Friday, December 28, 2012

End of December books

Once again, I'm behind on my reading list.(Last week's post is misleading, since it had been sitting in draft form for a couple of weeks)

Carla Kelly (both re-reads, on Kindle) Libby's London Merchant and its sequel/companion novel One Good Turn. Libby's London Merchant remains one of my favorite Kelly novels, as the romance proceeds unexpectedly.

Julie Wright, Newport Ladies' Book Club: Olivia. I really liked the central character and her realistic struggles with her marriage; didn't love the book, though.

Emma Jameson, Ice Blue. I liked this mystery enough that I purchased the sequel--the mix of Kate's belligerence and Lord Hetheridge's famous stiff-upper lip makes for an interesting combination.

On my sister's recommendation, I read Lisa Mangum's After Hello, a charming story about Sam and Sara, who spend a memorable 24 hours together in New York. Like Jennifer Smith's The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, I really admired Mangum's ability to make mundane and not-so mundane incidents of a short period of time seem interesting and dramatic.

I also read Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone, which I highly recommend. I keep thinking about it--not just because the characters were interesting, but because her blend of magic and Russian culture make for a fascinating world. Alina Starkov is an orphan in Ravka, a world torn by endless war. As a young woman, she and her best friend Mal are drafted into Ravka's First Army and prepare to cross the Fold, an impenetrable swath of darkness populated by creatures that feed on human flesh. When their convoy is attacked, Alina unleashes an unexpected power. Before she can process what's happening, she is swept up by the Darkling and installed in the Little Palace, where she's trained as a Grisha, a member of Ravka's elite Second Army. The Darkling believes that she may be the answer to ending Ravka's endless wars and destroying the Fold. I don't want to say too much more, but I really loved Bardugo's world. Her writing was clean, and the story had a number of unexpected moments, which I enjoyed, and the conclusion continually surprised me.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

an eclectic week: slums, paranormals, and world travelers

I think my reading list this week is more varied than normal.

1. Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Boo won the National Book award for non-fiction this year, and deservedly so, for this book--it was wrenching, disturbing, and beautiful. It reads a lot like fiction--in fact, several of the women in my book group didn't realize it was non-fiction until they got to the epilogue. My mind reels a little at the amount of research that went into the detail of this book. At the same time, it was not an easy topic to read about. It details the 3+ years Boo spent observing one of the slums in Mumbai (the slum rests behind a wall near the airport; the wall is plastered with signs that read "Beautiful Forever," hence the title). The subtitle suggests that the story is about hope, but it was hard for me to see a lot of hope for the people who live in the slums. As I read, it seemed that a bigger problem ever than the excessive poverty was the corruption at all levels of government--even if these people could earn money to get out of the slums, that money went to corrupt policemen and other officials to keep them out of jail. Or doctors, purportedly providing a free service, demanded to be paid under the table to get medicine or appropriate care. I hope Boo's book brings enough attention to the problem of corruption that something gets done about it, so that the international aid money that goes to help these individuals can actually get to them.

2. Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love. It was a little surreal to read this at the same time as Behind the Beautiful Forevers, since they offer *very* different perspectives on India (I'd trust Boo's perspective a little more). I really enjoyed the first part of the novel, since I was drawn to Gilbert's chatty style and I like her tendency to philosophize a little (particularly her interest in word etymology), since I can be the same time. However, my interest waned a little in the two subsequent sections, because her voice started to come across as a little annoying and self-indulgent. I think the appeal in this book is the same as that of a romance novel: escapism for women (and some men) who can't find that same escape in real life. How many of us have the luxury to leave our responsibilities for a year to "find ourselves"?

3. Kiersten White, Endlessly. This is the final book in her paranormal trilogy. In this final book, the faerie (and other paranormal) are trying to pressure Evie into opening a gate so that they can return to the world they left. Evie, having nearly killed herself the last time she opens a gate, not unnaturally refuses to do so. However, as pressures against paranormals continue to rise, she finds herself rethinking her position. I still find Evie a charming protagonist, but I didn't love this book as much as I wanted. The first 2/3 were slow for me. The story picked up a lot in the last 1/3, but I missed the Evie of the first book, the one who had no trouble collaring paranormals and using her shiny pink Taser.

4. Gary Schmidt, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. This book won a Newberry Honor, and it's easy to see why. Schmidt is an amazing, lyrical writer. I found myself getting caught up in individual sentences and losing track of the plot for brief periods of time. In this novel, Turner Buckminster III is newly arrived in Maine, where his father is the minister. However, it doesn't take long for Turner to get caught up in local politics, as he befriends Lizzie Bright, a black girl that lives on nearby Malaga island, in a community that town leaders are desperate to remove so that they can increase the tourist appeal of their town. When the tensions lead to tragedy, Turner has to figure out how to move beyond events to find his own place. Turner's friendship with Lizzie is beautiful, and I love the fact that, as with all Schmidt's books, so many of the characters are not what they seem at the beginning (even most of the villains have some shreds of humanity). I also loved the vivid descriptions of the landscape, which felt almost like an additional character here (esp. the sea breeze). Highly recommended.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

More Cinda Williams Chima, Nikki Heat

Another eclectic grouping for the past couple of weeks.

1. Cinda Williams Chima, the Wizard Heir. I think Chima is one of my favorite author discoveries of recent months. I've read five of her books, and none of them have been disappointing. In this one, Seph (short for Joseph) McCauley has been shipped to yet another boarding school following the death three years earlier of his guardian. Only this school is different. The headmaster doesn't seem alarmed that Seph can do things--instead he seems to welcome it. That is, until he discovers that he can't bend Seph to his will, as he has all the other wizards who've fallen into the school's trap. Seph has to figure out how to get out of the school--and how to stop the headmaster. This is a companion novel to Warrior Heir, so while characters from Warrior Heir show up, I think it can also be read and enjoyed without having read the earlier book.

2. Jessica Warman, Between. It's hard to say much about the plot of this book without spoiling the first big surprise. On the morning of her eighteenth birthday, popular girl Elizabeth Valchar wakes up on her parents' boat after a night of partying and goes to investigate a thumping noise--something is trapped between the dock and the hull of the boat. What she discovers there shocks her, and sends her on a journey to solve a mystery that changes the way she sees herself and her friends. I liked this one, but I didn't love it. The writing was solid, but I had a hard time liking Elizabeth, particularly at first.

3. Richard Castle, Naked Heat. (Okay, so I know that Castle didn't really write this--I assume one of the show's writers, or several of them, wrote this). I'm a big fan of the TV show castle, so I thought I'd check this out. This is the second in the series, and I haven't read the first one yet (this one was available first), so that may affect my opinion. This was an other book I liked but didn't love. I enjoyed the nod to the show (especially the Acknowledgements, which purport to be written by the real Richard Castle) and the thinly disguised characters. I also enjoyed the mystery and the police procedural angle. But I wasn't in love with the characters--they didn't seem as fleshed out (ironically enough) as the actual characters on the show. I couldn't get into Nikki Heat's head at all. And Jameson Rook, the tag-along writer character, wasn't nearly as charming as Nathan Fillion (who is, after all, the main reason I watch the show).

I also read some Nora Roberts because I was curious about her writing style and wide popularity. I get the popularity: she's a decent writer and the stories have interesting characters. The books, however, have too much sex for my taste and I probably wouldn't recommend them to most of my friends, so I'm not going to bother with a more in-depth review.

I'm also reading Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which is fascinating and wrenching, and will have a full review of that in the next week or so.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Not as many books to report on this week (it helps that it's only been a week in between)

S. J. Kincaid, Insignia. My sister convinced me to buy this for my Kindle (it was only 2.99--still is!) by saying it was a cross between Ender's Game and Percy Jackson. I thought that was a pretty fair assessment of the tone. Needless to say, I really enjoyed this book, even though generally, sci-fi isn't my thing. Especially not military sci-fi.

The story follows Tom Raines, a 14-year-old undersized boy with bad acne, who's missed so much online school (because his father, a compulsive gambler, doesn't stay in one place long) that his teacher has noticed and is threatening to sic social services on him. Then, while fighting a virtual battle in a gaming room, Tom attracts the notice of a military commander.

The thing is, Tom lives in a world where war is perpetually being fought, but it's no longer a war on national lines (although there's a nominal Indo-American alliance), but on company lines. Giant mega-corps use patriotism to help finance their wars, but the wars are fought in space, using machines. There's no loss of life. The face of the war effort is a group of young, elite fighters, who manipulate the war machines in virtual space. The fighters have to be young, because the adult brain (less flexible) rejects the neural processors that allow them to wield machines.

The military commander gives Tom the option to transform his life, to become one of these fighting machines. Despite his father's skepticism, Tom can't resist the potential to become someone important. He agrees, and finds himself training in the Pentagon's spire. There, he becomes obsessed with Medusa, the code name for the enemy's premier fighter. He wants nothing more than to face her and bring her down (he's pretty sure Medusa is a she).

It's hard to summarize the book without revealing too much, but I loved the school-like environment where Tom trains and makes the first friends of his life. I loved the way Tom stands up for himself (at serious cost), and his unexpected connection with Medusa. I can't wait for the rest of the trilogy to come out.

