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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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The Bitter Kingdom–Rae Carson

the bitter kingdom The Bitter Kingdom is the third and final book in Rae Carson’s Girl of Fire and Thorns Trilogy. (That sentence feels tautological but OH WELL.) I actually had semi-serious reservations about the first book and wasn’t sure I would keep reading. But I did, and I’m so glad. The second book won me over, with Elisa’s growing strength of character, with the budding romance, and then that ending–there was no way on earth I wasn’t going to read the third book.

From here out, there will be spoilers for the first two books. Stop reading if you want to avoid them!

So, The Bitter Kingdom begins with Elisa, Storm, Belen, and Mara heading off to the Inviernos’ kingdom to rescue Hector. The first part of the book could be described as a traditional quest/journey adventure. I happen to like these a lot, especially when the people travelling together have complicated relationships. And, oh boy, do they ever.

As I read, I noticed myself really appreciating Elisa’s development as a character. In Girl, I had found her rather frustratingly passive, even in the second half. But now she has become a ruler, and I believed it. She weighs her actions and decisions, trying to decide what is right for her country as well as for herself. She is careful, but at the same time I saw a bedrock of certainty–she also knows what she wants. Over the course of the books, she has truly grown up. I’m trying to think of characters with a similar arc, spread over a similar length of time, and I really can’t remember any.

I also really liked the way Carson shows the hard choices that almost all the characters have to make. Elisa at one point faces a dilemma that reminded me of Eugenides’ in KoA and Conspiracy of Kings–the possible gap between happiness for people they care about, and the well-being of several countries. On a different level, Elisa is constantly facing choices of trust. Again, she is wary, but she also tries to choose trust and mercy. I appreciated this a lot; it adds a level of complexity to the characters and story.

It’s not just Elisa though: there are a wealth of characters here. Hector, Storm (who I ended up really, really liking), Mara and Belen, the Inviernos, and especially Red. It’s a delicate balance between making them real people and letting them take over the book. I thought Carson did a nice job here as well, although the insatiable reader part of me wants to know all about everybody. I especially liked the way Storm is developed, and his relationship with his family.

If I have a lingering nitpick with the series as a whole, it’s the worldbuilding. I love the individual countries and the way they are portrayed, but there are these hints of a science-fictiony past. I really wanted that to just be spelled out–is this a Pern-type deal, or is it fantasy? We got a few more answers in The Bitter Kingdom, but I still wanted more. I’m sure I wouldn’t care as much if worldbuilding weren’t one of my Things, but it is. I did love the feel of Joya d’Arena and Invierno, so it’s not so much the immediate worldbuilding as the history that underlies it.

However, despite that, I really enjoyed this conclusion and will absolutely be reading whatever Rae Carson writes next.

Book source: ARC from ALA
Book information: Greenwillow, 2013; YA

All of my Rae Carson reviews

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Quick Review: Dirty Little Secret by Jennifer Echols

dirtylittlesecret Jennifer Echols’ YA books are a slightly guilty pleasure of mine, and I’ve been looking forward to her latest, Dirty Little Secret.* I read it last night, and wanted to stick up a short review today. So, pros and cons.

PROS:
– Loved Bailey and her voice. I connected with her instantly, despite the fact that we’re very different personalities
– Loved the complicated ways that families are shown here, and especially the way that this connects both Sam and Bailey
– Loved Bailey’s relationship with music; I’m not a musician particularly, so I can’t say how accurate it is, but it definitely felt more integral to her character than in some YA books, where music seems to function as “Oh, this character needs a hobby!”
– Liked the relationship between Sam and Bailey generally. It’s fairly quiet, but I did feel that they both genuinely cared about each other, despite their differences and misunderstandings. Also, I felt like Echols was very conscious of setting up tropes–the handsome devil–and also of subverting them, which is cool

CONS:
– Wasn’t super wild about the way the book depicted Charlotte. Something about the description of her, plus the way that Bailey interacts with her grated on my nerves. Even the big resolution at the end made me side-eye a bit. I know we’re seeing her through Bailey’s eyes, but still.
– In general, I really really enjoyed the book, but it wasn’t my favorite Echols–that would probably be Such a Rush. I didn’t have quite the same emotional connection to Bailey that I have had to Echols’ other main characters

* Sidenote: I’m not a huge fan of this title, which sounds a lot more scandalous than the book actually is; also, I kind of get where they were going with it, in that Bailey is her family’s secret, but really she’s never shown as fulfilling that expectation.

(I’m not sure if this counts for the August TBR challenge or not…it was on my TBR, but not on my original list. I’ll probably go ahead and count it anyway.)

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bookish posts monthly book list reviews

July 2013 book list

Books I’ve already talked about
Picture Book Monday
Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown
Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
Queen of Attolia and King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones
House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier and my reaction this time
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (which, that review, hah). This time around, I liked it but felt bothered by the distance from the female characters, by Colin’s self-centeredness.

