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bookish posts reviews

Recent Reading: Stiefvater, White, Barnes, Carlson

blue lilyBlue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater: I have finally figured out that this series starts off slowly and then hits a point of no return and is full speed ahead from there. I can’t wait for the next book, and I don’t know what’s going to happen, which is an exciting thing.

illusions of fateIllusions of Fate by Kiersten White: I’ve wanted to like White’s books in the past but have never quite managed it. This one I really liked. The premise and characters were really interesting and while I wasn’t 100% sold on the big twist, it also wasn’t so implausible that I wanted to give up on the book. Jessamine is also a main character who’s not white and who is from a colonized country and dealing with the effects of that in her own life and the lives of her family and friends.

killer instinctKiller Instinct by Jennifer Lynn Barnes: Second book in the Naturals series. There’s a bit of second book ness to this one and the characters’ viewpoints are such a different way of seeing the world that I occasionally had a little trouble connecting to them. But all in all, this is a fascinating series.

vnhlpoTerror of the Southlands by Caroline Carlson: Sequel to Magic Marks the Spot. I liked this one less than the first, mostly because the characters seem a bit stuck in their roles. I did very much appreciate how Carlson makes Hilary an adventurous character without presenting her as the Right Way To Be A Girl. In fact, Claire and Miss Pimm are powerful magic users who also enjoy embroidery and traditionally feminine things.

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bookish posts reviews

Recent Reading: 11-28-14

this one summerThis One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki: A gorgeous graphic novel, which I appreciated very much in terms of artistry, storytelling, and thoughtfulness, but which never entirely grabbed me emotionally. I’m not sure how much of this is due to reading experience (I read it in two chunks) and how much is due to the fact that it was much more of a window book for me than a mirror one. That is, I experienced that age very differently and while I liked how true it seemed to a certain experience of teenage girl life, it didn’t quite resonate with me in the way I imagine it might for other readers. I did love the wordlessness of some of the panels, how the authors relied on these beats of silence to evoke the languid feeling of summer and the tense moments of a struggling family. (Kelly Jensen also has a really nice review of this one, which is worth checking out.)

octobia mayThe Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon Flake: I’ve been looking forward to this one for a few months, ever since I saw the awesome cover art and premise on Edelweiss. Octobia May is a stubborn, curious girl, who believes that one of the lodgers at her aunt’s house is a vampire. When she attempts to prove this, she uncovers a far different, but equally sinister, state of affairs. I liked this one, although I find it a bit hard to grapple with in a certain way. There’s a lot about being black, being a black woman and therefore unable to get a loan from a bank, and Octobia May’s desire to circumvent all of these rules. In the end, I think, she comes to understand that it’s more complicated than that. And yet, I struggle with how to characterize the book’s larger message, which I only say because I felt that there was one and I didn’t quite get it. Maybe that’s just fine and it’s not a book that in that sense is meant for me (I still loved the mystery and Octobia May herself, so it worked for me on that level). I also want to know more about Octobia May’s family and her somewhat mysterious illness. Hopefully there will be more from Flake about these characters.

the crossoverThe Crossover by Kwame Alexander: I’m not normally a big fan of basketball books, and this is a book “about” basketball. I’m not normally a fan of books in free verse–too often I just don’t see the form justified. But I can’t imagine The Crossover as anything but poetry. Alexander writing as Josh is by turns thoughtful, lyrical, hilarious, and heartbreaking. Some of the poems are bubbling over with effervescence, some are somber and quiet. All of them feel like a teenage boy, grappling with some of the biggest changes he will ever face. Basketball is Josh’s love, and that shows in several of the poems, but it’s not really what the book is about: it’s about family and love and forgiveness and growing up. And it’s the first book in quite some time that made me just full-on cry. I can’t recommend it enough.

el deafoEl Deafo by Cece Bell: A graphic memoir by Cece Bell, showing her childhood after she suddenly went deaf following an illness. I really liked it, especially the way it showed how she navigates the world with the help of lip reading and other artificial aids, but never let that be the only point of the story. It’s clear and funny, and I think a lot of kids will get Cece’s desire to find a best friend, and the journey that desire takes her on. There are also some fun interludes as she imagines herself as a superhero (the titular El Deafo). I also really appreciated the afterword, which goes a bit more into the deaf/Deaf culture and how her experience was perhaps a bit different than many others.

magic thief homeThe Magic Thief: Home by Sarah Prineas: Fourth book in the Magic Thief series, and a Cybils nominee. Conn and his friends are faced with a new issue as someone is stealing the locus stones of all the magicians in the city. Meanwhile, Rowan as the duchess has named Conn the ducal magister, which he is not happy about at all. (Nor are most of the other magisters, to be fair.) This one is perhaps best for readers who have finished the other books in the series, but it’s just as delightful. Conn is of the plucky slightly-amoral type of character, but at the same time he has a good heart and part of his journey is learning to trust others. A great one for the kid who will love The Thief in a few years.