I also read Rachael Anderson, The Reluctant Bachelorette (on Kindle), because it was cheap and when I read the sample it seemed interesting enough, and clean. It also had mostly 4-5 star reviews.The story was decent (and, as I said, a clean romance, which can be hard to find). The premise was a little far-fetched--that a small town is going to make enough money to finance a desperately needed farmer's market by hosting a bachelorette style show online. The main character, Taycee Emerson, gets conned by her best friend into being the said bachelorette. She doesn't really want to do it, but she'll do it for the town. Then, when her former crush, Luke, gets roped in as well, she tries to sabotage the show so that Luke will get kicked off, only to discover that maybe Luke is the one she really wants. I thought the writing was solid, but I got annoyed with Taycee, particularly towards the end, for her self-sabotaging actions.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Far West

I can't believe I forgot to list what was my favorite book in the last 3 weeks!

Patricia Wrede's Far West, the last of her Frontier Magic Trilogy. "Eff" (short for Francine) is now a young lady, but still fascinated by the workings of the West beyond the Great Barrier (the magical barrier that prevents wild beasts from crossing what we know as the Mississippi River). When word gets out that the government is heading up a mission to map the Far West (where Louis and Clark failed), Eff wants more than anything to be part of the mission . . .

I really love this series, particularly Wrede's clever re-imagining of the U.S. as a part of a magical universe. I know she's taken some flak for not including native Americans in her world, but given that she's reimagined the West as a place incredibly dangerous for *anyone* to live, it kind of makes sense to me. In any case, the rest of her world is so vividly imagined, I can forgive her for this shortcoming.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

October reads

This is why I should post more often--so I don't have a month's worth of reading to review!

Here are some of the more noteworthy books from the past 3 weeks:

1. Erin Duffy, Bond Girl. I'd heard about this book, so when it came up as a Kindle deal of the day, I snagged it. It's not my usual genre, but I actually really enjoyed this story about a young woman's life in the highly sexist and competitive world of a Wall Street Bond trader just before the 2008 crash. (I imagine that Duffy, herself a former trader, drew on some of her own life experiences writing this book). It was sharp, funny, and made me very, very grateful that I'm not financially ambitious and will never have to work in that kind of environment.

2. Jean Webster, Daddy Long Legs. This book is free on Kindle, and if you haven't read it--you should! It reminded me of childhood favorites like Anne of the Island and Girl of the Limberlost. Jerusha Abbot is an orphan with a miserable future ahead of her, until one of the orphanage's trustees decides to pay for her college education, on the condition that she write him regular letters about her progress. (But she is not to expect any letters in return). Jerusha--who calls herself "Judy"--agreeably complies, and this book is the collection of her letters. She calls her benefactor "Daddy Long Legs," because when she last saw him at the orphanage, he cast a long, spindly-legged shadow. Judy herself is a delight, and the letters are fascinating for what they reveal about college in the early part of the 20th century.

3. I also read the companion novel, Dear Enemy, where Judy convinces her college roommate, Sallie McBride, to take control of her former orphanage (which Judy's new husband has purchased). Sallie takes on the job, with the understanding that it's just temporary, and this book is comprised of her letters to various friends (including Judy) about her struggles to bring the orphanage in order. While parts of the novel were charming, it' contains some very odd--and old fashioned--ideas about insanity and eugenics that, while presented as forward thinking in the novel, are pretty backward today.

4. Charlaine Harris's Lily Bard series (books 1-3). Lily is a fascinating character--a survivor of a very traumatic gang rape who tries to go about her business as a cleaning lady but is inevitably drawn into some of the mysterious (and murderous) goings-on in town. I'm not sure that I liked all of the murder plots, but I do like Lily, although I don't imagine she'd be a comfortable friend.

5. I also read a couple of Charlaine Harris's Harper Connelly mysteries, about a woman (Harper) who can locate dead bodies and determine their cause of death. Not surprisingly, she also winds up involved in some murder mysteries. I'm not sure I will read more of these, although there are several. The last one I read, an Ice Cold Grave, was about a serial killer in a small town--and it was seriously disquieting. I imagine that was intentional, but while I like mystery novels, I'm not up for gruesome ones like this was.

6. Mariana, by Susanna Kearsley (another Kindle deal of the day). I was intrigued of the premise of this story, about a young Englishwoman, Julia Beckett, who finds herself drawn to an old English house as a child, and purchases it as an adult. She discovers herself unexpectedly reliving moments from the life of Mariana, who lived some 500 years earlier, and finds that she is the reincarnation of Mariana. Okay, the reincarnation bit was a bit hokey, but the writing was smooth and convincing and I enjoyed the story--up until the very end, when everything seemed to resolve a bit too quickly.

7. Cinda Williams Chima, the Warrior Heir--the first book Chima sold, an interesting story about a young boy at the center of a centuries old Wizard war. I thought the world Chima created was more interesting than the individual characters, and while I'll read the sequels, I liked her Seven Realms books better.

8. Susan Cain, Quiet. I don't usually read a lot of non-fiction, but I really enjoyed this book, about the power of introverts in a culture (America) that values extroversion over introversion. She made some pretty compelling points (suggesting, among others, that the Wall Street collapse was fueled in part by our valorization of extroverts, who are more likely to act impulsively in such situations). Mostly, as an introvert myself, I liked her careful research into the strengths of introverts.

9. How to Marry an English Lord--also non-fiction, about the wave of American heiresses who married English nobility between 1870-1910. Fascinating stuff, particularly to anyone who's fans of the BBC series Downton Abbey, Edith Wharton, or Henry James. Now I want to go read more Wharton.

10. Miranda Kinneally, Catching Jordan (another Kindle Deal of the Day). This novel follows Jordan Woods, a high school quarterback whose father is an NFL great, who loves football and friends--and who happens to be a girl. All Jordan wants is to play college ball at Alabama, and she's focused on having her best season yet--until new quarterback shows up to play at her school. Not only is he potentially better than she is, but he's the first boy to make her weak at the knees. What I liked about this book was how realistic her friendships were--she wasn't romantically interested in all the boys around her and she had some great friends. I also liked that the romantic angle wasn't totally predictable, and that Jordan had some complicated issues to sort through with her dad (she calls him, sarcastically, the great Donovan Woods) and some of the cheerleaders at her school. What I did not like was some of the language (Jordan swears a lot, which I guess is in character) and the really casual attitude toward sex. I know lots of high school students sleep around--but not all do, and not with the ease and frequency of the characters here.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Charlaine Harris and Cinda Williams Chima

These two authors have dominated my reading list in the last two weeks, although their styles are certainly quite different. I read the first of the Sookie Stackhouse books a few years back and while I enjoyed them, the casual sex got to be a bit much for me. However, I've enjoyed some of Harris' other series.

In the last couple of weeks, I've read:

The rest of the Aurora Teagarden books:
1. The Julius House: Aurora ("Roe") receives the old Julius house as a wedding gift from her new husband. While remodeling the house, she becomes intrigued by the mystery of the three people who disappeared from the house six years earlier without a trace. The mystery here was decent, and, of course, I like Roe.
2. A Fool and His Honey: This book was hard for me--partly because Martin's niece shows up with a new baby (2 months old) and then disappears. As the mother of a small baby myself, this particular plot twist was horrifying for me. Their search to figure out what happened (and to find caregivers for the baby) takes them back to Martin's hometown and lead to a shocking denouement. I can't say more about that without spoiling it, save that this is definitely the darkest and most depressing of the Teagarden books.
3. Last Scene Alive: Aurora is more than a little annoyed to find that a movie is being made of her experience in the first novel (Real Murders), especially as this brings her rather obnoxious stepson into town. However, it also brings back the elusive Robin (from Real Murders), whom I rather like. This was a fun, quick read--a nice return to the cozy mystery genre.
4. Poppy Done To Death: when Aurora's step-sister-in-law is murdered just before her induction into an exclusive women's society, Aurora takes it on herself to figure out what happened to her. In the process, she uncovers some secrets about Poppy (and about herself). I loved that Aurora ended the series in a very good place, personally and professionally. While I'd read another one, I'm also happy to let the series rest here.

I started Marc Fitten's Valeria's Last Stand, about a sixty-ish Hungarian woman in late 1990s Hungary. I was intrigued by the premise--after all, I lived in Hungary in the late 1990s and I could just picture the type of woman who would star in this. However, the story itself was vulgar (more vulgar than I remember most Hungarians being, but then, my grasp of the language was far from perfect) and I couldn't see anything in it of the Hungary I remembered, so I stopped reading.

I also read the next two books in Cinda Williams Chima's Seven Realms series (note that it's a series not a trilogy as I'd subconsciously expected):

5. The Exiled Queen: This wasn't the best of the series, but as a novel that mostly sets up the remainder of the series, that's to be expected. Princess Raisa, Han, Dancer, and the rest of the group struggle as first year students at the various academies in Oden's Ford (Raise at the Warrior's school and Han and Dancer at the wizard's school). The most interesting thing--from my perspective--was the meeting and budding romance between Raisa and Han.