Other books
Nightshifted by Cassie Alexander: I’d heard good things about this urban fantasy, and it was definitely fun. On the other hand, I didn’t find very much to relate to in the main character. I think partly, I’m just not an urban fantasy person. Or maybe I haven’t been reading the right ones? I don’t know.

King of Ithaka by Tracey Barrett: A retelling of the Odyssey from the point of view of Telemakos. Barrett does a marvelous job of creating a sense of place and time, and the theme of coming to terms with family is nicely done.

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen: I love Sarah Addison Allen so much. And The Peach Keeper is beautiful. I loved the relationship between the sisters. I do think that Garden Spells is my favorite of her books so far.

Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi: Scalzi at his slap-stickiest. I enjoyed it a ton, but probably will re-read the Old Man’s War series, or Redshirts, more often.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: This book has had tons of praise heaped on it, and deservedly so. It’s short, but that makes it exactly the right length–any longer and it would be bloated. It’s full of mythological resonances and beautiful imagery.

Carolina Girl by Victoria Kantra: This was a nice, light contemporary romance, but I didn’t have a lot of investment in the characters or the relationship. It’s also possible I was in the wrong mood that day.

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman: A friend of mine recommended this series, and I’m really glad she did! They’re really enjoyable. A cozy spy thriller, if you can imagine such a thing. It naturally gets comparisons to Miss Marple, but really Mrs. Pollifax and Miss Marple are quite different, in personality, temperament, and outlook on life.

Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox: My feelings on this book are so complicated. On the one hand, I loved so much of the writing and premise, and the main character. I loved the way it engaged thoughtfully with issues of race and history. On the other hand, the pacing seemed very off in the middle section, and I was oddly put off by Ghislain’s character. Still, I think there are lots of fascinating things about this book, and I hope there are some good discussions about it.

Mendoza in Hollywood by Kage Baker: So, um, I totally thought this was the last in the Company series. I was wrong! Quite a bit of the book was slow, and I’m not sure if I’ll keep reading the series or not. Although once the plot started to move, it did add quite a bit to the overall series.

The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore
The Elementals by Saundra Mitchell
The Whatnot by Stefan Bachmann–review in September
The Bitter Kingdom–review later this month!
The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater–review in September (sorry)

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June 2013 reading list

Books I’ve already talked about
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
In Pursuit of the Green Lion by Judith Merkle Riley
The Human Division
The Chocolate Rose
Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta
Picture Book Monday
Escape from the Pipe Men by Mary G. Thompson
Angel with the Sword by C.J. Cherryh
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
Demon’s Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan

Other books
Keeping Safe the Stars by Sheila O’Connor: I have a weakness for books like Homecoming and Where the Lilies Bloom, where resourceful kids have to take care of themselves when adults have left them. Keeping Safe the Stars is in that vein, and quite charming. While I think enjoyment of it may depend on your tolerance for whimsey, I did like it a lot.

The Queen’s Agent by John Cooper: A biography of Francis Walsingham, which ought to have been fascinating, because WALSINGHAM. Unfortunately, Cooper’s style jumped all over the place chronologically, making it very difficult to figure out what was happening when. Has anyone read other biographies of Walsingham? If so, any suggestions for good ones?

I Start Counting by Audrey Erskine Lindop: Coworker M, who is being forced to read all the books I love because I know she’ll love them too, returned the favor with this one. Since unreliable narrators are the BEST THING EVER, I did love this one. It is really weird, and uncomfortable, and atmospheric. Highly recommended for fans of Gothic mysteries, or teen mysteries, or odd romances.

Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt: This is a fun, lightish contemporary YA. I enjoyed it, but I did feel a little distant from the main character. I think this had something to do with her upper-middle-class sensibilities, even though a lot of the book revolves around her family’s loss of income. This is such a small thing in a certain way, but it threw me out of the story because I’ve never been part of that class and it’s a bit alien to me.

The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand: I will totally be a tease and tell you that this book is awesome, and Laura Florand’s best yet. It’s out in July (I’m 98% sure) and I’ll have a longer review then.

The Gate of Gods by Martha Wells: The last book in the Fall of Ile-Rien series and AAAGHHHH, so good. I love the mixture of cultures, and the way it almost echoes WWII, and the romance, and Tremaine, and everything. Okay, Nicholas is frustratingly distant if you’ve read Death of the Necromancer, but it is Tremaine’s story and not his.

Mort by Terry Pratchett: I tried Pratchett a few years ago and bounced off his wit. Then I read and completely loved the Tiffany Aching books, so I thought I would try the earlier ones again. Nope. Still bouncing. (I will give the guards books a try, though.)

