10.11.2013

Book Review: Let's Catch Up, Shall We


I've been super delinquent about posting any actual book review on here for the past couple of months. Part of it is due to the fact that I've been reading so much, on average two books a week; you may have noticed that I had to up my book goal for the year since I already surpassed 52 titles. I've also been reading a lot of publisher galleys for titles that won't be available for several months and I don't want to rub it in your faces. But, I figured it's time to play catch up and give you a brief rundown of some of the best things I've read since early August.



I'm a little late to the Miéville game, largely due to his rather vocal Tolkien bashing. I was convinced that anyone who hated the fantasy epics of my childhood would not appeal to me as an author. But, when my coworker, Casey, told me that Kraken was like American Gods but better, I called him a blasphemer and then started reading to prove him wrong. Only one problem with my plan, he wasn't wrong. I don't know that it's *better* than American Gods, but it's definitely on par. I love the language and how authentically British it all feels. Now I'm faced with the problem of catching up on the rest of his books. This is the book for you if you like anything Neil Gaiman has ever written but want something just a little different.

Jussi Adler-Olsen is my new favorite Scandinavian mystery author. His detective, Carl Morck is the best curmudgeonly, Wallander-esque detective out there. I also love, now that I'm getting into the second book in this series, that he doesn't have a formula to his books, making them each unique and delightful. In The Keeper of Lost Causes, Carl is recovering (but not if you ask him, if you ask him, he's just fine) from the all too recent ambush he an his team encountered. One partner is dead and the other is paralyzed and begging Carl to help him end it. In the midst of his personal turmoil he is "promoted" to the head of a brand new cold case division nicknamed Department Q. Carl comes out from under his personal rain cloud when he realizes that one of the cold cases may not be so cold after all. 

The phrase "Roald Dahl meets Harry Potter" has been used to describe John Connolly's Samuel Johnson series and I think it's a perfect synopsis of these delightfully dark tales. If you haven't read The Gates, you really should first, or else you won't get some of the great character development that happens in The Infernals. The third in this comedy-of-errors apocalypse series is due out this month and I can't wait to see what's next for middle schooler Samuel Johnson and his intrepid dachshund Boswell.

It's been a while since I braved the world of YA vampires, but I have to hand it to Holly Black, The Coldest Girl In Coldtown is a lot better than most. I wasn't sold on the appeal of the mysterious vampire that Tana falls for, especially after it turns out that he lies to her throughout almost the entire book. And I'm also a bit torn on the ending; without spoiling too much, let me say that I don't get why Tana makes the decision she does. If you like supernatural thriller/romance, this is a nice read, although I might wait for the paperback to learn all about how Tana survives the massacre at a sundown party that killed off several of her classmates and left her saddled with a turning ex-boyfriend and a mysterious and dangerous vampire on her hands. Also, someone explain the title to me, it doesn't *really* make sense.

Once upon a time I danced ballet, and I still retain a great fascination with the whole world of dance, so this title isn't as far out in left field for me as you might think. It's a fictionalized account of the life of prima ballerina Tanaquil "Tanny" Le Clercq with her husband, the (in)famous New York City Ballet director, George Balanchine. The novel covers their courtship (she was his fourth or fifth wife depending on how you do the math) through her polio, rehab, and ultimately their divorce. It's a fascinating read, just bear in mind that it is a novelization and not a biography.

Remember Cinder? Well this is the next in the Lunar Chronicles, Scarlet. It's just as amazing. This one follows Scarlet, who you probably guessed is Little Red Riding Hood, as she and a suspicious street fighter names Wolf track down her kidnapped grandmother. Along the way their story becomes entangled with Cinders who is now an escaped convict. I just finished the third in the series, Cress, and am now impatiently awaiting the fourth... But since the third isn't even officially published yet, I've got a lot of waiting to do. This series is my new obsession. I love finding all the parallels to the fairy tales and the scifi setting is perfection. 


Neil Gaiman never fails to disappoint and The Ocean at the End of the Lane is no exception. It's perfectly magical and equally creepy. My friend/coworker Justus told me not to read it before bedtime unless I wanted some disturbing dreams, and she was absolutely right. This tale follows a young boy who befriends an odd family of women (daughter, mother, and grandmother) after he finds the dead body of his family's lodger in their stolen car. His adventures with his new friend quickly lead to his entanglement with a malevolent force that is bent on destroying the world. It's a quick read, but it's magical.

Kelly Williams Brown is my new hero. Seriously. This book immediately went on the list for my holiday pick, it's that good. This book is hysterically funny while being dead helpful. Kelly offers real, practical advice with a side of wit that (sort of) softens the blow when you realize what an idiotic, sheltered yuppy you are. If you are in your twenties or you know someone who is, this is the book you/they need. (Fair warning, she has a potty mouth, just like me.)

Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez has the most deliciously grandiose title. I've seen this book compared to Paper Towns by John Green and the similarities are there. This is a much more goth version. It also deals beautifully with how horribly un-normal grief can be. Frenchie is coping, well not really, with the suicide of her long-time crush Andy by alienating herself from her friends and spending time in the neighborhood cemetery talking to her imaginary friend, Emily Dickinson. One night, with the help of a new acquaintance, she decides to relive the one (and only) night she had with Andy, the night before he died, in an effort to move past it all.

Jenni Fagan's The Panopticon is another amazing look at the horribly raw and unflinching emotions teenagers face. Anais Hendricks has been part of the system since birth. First she was an orphan bouncing around to different foster homes. Then, after an all too brief sojourn, she was thrust back into the world as a drug-addled juvenile delinquent following the murder of her beloved adopted mom. Now the police suspect her of bludgeoning an officer nearly to death, an accusation that Anais cannot deny nor confirm, and have shipped her off to the Panopticon pending trial. Anais is brutally honest in everything from sex to drugs to her love of vintage fashion. Combined with Ms. Fagan's habit of writing in Scottish brogue, Anais ended up sounding like a sexed-up version of Brave's Merida in my head. I was rooting for her in the end.

Ashley Cardiff is pee-your-pants funny. She reminds me a lot of Sloane Crosley. Maybe I just dig young, female wits. Night Terrors is a collection of true anecdotes that all, loosely, revolve around sex and relationships. I found myself relating to so many of her stories, especially when she acknowledged how much her upper-middle class whiteness colors her world. If you need a good laugh, I definitely recommend this one.

So the Italians are weird. I've decided. I've also realized that as much as I loathed If on a Winter's Night a Traveler back in January, I need to amend that because it's been growing on me ever since. Niccolò Ammaniti's Let the Games Begin started out with me feeling like this book was going to be way more academic and intellectual for me to enjoy. Then the sad, little Satanic cult popped up and I was intrigued. Next everyone ended up at this house party hosted by a megalomaniac who is attempting to buy his way into the hearts of the upper echelons of Italian society. He's planned a lavish weekend party that the floundering Satanic cult leader is hoping to sabotage to stake his claim in the annals of the infamous. If this doesn't sound weird enough yet, just wait until the mutated, Soviet defectors pop up. It's a brilliant farce and a mad-capped comedy of errors. Enjoy.

Somehow I never read anything by Catherynne Valente before, which is such a shame since I now know how wonderful she is. This is a collection of her short stories and poems; the perfect introduction to her work. You can get a real feel for her love and understanding of Japanese folklore here. Also, she is a genius with words; just try reading her description of a sunset in the titular poem without being awed. Thank you Catherynne for getting me excited about poetry for the first time ever.

Laurie R. King does historical mystery better than anyone else I know. She never fails to make the 1920s come alive for me while I'm engrossed in one of her page turners. This is technically the second book featuring Harris & Bennett, but I never read Touchstone, so I don't think you need to. This is also the only non-Mary Russell book of Ms. King's that I've ever read. I need to remedy that shortly. This thriller is set in Montparnasse in the '20s and is appropriately gruesome for a book featuring the Grand Guignol theater.

I have two problems with this book: (1) I dislike the final cover. You can't give me neon coral on the publishers galley and then expect me to be okay without it. Although, admittedly, this cover makes more sense for the story of the Hursts and their complete and total dysfunction. And (2) This book was incredibly anxiety-inducing. I had to force myself through a few chapters to get to a point where I couldn't stop reading. Ignoring those two personal issues, it's an amazing psychological thriller. A bit Mommy Dearest meets Girl, Interrupted. Please read it so we can discuss how disturbingly creepy Will and Josephine's relationship is. Please.

I really thought this was going to be a twist on Pinochio and Anne Ursu does a sneaky job of playing into that idea for the first half of The Real Boy. But it's not. And the true delight comes once you get past that mental hurdle and engross yourself in an original tale for the middle school set about magic, friendship, and loyalt

This is one of the best, quirky titles I've read in years. It makes you think, right after it frustrates the hell out of you. This book is new to the states and I'm so thrilled to have Keith Ridgway's Hawthorn & Child here now. The titular detectives are charged with piecing together obscure clues for some seemingly unrelated crimes. This book is about examining unfinished business. If you're a person who needs closure, don't even think about reading this, although I'm still going to recommend it to you. Over and over and over again.


3 comments:

  1. Thanks for totally inspiring to read more!! :)

    ReplyDelete
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