6. The Gray Wolf Throne. I was initially under the impression that this was the last of the series--when I finished the book, there were still so many loose ends (Chima introduces a new mystery in the epilogue) that I went immediately to Amazon and was immensely reassured to find that there is, in fact, a fourth book, and it's coming out this month! In this book, Raisa returns to chaos in the realm: the queen is dead; the wizards want to make her younger sister the new queen; the clans are threatening war if the wizards succeed. Raisa finds she doesn't know whom to trust, but with Han's reluctant help, she may be able to claim her throne.

Also read:
Meg Cabot's Mediator #2 and #3. I remember enjoying them, but not many of the individual details (a hazard of reading so many books).

Tera Lynn Child's Sweet Venom (I enjoyed her mermaid series a lot, so I snatched up this book when it came up free on Amazon). This tells the interwoven stories of Gretchen, Grace, and Greer, three vastly different young ladies who discover that they are united by two startling facts: 1) they are triplets, separated at birth and 2) they are the human descendents of Medusa, and hence, Monster hunters extraordinaire. For the genre (YA urban fantasy), this was pretty good. The three sisters were all distinct and sympathetic (well, Greer needs some work), but I didn't find myself caring enough at the end of the book to wonder what happens next.

Monica McInerney, The Alphabet Sisters. Like all her books, this involves tangled family dynamics, in this case, of the Alphabet Sisters (so named for their childhood singing group) Anna, Bett, and Carrie, who haven't spoken in three years, after Carrie married Bett's fiance. The story starts when their grandmother, Lola, maneuvers them all into showing up for her 80th birthday celebration. The novel chronicles the subsequent fights and slow healing for the three sisters, although I have to admit I didn't see the final plot twist coming (if I'd known about it, I might have avoided the book because I typically dislike that kind of sentimental book).

Kathryn Williams, Pizza, Love, and Other Stuff that Made Me Famous. I liked the premise of this story: sixteen-year-old Sophie wins the chance to attend a seven week course at a famous culinary institute in California and compete on a reality TV series, Teen Test Kitchen. I liked Sophie, who knew what she wanted. And I was impressed by Williams' culinary knowledge (I watch enough Food Network to understand most of the terms). The story itself, though, could have had a little more depth: I struggled to remember all the characters competing in the reality competition and the romantic element felt just a little thin. Still, it was a pretty cute book overall.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

September Books

Once again I'm behind in my book list--however, I've read some very excellent books this month.

1. Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein. This has been my bedside book for several weeks because I could only read it in small doses. That said, it's a really terrific book--the writing is strong, the story itself is wrenching, and the historical details are fascinating. The story follows two girls: Julie (code name Verity) and Maddie (code name Kittyhawk), who are not only best friends, but wind up together in France on a secret operation. Maddie pilots their plane over the channel, but a crash landing leaves her stranded and separated from Julie (who parachuted out when the plane came down). The first half of the book is told from Julie's point of view, as she writes out a "confession" for the Nazi Gestapo leaders who catch her.  The second half is from Maddie's POV.  Overall, a lovely study of friendship--but, as I said, wrenching. (This isn't a spoiler--you can guess what Nazis do to spies).

2. Cinder by Marissa Meyer. This was an intriguing retelling of the Cinderella story--set in a futuristic world where the Moon has been colonized and it's inhabitants are no longer quite human. Cinder is a cyborg living in New Beijing with an adopted mother and two foster siblings. When the younger sister, Pearl, takes ill with the incurable disease that has been plaguing Earth for the last decade, Cinder's mother volunteers Cinder for a cyborg research study. At the same time, Cinder's work as a mechanic (her Cyborg systems give her a series advantage with machinery) brings her in contact with the prince, who is, not surprisingly, hosting a ball . . . this is the first book in a series, so it's obviously not finished, but I loved Cinder as a character and I'm interested to see where the series takes her. (Plus, you have to love a Cinderella story where she leaves not her shoe, but a mechanized foot behind her . . . )

3. Keeping the Castle, by Patrice Kindl. I picked this up because it was billed as I Capture the Castle meets Pride and Prejudice, and, while I don't think I'd rate it with either of those books, I did enjoy this a lot. This is a Regency era story about a young girl, 17-year-old Althea, who struggles to keep up the dilapidated castle that an eccentric ancestor built at the edge of a picturesque cliff. Althea has two step-sisters with money, but they refuse to contribute to the upkeep of the castle, so Althea knows that she has to marry money. When the wealthy Lord Boring arrives, she thinks he may be the answer--if only she can get rid of his pesky cousin-cum-business manager, Mr. Fredericks. The book was fairly predictable, but it was a fun play on Regency-style romances.

4. The Demon King, by Cinda Williams Chima. I'm not a big reader of high fantasy anymore (I used to be when I was younger), but I read good reviews of this and thought I'd try it. I really enjoyed Chima's Seven Realms world, where the young princess Raisa looks forward to her naming day and a long season of courting and flirting with various suitors. At the same time, Han Alister lives in a totally different world in the slum areas of Fellsmarch. When he can, he escapes to the mountains and the clans (an area of the Kingdom where the wizards are forbidden). The way their two lives join and interconnect is an interesting and complicated story (obviously, I'm not doing a good job summarizing it here). Suffice it to say, I really enjoyed this and look forward to the next books in the series.

Other recently read books:

Meg Cabot, Avalon High (re-read), and The Mediator (#1)
Helen Boswell's Mythology (this deserves a review at some point when my brain is less fried!)
Dee Ernst, Better off Without Him
Megan McDonald, The Sisters Club (cute MG story about three sisters)
Amy Garvey's Cold Kiss (interesting twist on a zombie story--a young girl with powers raises her boyfriend from the dead but doesn't anticipate the consequences. This was well-written, but the stakes in the story weren't convincingly high for me).
Julie Powell, Julie and Julia (interesting, but I liked the movie better simply because it had more of Julia's life in it).
I also started Lisa See's Peony in Love but was so irritated by an early plot twist that I couldn't keep reading it.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Kindle Love

After resisting for a long time, I broke down and bought a Kindle earlier this summer. I wasn't sure I'd like the digital format, since I'm a big fan of the tactile quality of paper pages.


I love my kindle. I wouldn't have made it through my hospital stay after the c-section without it. (And since the c-section was entirely unplanned, it was fortuitous that I had my kindle with me with multiple reading options). Now that I'm regularly feeding a baby, I love that the kindle stays open, unlike a regular book, so it's easy to read with one hand. I realize these aren't the reasons most people buy a Kindle, but they've worked for me.

There are a few drawbacks. 1) It's way too easy to buy books on Amazon with their 1-click option. I'm not sure I want to know how much money I've spent on books in the last two months. 2) It's also harder to get library books on Kindle than it is at the library. 3) This probably isn't a drawback for a lot of people, but I have a bad habit of reading ahead in books (yes, I'm one of those annoying people who will sometimes read the ending before I finish the book). I like to be able to see the shape of a book as I read. It's really hard to read ahead on the Kindle--which is probably a good thing in the end.

I also like that the Kindle helps me remember what books I've read, since the list is handily available when I turn on the device.

Here are some books I've read in the last two weeks:

Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen. I'd heard good things about this book and I loved it. I loved the language and the characters, but I especially loved the historical detail she put into the novel. I'd never known much (or cared) about the world of the train circus, but she made me care. It was fascinating. (It also clarified one of the words from the movie Dumbo that I'd never understood as a child: the men putting up the tents sing that they're "happy, hearty, roustabouts." Roustabout was a new term for me).

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson. I wasn't sure I'd like this, given what I knew of the content (rape, among other violent acts). I'm not normally a fan of gritty books, either. But I enjoyed this one. I thought Lisbeth Salander was a fascinating character, and I found the psychological mystery that takes up most of the book an intriguing one. I'm not sure that I'd hunt down the other books in the series, but if I come across them at the library I'd probably pick them up.

A Bone to Pick, Charlaine Harris. Second Aurora Teagarden mystery. While I like the characters here, this didn't seem like much of a mystery, which was a little disappointing. I was also frustrated by the fact that, after ending book one with Aurora in the enviable position of having two men vying for her affection, book two picks up with both relationships out of the picture. I would have liked to see that development, instead of having it happen of stage, as it were. I still think I'd read more, since I'm a sucker for cozies.

Speaking of cozy mysteries--I also read the newest Donna Andrews' Meg Langslow books: Some Like it Hawk. While I always enjoy reading about Meg's zany family and friends, this book just wasn't quite as much fun as others, although there were parts about the premise (the town archivist has barricaded himself in the town archives for the last 12 months after the evil financial company takes over all of the public town buildings, like City Hall) that were funny.

Finally, thanks to Amazon's 2.99 price for most of Georgette Heyer's Kindle books, I've been rereading some old favorites of hers: Frederica, Death in the Stocks, and Duplicate Death (although I have to say I like her regencies more than her mysteries).

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Catching Up

It's been a while since I posted--with good reason. This has been a crazy summer, given the premature birth of my son, his long hospital stay, and our adjustment at home.

But, I have been reading. Quite a bit, it turns out (funny how much time you have when feeding a baby or pumping milk for a feeding). I don't have time to review all of them in-depth, but here are some of the books I've read the past month.