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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.

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bookish posts monthly book list

April 2014 reading list

Oh, such a thin one this month! Trying to comfort myself with the knowledge that there have been lots of other good things going on.

Books I’ve already talked about
Precursor by C.J. Cherryh
Defender by C.J. Cherryh
Explorer by C.J. Cherryh
The Princess Tales by Gail Carson Levine
Serpent’s Egg by Caroline Stevermer
Death Sworn by Leah Cypress

Other books
The Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler: I loved this collection of essays and recipes on food, cooking, and the way we think about both. The prose is also a joy to read, to the point that I was posting quotes on my (sporadically used) tumblr. Lovely boo, and one that will definitely inform how I approach food and cooking in the future.

The Seven Sorcerers by Caro King: A middle grade fantasy. I liked the characters a lot, and the world, and the motivation for the main characters, but I found that the pacing was kind of draggy, especially towards the end. I kept waiting for something to happen.

Not a Creature Was Stirring
Act of Darkness
Quoth the Raven
A Great Day for the Deadly
by Jane Haddam: I wasn’t feel well and inhaled several of these while lying on my bed, the couch, and my bed again. They’re lightish mysteries, with a somewhat old fashioned feel and a nice detective. Occasionally the holiday-related aspect seemed a little forced, and the descriptions of characters a little cruel (there was one in the first book that really made me wince), but overall they’re the perfect sick day reading.

Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples: I’ve been hearing good things about this graphic novel and they are definitely deserved. An epic story with a fun, slightly snarky voice and great visuals. Note that it is definitely more of an adult comic book–there’s some violence and sexual content, for people who want to avoid such things.

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski: I have a great many thoughts about this one, so I will try to come up with an actual post soon. Suffice it to say that there’s a lot to like about it, and some aspects I quibble with a bit.

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bookish posts reviews

Prep School Confidential by Kara Taylor

prep school confidentialAnne Dowling is popular and happy in her private school in NYC. The only problem is the fact that she accidentally sort-of burnt part of it down. (Oops.) Her parents promptly send her to a boarding school in Boston, in an effort to keep her out of trouble. Unfortunately, Anne has hardly settled in before her roommate is murdered, and the school issues a statement which keeps the students from speaking to anyone.

So, this one is a perfectly nice boarding school mystery, of the light variety. Perfect for Gossip Girls/Ally Carter fans, who are looking for something that has the same readability and boarding school ethos. It’s not really trying to be something deeper, and that’s fine. I suspect there will be quite a few satisfied readers.

On the other hand, it’s exactly what is looks like–there’s nothing to particularly set it apart from any other book of its genre. That both is and isn’t a criticism. On the one hand, everything is fairly predictable. On the other, again, satisfied readers.

I did certainly appreciate the fact that Anne is not as annoying as she could have been. Sure, she’s a privileged white girl whose parents have enough clout to get her into a prestigious boarding school mid-semester. But she’s not a mean girl, although she does instantly form a rivalry with the queen bee at her new school. She actually comes across as very sincere, although certainly more than a bit naive and short-sighted about the rest of the world. I liked her much more than I expected to, which is nice.

So, a mixed bag here, but if you like boarding school stories and/or mysteries, this is a nice way to spend a few hours.

Book source: public library
Book information: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013; YA, mystery

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

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bookish posts reviews

The Caged Graves by Dianne Salerni

caged gravesThe Caged Graves was one of the Cybils books that I had heard some buzz about before I read it. This turned out to be because it’s a really nice book, full of rich historical detail and nice characters.

Although there’s a flashback/prologue at the beginning, the story really opens with Verity Boone returning to her hometown in Pennsylvania, after having been brought up by her Aunt in Massachusetts following her mother’s death. Already, I liked this set up a lot, because it’s the kind of situation that I’ve seen in stories from the time period, and which at the same time could be familiar for readers. Verity quickly discovers that her reason for coming–a long distance proposal from a young man in the town–is not quite what it seems, and that there is some mystery around the deaths and burials of her mother and her aunt.

