Monday, February 29, 2016

Mini-Review: One Corpse Too Many

I'm on a bit of a monastic kick this year.  Crime-solving monks are really inexpressibly delightful, and while William of Baskerville may have been the most prescient, Brother Cadfael is the most relatable and charming.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

What I'm Reading Wednesday

Learn what Victor Hugo really thought about monasteries: achievement unlocked! +1 to intelligence

As for the extra books I've heaped upon myself, we've got:

The Unmapped Sea by Maryrose Wood.  As with the previous installments in this series, I'm reading this via audiobook, simply because Katherine Kellgren's narration is wildly delightful.  The last book in the series was rather a downer, so I'm hoping this one perks things up a bit.

Gorgon by Greig Beck.  I got distracted and have made no further progress in this.

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard.  Ho-lee macaro-nee!  I wasn't expecting to love this as much as I do!  I'm ... well, bewitched!

Once Was A Time by Leila Sales.  2016 must be the Year of Time Travel.  This one is set in WWII Britain, and I'm already liking it very much.

First & Then

This is not a novel I would have ever picked out for myself.  But one of the great things about working with other librarians on a blog is that they push you.  In this case, doing the Reader vs. Reader feature on Teen Services Underground has had me read three books that I would never have picked out for myself.

Okay, granted, I didn't like any of the three books, but I'm glad I read them.  Kind of.  No, I am.  They made for fun conversations with my fellow TSU Agents.

So for February, we read First & Then by Emma Mills.  All of the press that I've seen for this pitches it as a retelling of Pride and Prejudice (the Goodreads summary is "Pride and Prejudice meets Friday Night Lights"), so I'm going to go in with a relatively high set of expectations, if only because Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book in the history of ever.  

It would have been a much better idea to say "inspired by Austen," because I expect a retelling to have parallels to the original work, and to play with it in an unexpected way.  

Devon, the main character and narrator, is presumably our Elizabeth.  But I don't remember Elizabeth cutting down other girls and calling them "loose women" in the insouciant way that Devon labels the girls who wear eyeshadow and lip gloss "prostitots."  Or "PTs" for short.  Actually, Devon  judges everybody.  That's probably why she has no friends other than her best friend, Cas, with whom she is totally in love.  More on him later.

There are two big problems with this book (without counting the incessant use of PT to describe every female at school):

  1. If this book is supposed to be inspired by Pride and Prejudice, or at least Austen's oeuvre, it does so in a distracting and excessively uneven way.
  2. The supporting characters were a million times more interesting than the main characters.  Emma Mills can write compelling characters, but I think that this book had the wrong focus.  

In the first instance, the characters in First & Then don't match up well to their Austenian counterparts, so this is really more of a vague nod to Austen than inspired by her books.  I was so distracted trying to figure out who was who and which situations were parallels that it kept dragging me out of the narrative.  If--IF--Devon is supposed to be Elizabeth, then I believe that the author and I read two completely different versions of Pride and Prejudice.  Devon may be the embodiment of prejudice, as she is constantly cutting other people down and deeming them unworthy of her friendship, but she is excessively nasty at times.  To be honest, she was much more of an Emma--silly and thinking herself cleverer than everyone else.  The mysterious yet talented football player Ezra is supposed to be the Darcy type, but instead of everyone at the school hating him because he is an all-out jerk, they hate him because he is a good football player (?) and he is quiet.

Darcy was taciturn by choice--he deemed those around him unworthy of his attention--but Ezra is quiet because he is shy.  He doesn't seem nasty in any way, just extremely introverted.  He's super-nice to Devon's cousin, Foster, who is living with them as his mom is in rehab and doesn't really want to care for him anymore.

Turns out that Foster is the best part of this book.  He's such an intriguing character: pained, but not dramatic.  He has a gift for football but doesn't act all high and mighty about it.  He's quirky and lovable and I would read a book just all about him.  His relationship with Devon was also very believable and made me wish that she deserved his love.

Marabelle, a younger girl in school who's pregnant, also deserved far more attention.  It seemed like she was there to be "the pregnant teen" and *spoiler* the sister of whom Ezra is very protective (Darcy and Georgiana).  But she deserved more time, and the resolution of her relationship with Foster was ... odd, to say the least.  It was a bit as if the author forgot about it, and quickly fixed things with a sentence.

On the other hand, many characters seem to rove about pointlessly in the narrative, or their ultimate motivations, as revealed, make little sense, even in a fictional universe.  Take Cas, Devon's best friend.  Devon is soooooo in looooove with him, and has been forever, but he doesn't love her back.  She says that she loves Austen because even though there is unrequited love in the books, often, it is requited in the end.  I could list a bunch of characters that this is not true for, but that's beside the point.  Devon says she doesn't want to change for Cas, but she wants him to change for her.  At the end, Cas tells her that everyone knows she's in love with him because she's so obvious, and he just tolerates it.  What a complete turd!  Instead of ignoring the fact that your BFF is in love with you, if you were a decent human being, wouldn't you address the issue?  Ignoring it is only going to make things worse.  Cas; colossal turd and waste of oxygen.  I *think* he's supposed to be Wickham's analogue, but he has a lot more seducing to do to get there.  More depravity, please.


And then there's the non-resolution resolution of all of Devon's problems.  As we follow her throughout the book, the main theme is that she is so average that she won't be able to get into her college of choice.  She is convinced she can't do any extracurriculars because she is so depressingly average.  Plus, what does she have to write about for her college admissions essay?  Nothing.  SO AVERAGE.  Look, I get it.  Then, she and her counselor (who disappears after the first half of the book--poof!) and some other kids go on a visit to the college she wants to attend, and then Devon is more positive.  I was hoping she'd talk more about being motivated to get in, and doing more things with clubs and such, but nope.  From there on out it is Relationship Drama, and the only resolution Devon gets in the end is a romantic one.  And that's not what I want girls to take away from this.  If you start out telling a story about getting into college, follow through.  It's really about Devon's self-perception and self-worth, and dating a guy is not going to fix any of that.

I don't often say this, but I think First & Then would have benefitted from an extra 100 pages to flesh out the characters more and give them the needed time to grow.  The 6-8 weeks between the beginning of school and homecoming is a really short time frame.  Alternatively, we could cut out the current main characters and refocus on the ones that are compelling and well-written: Foster and Marabelle.  Mills demonstrates that she can write about Foster's family issues with sensitivity and grace--why can't we get more of that?

The final thing I don't quite understand is the title: First & Then.  It doesn't have any particular reference point within the story, other than the very broad plot of "first she hated him, then she loved him."  Any thoughts on that?

Had the author not waded into Pride and Prejudice homage territory, this could have been an interesting story about two teens and their fascinating siblings.  As it stands, though, it is as wearying as marrying Mr. Collins.

In order to make you (and me) feel better, here's a wet shirt Darcy to close things out:

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

X-Men (Marvel Now! version, so whatever the heck reboot we're on) Vol. 1: Primer

If you had to create a list of words that do not describe me, then let me give you a head start:

Fan of the X-Men

Yes, it's true.  Nothing about the X-Men intrigues me.  As I type this, I am waiting to be smote by some sort of comic god hovering about.  I mean, everyone loves the X-Men, right?  Like Wolverine and Rogue and Cyclopes and Professor Xavier?

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen #1)

I keep trying to review this and it's so difficult, because I am still suffering from an attack of #ALLTHEFEELS.  When I finished this book, my hands were trembling and my heart felt simultaneously like it was flying high on the stupendousness of this book and like it was crushed because I have to wait who-knows-how-long for the next one.

Friday, February 19, 2016

DNF: We Were Never Here

We Were Never Here is a wannabe The Fault in Our Stars with a pedestrian twist you can see coming from a mile away.  Maybe even two miles.  It's histrionic and over the top and yet somehow not enough of a story to be believable.  This review is going to probably be mind-numbingly boring because I don't have a lot to work with here.

Basically, take any teen-with-a-health-issue story, remove the poignancy, and replace it with DARK SECRETS and HOT BOYS WITH CUTE PUPPIES.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

DNF: What the Dead Want

I feel like I've read a far better version of this book somewhere ... oh yeah, it's called Shutter by Courtney Alameda.  Granted, the motivations of the characters are totally different, but if you are into ghost-hunting via cameras, definitely go with Shutter.

Or maybe I'm thinking of Ransom Riggs' Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (which I really must reread), with its curious photographs that guide the narrative. Wait.  That happens here too.  How curious.

But each book must stand on its own ... pages, I suppose.  And that's not really the reason I didn't finish What the Dead Want--although it was definitely a contributing factor.

I need a book to make me care about something.  Anything.  Even if it makes me care about disliking it.  Alas, I felt very little for What the Dead Want.  The story of a rich girl from Fifth Avenue who goes to live with her Aunt in a dilapidated house in upstate New York (honestly, New England must be positively crawling with haunted houses) and ends up solving a horrendous hate crime was ... a bit odd.

Gretchen is a photographer.  Before her mother disappeared, she taught Gretchen that photographs have power.  Some people even believed that you could capture a soul with a picture.  But ha ha!  We live in the modern age!  No one believes that ... do they?

But Aunt Esther is haunted by atrocities of the past--atrocities she photographed, looking for answers.  When *SPOILER* she abruptly commits suicide in the middle of the book, Gretchen has to solve the small-town secret that is basically that all the insular white people in town are racist descendants of the KKK who, years ago, held a mass lynching and burned people to death.

The idea of the book is that the dead want justice, but it also tried (and, in my opinion, failed) to address racial issues.  All I have to do is point to the news and you know what I'm talking about.  But I honestly don't think the surprise revelation that your heroine is mixed gets you a gold star.

Perhaps I'm just dull and don't *get* this book.  That's fine.  I leave it to others to read.  I could not spend any more time with it.  I honestly feel so very little for this book that I've had you suffer through an excessively dull review, for which I apologize.

I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

What I'm Reading Wednesday

I'm so backed up on books it's ridiculous.  Life has been really giving me a beating lately and I haven't even felt like reading.  Yikes.  However, I started some new things.  Actually, I started  a lot of new things but ended up marking most of them as DNFs, as you'll see in the days to come.  Often, it's not that the book is "bad" (which is such a subjective judgement that I reserve it for the truly heinous things I've had the misfortune of reading), but just that it doesn't appeal to me.

Right now, I'm reading the usual, plus:

One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters, because nothing cures the blues like medival monks on a mystery mission.  See also: The Name of the Rose, but thankfully Peters uses much less Latin.


Gorgon (Alex Hunter #5) by Greig Beck.  The Alex Hunter books are much better than the Matt ... uh, what's his name?  Kearns!  books in general, mostly because Alex is a more complex character.  Haven't seen any car parks in this one ... yet.

Life Strikes Back

I think I've been chastised for having cranky book reviews--I haven't had the time to write them because I can't seem to adult properly.  They'll be here, but maybe I can make them a bit less opinionated.

Or not.  I happen to like my opinions.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Say Yes to Baker's Magic

Baking is one of my very favorite pastimes.  One might think that because I have Celiac, I wouldn't be much of a baker.  I'd like to think I have some skills, though.  Besides, if I want a cinnamon roll or a double chocolate chip cookie, I'll have to make it myself.  And yes, I adore carbs, so Baker's Magic was a mouth-watering, deliciously fun fantasy story.

Diane Zahler wrote some of my very favorite elementary school-level fairy-tale retellings, like Sleeping Beauty's Daughter.  They're sweet, charming, and just make you happy when you read them.  I hope she writes more princess stories, but I was still excited to see a new (non-princessy) book from her pop up on Netgalley: Baker's Magic.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Into the Dim

Would I have minded the ridiculous premise of this and lack of historical detail if I hadn't read it directly after Connie Willis' Doomsday Book?

Yes.  But I really mind now that I know how it's supposed to be done.

A Week of No

Just in case things weren't negative enough around here, this week I'll be posting a bunch of DNFs with carefully reasoned critiques as to why I did not finish them.  Maybe I'll pop in a bright spot or two--like Diane Zahler's delicious and sweet Baker's Magic.  But my inner mood is black and so shall be this week.  Hopefully, the cathartic nature of writing will release all of my negativity and let me be a semi-normal human being in real life.


Friday, February 12, 2016

Mini-Review: Macbeth #killingit

Macbeth #killingit is not my favorite of the OMG Shakespeare series--that honor remains with srsly Hamlet--but it's still a ridiculously funny and smart take on that play that you probably had to read in high school and don't remember much about.  Hint: it's the one with the witches and you got to say "damned spot" out loud in English class without getting in trouble.

If you haven't seen anything in this series before, it's basically a social media take on Shakespeare's plays.  It's very emoji-heavy.  This one's a bit different from YOLO Juliet and srsly Hamlet in that Carbone incorporates even more social media platforms here, and it's hilarious.  We have the witches pinning things to their Kingterest board (ingredients for spells, obvi), and Lady Macbeth's maid checking her mistress' symptoms on KingMD Symptom Checker.

And Great Birnam Wood checking in to Dunsinane was hilarious.

Again, this is definitely a book for people who've already read the original play.  There's no substitute for Shakespeare, but this is a hilarious and witty supplement.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Doomsday Book

Warning: this review contains archaic language.  If you are in any way sensitive to long discussions of linguistics, I suggest skipping this and having a cookie.  

I have an excellent tip if you're lying home sick in bed this winter: read a book about the bubonic plague.  You will be thankful that you don't have that, and instead have something that (hopefully) doesn't make you spew bile from your armpits.  Although I am allergic to most antibiotics, I am exceedingly grateful that we can now treat the plague, because it's basically my nightmare diagnosis.  Well, that and Ebola.  Any disease that makes you leak fluids terrifies me.

I don't know why I didn't read Connie Willis' brilliant and award-winning Doomsday Book earlier.  And evidently, it's first in a series of time travel books set at a future Oxford University.  Hello, count me in!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Of Better Blood

When we think about eugenics, generally Mengele and his beyond-horrific experiments come to mind.  Eugenics=Nazis.  Of Better Blood talks about the enthusiastic embrace of eugenics in early 20th century America, and how as a nation, we've shoved yet another dirty secret under the rug, hoping it will go away.

Unfortunately, the message and the awareness of the American eugenics movement is the best part about Of Better Blood.  It is a book with great intentions and a strong sense of justice, but it might have been better as narrative nonfiction, because the plot jumps here, there, and everywhere, effectually getting us nowhere.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Name of the Rose

In my younger, more pretentious years (hello college!), I assumed that since I had been able to read Jane Austen, Henry James (save me), Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Henry Fielding, I was more than capable of tackling The Name of the Rose.

I was wrong.  There was Latin in this book.  No one speaks Latin!  I think both times I attempted this, I got stuck on the first page.  But this book is famous, and it's on five thousand "book you need to read before you die" lists, so I figured I've give it a shot.

Monday, February 8, 2016

How It Feels to Fly

Late last summer, I had a spectacularly dumb thought: if I were a superhero, would my stomach always have that roller coaster feeling as I dove through the air?  If I rode roller coasters often enough, would it numb my brain's reaction to dropping x amount of feet in a few seconds and convince my lizard brain that my stomach is indeed still inside my body?  What if you were a superhero with motion sickness?  It's a bird!  It's a plane!  It's Superman ... ralphing on everyone, dear sweet Krypton!

Because my mind is odd at the best of times, that's the first thing I thought of when I selected an ARC entitled How It Feels to Fly, by Kathryn Holmes.  The book is actually about ballet.  Aha, flying with arabesques and so forth.  Got it.  The other reason that this book intrigued me was that it was supposed to talk about BDD (body dysmorphic disorder).

Friday, February 5, 2016

Wild Swans

Reading outside of your comfort zone is really a crap shoot.  You might find a glorious book that makes you wonder, "Why did I think I disliked this genre?  Why haven't I tried this author before?" or you might end up with more of the same old same old color-by-numbers stuff (which is only fun when it's your Guilty Pleasure Genre.  Mine is mysteries).  But when you do find that rare, glorious book that makes you stop and gasp, it's lovely.

Wild Swans is such a book.

I've not read anything by Jessica Spotswood before, although we have her books at the library.  I like the covers!  I just never felt a pull to read them.  Maybe it's because I'm not really into teen supernatural books, but when I saw that her newest title was contemporary, I requested an ARC.

The story wasn't mind-blowingly different, and the romance was a little romance-y for my tastes (please keep in mind, I am very, very, very picky about the romance in my books so I am sure that like 99% of people will love the romance here), but the execution and main character completely sold me on Wild Swans.

Ivy is a Milbourn girl, and people in the small town of Cecil say that the Milbourn women are cursed.  Cursed with genius and cursed to die a tragic death.  Ivy would rather not die a tragic death, thank you very much, and no matter how many different activities her Granddad makes her try--dance, painting, writing, piano--she doesn't seem to have any particular genius.  She's captain of the swim team, and feels most comfortable in the water, even though that's how her grandmother died: drowning.  She's lived with Granddad ever since her mother, Erica, abandoned her as a child.  Ivy's always wondered what it would be like to have a mom, and she's about to find out.

Erica Milbourn is coming back to Cecil because she has no place to stay in the wake in her divorce.  And surprise!  She's bringing Ivy's half-sisters.  Ivy's wish to have a normal summer before senior year goes down the tubes. Figuring out her relationship with Alex, her best friend and their housekeeper's son, gets a lot more complicated when Granddad's star pupil in his poetry class at the local college shows up at the house to do some summer work.

Ivy is determined to hate this guy who just gets her great-grandmother Dorothea's poetry.  Except, Connor isn't the loser hipster she thought he'd be.  He's, well, he's hot.  And smart.  And he doesn't think she has to be anything bigger or greater than who she already is.  Can we clone him?

When Erica arrives,  teenage daughter Isobel and six-year-old Gracie in tow, it's every bit the disaster that Ivy feared.  Erica hasn't told her younger daughters about Ivy, and introduces her as "Aunt Ivy."  This, as you can imagine, does not go over well, nor does it end well.  Imagine: your mom abandoned you as a baby and now, with two more daughters, doesn't even want to acknowledge your existence.  Ivy's a stronger person than me, because she doesn't completely break down.  Ivy's relationship with Connor gets more intense as her mother's behavior threatens to tear everyone apart.

What I liked most about Wild Swans was how the author frankly and rationally discussed things like sexual agency, choice, diversity, unhealthy relationships, and fat shaming.

As a swimmer, Ivy naturally has a non-conforming body type when it comes to your standard bookish heroine (I don't mean just YA--I mean all books).  She's tall and broad-shouldered--torpedo-shaped so she can shoot through the water with minimum drag.  She's not voluptuous or delicate, she's ... Ivy.  And she's okay with that.  So when her mom, Erica (who it's later revealed had/has an eating disorder), constantly fat-shames Isobel, Ivy won't stand for it.  "Fury rises in me.  She's beautiful the way she is.  There's more to being pretty--or healthy--than being skinny."  And when Erica chides Iz for eating cookies, Ivy says, "I cannot believe Erica just said that.  Isobel's curvey, not all angles like Erica and Gracie.  But she's not fat.  Even if she were fat, who cares?  It still wouldn't be okay to police what she eats and shame her in front of everyone."

Hi, Ivy Milbourn, you're my new best friend.

And while Alex, her best friend, wants to be something more than "just friends," Ivy doesn't.  She doesn't love him like that, and he cannot--or will not--process that.  I was so proud of Ivy for being firm and standing her ground.  It's very clear that she loves Connor as a boyfriend and Alex as a brother.  Alex goes a little My Best Friend's Wedding on Ivy, thinking that the more he pouts, the more chances he'll have to "win her heart" or some such crap.  I found Alex to be really immature and almost stalkerish in his pursuit of Ivy.  She doesn't belong to you, Alex.  Ivy is not a girl to possess, and you getting all upset that she doesn't love you back will not change that.

This is a personal bĂȘte noire of mine: the guy who thinks that just because you are friends, or even that you talk to him, smile at him, or tolerate his presence, then he is somehow entitled to your affection.  I've been accused of being a "tease" numerous times because I talk to guys as if they are other human beings with whom I would like to converse.  My talking does not equal my wanting to date you, or--in one memorable instance--marry you.

I want to hug Ivy and I want to high-five Jessica Spotswood for writing this book.  Highly recommended.

I received an ARC of this title from Edelweiss.  All quotes are taken from the ARC and are subject to change.

Thursday, February 4, 2016


Have you ever read a book that's not very long, but by the nature of its plot and pacing, feels like War and Peace?  That's Security.  I feel like I read it for hours and only made it about halfway.  Then I gave up and read the end and still didn't understand what was going on.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

What I'm Reading Wednesday

I am so backed up on books it's not even funny.  The Name of the Rose keeps sucking me in and distracting me from other books I need to finish.  

As for Les Mis: Jean Valjean and Cosette have successfully evaded Javert and his cronies in the Paris chase, which is unfortunately left out of the musical.  ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED!

I've only started one new book:

Tombquest #4: The Stone Warriors by Michael Northrop.  I just love this action/adventure series for kids.  And grown-ups.  ;)

However, I've finished a bunch of ARCs in the meantime, so look for reviews coming up.  

I don't love the way you lie

Seven characters.  Seven deadly sins.  Seven narrative POVs.  Seven shades of meh.  I mean, not even fifty.  Just seven.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Descender, Vol. 1: Tin Stars

For a book that's being hailed as great space opera, the next big thing, and all that jazz, you'd think that Descender could afford a copyeditor.

Monday, February 1, 2016

How did you get here?

If you have not read Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann, stop reading.  Go to your library or bookstore and obtain a copy.  Read it.  Process.  Pro-cesssssss.  Rejoice in Hepperman's take-no-prisoners truthfulness about what it's like being a girl.

Okay, have you done that?  If not, I forgive you, but you really must, must, must read that book.  As for Ask Me How I Got Here?  It's an okay book, but it didn't blow me away like Poisoned Apples did. The plot was overly simple and some of the characterizations bordered on cliche.