Lindsay Leavitt's Farewell to Charms, the final book in her Princess for Hire series (very cute books; I imagine they'd be popular with pre-teen girls).

Deborah Harkness, A Discovery of Witches. Very cool book--even for people who are tired of vampire love-stories. Even though there are vampires, demons, and witches here, the academic geek in me loved the arcane trivia and the fact that the early part of the novel takes place at Oxford, in the Ashmolean museum.

Charlaine Harris, Real Murders. An interesting cozy mystery where a small town psycho recreates famous historic murders. I think I'll like the others, too, but the end of this book (which puts a 6-year-old in jeopardy) hit a little too close to home for me to be entirely comfortable with the story.

Stephanie Perkins, Lola and the Boy Next Door. I really enjoyed Perkins' Anna and the French Kiss, so I was excited to find this one the library. I liked this one, but didn't love it. Lola is an interesting character, and I loved Cricket (the titular boy next door), but I didn't love some of Lola's decisions.

Jay Asher, Thirteen Reasons Why--major YA book, about a girl who commits suicide and then sends tapes, explaining why, to the 13 people involved in her death. Interesting and harrowing at the same time.

G. M. Malliet, Death of  Cozy Writer. I picked this up because it was compared to Agatha Cristie, and while I can see some resemblance (the upper-class characters in England), this was just okay for me.

Maeve Binchey, Minding Frankie, like all of Binche's books, this involves a vivid cast of characters and some heart-warming moments. I find it a little ironic that I read this shortly before Binchey passed away, since I haven't read any of her books for several years. But I liked it.

Ali Wentworth, Ali in Wonderland. I don't often read memoirs, so I'm not sure why I picked up this one (for a woman I don't really know much about, no less). It was a quick read, but I didn't love it.

Elle Lothlorien, The Frog Prince. Very light-weight, very predictable. Not sure I'd recommend it.

Myra McEntire, Hourglass. I know lots of people love this, but it didn't really work for me. I liked the characters, but I felt that the mood of the first part of the book didn't fit the tension/action of the second part of the book. Plus, I got irritated with the way the hero kept refusing to tell the heroine relevant information.

Carla Kelly, Borrowed Light. This won the Whitney award this year for best LDS romance--and I was surprisingly moved by it. This is a departure for Kelly, who usually writes regency romances, but I enjoyed the frontier story and the gradual transformations about the characters. It was less a love story and more a story of two people growing together.

Rachel Cohn, Dash and Lily's Book of Dares. I kept thinking, as I read this, that it reminded me of the movie Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist--but it wasn't until I finished the book that I realized why: Cohn wrote the book that the movie was based on. This was a fun, smart, unusual YA book about a girl and boy who meet when the girl leaves a notebook with a dare in a bookstore--and the boy finds it and leaves his own clues in the notebook.

Alexander McCall Smith, The Unbearable Lightness of Scones. Another 44 Scotland Street novel. I love Bertie--he's such a funny, sweet, sad, precocious six-year old. And now that my own son is six, I appreciate Bertie even more. The other characters are interesting, but Bertie is my favorite.

There are a few other books I've read in here too, but I can't remember what they are at the moment.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Playing catch-up

Two weeks ago, my nice, loosely organized summer was seriously disrupted by the unexpectedly early arrival of my son, Oliver. We've both spent the last two weeks recovering from some trauma, which means, obviously, I've been neglecting writing for more important things. (Sometimes you just have to).

However, lots of down-time for/with the baby also means lots of reading time.

Books that I've read in the last two weeks (that I can remember, anyway):

Anne Tyler, The Accidental Tourist. When I initially started this book, I wasn't sure I wanted to keep going--it starts out in a fairly grim place, with a couple (Macon and Sarah Leary) whose marriage is falling apart following the tragic death of their son. However, I'd heard a lot of good things about the book (and my husband told me he'd liked the movie version), so I stuck with it and I'm glad I did. Macon encounters the much younger and delightfully quirky Muriel and her young son Alexander and they upset his ordered (maybe *too* ordered) existence. Tyler has a lovely, understated writing style, but what I liked most about this was Tyler's life-affirming philosophy. I think Macon sums it up best when he says (and I'm paraphrasing) that the amazing thing about people is that they try so hard, even under discouraging circumstances.

I read two Monica McInerney books--I picked them up mostly because I'd seen her described as an Australian Maeve Binchey. I'm not sure her books were quite as well written as Binchey's, but they were fun stories and perfect for my current frame of mind. I read Greetings from Somewhere, about a young woman who finds herself in Ireland for a year, trying to keep up her aunt's bed and breakfast, so that her family can inherit the property (per her aunt's will) and get the money they desperately need. While I liked the overall story and characters, the plot felt a little thin (there weren't a lot of subplots). I liked Family Baggage better, about a family that runs a small tourist agency. Harriet Turner is leading her first tour abroad after a disastrous meltdown a year earlier (following the death of her parents). Her foster sister, Lara, is supposed to join them, but she disappears unexpectedly the day before the tour starts. It was a pleasure to read about Harriet's gradual regaining of her confidence, and the secret that drives Lara away, while not entirely surprising, brought a couple of different plotlines together in interesting ways.

Mindy Kaling, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? I don't usually read comic memoirs like this one, but I like Mindy Kaling (even if her Office character frequently drives me crazy). The book was funny and light--no real depth, but entertaining.

Haven Kimmel, A Girl Named Zippy. I loved this one. I've read reviews that say this memoir reads more like a novel than a memoir, and I think that's right. I thought Zippy was an endearingly stubborn character, and I thought the author did a marvelous job treating her childhood sensitively but also intelligently.

Jaqueline West, The Shadows: Book of Elsewhere. I liked the premise of this one: a young girl who discovers a dark magic at work in the paintings in her home. It was just a little dark--and often lonely. (The girl has one friend, who may or may not be alive, and a couple of cats for company).

I also read Melanie Jacobsen's Not My Type and Twitterpated. I enjoyed both of them immensely. Her romances are smart, clean, and a lot of fun. They don't pretend to be particularly deep, but they don't insult the reader either. I think my favorite of her novels is still The List, but I really enjoyed these and wish that she'd hurry up and write more. (My only complaint of Twitterpated is that all the women's character names end in -y, -i, or -ie.)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

More Books: June 10

I recently broke down and bought a Kindle (I know, for an avid reader I'm late jumping on the bandwagon), so I've read a couple of e-books this week. Mostly library copies, because somehow paying $10 for a *real* book seems like a worthwhile return, but paying the same amount for something digital is a bit much for me. So apparently I'm not a full digital convert yet.

I read Jennifer Holm's Turtle in Paradise, which is one of this year's Beehive nominees. I liked it, but I didn't love it. The story follows an 11-year-old girl with the unlikely name of Turtle, who gets shuttled off to Key West to live with relatives after her mom gets a job working as a housekeeper for a woman who doesn't like kids. Since this is set in the Great Depression and good jobs can be scarce, Turtle doesn't have much choice but to go. Turtle isn't initially impressed with Key West, which her mom calls "paradise" but which to Turtle seems crowded and dirty. Gradually, however, Turtle is won over by the people and the vivid scenery. I thought the book was well written--the voice was charming--but some parts of the plot I found just a little implausible.

I also read Meg Cabot's Teen Idol, which I think I've read before, because some of the plot seemed familiar. This book tells the story of Jen Greeley, a high school junior who's assigned the coveted role of "Ask Annie" for her high school newspaper because she's the "mayonnaise" of her school--the one who's able to smooth things over, keep everything together, and make people happy. However, when Jen is asked to show the new student Lucas (aka film star Luke Striker, under cover to research a new role) around the school, things start to change. Luke encourages her to stop trying to just smooth things over and actively make a change. When Jen does, the changes surprise even her. Like most of Cabot's books, this is a fun summer read; it's a light quick read. It's not particularly deep, but I didn't go into the story expecting depth or particularly vivid language.

I also read Laura Levine's Killing Bridezilla, one of a series about L.A. based amateur sleuth and freelance writer Jaine Austen. In this one, Jaine gets hired to write the vows for a former high school nemesis, Patti, who wants to redo the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, only with a happy ending this time. Unfortunately, working for Patti is horrific, involving not only detailed and sometimes contradictory directions, but bringing back flashbacks of life with Patti in high school. However, when someone kills Patti during the wedding ceremony and another former high school friend is accused, Jaine springs into action to solve the case. I have to say, I found this book shallow and silly. I get that it's supposed to be funny, and parts of it were, but so many of the events seemed improbable (including the murder itself). The mystery, too, was kind of blah--I didn't feel like there were enough clues to the real killer's identity until the killer was revealed. While I'm generally a fan of cozy mysteries (I love Donna Andrews stuff), I don't think I'll be reading the other books in this series.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Reading update: June 3rd

I haven't updated in a while, so I'm sure I'm missing a few books from this list, but, here are some of the books I've read recently:

Becca Wilhite's My Ridiculous Romantic Obsession. I had mixed feelings about this book--I related well to the main character, and the writing style. But I had a hard time with the fact that the MC so clearly didn't realize this boy liked her--even I could figure that out and I'm notoriously clueless about that kind of thing. (I also listened to Becca speak at LDStorymakers and she gave some great, funny, motivational tips on writing, so I'll probably keep checking out her books).

