolutely the center of Melanie’s life seems to push Melanie to the edges of the story, even though it’s nominally hers. Despite all these frustrations, I do have a hold on the third book, so.

Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs: Second Mercy Thompson. I liked some of the developments in this one; I think Briggs does a decent job of conveying the creepy inhumanness of the vampires, which I imagine could easily fall flat.

Village of Secrets by Caroline Moorehead: Moorehead examines the history and myths of the Vivarais Plateau during World War II, including the most famous village, Le Chambon. I first read about Le Chambon and the Trocmés in middle school and found them thrilling. However, Moorehead’s careful scholarship shows a much more complex and fascinating situation. Without lessening any of the heroism involved, she clarifies some of the more exaggerated stories and claims and examines how the post-war years still cast a long shadow in the area.

How to Be a Victorian
by Ruth Goodman: Goodman looks at Victorian daily life from dawn to dusk. It’s not an entirely novel concept, but where this book really stands out is in Goodman’s experience actually trying the things she talks about. She’s done an extraordinary number of Victorian activities, from washing clothes to washing herself. And I found that overall, she is able to set aside modern preconceptions and note where the Victorian way worked very well in their context, and where it didn’t (laundry being the most notable one). I did find the last chapter, on sex, interesting but an abrupt ending to the book. Then again, I wanted to know about Victorian beds, so perhaps it’s just me (did they really all wear nightcaps?). Throughout, Goodman does a nice job differentiating between early and late in the era, and the wildly varying experiences of different classes (race is another matter, as I can’t remember it being mentioned at all). This would be a great reference for writing in the period, and is a really enjoyable read.

Other posts
Links from February 6
Links from February 20
Ten things I like in fictional romances
Fifteen of my favorite heroines
Melina Marchetta is a favorite author
Recap of ALA Midwinter, part 1 and part 2
Picture Book Monday
Library displays from Jan-Feb
Made & Making

TV & movies
The Scapegoat
Pitch Perfect
The Decoy Bride
Miss Fisher

bookish posts reviews

January 2015 round-up

Books I’ve already talked about
Between Silk and Cyanide by Leo Marks
Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire
True Pretenses by Rose Lerner
The Ivory Trilogy by Doris Egan
The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shahib Nye
Maid of Deception by Jennifer McGowan
Marching for Freedom by Elizabeth Partridge
Towards Zero, Cat Among the Pigeons, and The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie
The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein
Picture Book Monday
Song for the Basilisk by Patricia McKillip
Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier
House of Shadows by Rachel Neuemeier

Other books
The Badger Knight by Kathryn Erskine: Historical fiction. This is a just fine book, and I appreciated that it’s about a character with albinism. But it reads very dryly and I think it suffered from a tendency to overexplanation. I think Erskine has clearly done a lot of research into the era, and yet it never quite came alive for me in the way other books have.

A Corruptible Crown by Gillian Bradshaw: Historical fiction. The sequel to London in Chains. I liked it, because it’s Bradshaw and I like Lucy. But for me, neither book has quite the appeal of her books that are set in antiquity. It probably doesn’t help that I have a intense dislike for Cromwell and the Puritans. But of course, she shows the complexities of the time quite well, as usual.

The One That I Want by Jennifer Echols: I really enjoy Echols, especially when I want something that’s smart, well written, and comforting. This one isn’t a particular favorite of mine, but it was on the shelf and I hadn’t re-read it much.

Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand: Review coming shortly!

My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins: A very mixed bag; a few I enjoyed, but overall not one I personally felt super enthusiastic about. I often feel ambivalent about anthologies, especially those featuring many different authors. I did, however, like Kelly Link’s Tam Lin story, which was the main reason I read it.

Ticker by Lisa Mantchev: I was hoping I would like this one, because I did enjoy Mantchev’s earlier books. But the curse of steampunk did me in! I should know better at this point. I was really bothered by the ahistoricalness of it, and the way the main character interacted with her physical issues did not make much sense to me.

Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin: I was not a huge fan of this one, unfortunately. It’s a retelling of HC Andersen’s “The Emperor and the Nightingale”, but the way in which it was a retelling didn’t work for me. However, I think my biggest issue is that I’m not sure it works for the target audience. I’m all for complex, difficult books for kids, but I don’t think this one is interesting enough.

Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine Roy: Gorgeous informational book about sharks in the San Francisco bay area. There’s a wealth of facts, and beautiful illustrations that honestly work far better than any photos could. (I have recently become a huge fan of illustrated informational books!) This one got a Sibert Honor on Monday, and it’s well deserved.

by CJ Cherryh: One of my favorites of the recent Foreigner books (I feel like I keep saying that, but it keeps being true!). Cherryh really shows off her ability to weave different strands together: the remnants of the Shadow Guild, the ongoing questions about Tatiseigi and Damiri’s manchi, Cajeiri’s growing up. It felt a bit like everything kicked into a new gear in this one.

Other posts
Historical Fantasies: 1920s on
Patricia McKillip readalikes
Top Ten Tuesday: Childhood Favorites
Top Ten Tuesday: 2015 debuts
Links from January 5th
Links from January 19th
Christmas cooking and baking
My 2015 reading goals
My current planning method
Favorite Author: Elizabeth Marie Pope

TV & movies
It was a pretty quiet month. I watched a lot of Poirot and rewatched several favorites: Decoy Bride, Sabrina (the 90s version), and Amelie.

bookish posts reviews

October 2014 round-up

Books I’ve already talked about
Greenglass House by Kate Milford
The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud
Deceiver by C.J. Cherryh
Dark Metropolis by Jaclyn Dolamore
Lulu and the Hedgehog in the Rain by Hilary McKay
Perfect Scoundrels by Ally Carter
Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve
Grave Images by Jenny Goebel
Winterfrost by Michelle Houts
Zero Degree Zombie Zone by Patrik Henry Bass
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
Almost Super by Marion Jensen
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold: This is turning into a comfort read for me–the characters I love, with a less angsty storyline than, say, Mirror Dance. Plus, it contains one of my favorite moments in the whole series in the sinking of ImpSec HQ.

Other books
Tempting Danger by Eileen Wilks: I’m not a big urban fantasy reader, but I’d heard this one recommended a few ties so I tried it. I liked it, but it never fully engaged me and I found the semi-forced romance a bit off-putting (though handled MUCH better than it could have been). Readers of this series, does it get better? At the moment I feel like I’ll probably try the second book at some point, but am not in a hurry to do so.

Betrayer by C.J. Cherryh: Honestly, at this point I can’t remember which Foreigner books are which. Googled plot summaries tell me that it’s the one with the kidnapping. Right. I’ve liked this trilogy quite a bit–especially the addition of Cajeiri’s narration. It also has a slightly more intimate focus than many of the other books, focusing as it does on Bren’s role as Lord of Najida.

Caszandra by Andrea K Host: An extremely satisfying conclusion to the trilogy! I was a bit worried that Host wouldn’t manage to draw all of her threads together, but I think she pulled it off. While I would love to know more about what happens in the future, it’s also a nice place to leave the characters. Except that we don’t quite, because there’s the…

Gratuitous Epilogue by Andrea K Host: Really for people who like to know Exactly What Happened to all the characters (those of us who once found the ending of Jo’s Boys satisfying) but nicely written for all that. I didn’t realize that it’s almost a complete book on its own–more novella than short story–but I’m not complaining about this.

Champion of the Rose by Andrea K Host: Several people said they didn’t like this one as much as Host’s other books, but I quite enjoyed it! I like creepy fairies, and also morally or perhaps politically ambiguous characters. (Yes, Aristide is my favorite.) Host’s theme of “young woman thrust into difficult circumstances” is just as present as ever.

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie: I was worried about this one, but I think it’s just as good, though quite different in scope, as the first book. I have quite a bit more to say about it, actually, which I’ll hopefully get up soon.

Bones of the Fair by Andrea K Host: Definitely better than Champion of the Rose, imo. But this is mostly due to the fact that Aristide was the most interesting character to me in the first book, and I really liked Gentian, and the conflict between them. The ending did feel a tad anticlimactic, but that is my only complaint.

Monstrous Affections ed. by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant: I was mostly excited about this one because of Sarah Rees Brennan’s “Wings in the Morning” (I wondered if it would work for people who have not been avidly following Turn of the Story, but I saw at least one review that said it did). And it was so satisfying and I grinned. This was overall a strong short story collection–not all of the stories worked equally well, but there were some really great ones (I liked Nalo Hopkinson’s and M.T. Anderson’s especially).

Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon: Part of my project to familiarize myself with J FIC. This is one where I can see the appeal but don’t necessarily feel the need to read any more of the books.

A Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly: First Benjamin January mystery. It’s moody, atmospheric, somewhat depressing in a certain way. Certainly well written, and I liked it enough to go on to the next. However, the solution to that one was quite upsetting to me, and I’m not sure whether to continue. People who’ve read more of them: is there anything as awful in the later books?

Other posts
Libraries and Life Preservers
Made and Making
Character-driven SF

TV & movies
Parks & Rec season 6: I saw this had gone up on Netflix, and I was sick, so I glommed through a fair bit of it. I’ll really miss this show when it’s gone; I find the characters so delightful at this point. Not all the episodes are perfect, but it’s a good example of comedic storytelling that doesn’t feel like I’m getting punched in the face.

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day: I was sick and I wanted to watch I Capture The Castle (Romola Garai!) but it’s not on Netflix anymore, apparently. So I watched this instead, which worked for being sick and was moderately entertaining (Lee Pace’s accent is unintentionally hilarious) but I have never liked Ciaran Hinds and I find him as a romantic hero very improbable. One to enjoy but not linger on, or the charm goes away.

I could swear I watched other stuff, but I honestly don’t remember what so there we are.

bookish posts reviews

How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle

HIBAG - dustcover FINAL MAR192013.inddThis book first entered my consciousness when Charlotte reviewed it back in September. It went on my TBR, and sat there until a recent discussion on the CCBC listserv I subscribe to. I wanted to be able to follow the discussion, so I sat down and read the book, finally.

Before I began reading, I didn’t know very much about the story or the history that underlies it. While this is obviously not something I’m proud of (at least as far as the history is concerned), not knowing what was going to happen next did keep the suspense going through the book. I suspect many mainstream readers would share that experience, and I wondered how much Tingle counted on that being the case.

But make no mistake–How I Became a Ghost is based on history, real and raw. Tingle deals with this without being unsubtle, and there’s a kind of directness about Isaac’s voice that lets the reader react to what’s happening without pointing to the moral. So yes, this is a powerful story with a wonderful narrator, one who’s smart and thoughtful and loyal to his family and his culture.

I also liked the subtle way the narrative pushes back against stereotypes. Isaac and his family live in a cabin, along with their relatives and neighbors. He has a dog, Jumper (one of my favorite characters in the story), and a family, a life that is cast as stable, even if it’s not rich or high-powered. All of that changes when his community is uprooted and forced onto the Trail, and it’s clear that for the Choctaw this is a deeply painful and devastating event that is done to them. I appreciated that even though Isaac doesn’t fully understand treaties, he is aware of them and their influence on his life.

And, even though there are some very sad and horrifying moments, there are also some very funny ones. The story ends with a sense of hope–that even though all of these things have been done to the Choctaw, everything and everyone they have lost, they still have a sense of pride in their culture and people.

I am not sure whether to say this is a fantasy book or not. Personally–and I’m not sure anyone else will get this–I don’t tend to think of books which simply take seriously the spiritual or religious beliefs of a culture as fantasy. (So, books where the Greek gods simply exist–ie, Mary Renault.) So I would tend to say that How I Became a Ghost isn’t fantasy. However, not everyone will share that definition, so I will say that by most people’s lights, this is a historical fantasy.

Isaac is ten, and I think ten and up is probably a good age to give this one to kids. Those who are already starting to grapple with the difficulties of the world and have begun to realize how cruel people can be to each other. That said, as with every book, it’s a delicate balance and depends on the child. (I read The Hiding Place when I was about ten and it made a deep impression, in a good way. This could easily be that book for another child.)

Book source: public library
Book information: 2013, Roadrunner Press; juvenile/middle grade

bookish posts reviews

Recent Reading: 2-21-14

And-All-the-StarsAnd All the Stars by Andrea K Host: Several blogging friends have been praising Host’s books for a few years now and I finally got around to reading one. And All the Stars is marvelous–diverse, thoughtful sci-fi, which takes a somewhat improbable scenario and makes it real and human.

The Bearkeeper’s Daughter by Gillian Bradshaw: Historical fiction about Justinian and Theodora, with the focus on a probably-not-real son of Theodora’s. I liked the way Bradshaw weaves in the court history and politics while also keeping a very human and down-to-earth focus on John and his struggles.

Imperial Purple by Gillian Bradshaw: There’s a similar setting and ethos to this one, which looks at the end of Theodosius II’s reign. I found that having the main characters being regular people caught up in larger events gave me more of a sense of everyday lives, as well as being a perspective you don’t always see in historical fiction.

Pride of ChanurThe Pride of Chanur by C.J. Cherryh: Rachel Neumeier told me to read the Chanur books, so I did. 🙂 I loved the way Cherryh keeps the narrative entirely from Pyanfar’s point-of-view, making it far more effective than splitting the story between characters. Perhaps because of that, I did feel a slight distance from the characters, more so than with the Foreigner books. Nevertheless, I am definitely invested enough to read the rest!

bookish posts reviews

Cybils Round-up November edition

dr birds advice for sad poetsDr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos: I really loved this one! I enjoyed the way Whitman was incorporated into the book, despite not being a huge fan of his poetry, and the way James thought about and interacted with the poetry worked for me. I liked the style, which came close to over-done but never quite was. And I thought Roskos did a fabulous job of capturing the family dynamics and lack of easy answers, of showing a teen who engages with his own issues in a way that made me care about him. This is a book I wish had been published when I was in high school and I think for a certain group of teens it could be hugely important.

reece malcolm listThe Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding: I will admit that I’m a sucker for books that show interesting family dynamics. This definitely one of them, as Devan goes to live with the mother she’s never really known. I liked the way it took on issues of family and identity and belonging, while also being compulsively readable. Devan’s relationship to music was well done, and bonus points for the cute romance.

spark unseenA Spark Unseen by Sharon Cameron: Sequel to The Dark Unwinding. I really enjoy this series, which is a mix of historical fiction and before-its-time invention that just pushes the envelope towards alternate history. Katharine is an engaging main character and I like the way Cameron includes period details without letting them overwhelm the story. This is one to pitch to readers who normally like SFF.

bookish posts reviews

The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle

lightning dreamerMy reaction to this book is a bit complicated. First, we have my bias against a lot of modern blank verse which usually (in my oh so humble opinion) fails to justify its existence as poetry. Second, we have the fact that I’ve never felt that Engle’s poetry has done a lot for me personally. The Lightning Dreamer had that working against it from the beginning.

In The Lighting Dreamer, we meet a young Cuban girl, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, who through most of the book is referred to by her nickname, Tula. She is a dreamer and a poet, usually in conflict with her mother who wishes for a docile and respectable daughter. When she begins to read the work of a banned abolitionist, her soul catches fire and she begins to write about slavery and injustice.

This is obviously a really important story about a place and people who are often overlooked. I knew nothing about Cuba’s abolitionist movement, let alone Tula. Obviously, this is a failing, and The Lightning Dreamer addresses an important lack of books on this subject for younger readers. I would like to read a good biography of Avellaneda, because she sounds like a fascinating person in her own right.

So that is all to the good. However, as I hinted above, I had real problems with most of the poems. The only one I really loved was an early poem about her father’s death. Partly, I really didn’t see that the form was justified by the writing. Although poetry is sometimes described as lines-that-don’t-go-all-the-way-across, few poets would (I think) actually argue that’s the case. Poetry, whether it’s written for children or not, does have a different quality to it than prose. The poems here failed to deliver on that promise.

Moreover, the poems are in the voices of different characters, from Tula to her family and her family’s cook. And yet, all of the separate voices–people of varying backgrounds and ages–read as exactly the same. Is Tula speaking, or is it her brother? The only distinction is the name at the top and what the person is concerned with.

Also, the characters seemed oddly flat and one-note. Tula wants to be free, she wants to write, she burns against injustice. Her brother loves his sister but worries about her activities. Her mother can’t understand how she produced such a willful daughter and worries that she will never be respectable and therefore never happy. In poem after poem, we only see the most simplistic version of the speaker. There’s a chance for real depth in what I understood of the family background, but it’s passed over in favor of a heavy-handed message.

In the end, I worry that I am missing something and not being fair to this book. And I am glad that it exists. I hope it sparks some interest in the subject. For me, however, it did not work, except as a gateway into history I previously didn’t know about. That’s something, but considering what could have been, it’s not enough.

Book source: public library
Book information: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2013; YA/upper middle grade

I read this book for the 2013 Cybils. You’ll be able to see all of my Cybils reviews by clicking here.