From there, it’s a nice Gothicky mystery, as Verity tries to figure out why the townspeople seem so reluctant to discuss either her mother or her aunt. It reminded me a bit of Sarah Rees Brennan’s Lynburn Legacy books (though without the magic) because of the town full of secrets, the determined main character, and the warmth within the family. I believed that Randall Boone loved his wife and his daughter and that he was genuinely trying to do the best he could by them.

I also liked the romance, which gave me a love triangle that worked for me. I bought both Verity’s initial hesitations, and the reasons she changed her mind. It was sweet and slow-burning and made me happy.

Other things–Salerni’s writing is clean and unobtrusive, which is sometimes hard to achieve in historical fiction. I wasn’t surprised by the resolution of the mystery, but I didn’t find this annoying. All in all, this is one I would definitely recommend to both mystery fans and historical fiction fans.

Book source: public library
Book information: 2013, Clarion Books; YA, historical fiction, mystery

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

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bookish posts reviews

Recent reading: 9-9-13

The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie: One of the mysteries that features neither of her best-known detectives. I couldn’t quite remember the plot, and was hoping there would be a few sympathetic characters. There are, fortunately. For a non-Poirot or Miss Marple book, I think it works quite well, although it’s not even close to the best of either.

thomas the rhymerThomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner: As you all know, I love Tam Lin retellings, and Thomas the Rhymer is a close cousin. Kushner does a marvelous job with the story and characters. And her fairyland is wonderful–what I so often want fairylands to be (she goes with Elf, rather than fairy, but I’m lumping them together). In a way, what I wanted was more Elspeth, but I loved it. And the end made me cry, so that’s always a plus.

echoEcho by Alicia Wright Brewster: A science fantasy (as in, takes place on another world, but has magic). I love the cover a LOT, and I liked the main character and most of the plot. But I never felt any strong emotional connection, and the love interest was entirely bland.

handbook-for-dragon-slayersHandbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell: I really liked Haskell’s debut, The Princess Curse, so I read this one right away. It was good, and I liked the several ways she subverts the standard cliches. Haskell also does a nice job of making her setting specific and real, rather than a vague pseudo-Middle Ages (she did the same in Princess Curse, so this is not surprising). I did like The Princess Curse a bit more, I think because of the fairy tale aspect, but she’s definitely a middle grade writer to watch. And her upcoming book, Castle of Thorns, sounds like it will be fantastic!

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bookish posts monthly book list reviews

August 2013 book list

Books I’ve already talked about
The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
Dirty Little Secret by Jennifer Echols
Rusalka by CJ Cherryh
The Lost Kingdom by Matthew Kirby, very briefly
Pure by Julianna Baggott
Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes
The Pirate’s Wish by Cassandra Rose Clarke
Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow
The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White
P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia
The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell
Golden Girl by Sarah Zettel
Cotillion by Georgette Heyer
The Quiet Gentleman

Other books read
Daydreams of a Solitary Hamster by Astrid Desbordes: A nice juvenile graphic novel with a wry tone to it. I kind of expected it to have a more messagey resolution, but I was glad it didn’t. And I really liked the interactions between the different animals, and the way we see different sides to each.

The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax
The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax
Palms for Mrs. Pollifax
Mrs. Pollifax on Safari
Mrs. Pollifax on the China Station
by Dorothy Gilman: What can I say? I went on a bit of a Mrs. Pollifax binge this month. In some ways, the closest I can come to fulfilling the vain desire for another Agatha Christie book; perfect when you want to be entertained and not think too hard.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz: So much to love here! I can’t believe it took me this long to actually read this book, but I’m glad I did. Ari’s voice is really strong, and although at first I kept noticing the style, eventually I settled in and stopped noticing it. There’s so much depth and complexity in its depictions of both characters and their differences as well as connections.

The Beacon at Alexandria by Gillian Bradshaw: Rachel Neumeier recommended this one on my Historical Fantasy post (Bradshaw is straight historical fiction, to be clear), and I’m really glad she did! Lovely, lovely writing–the kind of historical fiction that looks completely effortless, which means it’s not. The funny part is that apparently my mom and sister have been reading Bradshaw’s books for years and have no idea how I missed her. I don’t know either, but I’m going to be catching up.

London in Chains by Gillian Bradshaw: I borrowed this one from my mom while I was in Connecticut; it’s not as good as Beacon, in my opinion. It’s not quite Bradshaw’s period somehow and the background gets a bit confused. However, I love how she treated Lucy’s character and her history.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan: There was so much about this book I enjoyed–the quirky cast of characters, the bookstore itself, the secret society. However, I generally liked the set up portion of the book much more than the resolution, and I really wasn’t convinced that the story managed the synthesis of love of books and love of technology that it was reaching for. I suspect others disagree with me, although this isn’t one I’ve seen many reviews for. Probably worth picking up just for the book bits, if you’re so inclined.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: I read most of this on the plane coming home from CT. Gorgeous writing, with beautiful, dreamlike descriptions of the circus and its inhabitants. I loved most of, but found myself slightly confused and distanced by the ending, which was a little too coy in places for me to follow.

The Ides of April by Lindsey Davis: A Roman mystery with a female protagonist/detective. I liked it a lot, in a mild kind of way, and will probably read the next one, as it seemed to be the first in a series.

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis: This book was unexpectedly harrowing! The Malones are a determined, brave, and resourceful family, but the world they live in is hard. I loved Deza’s voice, which managed at once to be wise beyond its years and naively young. That contrast worked really well for how I read her character. Heartbreaking and bittersweet.

Poems of Akhmatova, trans. by Stanley Kunitz: These were decent translations, but in some cases I was puzzled by the way the translation didn’t follow the original structure (parallel structures, which Akhmatova seems to have been very fond of) when it seemed fairly simple to me to do so. I’m glad at least that this was a side-by-side version, with the original Russian first.

Our Hearts Were Young and Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimborough
Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper

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bookish posts

Favorite genre: mysteries

Last week I had a lot of fun talking about some of my favorite genres for Armchair BEA. But then I realized that I had completely forgotten to talk about one of my very favorites–mysteries! Rather than go back and try to add it to my original post, I thought I would just write a separate one.

My main requirement for mysteries is that they be mostly about solving the crime. I don’t really like gritty mysteries, which leaves out a lot of modern books. I love mysteries from the Golden Age of British writers. A lot of people know Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, and they are great! But there are several others I really enjoy, either from that era or from a little later.

What are some favorite authors?

Agatha Christie is the Queen of mysteries for a reason. I love Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot about equally, and Tommy and Tuppence are also great. I don’t care for the Harley Quinn mysteries as much, although I’m not sure why–they seem too fantastical, maybe? She’s the first mystery writer I ever read and, even though I don’t read her books as much as I used to, she has a special spot in my heart.

If you asked, I would probably say that Dorothy Sayers is my current favorite mystery writer. How can you beat Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane? Answer: it is NOT POSSIBLE. I don’t love all of her books equally, and I still think that Five Red Herrings is tosh, but from the moment Harriet enters in Strong Poison, the series as a whole becomes much better. And Gaudy Night is one of those perfect books that I will never not love.

Josephine Tey is the pseudonym of Elizabeth Mackintosh, and the author of Brat Farrer, Miss Pym Disposes, and The Daughter of Time, among others. Her books are all very cerebral and often have some sort of historical component to them. The Daughter of Time sets out to convince the reader that Richard III is innocent of his nephews’ murders, and I have to say, it convinced me. Brat Farrer is probably my next favorite, but I really like all of her mysteries.

Ngaio Marsh has a gentleman detective, a bit in the tradition of Lord Peter. But this time he is a policeman, and therefore not as free to, for instance, fly across the Atlantic in search of evidence. While I think the series went on too long, I do enjoy Rory Alleyn & co. The first few books are quite formulaic, but if you persevere, the middle ones are delightful.

Ellis Peters may be most famous for her Brother Cadfael mysteries. Actually, I really dislike Cadfael. On the other hand, I love the Felse mysteries and only wish that she had written more of them. Featuring George Felse, a police detective, his wife Bunty, and their son Dominic, the series is gentle and lovely. Most of the books take place in Shropshire and Peters writes beautiful descriptions of the countryside.

Y.S. Lee writes a wonderful series of historical mysteries. Mary, her main character, is smart and resourceful, and the mystery aspect is fun. I will also admit to liking the romance a lot–it’s one of those quiet ones where everybody has more to do than standing around declaring undying love for each other. And the US covers are some of the best I’ve ever seen for a historical series. YAY.

There are a few series that I’ve tried at various times–I really wanted to like P.D. James’ Dalgliesh mysteries, but I felt depressed every time I finished one. But I’m always hoping that I’ll find a new series to enjoy. Are there any that you would recommend? Or warn me away from?