Sunday, January 20, 2013

Steampunk, Romance, Middle-Grade fiction (not all in the same book, obviously!)

7. Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel. I picked this up on the recommendation of my sister-in-law, who said she preferred this series to the Mortal Instruments series, and I wanted to see what Clare's world was about. I'm a sucker for 19th century British stuff, in general, and alternate histories/worlds in particular, so this was right up my alley. The plot itself didn't wow me, but I enjoyed Clare's swift-paced writing style and the characters were fascinating.

8. Janette Rallison, Masquerade. Let me just say, I love most of Rallison's books. This was not one of my favorites--possibly because it was a novel about adults and I prefer her YA stuff. Clarissa is a single mom still reeling from the aftershocks of her divorce. She's working two jobs to support her daughter, so when she gets a job offer as a nanny for a big Hollywood star, Slade Jacobson, she jumps at it. Thing is, Slade thinks she's married--and prefers it that way, as he knows she doesn't have any ulterior motives for taking the job. So Clarissa isn't lying, exactly, just not correcting his misapprehension. But when her nanny job takes her to Hawaii for a week, she finds herself struggling to deal with Slade's temperamental daughter and with her growing attraction to Slade himself.   (NB: I read the new edition, edited for Kindle. Searching for it on Goodreads, I see that it was originally published under her pseudonym Sierra St. James, and the characters involved were all LDS. This does read much more in the vein of her Sierra St. James stuff than her Janette Rallison YA books).

9. Rebecca Stead, Liar and Spy. While this wasn't as high concept as either of her previous books (When You Reach Me, First Light), it was still a heart-warming, well-executed middle grade novel about a boy named Georges (after Georges Seurat, whose paintings play a minor role in the story) who moves into a new apartment after his dad loses his job, and who meets a strange boy named Safer, who induces him to (reluctantly) help spy on their neighbor. What I liked about this book was Steads deft ability to characterize young kids--they're smart, funny, but still believable 12-year-olds.

10. Sophie Kinsella, I've Got Your Number. I always enjoy Kinsella's books--they're light and fun. This was no exception. Poppy Wyatt thinks she has everything--a dreamy fiance, a gorgeous ring, a job she loves. Then she loses the ring at a hotel, her cell phone gets stolen, and she has to face her fiance's disapproving parents sans ring. The latter she deals with by wrapping bandages around her hand and pretending she has a burn. But the loss of her cell phone is a disaster. Luckily, she finds an abandoned cell phone in a recycling bin and claims it for her own--unfortunately, the phone belongs to Sam Roxton's former PA and he demands she return it. Poppy needs the phone and its contacts so she works out a deal--she'll forward all his calls if he lets her keep the phone a little longer. Before long, Poppy and Sam are more involved in each other's lives than they anticipated--and, as per usual with Kinsella, funny hijinks ensue.

11. R. J. Palacio, Wonder. One of the best books I've read in some time, this story follows August (Auggie) Pullman during his fifth grade year. For most kids, fifth grade is mildly painful--but for Auggie, fifth grade means going to school for the first time ever and dealing with the ramifications of his cranio-facial deformities. Palacio tells the story through a number of different voices--Auggie's, his sister, his sister's boyfriend, and some kids he befriends along the way. The book has been called a "meditation on kindness" and besides being beautifully written, the story makes a powerful case for the virtue of kindness.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

January reading

This year, I'm going to try to number the books I read so that I can keep track of how many books I read in during the year. I don't have a particular goal in mind: I just love books.

This year, as per usual, I have a very eclectic mix of books.

1. Tea Olbrecht, The Tiger's Wife. This is more literary than most of the books I read. I imagine some readers might get bored with the slow pace, but I thought it was lovely. I liked the luxurious language, and I liked the slow, intricate build of the story, which focuses mostly on a young woman, Natalia, trying to solve the mystery behind her grandfather's death. As she does so, she becomes immersed in the two stories that defined his life: the tiger's wife and the deathless man.

2. Meg Cabot, Insatiable. In dramatic contrast to the Tiger's Wife, this book was face paced but not particularly literary! Cabot forges into the world of adult paranormal romance with this story. Meena Harper works as a writer for a soap opera, and is dismayed when her program decides to incorporate a vampire line. She's sick of vampires, sick of the rival soap with a vampire, and so is understandably dismayed when she falls for an enigmatic Romanian professor and finds that he is--surprise!--also a vampire. I thought the book was fun, although not particularly deep. I liked that it didn't take itself too seriously.

3. Aimee Ferris, Will Work for Prom Dress. YA. The dialogue in this book was fast and often witty, but I had a hard time connecting to the characters and an even harder time with the plot, which was so action-packed that it didn't seem realistic. It was almost like the author wanted to make sure that readers never got bored, so almost every chapter had some new twist pop up. I thought the writing was pretty good--I would have just liked to slow down a little and enjoy the characters more.

4. Smart Move, Melanie Jacobson. This book is a companion novel to Twitterpated, but it can be read as a stand-alone novel. Sandy Burke has recently relocated to Washington DC, where she works for a nonprofit company that works to help disadvantaged women get gainful employment. She loves her job and can't understand why Jake, the lawyer representing the neighborhood where her company hopes to build an Extension, is so set against their project. When she meets Jake for the first time, sparks fly--and not just because they fight over their business interactions. Turns out, Jake is the same Jake that she met in Seattle a year earlier and shared an undeniable connection with. Now she just has to figure out what's more important: their professional conflict or their romantic compatibility. I really like Jacobson--her plots are fun, clean, and romantic. This was no exception. It started a little slow (setting up the legal ground for the story), but once Sandy and Jake started into each other, things got fun, fast.

5. Cinda Williams Chima, Dragon Heir. Brilliant conclusion to an interesting series. Chima does a great job interweaving a bunch of characters and still keeping the plot moving forward at a fast pace. As with all great endings, this left me with things to celebrate and things to mourn.

6. Shannon Hale, Austenland. (Re-read). The movie version is premiering at Sundance this month, and I really hope it gets picked up for distribution. I think this would make a fun film. Jane Hayes is obsessed with Mr. Darcy--so obsessed that it interferes with her ability to have  normal love life. She confesses this to an aged aunt, and is then surprised and alarmed to find, when said aunt dies, that her aunt has left her a bequest: a three week vacation to Austenland, where guests are encouraged to dress and act in Regency approved fashion and enjoy a "proper" romance. Jane determines to use the vacation to get Mr. Darcy out of her system, and with all the attractive men around (a Mr. Bingley type, a Mr. Darcy type, the sea captain, and an attractive gardener), she's sure she'll be able to. But she finds she has a hard time distinguishing what is real and what is pretend . . . I think I actually enjoyed this more the second time. The first time I read it I found some of the writing a little unpolished and rough--this time around, the writing seemed more reflective of Jane's style and a subtle sense of humor that I missed the first go round.