Kiki Strike: Darkness Dwellers by Kirsten Miller: The last in the Kiki Strike books. I liked it, but I found it a bit hard to get into. What was fresh and enchanting in the first book, and even the second, seemed a bit forced here, I thought. I think a lot of other people loved it, so it’s ENTIRELY possible that it just wasn’t the book for me.

The Watcher in the Shadows by Chris Moriarty: If I had to pitch this to a classic kid lit lover, I would say that this series is All of a Kind Family with magic. It just keeps getting better. I love how developed all the characters are. And I kind of want Inspector Wolf to have his own series, except that I love the MG aspect of it too. Basically, this is just all kinds of awesome.

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George: This is one of those books that makes me wish I had a teleport to deliver it to younger Maureen. I would have LOVED it at a certain age. As an adult reader, I found it a bit unsatisfying, although I appreciated the sibling relationships and loved the way the castle was a character in its own right.

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Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta

The thing is, I should love this book. I really should. First of all, Melina Marchetta is absolutely one of my favorite authors, and her realistic fiction, from Piper’s Son to Jellicoe Road is amazing and heartbreaking and wonderful, and I will never ever stop reading it. I mean, these are books that have undeniable altered the landscape of my heart.

And second, Quintana checks off so many of my boxes. Fantasy? Historical elements? Political shenanigans? Wounded characters? A redemption plotline? Yes, to all of them! This is seriously a list of my favorite things in fiction.

Plus, there are a lot of smart people out there, whose tastes in books are really close to mine, who have loved these books and who think they’re brilliant and amazing.

And yet, as you may have guessed, I don’t love Quintana, or Froi, or Finnikin. I was invested enough in the characters to read all three books, including all 520 odd pages of Quintana, because I wanted to know what happened and how it ended. But for me–and I want to emphasize the ‘for me’–I found myself consistently feeling disappointed as I read all three.

Actually, disappointed is too strong; it was more a feeling of having a wall between myself and the characters. I didn’t have the emotional attachment to them that I do to Marchetta’s other characters. I wanted to like this book–I wanted to love it, and I didn’t.

What makes this more frustrating is the fact that I can’t pinpoint why I have this reaction. I mean, I think any book over 400 pages, or even 350, has to justify its length, and I’m not sure that Quintana does. And there were times when I found the narrative voice a bit too self-consciously clever. But these are relatively small things–there were plenty of other passages that were beautifully written, and this is a sprawling epic populated with quite a few separate characters and strands.

So–so, WHY? Why don’t I love the Lumatere Chronicles as much as I love Jellicoe? I still don’t know. If someone else gets it, tell me. The best I can come up with is that, again for me, Marchetta’s realistic fiction has a resonance and emotional depth that I did not feel in Quintana, or the two books preceding it, despite all the elements of love being there. And, you know, that’s okay. There are plenty of people who will love these books, who will feel amazed and healed by them. I’m not one; it doesn’t mean that they are bad books, or that I am a bad reader (a conclusion I was beginning to come to last night). There are simply some books that don’t work for a particular reader, however much they ought to.

Recommended for: high fantasy fans, especially those who like political drama and personal angst
Book source: public library
Book information: April 2013, Candlewick; YA

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Recent Reading 6-12-2013

summer princeThe Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson: I liked a lot about this one–the writing was lovely and it’s the kind of post apocalyptic world I can get behind. I believed in the way the society developed and I thought the setting was really nicely done. I also liked June and thought her relationship with art was more believable than it sometimes is in YA books. However, I agree with Charlotte that I expected Gil and Enki to have some relationship to, you know, Gilgamesh and Enki. This does not seem unreasonable to me! Moreover, this is one of those books where I was totally enamored of the book while I was reading and then when I stopped, I had questions. I did like it a lot though, so if you like the idea of dystopias more than you like most YA dystopias, I would recommend this one.

green lionThe Pursuit of the Green Lion by Judith Merkle Riley: Second in the Margaret of Ashbury series. I like these books a lot, but they’re almost impossible to describe. Sort of like Margery Kempe, except with a sense of humor and also fiction? Anyway, I enjoy them a lot–Merkle Riley has a great sense of the period and language, without ever seeming stilted.

human divisionThe Human Division by John Scalzi: For some reason I wasn’t quite sure I would like this one, even though I’ve definitely been a fan of the other books in the Old Man’s War series. That was silly! The Human Division works well as an overarching story, continuing the questions and difficulties raised in the other OMW books. I am curious to know if Scalzi intends to keep writing in this universe, because I don’t see some of the problems getting resolved easily.

chocolate roseThe Chocolate Rose by Laura Florand: I’ve been enjoying Laura Florand’s books as a light contemporary romance. The Chocolate Rose is the newest, and I think, my favorite. I was a little dubious at first, because I’m not such a fan of the alpha hero, but I think that’s actually Jolie’s misperception, rather than the reality. Regardless, I really liked this one!

