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.