Melanie Jacobson's The List (another author who was at Storymakers). I read this on the plane to Philly last weekend and I really enjoyed it. I'm usually skeptical about LDS fiction, but I thought she did a great job in this romantic comedy. The basic premise is that the main character has watched her mom and her sisters struggle after getting married too young, so she comes up with a bucket list and doesn't want to get married until she's done all the items. She moves to Huntington Beach for the summer, thinking it will be the perfect place to check off several items from her list (learn to surf and have a summer fling among them), but when her summer fling ends up more serious than she'd intended, she has to reevaluate priorities. Predictable? A little--but most romances are. It was funny, well-written and a fun summer read.

Lindsay Leavitt's Princess for Hire and the Royal Treatment. I read Leavitt's Sean Griswold's Head some time ago for the Whitney awards and enjoyed it, so I've been watching my library for these books to be in stock. I think these books would appeal to a lot of teen/pre-teen girls. In them, Desi Bascomb is pretty sure her social life has hit rock bottom when her crush (and his snotty girlfriend) catch her at the mall wearing a gopher costume for the pet store where she works. However, she soon finds out that she has magic potential (MP) and she gets hired for a glamorous new job (she thinks) as a princess substitute, stepping in for all those royals who find being in the limelight all the time too exhausting. Only, the princesses Desi gets for her first few gigs aren't anything like she expected (doing a tribal dance for an African princess?). Both books are well-written, if not particularly deep (but you don't really expect depth from a pink book that sparkles). I would have loved these books when I was younger.

Kiera Cass, the Selection. Let's be honest here: I picked up this book because it had a beautiful cover. And the premise sounded fun: reality TV (think the Bachelor) meets dystopian world. The main character, America Singer, wants nothing to do with the contest to find a wife for the prince of her post-war U.S. (now reconstructed as a monarchy)--she'd rather focus on building a life with the man she loves. However, he (and her parents) convince her to at least turn in her application, but no one is more shocked than she is when she's actually chosen as one of 35 contestants. She's even more shocked to find that she actually likes the prince, Maxon--as a friend, of course. (Or maybe more). At the end, though, I'm not sure what to think. The writing was fine (nothing remarkable) and I liked America's interactions with Maxon. However, she made some choices near the end that drove me crazy (I won't say what they are because I don't want spoilers) and made me lose some respect for the MC. I'll probably read the other books when the come out, because I'm just curious enough, but I won't be waiting for them.

Jennifer Nielsen, The False Prince. Of the books I've read recently, this is probably my favorite. This story follows Sage, a 14-year-old orphan, who's been recruited for a dangerous (and potentially deadly plot). Connor, one of the regents for Carthys, is trying to keep his kingdom from civil war by "resurrecting" a prince who was believed to have been killed by pirates four years ago. Sage tries to resist the plan, but Connor makes it clear that he's not above using violence against those who resist him, so Sage follows along, but just barely. I had the chance to listen to the author talk about the book, and she said that the book sold on the strength of the MC, which I would agree. Sage is a fascinating character--confrontational, troublesome, strong-willed. He talks back to Connor when playing along would save him a beating, he defies orders whenever he can, and, not surprisingly, ends up in a lot of trouble. In fact, he reminds me a lot of Megan Whalen Turner's Eugenides (from the Thief), whom I loved. The writing is tight, the characterization strong, and although the ending didn't particularly surprise me, I think young readers in particular would really enjoy this.

I also read a book on Natural Hospital Birth, which I found personally helpful in thinking through delivery options, but I don't imagine very many of my (few) readers are interested in it!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Reading recap 5/13

Since I try to post weekly, you'd think I'd have an easier time remembering what I read from one week to the next, but it always seems to be a struggle! (I'm blaming it on pregnancy brain . . . for now.)

I found--and devoured--Ida B. by Katherine Hannigan. This was another great middle grade book (why did I  not know there were so many amazing middle grade writers out there?). I didn't like it quite as much as True (Sort of), but it was a lovely story about Ida B., who lives an idyllic life on a farm with her parents until her mom gets sick, Ida B. has to go to public school (instead of being homeschooled) and she generally thinks her world is falling apart. But Ida B. has a plan to save everything . . . maybe. The writing was sharp and the characters were interesting--I was amazed at how Hannigan managed to keep things interesting even when it was only Ida B. rambling around the woods on her own.

I also read Eve Marie Mont's A Breath of Eyre. I'm still mulling over what I think about this one. I liked the basic premise--a 16-year-old girl named Emma finds herself living out Jane Eyre's storyline after getting struck by lightning. For once, an adaptation author seemed not only familiar with the original story but capable of thinking and writing critically about it (I suspect that Mont has some kind of literature background). Emma flips back and forth between her own story and Jane's, and makes some important discoveries about herself along the way. While I really wanted to love this book, ultimately I didn't. I thought there were some great intense scenes between Emma and her love interest, but I also found some of the points the book made a little extreme/dramatic and at times contradictory. (Possibly I'm also influenced by the fact that Mont is ultimately critical of Rochester, and I had a huge crush on him in high school and am apparently not quite over a residual fondness for the character. That, and the fact that I know a fair amount about 19th century British Women's literature.) For instance, after coming across critical of Rochester's actions, Mont still paves the way for a parallel romance in Emma's real life. However, I liked it enough that I'd probably read the sequel (which picks up Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter).

I started, but couldn't finish, Kevin Wilson's The Family Fang (the family was ultimately a little too dysfunctional for me--it was painful to read. I'm pretty sure that was the point, but it still didn't hook me).

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Reading Update 5/8

I spent the weekend at the LDStorymaker's conference in Provo, so of course I didn't update my reading list. Let's see if I can even remember what I read!

I've been reading several books off the state's Beehive Award List, and, for the most part, they've been great.

I read Kiersten Gier's Ruby Red (the first in a trilogy) about a girl from a time-traveling family. Everyone thought her cousin was the pre-destined time-traveler (she's the one who's been getting all the training), and everyone (except of course the reader) is surprised when Gwyn discovers it was really her all along. I liked the main character, and the snobby boy Gideon, who's assigned to be her time-traveling partner. This first story introduced several mysteries that I'm curious to figure out, and I'll likely keep reading. The only issue for me with this book was the writing--this is a translation from German, and sometimes that shows in odd syntactical expressions.

I read--and adored--True (Sort of) by Katherine Hannigan. (Now I need to go find her Ida B.) This book follows Delly (short for Delaware), a good hearted little girl who can't help but get in trouble all the time. When she's threatened with suspension if she misbehaves one more time--and when her mother threatens to cry (and break Delly's heart) if she's suspended--Delly decides it's time to make a change. Trouble is, she doesn't know how. She finds herself intrigued by the new girl at school, Ferris Boyd, and befriends her, even though Ferris won't talk and communicates only through writing. I thought the book was lovely--the writing was strong, the characters were interesting and unexpected and Delly had a vivid, well-drawn family. Although the secret at the center of the novel is fairly dark (most adult readers will see it coming), it was dealt with sensitively.

Finally, I read Georgette Heyer's Footsteps in the Dark. Oddly enough, I think this was the first time I've read this one, although I own most of her books (except the histories, which I don't like). This one was okay--I never really connected to the characters like I'd hoped.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Reading list 4/29

I realize I've missed a week or so, so I'm probably also missing some books. (I read a lot; I also forget a lot of what I read, which is why I can happily re-read books I've already read. Of course, some books, I simply love and rereading them is like having a nice, satisfying gab session with an old friend.)

Lauren Barnholdt, Fake Me a Match. I thought this was a cute story--if not really substantive. In this book, 13-year-old Avery LaDuke has high hopes for her new step-sister (who's exactly her age), since her current BFF has been acting strange. When Avery gets put in charge of a school fundraiser--a matchmaking project--she knows just what to do: she'll fix the results so Blake gets matched with Sam, her current crush. Only, something goes wrong and Avery gets matched with Sam instead--and worse still, she discovers that he might not be the stuck-up jerk she's always thought he was. Instead, she might actually like him. I thought the writing here was fun--Barnholdt has a great MG voice, the characters were relatable, and the plot situations were familiar to anyone who lived through junior high.

Julie Cross, Tempest. I picked up this book because it's been getting a fair amount of buzz, but I wasn't in love with it. Nineteen-year-old Jackson Meyer is happy with his life, his girlfriend Holly, and his occasional time traveling. But when strangers who seem to know about his secret burst in and shoot Holly, Jackson gets flung back to his past (as a 17-year-old) and can't seem to get out. He has to figure out what's going on with his life and try to save Holly. I thought the premise here was cool, and Cross certainly has spent a lot of time envisioning the rules for time travel so that they are logical. But I never really connected with the characters. Jackson and Holly are supposed to have this cosmic romance (like a younger version of the Time Traveler's Wife), but neither of them ever seemed distinct enough for me to really love them. Of course, this could just be personal preference in characters--aside from that, the writing was fast-paced and the plot was intriguing.

Julianne Donaldson, Edenbrooke. This is the first book for Shadow Mountain's new line of "clean" romances, and I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. I'm a long-time fan of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer--and this is the first regency I've read in years to come close to Heyer's deftness with language and characterization of regency era life (of course, Austen remains pretty inimitable). In this story, Marianne Daventry has been living with her grandmother in Bath ever since her mother's death, and she's tired of the confined city life. She longs for the country life that she loves--which is why she jumps at the chance to spend a couple of weeks in the country with her twin sister at the estate of a woman who was their mother's childhood friend. However, the visit doesn't unfold quite as Marianne expected--she finds herself falling for someone she's not entirely sure she can trust and she struggles with feeling unusually estranged from her sister. I thought the romance here was delightful and would recommend this to anyone who likes a good romance, particularly Regency era romances.

Frances O'Rourke Dowell, Ten Miles Past Normal. I've been lucky in that I've been reading a slew of books recently that I enjoyed. This was also charming, the story of Janie Gorman, who lives on a small farm just outside the city limits. Farm life seemed cool in elementary school, but now that she's in high school, she's been labelled "Skunk Girl" for unthinkingly climbing on the school bus without checking to see that she'd removed the goat poop from her shoes. She spends her lunch periods hiding in the library and the rest of her life longing for something better, something bigger. An invitation to "Jam Band" leads her to meet a boy named Monster, who teaches her to play the bass--and a school assignment with her best friend leads to some discoveries about the civil rights history of her town and the role some of the older residents played in the Freedom Schools. The story really seems to be about Janie's coming of age, of coming into her own and realizing that it's okay not to be normal--especially when you can be something bigger.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Reading list: April 15

I'm going to give up on the week count, since I can't keep track of the weeks now anyway.

Here's my book list for the last two weeks:

1. Seeing Cinderella, by Jenny Lundquist (also edited by Alyson Heller, whom I met last spring at WIFYR and who I would love, someday, to work with). This was a charming book--it just came out and I've seen nothing but good reviews for it. In the story, Calliope (goes by Callie) dreads eighth grade, particularly after her optometrist gives her a particularly ugly pair of glasses to wear while she waits for her real glasses to come in. Only, the glasses aren't normal glasses. Not only do they help her see, but they let her see what people are actually thinking. As the weeks progress, Callie begins to learn that few people (her best friend, her crush, her nasty locker partner) are exactly what they seem. This was the kind of MG book I love: relatable characters and a fun plot, but an ultimately realistic view of junior high life.

2. May B., by Caroline Starr Rose. I'd seen reviews of this book some time ago, so when I finally saw it on the shelf at the library, I snatched it up. And read it in about an hour. This particular novel is a novel in verse, which I wasn't initially sure about (sometimes novels in verse feel too cryptic for me). However, it didn't take long to get drawn into the story of May B., a twelve-year old girl who gets sent to live with a newlywed family to earn some extra money for her own family. The move sends her to the edge of the Kansas prairie, farther than she's ever been before. She soon realizes that her new mistress is depressed, but she does the best she can to keep her head down and do her job. That is, until the wife disappears, the husband goes after her, and May B. finds herself abandoned in a sod house on the edge of the prairie, a good fifteen miles from home. She doesn't worry particularly until summer edges into fall, and then the first snow falls. Somehow, May B. has to find the resources within herself to survive the winter and make it back to her family. I was surprised at how gripping the story was, since for much of the book May B. is alone with her memories. But her voice is so vivid that it was impossible not to care what happened to her.

3. Kathryn Lasky, Daughters of the Sea: Lucy. To be fair, I didn't realize when I picked this up that it was the third book of a series (although I didn't have any trouble picking up the story line, as these books seem to be essentially companion books to a point). In this story, Lucy chafes against the social restraints of her upper-class life and her parents' relentless ambitions (her father is a clergyman who'd like to become bishop; both her parents would like to see her married into a wealthy family). When her father's work takes them to Maine for the summer, Lucy falls in love with the sea, begins to fall for a totally unsuitable shipbuilder, and discovers that she's not entirely human, but mer. I had a hard time getting into this book, although the writing was fine. The characters felt a little shallow to me, and towards the end the plot takes a twist that struck me as, frankly, a little silly and over-dramatic.

4. Timeless, Gail Carriger. This was the fifth installment of the Parasol Protectorate and felt like a fitting conclusion to the series. In it, Alexia and her daughter Prudence (the former "infant inconvenience") are bidden to Egypt by the oldest vampire queen in the world. Since Alexia is nothing if not curious, she follows the summons, hoping at the same time to get to the bottom of the God-Breaker Plague. To disguise the purpose of her trip, she brings along her best friend Ivy Tunstell and Ivy's acting troupe. Of course, various disasters ensue, but Alexia manages everything just fine. I think the appeal of this series is not necessarily in the mysteries of the plots (although this one managed a few twists I didn't quite anticipate), but just in the sheer fun of being part of Alexia's paranormal/Victorian world.

5. Spell Bound, by Rachel Hawkins. This is the final book of Hawkins' delightful Hex Hall series. While I've enjoyed the series as a whole, this one wasn't quite as much, well, fun as the other books, although Sophie Mercer retains much of her spunk. I suppose that's natural, since the conclusion of this kind of trilogy usually involves some kind of great and final battle, and it's not quite as much fun to prepare for that as it is to spend a summer near London (book #2) or find yourself in a boarding school for students with magical abilities (#1). The book does a good job of resolving some of the loose ends of the series, but I suppose my main issue with it is a personal problem: I always seem to root for the wrong side of a love trilogy, so of course I was disappointed in the way Hawkins ended the book here (and no, I'm not going to spoil the book by saying who).

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Reading list: week 14

I read two more books from Rhys Bowens Her Royal Spyness series: A Royal Flush and Royal Blood. The former finds Lady Georgiana Rannoch sent home to Scotland after her newest business venture fizzles (only a well-bred girl in the 30s would think that offering herself as a "high class escort" to businessmen who find themselves alone in London was a good idea). This one has more interaction with the royal family as Georgie is often over at the royal Scottish estate Balmoral, but I didn't find it quite as engaging as others, I'm not sure why.

(Edited to note: I must have also finished book 2: A Royal Pain earlier in the week, since I didn't record it last week and I've been reading them in order. In this one, Georgie is asked to host a Bavarian princess and she struggles to find the money to do so. She also struggles to figure out why people seem to die when she and Princess Hanni are in the vicinity--the police think they are prime suspects, though of course, two well-brought up young ladies know nothing about killing.)

I did like Royal Blood, where Georgie is sent to represent the royal family at the wedding of a former boarding school pal in Transylvania--partly because it was set in Transylvania (in, of course, the former family home of Vlad the Impaler) and partly because Georgie is soon convinced that vampires might be a real possibility. Even though I figured out the mystery here fairly early on, I still enjoyed the story--and I do like Georgie! I think, though, that it's a good thing that I'm now caught up on the series because I need to read something else.

Finally, I read Keturah and Lord Death, by Martine Leavitt. I'd picked this up a year or two ago but somehow couldn't get into it--reading it again now, I have no idea what my problem was. This time around, I devoured the book. It was beautifully written (there were some gorgeous lines), but more than that, the storyline between Keturah and Lord Death was powerful and engrossing. In the opening lines of the story, Keturah tells us that she met Lord Death in the forest and makes a bargain for her life--in a Scheherezade move, she tells him a story but will only tell him the ending if he lets her live another day. More than anything, Keturah wants to find her one true love, and she hopes this extra day will let her do so. But what she finds--about herself, her home, her friends, and her one true love, is moving and surprising. I really loved this book.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Reading list: week 13

This week, I read the second and third books in Bree Despain's Divine trilogy: Lost Saint and Savage Grace (I love the title of the latter). It's been a long time since I read the first book, but I remember liking but not loving it. I liked these second two better, oddly enough, probably since there was less of a focus on this dark/mysterious romance and more focus on family relationships and trying to find/save Grace's brother Jude.

I also started at the beginning of Rhys Bowen's Royal series, with Her Royal Spyness. I love a good cozy mystery, and this series (I'm now on book two) has been a lot of fun. In the first book, Georgie moves to London to keep house for herself (literally--she can't afford a servant for the family home) and tries to make a living by moonlighting as a maid (but she only dusts and lights fires--she refuses to clean bathrooms or mop floors). Everything seems to be going along okay until her brother shows up at the residence and the man who's been threatening to take away their family home winds up dead (drowned) in their bathtub. Georgie has to convince the police that neither she nor her brother had anything to do with the murder, appearances to the contrary. The mystery here wasn't particularly profound (I figured out the murderer fairly early on--which is rare for me), but I really enjoy the voice and the atmosphere of the stories.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Reading update: week eleven

I'm a little behind on my updates. My excuse is that my family and I just spent a week in California for Spring Break, so I didn't post.

Now I have to actually remember what I read before the break.

I know I read John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, which was breath-taking. Seriously. I don't usually like weepy books (this is no spoiler--you know going into a book about kids with terminal cancer that it's not all going to end well), but this one felt so honest and non-manipulative. And who can make teenagers quoting Shakespeare and T.S. Eliot's Prufrock actually sound cool? I'm sure I couldn't. The book was smart and beautifully written. I'm tempted to re-read it just to study some of the passages but I'm pretty sure the library needs their copy back.

I also read (shifting into break mode) Rhys Bowen's Naughty in Nice, which is actually the fourth or fifth in a mystery series, but I enjoyed it anyway. I liked Bowen's Evan Almighty series, and this was a similar pleasure (esp. for fans of cozy mysteries). The heroine, Lady Georgiana (Georgie) Rannoch, is a distant cousin of the Queen of England. She's nobility, but she's also broke and can't find a job. She lives on her brother's meagerly largesse and spends her days serving soup at a local soup kitchen--a noble, if depressing job. When her brother invites her (not seriously) to come spend the winter with him and his wife in Nice, if she can find her passage over, she jumps at the chance. Especially when the Queen gives her an assignment in Nice that will pay for her passage over. The murder/mystery wasn't especially profound here, but I loved the glimpse into Georgie's world: she meets Coco Chanel and hobnobs with British elite. A great escapist read.

I also read a couple of books from the Whitney list: Pride and Popularity, by Jenni James (a rather obvious retelling of Pride and Prejudice with a voice so teenagerish that I found it kind of painful to read) and No Angel, by Theresa Sneed, which had an interesting premise--a reluctant guardian angel--but was a little heavy on the moralistic side and which spent more time describing the role of guardian angel than actually showing that role. There was also a long discursion where the main character (Jonathan) gets separated from his charge and I was frankly kind of bored during this section. For me, his role as guardian angel was much more interesting.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Reading list: week nine

Let's see if I can remember everything . . this week was a good week for books.

Tess Hilmo, With a Name Like Love (Whitney book). This was a lovely book, about thirteen-year-old Ollie Love and her travelling-preacher father (who goes by the unlikely but apt name of Everlasting Love). Her family arrives in a Georgia town on a sweltering summer day, intending to just stay their usual three days for preaching, but Ollie discovers that a local boy, Jimmie, is in serious need. His mother's in prison for killing his no-good father, and Jimmie's in danger of getting sent to the foster system. Ollie doesn't believe Jimmie's mother is guilty, and she convinces her father that it's their Christian duty to stay long enough to clear her name and help restore Jimmie's family. There were a lot of things I loved about this story: there was just enough intrigue to keep things moving, but I liked the rich characters (for once, a middle grade girl who has strong relationships with both her parents), the unexpected things you learn about some of the townspeople, and the slow, warm, lyrical language of the book. It was arm and sweet and, I thought, wonderful.This is the kind of story that kids and adults alike can enjoy.

Bethany Wiggins, Shifting (Whitney). I enjoyed this book more than I expected to--the YA market is so inundated with paranormal stories right now that I was a little hesitant to pick up another story about a girl who can shapeshift. However, I think this story has a freshness to it, largely because the shapeshifting mythology is rooted in Navajo legend, rather than having the paranormal stuff rooted in more common European folklore. The story begins when Maggie Mae is moved to yet another foster home, in Silver City, New Mexico, just before her eighteenth birthday. There, Maggie has to not only confront the difficulties of a new school, but she has to deal with the shapeshifting abilities that she doesn't fully understand, and the fact that someone appears to be hunting her (or at least asking about her in suspicious and clandestine fashion). Not surprisingly, Maggie's also drawn almost instantly to the rich kid at school, Bridger. The romantic element was a little predictable, but well-drawn, and I liked both Maggie and Bridger. I also liked that Maggie was able to develop a support network in her new town after being essentially on her own for so long. The writing was strong and the pace moved along quickly (you'll notice how many books I read this week?). My only critique is that the last 1/4 of the book wasn't as engaging for me as the first 3/4, but that might be more due to my own preferences than any issue with the novel. I'm just not as into big show-downs with villains as I am the more ordinary complications of high school life and figuring out where you fit into the world.

Elise Broach, Shakespeare's Secret. A friend of mine recommended this book after telling me that the middle grade novel I'm working on reminded her of this one. I can only think that was a flattering comparison! I really enjoyed this story, about a 12 year old girl named Hero who struggles to fit into a new school after her Dad gets a new job working for a museum dedicated to all things Shakespeare. Hero befriends her neighbor, Mrs. Roth, who tells her about the mysterious disappearance of an antique diamond in the house Hero's now living in. Hero gets drawn into the diamond search, along with the cool neighbor kid, Danny Cordova, who doesn't seem to mind that Hero's not exactly popular. I thought the story was fun, interesting (lots of Shakespearean hints and clues to help them find the diamond), and tightly written. A great middle-grade read.

Shannon Hale, Princess Academy (re-read).

Dan Wells, I Don't Want to Kill You (Whitney). This is another book that I wasn't expecting to like, but did. I'm not a fan of horror--I usually avoid it when possible--and I hadn't read the first two books in this series. However, since this is on my Whitney list for the year, I dutifully picked it up. I was swept up almost immediately by John Cleaver's strong voice. (He's been compared to a teenage Dexter, but since I haven't seen the show I don't know how apt that is.) I do know that John has struggled with demons--both his own demons (he's a diagnosed sociopath who struggles to empathize with others) and real demons who've come haunting his town. In this book, John has called a demon to town--with the intent of killing her. But first he has to figure out who she is. The sudden appearance of a known serial killer in their town has John thinking he's found her, but, of course, things aren't what they seem. There was a fair amount of blood and gore in this story--also some descriptive embalming (John's mother is a mortician)--but I wasn't bothered by it quite as much as I thought I would be. Mostly, I got caught up by the story, which consistently surprised and unsettled me. The ending was particularly strong: both unexpected and unexpectedly moving.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Reading list: Week eight

This was apparently a good week for books.

1. This week, I read Orson Scott Card's The Lost Gate (Whitney finalist), the first (apparently) in a series. The book follows Danny North, of *the* North clan (a family of magicians who are apparently the descendents of the Norse Gods). Danny's place in the clan is tenuous, since his gift hasn't yet manifested itself and, at 11, it should have presented long since. A chance encounter with a young girl from another clan tells Danny that he does, in fact, have a gift: He's a gate-maker, a gift that will get him killed if his family finds out about it. Danny flees the compound, stumbles from one seemingly chance encounter to another, and finally finds himself in a situation where he can learn about his powers in (relative) safety. I liked the premise of the book--it was fairly original and well-thought out. I also found myself interested in the story of a young mage on the parallel world of Westil.

But . . . I never really found myself connecting to Danny. I liked him, but I never felt as invested in his story as I wanted. There were also a few things that happened early in the story that didn't seem wholly necessary to Danny's development as a gatemage. So--most of Card's fans would probably enjoy the story, but it's definitely not his best. (My personal favorite has always been Enchantment--of the ones I've read).

2. C.J. Hill's (pseudonym for Janette Rallison) Slayers (another Whitney finalist). For the most part, I enjoyed this story of Tori Hampton, a sixteen-year-old senator's daughter who goes to a dragon camp to indulge her inner geek, only to find out that she's actually a "Slayer" (and yes, Rallison is alert to the fact that the name is slightly melodramatic)--someone with the DNA of a dragon knight in her blood, DNA that was activated while her mother was exposed, during pregnancy, to a dragon egg in the DC area. Despite some of the campy elements of the story (the jealous rival at the camp, Tori's slightly stuck-up attitude at the beginning, the inevitable hot guys), I thought the story was pretty believable. Tori grapples with the real consequences of her new identity and struggles to fit in among her fellow slayers. There was also a compelling love-triangle, which I'm a sucker for, and the writing was fun and fast.

3. Shannon Hale, Midnight in Austenland (this one was purely for me). In this book, Hale takes us back to the world of Austenland, where, for a fee, single women can indulge themselves in a couple of weeks of imaginary residence in Regency England. As a fan of Austen, I can definitely see the appeal of this kind of vacation, even if the idea of a pretend romance (that you pay for) always makes me feel a little creeped out. I enjoyed the first Austenland, but didn't love it (it didn't feel fully polished), but I really enjoyed this one. That might be partly because I identified with Charlotte Kinder, the recently divorced mother of two who is still trying to come to terms with her own identity and trying to stop being such an agreeable doormat (essentially). Charlotte reminded me a lot of Catherine Morland, from Northanger Abbey--a very unlikely choice of a heroine. Over the course of the novel, she gets the chance to be a heroine as she stumbles upon what might be a murder at Pemberly Park. I have to admit that the murder mystery was my least favorite part of the story line. Because Hale set up so much of the story alluding to Gothic Romances and Northanger Abbey, I spent several chapters confused as to whether or not the mystery was real or just part of Charlotte's imagination (and that may have been Hale's point). In any case, the mystery wasn't as compelling to me as Charlotte's gradual evolution and romance (which actually surprised me--usually I can spot the love interest earlier than that).