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bookish posts monthly book list reviews

May 2013 reading list

Books I’ve already talked about
Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells
The Wizard Hunters by Martha Wells
Wise Child by Monica Furlong
Quicksilver by RJ Anderson
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Promised Land by Connie Willis and Cynthia Felice
Doll Bones by Holly Black

Other books
Star Crossed by Jennifer Echols: I love Jennifer Echols’ YA books, so I thought I would try her first adult novel. I was not terribly impressed, partly because the world that it takes place in has almost no interest for me, and also because it seemed to lack some of the charm of her YA books.

Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley: Latest Flavia! So glad that we finally got some plot happening, as I was beginning to feel a bit strung along.

Wooden Bones by Scott William Carter: Unfortunately, I wasn’t wild about this sequel to Pinocchio. It seemed disjointed and didactic.

A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty: I wasn’t sure how I would like this one, but I ended up liking it a lot! I did have a very personal reaction to the end which caused me to disengage from the book a bit, but this is so completely personal that it shouldn’t affect anyone else’s decision to read it. (For those who have read it and are curious, the answer to the Holly subplot was a little too real for me. Despite the fact that I suspected it almost instantly, when it was confirmed it was still a little shocking. Nothing to fault in Moriarty’s writing or depiction, just that it was a bit much for me.)

17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma: This is a great mystery with a bit of a paranormal twist. I think Lauren’s narrating style might grate on some nerves. I noticed it, but I wasn’t particularly bothered by it. Lauren is definitely an unreliable narrator, which is (almost) always one of my favorite things, and there’s lots to chew on in the questions about young girls and how we view them.

Gate of Ivory, Two-Bit Heroes, and Guilt-Edged Ivory by Doris Egan: This is the kind of sci-fi I love! Actually it’s probably more of a science fantasy, since there’s magic, except that there are spoilery reasons for the magic that tips it back into SF, sort of? Regardless, I really really enjoyed all three of these.

Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson: Sequel to Hattie Big Sky, but one which I think could be read as a standalone. I loved the way Larson addressed Hattie’s desire to be a journalist and her relationship with Charlie. All in all, it was a very satisfying sequel and, I think, even better than the first book.

Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer: A wild book about a girl who passes herself off as a boy and joins the British Navy. I didn’t believe it at all, but it was fun. And I do think that it portrays the grittier side of historical fiction, which is a nice counterbalance.

Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearsley: A mystery recommended by RJ Anderson. I liked it quite a bit–it has some of the Gothic flavor, plus the French setting, of a Mary Stewart novel. I’ve tried one of Kearsley’s books before and didn’t finish it, so this was a nice antidote. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for her in the future.

Ships of the Air by Martha Wells: Second of the Ile-Rien books. Eeee, I love this series! Martha Wells is such a great writer, and I’m completely invested in the characters. There were definitely some plot twists I did not see coming too! Third book is on the shelf, waiting for me to get to it.

Dark Triumph by R.A. LaFevers: I had mixed feelings about the first book, Grave Mercy, and Dark Triumph confirmed that this is not the series for me. Siggghhh. I just didn’t enjoy reading it, and I felt like Sybella’s coming to terms with her past happened very easily.

Ghoulish Song by William Alexander: Sequel to Goblin Secret, which I really liked. This one was a bit disappointing–I went in with high hopes, but the resonance and dreaminess of the language which was present in Goblin Secrets didn’t seem to be there in this one. This may partly be second book syndrome, but I didn’t get that sense of the wild strangeness of the city that I did in the first book.

The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur Ransome by Roland Chambers: I love (LOVE!) Swallows and Amazons, which is absolutely one of the books that shaped me and my life and my way of thinking. I also liked Old Peter’s Russian Tales and The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship a lot. Unfortunately, this biography made me really dislike Arthur Ransome, as it gave the strong impression that he spent his whole life in a kind of wilful & childish ignorance. I kept hoping he would snap out of it, but he did not. I still love S&A, but I wish Ransome’s own story had a happier ending.

The Education of Bet by Lauren Baratz-Logstead: Another book where a girl dresses up as a boy! This time, she goes to boarding school. I liked the fact that it was fairly realistic about her struggles passing as a boy, and clear about why she chose to do it (she wants an education). I called several of the plot twists, but it was a fun read and quite well written.

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan: 19th century England WITH DRAGONS, but quite different than the Temeraire series. I liked it, but felt that it dragged a bit in the middle. However, the world and characters were engaging enough that I definitely plan to read the sequel.

Stolen Magic by Stephanie Burgis: Last of the Kat Stephenson books, SOB. I love the resolution, and the way it stays definitely middle grade, and the fact that there’s no clumsy epilogue. YAY for all these things! And yay for Kat!

The Brendan Voyage by Tim Severin
The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett