Sunday, March 2, 2014

I am Moving!

While this blog has been a great vehicle for me to work out some thoughts (and mostly post my book reviews), it's outlived some of its usefulness--particularly as I made the newbie mistake of giving it a URL that even I could never seem to remember.

My new blog has a much more user-friendly URL:

Please, come visit me there!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Cragbridge Hall, by Chad Morris

16. (Whitney Finalist, MG)

This book has been on my to-read list for some time, not least because I was impressed by the way the author debuted this book during an extremely trying personal time (his daughter was sick with a tumor and he made it clear his priority was with his family).

The Inventor's Secret (Cragbridge hall, #1)The story is set in the year 2074, when students no longer simply read about history or zoology--they experience it by viewing history through a bridge, by learning zoology by assuming avatars. Abby Cragbridge and her twin Derick are two of the newest students at an elite school based around these cutting edge technologies--but unlike other students for the highly competitive school, they may have had an unfair edge. The inventor behind all this technology is their grandfather. While this doesn't bother Derick, it bothers Abby extremely, and becomes a subject of immediate confrontation between Abby and her roommate, who kicks her out of their shared room because she feels Abby unfairly occupies a place that might have gone to one of her friends.

But dealing with mean girls isn't the worst of Abby's problems. An unscrupulous scientist has kidnapped her grandfather and her parents, and unless Abby and Derick can solve a series of clues to uncover their grandfather's secrets, their parents might meet an untimely death.

I thought this was a cute story--there's a lot to love in the setting and all the fun technical tools Abby and Derick use, and the various clues were interesting and inventive. This isn't the kind of middle grade you read for the style (as you would Gary Schmidt or ClareVanderpol), but for plot. Though there were a few elements that stretched my credulity (Abby's friend Carol seemed a bit over the top, and the whole thing about the clues seemed more like an interesting plot device than a realistic ploy), the book was fast-paced but still had heart. I think my 8 y.o. son would enjoy this a great deal.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mile 21

15. Sarah Dunster, Mile 21 (Whitney finalist, General)

Mile 21 While the cover of this novel makes it appear to be a romance, I don't think that's really what it is. I think it's much more an exploration of the main character's personal recovery from devastating grief. At 21, Abish Cavendish Miller is a widow of one year and she's not coping well. She's reached the point in her grief where everyone expects her to move on, but she's not there yet. She's prickly at work, avoids her family, and is generally content to avoid everyone and everything (mostly by running--literally--anytime she feels emotionally threatened). But when her mother kicks her out of her cushy job managing some apartments (or not managing, as Abish seems to be doing) and her boss issues her an ultimatum, Abish finds herself in unexpectedly new (and unwelcome) environs: living with an apartment of girls in an LDS singles ward. All she wants to do is keep her head down, go to school, and get through this.

Gradually, however, Abish finds herself enmeshed in the lives of those around her: the roommates that she consistently underestimates, the good-looking young single father of two with his own concealed pain, even the parents she can't seem to find words to talk to. And she runs. The running seems to be a metaphor for this book of Abish's ability to push through difficult things (she plans to run the Ogden marathon despite the fact that she's never been able to make it past mile 16)--and the running affords her both an escape from her life and a place to make sense of it.

I really loved this book. Though I am not a runner nor a widower, I resonated with Abish's struggles to come to terms with her life, particularly within LDS theology, which holds that her marriage to her husband is eternal. How does one come back from that? If she's married to him (and loves him) for time and eternity, what is she supposed to do with the rest of her time on earth? How does she move on from him--and does she even want to? I loved that Dunster managed to ask serious questions without resorting to trite or pat answers--and that she created a realistic look at life inside the bubble of a singles ward (including the good and sometimes terrible things that people do to each other under the banner of their faith). And I'll admit--I cried. Quite a bit, actually, and I'm not one to cry easily when I read. The crying wasn't so much because the novel was depressing (far from it, actually), but because I found myself so moved by Abish and her growth.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Chasing June

14. Shannen Crane Camp, Chasing June (Whitney finalist, YA)

Chasing June (June, #2) Chasing June is the sequel to Camp's Finding June, featuring June Laurie, a budding actress with a set of funny, quirky friends. This one picks up two years after the previous book, as June and her boyfriend/best friend Joseph are heading north to Utah, to start university life at Brigham Young University. While there were lots of fun elements to the story (bizarre roommates, college life, a swoony new love interest), I struggled a little with this book. My overall sense was that while things were hard for June--she doesn't get along with her roommates, she and Joseph can't seem to communicate with each other and she's lonely--things never get *too* hard. Her roommate issues clear up fairly quickly, and there are new cute boy distractions to keep her from obsessing too long and too hard about issues with Joseph. I think, though, that what really got me here was a minor side-plot, where one of the characters (unnamed here to avoid spoilers) develops some eating disorder(ish) behaviors. I recognize that Camp was probably trying to drive home a message for young readers about the importance of loving themselves and their bodies as they are without relying on the opinions of strangers, but I found myself really bothered by how this part of the plot unfolded. Like some of the other plotlines, when resolution came, it came quickly and permanently--and it seems to me that eating disorders can be a serious enough issue that their resolutions are neither quick nor always permanent.

My opinion is probably a minority as most other reviewers seem to really love this story--and it's true that June is cute and fun and there's a lot of teenage wish fulfillment in the story that will appeal to many readers.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Village Notary

13. Joseph Eotvos (imagine this has Hungarian style umlauts over the "o's"), The Village Notary

I read this novel primarily because I'm trying to capture the flavor of life in a mid-nineteenth century village for a project I'm working on. For that purpose, the book answered excellently, as it was written primarily to critique the corrupt government style common in nineteenth-century counties. The story itself was a bit melodramatic, about a village notary who was one of the few honest men in the town government, and whose enemies spend much of the book conniving at his downfall. It's hard not to feel bad for him, as life hands him one trial after another, each usually compounded by coincidence. The writing is old-fashioned, so it won't appeal to most, but I enjoyed reading it for the glimpse it afforded into life in another time and place.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Love Letters of the Angel of Death

12. Jennifer Quist, Love Letters of the Angel of Death (Whitney, general category)

Love Letters of the Angels of Death This was a gorgeously written book exploring the close (sometimes constricting) ties between two people who know and love each other intimately. This isn't a plot driven novel at all, but a character driven one, written as a series of letters (sort of) from husband to wife. (In fact, the chapters switch back and forth in terms of time so while there are clear character arcs, they're not always linear ones. To Quist's credit, I never found myself lost in terms of time or place, despite the switching). For most of the novel, we don't even know the character's names: there's just "I" (the husband) and "you" (the wife). The chapters tell a series of loosely connected vignettes, important moments in the characters' relationship (often associated with their reaction to death, as suggested by the title). Despite the occasional morbidity of the characters, this really isn't a dark novel--it's more about life and celebrating relationships than about death, though of course death sets important parameters on those relationships.

It took me a while to get into the second-person narration, but once I got past that I found myself engrossed in the story and read it in just a couple of days. It's a short novel, but a powerful one. I found myself repeatedly slowing down just to enjoy the prose. My friend Kel has a stunning review up at Segullah, that delves more deeply than I intend to into the sheer pleasure of the prose.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Thousand Perfect Things

11. Kay Kenyon, A Thousand Perfect Things

A Thousand Perfect Things I really wanted to love this alternative history novel dramatizing the tensions between England and its Indian colony (here, Bharata). And there were things I did love, starting with the gorgeous cover and the clever heroine, Tori Harding, who wants nothing so much as to follow in her famous botanist grandfather's footsteps. In particular, she's drawn to the intersection of science and magic in the famed golden lotus--a Bharatan flower that most people believe doesn't exist, but Tori has seen proof of (proof that her grandfather smuggled out of Bharata years ago). When a series of strange magical attacks prompts increased English forces in Bharata, Tori follows her military father to Bharata and is increasingly drawn to the strange and beautiful world.

Kenyon has set up some fascinating, complex worlds here--her depiction of the magic system in Bharata was compelling and I enjoyed the contrast between the science-driven Brits and their magic-driven counterparts. But I didn't end up loving the plot, which didn't seem to guarantee protection for the characters I cared about (I was surprised by more than one death through the course of the story--I know this isn't a bad thing, it was just a development that kept me from loving the story). And Tori herself had some quirks I had a hard time buying. My biggest issue? For a well-bred Victorian woman, Tori was surprisingly quick to adopt the more lax sexual mores of her more experienced older friend on the trip to Bharata. It's not that I don't think such a transition is possible--I know it is--it was only that her change in thinking and behavior was so quick and thorough that it was hard for me to credit.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Distance Between Us

The Distance Between Us Whitney Awards YA Finalist

10. I really loved this book--easily the best YA book I've read since Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl. (Not that this was all that long ago, but still . . . ). This is my kind of YA: cute, charming, uplifting--but with just enough tension and difficulties to keep the story grounded in reality.

Caymen Meyers is happy enough with her life: she spends most of her spare time working in the doll store her mom owns, trying to keep the business afloat. And if she regrets that she doesn't really have a life outside the store (or a future; she's trying to figure out how to tell her mom she won't go to college the next year so she can stay home and help with the store), she mostly tries not to think about it.

And then she meets Xander (or Alex, as his grandmother calls him), who is exactly the kind of boy her mom has warned her about. Not a bad boy--a rich boy. His family owns an enormous chain of hotels, and his grandmother is one of their best customers. Caymen is attracted to Xander almost from the start, but she keeps pushing him away. What kind of future would they have? They're from different worlds. Even if they dated, it could never go anywhere. But almost inspite of herself, Caymen starts to let Xander in. And the process changes both of them.

I thought both the main characters here were adorable--and I liked the secondary characters, too. The drama between Caymen and her mom felt real: they love each other, but they struggle with each other, too. And I cheered for Caymen as she figured out what she wanted on her own terms. Mostly, though, I thought this was a charming romance--exactly what I was hoping it would be.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Dead girls don't lie

Dead Girls Don't Lie It's that time of year again-when I attempt to read all of the Whitney finalists:

9. Jennifer Shaw Wolf's Dead Girls Don't Lie is a YA finalist for the Whitney awards.

Jaycee's summer has gone unexpectedly awry. Her best friend, Rachel, is dead--murdered. And Jaycee is torn by guilt, for not being there for Rachel the night she died (she deliberately ignored her texts to spend time with a boy at a party). But after receiving a strange video from Rachel, Jaycee starts to investigate Rachel's death. And the more questions she asks, the more questions she finds. Jaycee isn't sure who to trust, but if she can't figure it out, she might be targeted by the same people who targeted Rachel.

I enjoyed this one--it was cleanly written and the tension builds nicely. If I was frustrated with Jaycee because of her insistence on keeping secrets (rather than enlisting the help she desperately needs), I also realize there might not have been as much of a story.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

These Broken Stars

8. These Broken Stars, by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

These Broken Stars (Starbound, #1) I'm always a little cautious about sci-fi--sometimes I love it, sometimes I really don't (for instance, I wasn't as enamored of the Beth Revis series so many people love). But this came highly recommended by a friend--plus, I'm a sucker for books about girls in beautiful dresses. (I know, don't judge a book by it's cover--but everyone does). And red-heads.

I really enjoyed this book, which starts with a Titanic-like premise. Lilac LeRoux is one of the richest girls in the galaxy; her father owns the massive luxury spaceship she's traveling on. She has almost nothing in common with Tarver Merendsen, a military hero also traveling on the Icarus, save a chance meeting on board. What starts pleasantly enough turns sour when Lilac turns him down--for his own good--and they go their separate ways. Or so they think.

When the Icarus is unexpectedly pulled from hyperspace, the two find themselves sharing an escape pod. And when their pod crash lands on a peculiarly deserted, terraformed planet, they find themselves relying on one another to survive, to get the crash site of the Icarus, and wait for rescue. But what they find about themselves during their trek is the real story.

Yes, there is a fair amount of romance here. But both characters also undergo interesting character-arcs, and the writing in general was lovely. I really enjoyed this book--though I'm still puzzling through my feelings about the ending. I can't wait to see what the authors do with the sequel. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Diviners

7. The Diviners, by Libba Bray

The Diviners (The Diviners, #1) I quite enjoyed this book--though it kept me up late more than one night in a row. Bray does an excellent job of creating period atmosphere, and a particularly creepy one at that!

It's the 1920s, and New York City is the hottest place in the world. Evie O'Neill longs to be there more than anything, and when her exasperated parents send her away from Ohio to live with her Uncle Will, the owner of a museum on the occult, she thinks this is the best thing that could have happened to her. But things aren't entirely what they seem in the city. Someone has roused the ghost of long-dead "Naughty John" and he's doing his best to fulfill his role in prophecy to rouse "the Beast" who will bring on the end of the world. And when people start dying, Evie comes to realize that her unique gift of knowing things about a person from touching something they own might help the police solve a particularly evil killer.

Evie is the main character here, but there are a host of other interesting characters, all with their own secrets. Mabel, Evie's best friend, who lives in the shadow of her revolutionary parents (Who are so taken up with various causes that they can't bother much with her). Jericho, a student who works for her uncle but has his own uneasy past. Theta, a Ziegfeld dancer with big dreams and a hidden gift. And Memphis, whose gift couldn't save his mother, but who spends his days dedicated to keeping his younger brother Isaiah safe.

One of the things I loved about this book was how the character's lives intersected in interesting ways, all set against the backdrop of 1920s NYC--the speakeasies, the booze, the jazz, even the quaint lingo. More than just period details, though, Bray smartly weaves in occult mysticism, various religious strains, philosophy (including Nietzsche) and so much more. With all that historical detail, it would be easy to bog the plot down, but Bray creates a terrific plot as well.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Golem and The Jinni

6. The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker

The Golem and the JinniThis writer hit so many of my readerly pleasure spots that it's hard to know where to begin a review. The story is set in turn-of-the-twentieth-century New York, mostly in immigrant Jewish and Syrian neighborhoods, and the story begins with two different awakenings: in one, a tinsmith accidentally wakes a jinni when repairing a copper oil pot; in the other, a young Jewish immigrant wakes the golem he's had created for him on a voyage across the Atlantic (this, despite being warned not to waken the golem until he's reached the city). It's lucky for the golem that he does, as her master is soon dead of appendicitis and she finds herself adrift in New York City, masterless (and a golem's primary pleasure is in obedience to her master) but uncomfortably aware of all the needs and desires of the teeming city's residents.

Though neither has a name, they both quickly acquire them: the tinsmith names the jinni Ahmad and takes him on as an apprentice; and the golem is named Chava by a kindly rabbi who finds her wandering and helps her acclimatize to the disconcerting human world around her. And of course, it's no surprise to the reader when the golem and the jinni cross paths--but I found their shared journey delightful, thoughtful, surprising, and frequently moving. Chava struggles to control herself--if she is roused to anger, she might forget the qualities that make her human-like; nearly all golems must ultimately be destroyed because of this, and the rabbi who finds her, knowing this, struggles for some time with the question of what ought to happen to the golem. Ahmad struggles to piece together his missing past--the thousand years he's lost caught up in the copper pot and the mystery of how he came to be there.

There are so many things I loved here: the gorgeous writing, the intricate historical settings (it took Wecker 7 years to write this), the interesting questions raised about what makes us human (or not), what we want from our lives and what we are willing to sacrifice to get there, the touches of the fantastic. And of course, the lovely, complicated relationship between the two main characters.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Nothing Named Silas

A Nothing Named Silas, by Steve Westover.
(I read this one last year, but am just now getting to the review . . .)

A Nothing Named SilasI thought the book started really promisingly. Silas has trained his whole life to be accepted into one of the elite units (Command), only to have a chance accident result in his being drafted into the lowest of the units: Labor. Once there, Silas finds himself repeatedly humiliated and abused by Taelori, the Labor Regent. But once he passes her seemingly arbitrary tests, he's welcomed into the group. However, things aren't entirely what they seem (of course!): Silas stumbles across a group of rebels who want to change the system of government and invite Silas to join them. Between the growing number of secrets he's learning to keep and a girl he's coming to admire, Silas finds life quite complicated: who should he trust? The Regent who has abused him, or the revolutionaries who might not be telling the whole truth.

The story as a whole moves pretty quickly. For a dystopian world, this felt new, like something I hadn't seen before. However, once Silas became established in Labor, I had a hard time relating to Silas, whose sympathies seemed attached to a pendulum and changed frequently, depending on what he'd just been told. I wanted Silas to trust his own judgment a little more. I also felt a little underwhelmed by the big secret--I know some readers/reviewers loved the climax reveal, but it didn't quite work for me. 

Monday, January 20, 2014


5. Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson

I wasn't quite sure what to expect of this, because the post-apocalyptic, super-hero genre seems pretty well saturated. But this book was terrific.

Steelheart (Reckoners, #1)A few years before the start of the book, Calamity happened. (It's never quite clear what Calamity is, though I assume later books in the series may make this clear). And following Calamity, the world saw the rise of Epics, ordinary humans with powers so extraordinary that they soon ceased to seem human at all. In the opening chapter, life still functions as usual, with many people, David's father included, believing that heroes will rise to challenge the Epics. But then Steelheart comes to claim Chicago as his own, and all hell breaks lose. The opening chapter was immediately riveting, including a few horrifying images that are going to remain with me for a long, long time. And in this sequence, David sees something no one else has seen: he sees Steelheart bleed, which means this Epic has a weakness. One he wants so badly to bury that he destroys the entire building where David is and any potential witnesses. David escapes by lucky chance.

Fast forward ten years, and David is obsessed with Epics. He's studied everything there is to know about them, including their weaknesses, with an eye to destroying them. And when the Reckoners (the only group of humans to fight the Epics, who have essentially taken over the world) come to town, David seizes his chance. Because not only does David want to fight epics, but he has a plan to take Steelheart down. But for his plan to work, he has to convince the Reckoners to trust him . . .

The world Sanderson creates here is fabulous: fascinating powers (and weaknesses) for the epics, interesting technology, and the character interplay among the Reckoners is fun to watch. But mostly, he keeps the action moving along so quickly that it's hard to put the book down. (My husband is currently listening to the audiobook version and I frequently try to initiate conversation only to find that he's just as sucked in by the world as I was. In short, he's oblivious). Sanderson even manages to raise some interesting moral and ethical questions about the nature of power and those who seek to wield it. Fun, fast, fascinating--a great read for people who like action, dystopian, super-heroes, or even just a good story.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Fractured Soul

(Note: I'm not numbering this because technically it's a book I read last year--I'm just catching up on reviews!)

Fractured Soul (Fractured Light, #2)For a book from a small press (Cedar Fort), I was quite impressed with Rachel McClellan's Paranormal book, Fractured Soul. This is a sequel, and while I haven't read the first book, McClellan does a terrific job building the second--she gives enough information so readers aren't lost, but not so much that it's overkill.

Llona is a new student at Lucent academy, where she's to be trained (under her aunt's guidance) as an Aura, one of a select group of women with unusual powers to manipulate light. However, Llona is increasingly frustrated by her fellow students and by the academy's tendency to "safeguard" the Auras by essentially hobbling their ability to perform anything but defensive magic. Llona fights her frustration by escaping from the academy into the surrounding forest, where she stumbles into evil beings who are drawn to the Auras at the academy, and, worse, begins to uncover a plot that may involve the academy itself.

The writing was clean (both in terms of content and in terms of clarity) and the plot moved quickly. In fact, it builds to a pretty surprising climax that will have readers wanting more. The characters were interesting, though I sometimes found myself frustrated with Llona for taking unnecessary risks (though I will say, it seems in character for her).

Hand of Glory

4. Hand of Glory, by Stephen Carter

The Hand of Glory This is not the type of book I usually read (you only have to look at the cover to realize that! No girls in pretty dresses, no landscape vistas, no fantastic realm . . .). For all that, I found the book to be well written: the characters were charming and quirky, the small town landscape felt realistic, and parts of the book were laugh out loud funny. The story follows 14-year-old Paul McAllister, who has settled with his parents in small-town Wyoming, in a house built by his great-great (something) grandfather, for his plural wives. However, there is something not quite right about the house, and as Paul and his great-uncle Doc start delving into the family history, what they discover is both strange and deeply unsettling (nearly as unsettling as the cover image).

I made the mistake of starting this book just before bedtime, which I would not recommend, unless you enjoy being frightened and creeped out before trying to sleep--I do not! I had to finish the book before I could sleep, which either means that I am easily frightened (possibly true) or that the author did an extremely good job making the book creepy and disturbing (definitely true).

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Palace of Spies

3. Palace of Spies, by Sarah Zettel

Palace of SpiesThis has a lot of elements I enjoy: a smart female protagonist, intrigue, and an interesting historical setting (early 17th Century, in the midst of the Jacobite uprising). Peggy is an orphan living on her uncle's reluctant charity. The only bright spot in her life is her cousin Olivia, who genuinely loves her. But then Peggy is informed about a betrothal to a man she scarcely knows--a man who then proceeds to assault her in the garden at a party. When she tells her uncle she will not marry this man, her uncle kicks her out of the house. With no money and nowhere to go, Peggy follows the address given her a by a mysterious gentleman (who saved her from the assault at the party). There she finds that the gentleman and his business partner want her for a daring and dangerous plot: to take the part of one of the princess's maids of honor (a young girl who recently died).

Peggy agrees, somewhat relunctantly, and the plot takes off from there. The plot is admittedly a little slow as Peggy struggles to get used to the expectations of the court and the intrigues and rivalries with other maids. Then there's the footman who presumes an awful lot on his relationship with Francesca (the girl Peggy is replacing), and the young artist who's drawn Peggy's attention. It's only when Peggy begins to fear the real Francesca's death was no accident that she realizes she must solve the mysteries surrounding her new life, or she might face the same fate.

As I review this, it occurs to me that there are several plot holes: how is it that no one realized Francesca was replaced? She'd been ill, yes, and yes, the custom of the time was for a great deal of face paint (some of it lead, yikes!), but still, someone should have realized it. (Like maybe her former lover?). But I had a lot of fun reading the story, so I'm willing to overlook some of those gaps. There is, as mentioned above, a sexual assault early on that is pretty disturbing, so even though this book is written for a YA audience, it's probably not appropriate for very young readers.

Sunday, January 12, 2014


2. Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson

The Rithmatist (Rithmatist, #1) The more I read from Sanderson, the more impressed I am with his creativity. Each of his series features a different magic system--all fascinating, all plausible. In this case, the magic system features chalk drawings that come to life to attack or defend as the case may be. Only Rithmatists are allowed to create these chalk drawings, originally developed to defend against the wild chalklings currently trapped on the island of Nebrask. (Yes, island: the book is set in an alternative late 20th century universe where the United States is actually the "United Isles." Just one more thing to love about it).

Joel is a student at a prestigious academy for Rithmatists and non-Rithmatists, but all he wants to do is study rithmatics. Of course, he's not allowed to, but that doesn't prevent him from sneaking into classes and reading as much as he can on the topic--to the detriment of his other studies. But when Rithmatist students begin disappearing from their homes and Joel is asked to assist one of the professors investigating the case, he begins to understand that there's more to his world than he knew.

I think I loved the world-building here as much as any of the characters: I liked Joel, and I adored Melody, the outcast Rithmatist student who befriends Joel (although it could also be said that Joel befriends her.) I'm already looking forward to the next book in the series.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Interestings

I'd hoped to have a new blog up and running in time with the new year, but as with all the best intentions . . .

Last year, I read 129 books (I read The Eye of Minds last year, even if my review posted *this* year).

Appropriately, for my first book of the year, I have one that made all kinds of best books of 2013 lists. As adult contemporary, this is also outside my usual genres a bit.

1. Meg Wolitzer, The Interestings

I'm having a hard time collecting my thoughts on this one, which is probably a good thing. Several days after finishing it, and I'm still thinking about it.

The InterestingsI had high hopes for the book, not only because of the rave reviews, but because the book theme treated something I've been thinking about a lot lately (part of an early mid-life crisis?): can you live a "successful," fulfilling life even if your life looks nothing like the early promise you manifested as a teenager? The opening epigraph, in particular, is devastatingly apt: ". . . to own only a little talent . . . was an awful, plaguing thing . . . being only a little special meant you expected too much, most of the time."

And technically, this book is successful: Wolitzer writes well, her characters are complex and the multiple POV seems faithful to each character. The book is also quite ambitious, tracking the characters from their meeting at age fifteen at a summer camp into their mid fifties. And the philosophical question of the book was one that I found personally compelling--and Wolitzer's answer seems hopeful.

But. Somehow it didn't move me as much as I'd hoped it would. Maybe because I found the characters interesting, but not personally relatable? I didn't love any of the characters, except perhaps Jules (I loved her description of how difficult it is to be a wry, diffident teenage girl). The writing was also cruder than I like, just as a personal preference.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Eye of Minds

The Eye of Minds (The Mortality Doctrine, #1)129. The Eye of Minds, James Dashner

This was my first Dashner novel, though I've heard him speak before at a writer's conference and he was really funny. This book, of course, isn't funny--but it is fast-paced and interesting.