4. Carol Lynch Williams, Miles from Ordinary (Whitney finalist). This book was a hard one for me to read--there's a reason why my preferences in fiction run to lighter fare! This book follows 13-year-old Lacey Mills through an eventful 24 hours in her life. Lacey starts the day hopeful that things are on the mend for her and her mother, as her mother is about to start a real job at the grocery store and Lacey has a job at the local library. As the day progresses, however, we learn more about Lacey's background: about her mom's schizophrenia (or similar disorder) and cutting; the reason why her aunt left; and the fact that her mom believes that her father talks to her (even though he died before Lacey was born). As Lacey's day unravels, Lacy has to confront some unpleasant truths about her mother and her own history and find strength she doesn't know she has to cope. I found this book deeply disturbing--as I think Williams intended it to be. I also wasn't entirely sure about the ending: Lacey goes through an episode where it's not clear if something supernatural or psychotic is happening, and it seemed out of character for Lacey and threw me, as it also wasn't quite in keeping with the tone of the rest of the book. I also have mixed feelings about the voice--it was beautiful and well-done, but the voice itself seems middle-grade while the concept (and some of the stuff that goes down in the end) seems distinctly YA. I'm not sure who the book's target audience is. I have to say, if I were going to recommend a book for young readers on this topic, I'd prefer Claudia Mills' One Square Inch, which deals with a young boy's struggles with his manic-depressive mother. That also addresses mental illness, but in a way that's more appropriate for young readers (not so dark).

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A week in books

I managed three books this week:

Marie Lu's Legend, which I quite enjoyed, once I stopped trying to look for Les Miserables parallels (she said she was inspired by imagining what Les Mis might look like today, but I think she was drawing on a superficial look at Javert and Val Jean's relationship). But enjoyed the main characters and I thought Lu did a nice job building the suspense and mystery.

Lindsey Leavitt, Sean Griswold's Head. Aside from the sort of grisly sounding title, this was actually a fun read. The main character, Payton Gritas, has recently discovered her father has MS, and her normally organized life goes into a tailspin. To help her, the school counselor suggests she picks a focus object, and Payton picks--Sean's head. As she studies his head (and him) she discovers all sorts of things she didn't know about the boy she's sat behind for years. While the MS angle adds some depth to the story, mostly I thought it was a light, quick read.

Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I had mixed feelings about this. Taylor's writing is gorgeous and I was often drawn in just by the prose. I loved the initial premise--Karou is an art student in Prague, who happens to have blue hair (it grows that way, after a childhood wish) and who was raised by chimaeras, part-beast, part human creatures, led by Brimstone who collects teeth of all sorts. Karou has a funky friend and a creepy ex-boyfriend and her life seems complicated enough between school and running errands all over the world to get teeth for Brimsone, not to mention the unexplained tatoos on her hands or her persistent sense of loneliness and not-wholeness. But then they discover a series of burnt handprints on doorways near all the portals Karou uses, and it's clear that the angels are back and have targeted the chimeras. From that point, the story gets more complicated. As I said, it was beautifully written and I enjoyed it on that level alone. Taylor also draws an intense romance. But I felt underwhelmed by the revelation about who Karou actually is.

Now, I'm working on Orson Scott Card's Lost Gate--and we'll see what comes next!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Reading list: week six

Given what I wrote last week, it should surprise no one that my first two books read this week were:

Scorpio Races (finished finally--it was beautifully written).
Girls Don't Fly: I love Kristen Chandler's writing: it's spare, a little quirky, and she does a great job weaving natural history into her works.

I also read:
Veronica Roth, Divergent, which I enjoyed (all but the ending)
Brodi Ashton, Everneath, which I keep feeling like I should have liked more than I did. The writing was solid, the plot had a great concept, but I just didn't connect to the characters like I wanted, and while I liked them, I didn't see this all consuming love-affair that the book envisioned. (It probably didn't help that I was sick, and therefore cranky).

Monday, February 6, 2012

Reading list: week 5

I finally finished my stack of library books, which means that this week I read two more Gail Carriger books: Changeless and Blameless. Sometimes the writing seems overly Victorian to me (or, I should say, faux-Victorian), but in general the series is a lot of fun, witty, and I love the late Victorian setting.

I'm almost finished with Scorpio Races (finally!). My slowness in reading is *not* a commentary on the book, which is fabulously written and which I've deliberately put off a few times because I knew I needed sleep and that book would not let me put it down.

I also started the first of my Whitney books: Kristen Chandler's Girls Don't Fly. I adored her book Wolves, Boys, and Other Things that Might Kill Me, so I'm excite to see where she goes with this (also a little dismayed because I had an MG novel in my head that was somewhat similar to this! Oh well.)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Books: week four (and a word about the Whitney Awards)

Another week with partially finished books. Sigh.

I read Alexander McCall Smith's, Bertie Plays the Blues, and really enjoyed it. Bertie is such a fascinating character. Strangely enough, my own little boy seems to grow faster than Bertie does--now that they're almost the same age, I love Bertie even more because I can see some of my son in him. Smith has a gift for fleshing out ordinary characters in extraordinary ways.

I also read Gail Carriger's Heartless. I read the first of her Parasol Protectorate series some time ago and then hesitated to start the rest--not because I didn't enjoy it (Victorian manners, paranormal activity and steampunk?), but because the end was, well, a little *warm* for me and I worried that the series would only get warmer once the MC was more established in a relationship (this isn't really a spoiler--it was pretty obvious early in the book).

I discovered my library had the next three books and figured if the scenes got too hot to handle I could always stop. Unfortunately, I wasn't paying enough attention to the order of books and wound up reading book 4 instead of book 2--and was halfway through the book before I realized that. (I'm now working through book 2). I do prefer my books in the right order. I still enjoyed the book, although not quite as much as the first one. Sometimes the language feels just a little stilted and artificial to me, although Alexia is a great character.

I also started Ann Patchett's State of Wonder, which was gorgeously written. Unfortunately, I read the ending early (a very bad habit of mine that I'm trying to break) and now I'm not sure I can go back and make myself finish the rest. Not because the writing wasn't strong or the characters interesting, but because I'm not sure I'm in the emotional state to handle it!

Anyway, that's my week in books. I imagine next week will bring more Gail Carriger, but hopefully some things with a little more substance as well.

I signed on to help with Segullah's Whitney vote (the Segullah staff gets collectively one vote for the Whitney Awards) and I'm really excited. The Whitney Awards for anyone not familiar with it (I hadn't heard of it until last year) are awards given out to the best publications by LDS authors by LDS publishers (Deseret Book, Covenant) and national presses. The list of finalists comes out February 3, and I then have two months to read as many of the books as possible (I'm not spearheading Segullah's vote, thank goodness, but I did volunteer to cover YA, YA speculative, and speculative general).

I used to be quite skeptical of LDS fiction, but that was before I realized how many great LDS authors were out there. And since I hope someday to be part of that community . . . . Anyway, does it make me weird that I'm so excited to read these books?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Books: week three

This was the week that I started reading too many books at once and am still only half-way through some of them. (I'm hoping I'm not the only reader who does this!)

I did manage to finish a couple of books:

Jennifer Weiner, Then Came You. (I keep reading Weiner's books because she has such smart, fascinating protagonists. I really liked the idea of a community of women that came out of this book--I'm less fond of Weiner's habit of inserting some fairly explicit scenes in her novels. I get that people sleep together--I just don't need to know the details!)
Alexander McCall Smith, The Saturday Big Tent Wedding (I love Precious Ramotswe. His No. 1 Ladies detective agency books continue to be interesting--even into the, what is this, the 12th book in the series?)

Books I started but didn't finish:
Maggie Stiefvater, The Scorpio Races (a beautifully written book--the only reason this keeps getting pushed back on my list is because I own it--all the others are library books, and new releases at that, so I can't keep them long).

Rae Carson, Girl of Fire and Thorn

Hopefully by next week I'll actually manage to finish these!

Monday, January 16, 2012

2012 reading list: week 2

I thought I was fairly busy last week (I had a horrible head cold and a big freelance project), but apparently I wasn't too busy to read.

Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (for book club)
Georgette Heyer, Bath Tangle (re-read; Heyer is one of my go-to comfort author when I'm sick)
Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler, The Future of Us (as someone who went to HS in the mid 1990s, it was fascinating to remember how different technology was then. The premise here was really interesting, but I never felt really connected to the characters)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

On Being Ordinary

I'm over at Segullah again, talking about some of the challenges of an upcoming birthday.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Something Stale this way comes

Namely, the state of this blog! In my defense, I've been posting more frequently with a blog I started with my awesome critique group partners: Okay, so "frequently" really is only about twice a month, but that's an improvement here.

I'm thinking, though, that this would be a great place to record the books I've read this year. I tend to read a lot--more especially now that I'm trying to take myself seriously as a writer--but I also tend to forget a lot of the books I've read. I don't have a particular goal for this year, but I'd like to see where I end up at year's end.

So far, I'm off to a good start (having a vacation from school helps!). Here are the books I've read so far for 2012:

Julia Golding, Dragonfly (Interesting, but I probably read it too fast as I discovered it was due back to the library that day and someone had placed a hold on it so I couldn't renew it!)
Matthew Kirby, Icefall (loved this! You can read my review here)
Kirsten White, Supernaturally
And I'm two-thirds of the way through Laini Taylor's Lips Touch Three Times. Taylor has a lush, gorgeous prose style, so I've enjoyed the stories, even though I don't always like my fantasy quite so dark. (I did love her Silksinger series, and I'm looking forward to her Daughter of Smoke and Bone)