Thursday, August 29, 2013

Hen of the Baskervilles

Hen of the Baskervilles (Meg Langslow, #15)89. I've loved Donna Andrews' wacky mysteries for years, since discovering her marvelous Murder with Peacocks. In this newest Meg Langslow mystery, all the usual elements are there: unpleasant character found murdered, suspects abound, and a unique setting--this time, the Un-Fair (basically a county fair) that Meg is helping to run. (Actually, given that this is Meg, she's basically running the fair. In theory she does have a co-chair).

Andrews' mysteries are consistently fun and smart and this was no exception. I found, though, that I was less interested in the mystery than I was in Meg's shenanigans--in particular, her and her husband's new-found fascination for heirloom breeds of animals. The descriptions of the fair were among the best parts of the novel. I found, too, that I missed much of Meg's extended family (her father, Rose Noire, cousin Horace) who showed up only for brief glimpses. Instead we got treated to some Shifleys, who, while interesting, can't hold a candle to Meg's family.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Twelve Clues of Christmas, Her Royal Spyness #6

The Twelve Clues of Christmas (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries, #6)88. The Twelve Clues of Christmas, Rhys Bowen

I'm a fan of a good cozy mystery series, and I've enjoyed this series quite a bit. They aren't particularly profound, but Georgie is good company (smart, nice, doesn't take herself too seriously) and her romance with Darcy has kept my interest over the series.

This newest installment is no exception. Georgie, faced with the horrifying prospect of Christmas at Castle Rannoch with her nearest and not-so-dearest, decides instead to answer an ad for a woman looking for an upper-class hostess for her Christmas party. This party coincidentally happens to be in the same quaint village where her mother is holed up for the holidays with playwright Noel Coward (with Georgie's grandfather serving as butler).

The houseparty is the usual mix of social oddities: an American family, an older countess, a smattering of odd relatives--and Darcy (coincidentally a cousin of the family). The holiday looks to be nearly perfect, until a series of unexplained--and seemingly accidental--deaths, one each day, start occurring. The police are mystified, as is Georgie, but when the deaths continue, someone has to take charge, and so, with her usual aplomb, Georgie does so.

My favorite part of this story was probably the details about an old-fashioned upper-class Christmas, followed by the subplot with Georgie and Darcy. I figured out the killer about 2/3 of the way through (thought it took me longer to figure out the motive).

A light, enjoyable read.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Ruta Sepetys, Out of the Easy

Out of the Easy87. Ruta Sepetys' second YA novel, Out of the Easy, was unlike most of the YA novels I've read recently. And that's a good thing. Her novel, set in 1950s New Orleans, is a fascinating glimpse into a different world. Josie Moraine has made something approaching a life for herself, working at a local book shop and, after hours, cleaning the brothel where her mother works. But Josie wants out--she's tired of people making assumptions about her based on what they know of her mother, and she wants to make something more of her life. She dreams about attending college in New England, but she doesn't have the money or the connections to do so. But when a customer in the bookstore winds up dead, Josie suspects there's more to his death than meets the eye. As she works to unravel what's really going on, she finds the courage to work towards her own dreams as well.

The two best things about this novel are the fascinating characters and the detailed setting. I was impressed with Sepetys' research for this novel--evident in so many of the little details of the setting. Josie is the kind of character you can't help loving, and she's surrounded by a memorable cast of characters, many of whom surprised me. Given the murder mystery element of the plot, the plot moved surprisingly slowly. That wasn't a problem for me, because I was more interested in seeing how the characters interacted, but readers who go into this expecting a more plot-driven story might be disappointed.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Elite

The Elite (The Selection, #2)86. The Elite, by Kiera Cass

I read the Selection back when it was first released, largely because of it's pretty cover. (Also, and let's be honest here, because I liked the idea of a Bachelor meets dystopian world concept). I didn't love that book, but I was interested enough to read the sequel.

This book frustrated the heck out of me. I came close to quitting it several times, but I'm just interested enough in the characters to persist.

In Book 1, we meet America, a reluctant entrant into the Selection, the bachelor-style event where the Prince of Illea (future-day America, after being conquered by China, then re-taken by Americans and turned into a monarchy) chooses  his princess from among the populace. America is a 5 (out of 8 castes, one being the King's family), and the lowest of the contestants. She also happened to be deeply in love with a level 6 boy, Aspen.

Book two finds America one of the final six contestants, falling more deeply in love with Prince Maxon, while still meeting secretly with Aspen (who is now a guard in the palace). Here's where it gets tricky: one of the things I *did* like is that the author honestly makes America's choice an agonizing one for her. She has to make a choice, but she's dragging her feet because she cares too much for both boys to willingly hurt either. I think this is a realistic dilemma.

But then this book drags this dilemma out--America makes up her mind in favor of one boy, only to receive new information (not always accurate) that makes her change her mind and cozy up to the other boy. Over and over again. To make matters worse, if she gets caught with Aspen, the punishment could be fatal. The chicken in me hated the way she casually risked her safety and Aspen's safety so they could steal time together, even while I realize it's sort of a necessary plot device.

Some of the revolutionary subplots had the potential to be interesting, but they seem like an afterthought: the real focus here is on America's love affair and what choice she will make. Much as I disliked this particular book, there's a very good chance that I'll read the final (I hope) book in the series, because I'm curious to see how the author resolves her triangle, and also to see if anything noteworthy happens with the revolutions.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Iron Wyrm Affair

The Iron Wyrm Affair (Bannon & Clare, #1)85. I started this book expecting to love it--after all, alternative history/steampunk fantasy set in Victorian England? Some of my favorite things.