The story is set in a vaguely futuristic world where most people (especially young people) spend much of their free time in the VirtNet (aka, the Sleep), where their bodies are wired to experience virtual events as if they are real. Michael is a gamer--a hacker and coder--and like his two best friends, he spends much of his time playing virtual games in the Sleep.

That is, until he witnesses a horrific suicide (a real one) inside the VirtNet and hears about Kaine, a hacking genius who has somehow managed to evade authorities and kidnap and torture some of the best and brightest in the VirtNet. Now the VNS (the VirtNet Security) has a real problem: how to capture a man who has so far eluded all attempts. Their answer? Recruit a bunch of hackers and see what they can do. Michael, along with his friends Bryson and Sarah, agree to help, thinking this will just be a more advanced version of their usual games. When they realize how serious Kaine is, they try to back out, only to find themselves threatened by VNS. They go back into the VirtNet, following a trail of clues that take them to unimagined parts of the virtual world and to secrets they never suspected.

The story/plot here is great. While I suspected part of the final plot twist, I didn't see all of it coming and the book packs a pretty good surprise. Dashner's story moves along quickly (I read most of it on a 3 hour car ride this afternoon) and the virtual world he creates is interesting. The writing itself isn't quite as winning: the writing never got in the way of the story, but it wasn't ever outstanding enough for me to slow down to savor the writing (as, say, with Gaiman's books). And I never really connected to the characters, who weren't especially distinctive to me. However, the plot is strong enough that these complaints won't really matter to most readers. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Ocean at the End of the Lane

128. Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the LaneI think if I could write like Gaiman does, I might die of happiness. This book was short--but so lovely. Reading it felt very much like being immersed in one of those strange dreams where you wake not quite certain what is real and what isn't. Whimsical, lyrical, bemusing--all of those words fit this book.

The protagonist (I don't know that he's ever named) returns home to a rural part of England for a family funeral and finds himself drawn to the pond at the end of the lane. While there, he's overcome with memories from his childhood--particularly of the family who lived at the end of the lane and the daughter, Lettie, who insisted that the pond was not a pond, but was, in fact, an ocean.

As a seven-year-old boy, he wandered one night with Lettie across the boundaries of worlds and inadvertently became a door for something otherworldly to return home with him. His and Lettie's quest to send the being back where she belongs launches them on a series of mini-quests and encounters with curious creatures: some lovely, some haunting, some horrifying.

The story is simply told, but it has some lovely reflections on the nature of memory, on being a child (being both powerless and insightful), on the untrustworthiness of adults, and on the elusive nature of reality. A quick read, but a great one.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


127. Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell

I may be about to go fangirl myself on Rainbow Rowell. I've read two of her books in the last two weeks--and I loved Eleanor and Parks, but I think I may have loved this one even better. It speaks to the secret, hidden nerd heart that I carry around with me all the time.

FangirlCath is a twin who's grown up with her sister Wren as her side-kick in everything: from surviving their mother's departure just after 9/11 to writing fanfiction about Simon Snow (a fictional character that's part Harry Potter, part Mortal Instruments). But when they go off to college and Wren wants more independence (aka, she doesn't want to be Cath's roommate, to be instantly branded by her twin identity), Cath feels more than a bit lost. She throws herself into her fan-fic--her Carry On, Simon has over 30,000 hits on the fanfic site she frequents. But of course, real life also intrudes, and Cath has to negotiate living with an abrupt, sometimes rude roommate, the boy who's constantly at their dormroom because of her roommate, the boy she's begun meeting at the library for curiously intense co-written stories, and her father, who may or may not be coming apart at the seams during her absence. Not to mention the increasing distance between her and her twin.

Cath's story alone is lovely: heart-felt and real. But Rowell intersperses Cath's story with bits from the made up universe of Simon Snow--excerpts from the "real" books, and Cath's fanfiction. By the time I hit the end, I'd seen not only Cath's evolution as a writer, but I had a good sense of why she loved the story characters so much (heck, I loved them too, and I'd only read short excerpts). Rowell's almost flawless integration of these three levels of story is only one of many reasons that I loved this book.