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.