And there is a lot to like about it: the alternating viewpoint characters, Emma Bannon and Archibald Clair are interesting in their own right, though Emma is a much stronger character. Emma is a sorcerous Prime at the top of her game, with a troubled history and difficulty trusting others. Clair is drawn into Emma's orbit when she's ordered to protect him, after an inexplicable string of mentath (super-genius) deaths in the city. Not coincidentally, Clair is a mentath (if unregistered) and his greatest fear is boredom. He is, as other reviewers have noticed, a thinly-veiled nod to Sherlock Holmes, though somewhat less interesting.

The writing is decent, too,-the author knows how to pace things, how to set a visually intricate scene, and her magic system is interesting and complex. I also liked the alternative vision of London (here, Londinium), and Victoria as Victrix, the current incarnation of Britannia (an ageless spirit of the realm who inhabits each reigning monarch in turn). Some reviewers have complained that there's not enough explanation or context for the  magic in the world, but I actually liked that. I'd rather puzzle out what something is than be slapped in the face with the explanation.

Despite all these good things, I didn't love the book and I've been trying to puzzle out why. I think it's may be this: in some scenes, there's almost too much description--some of it is lovely and lavish, but occasionally it obscures the action. Some parts are distinctly purple. Second, the plot proceeds at such a break-neck pace that there aren't a lot of quiet moments where I felt I got into the characters' heads. I think I wanted more bonding time with the characters, more time to love them, not just admire their bravery.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Kasie West, Pivot Point

Pivot Point (Pivot Point, #1)84. I really enjoyed Kasie West's debut novel, Pivot Point. There's a lot to love about it, starting with the engaging premise: Addison Coleman lives in a top-secret community in the contemporary US that's a haven for people with advanced mind abilities: telepathy, persuasion (her mom's ability), the ability to detect any lie (her dad's), and many more. Addie herself has something much rarer: she's a Clairvoyant (technically: Divergent) who, when faced with a decision in her life, can "search" along two alternate pathways. Her Searches feel so real to her that it's as if she's lived these alternative lives, which can be awkward, for example, when Addie's pressed to give a reason why she said no to a guy who just wanted to ask her out. But for the most part, her searches have been over minor decisions: go out with this guy? Study this subject?

Until she comes home to find her parents are divorcing, and she has to choose. Normally, this might be hard, but not impossible. But Addie's dad is leaving the compound--if Addie chooses to go with him, she has to choose to masquerade as Normal and leave all her high-tech gadgets behind her.

The book follows Addie on two alternating paths (alternating chapter by chapter): one is her real life, the other is a Search--but you don't find out which is which until the very end. It's to West's credit that she keeps both story lines compelling and engaging, and it's easy to see the overlaps between the two alternating realities. And while romance features prominently in both lines (different boys, of course), romance isn't the only--or even the main--plot point for the books.

One of the things that made the story work for me was how much I liked the characters, especially Addie. Unlike so many heroines in paranormal romances (and elsewhere) these days, Addie wasn't extreme: she wasn't particularly brave, or kick-ass, or confrontational, or rule-breaking . . . she was just Addie. I think that made her more relatable for me.

The story isn't particularly deep: but it's fun, fast, interesting, and--maybe more importantly--doesn't feel like a lot of other books out there. Highly recommended for YA fans.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Helen Boudreau, Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings

83. Helen Boudreau, Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings

Thirteen-year-old Jade has just had the worst day of her life. It's been approximately one year since her mother drowned, and just when it seems like things might be getting back to normal, she has a day like this: her period (her first ever) starts while she's trying on bathing suits at the mall (a task that would try most people, particularly Jade, who isn't-exactly-skinny). Then, when trying to buy feminine products at the mall drug store, who should she run into but her dad--and the cute boy who goes to her school, with whom Jade has an awkward social history. After a day like that, all Jade wants it to relax in a hot bath.

She must have zoned out for a little, because when she wakes up she discovers that it is actually possible for her day to get worse: in place of human legs, she now sports a pair of mermaid fins.

As Jade tries to get accustomed to her changing body, she has to navigate rough spots in her friendships (her best friend thinks she's acting weird--which she is--but Jade can't tell her the truth as to why she keeps unexpectedly bailing on activities), a possible romance with Luke, the cute boy who unaccountably seems interested, and figure out what *really* happened to her mother that day last summer.

Other reviewers have noted that the book has some cliched characters: the missing mother, the cute boy who likes an ordinary girl, the evil girl at school who's trying to steal the best friend, even the overly-perky best friend. All these are true.

But what saved the book for me was the voice: Jade has such a great, funny, quirky voice that you can't help liking her, and cheering for her.

The book straddles an awkward sort of gap between middle grade and YA--some of the topics (periods, kisses, etc.) are more YA than middle grade, but Jade's voice seems closer to a middle grade voice for me.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

82. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

Gone GirlIn some ways, this book deserves all the hype it's gotten: it's fast-paced, the writing is brilliant, and Flynn has a knack for getting you inside her character's heads--even when the inside of their heads is not somewhere you want to be.

That said, I personally found some of the directions the novel takes so disturbing that there were parts I skimmed over. Days later, I find myself still thinking about the characters in not-entirely-comfortable ways.

Some readers love this kind of novel; I don't, particularly.

There is some language and other graphic encounters.