Friday, February 17, 2017

Quick Review: Comeback!

I read a bunch of books over the holidays this year that I haven't had a chance to review yet, but I lurved them and want to share the glory with you. So: a series of brief review posts!

Do you remember Trouble Is a Friend of Mine? Remember how much I loved it?  (A lot. The amount was a lot.) The sequel came out!  I had pre-ordered it, which is a thing that I do not do, ever.  And I read it.  Right away.  This is unprecedented; I never read the books I buy.

Once again, I was in no way disappointed.  Trouble Makes a Comeback is great in all the best ways.  It's also preposterous, melodramatic, and convoluted, but you just can't care with Zoe and Digby and Sloane and Henry and Felix tooling around town, going up against drug dealers small and large, enormous corporate conspiracies, and the high school football team. 

Digby's back, but Zoe's settled into a normal life and maybe knows better than to get involved with his brand of crazy again (also, why didn't he call?).  She has a boyfriend and besties and is totally normal, and Digby is trying to drag her straight into his investigation...but how can she resist? Everything is more interesting with Digby around.

And more dangerous.  The stakes are higher this time around--in the first book, there's a sense at first that this could all be a bit overblown and mostly in Digby's head.  But here, we are learning that everything in the first book is the tip of the iceberg. 

And I really loved that, while there was definitely romantic tension in this book, that is not even remotely the main basis of this relationship.  I don't even know if you call this a slow burn--this is a book full of sparks, but with people who have more important things to do than obsess over romance.

There will definitely be a third--the end was practically a cliffhanger--and as soon as they announce it I'm ordering it.  Can't waaaaaaaaait.  Stephanie Tromly, you're awesome. Write more books!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Quick Review: Diabolical!

I read a bunch of books over the holidays this year that I haven't had a chance to review yet, but I lurved them and want to share the glory with you. So: a series of brief review posts!

I really wanted to do a post of its own about S.J. Kincaid's The Diabolic, which I read over Christmas, but it sat half written through the flu and now it's too late for the lavish, loving extravaganza of a review I wanted to give it.

Nemesis is a Diabolic, a genetically engineered humanoid who is designed to be a bodyguard.  Big, fast, strong, ruthless, she's been imprinted on a girl named Sidonia, who becomes her best friend and the star around which Nemesis orbits.  But when Sidonia's family falls out of favor with the Emperor, she is summoned to his space station palace as hostage, and it's clear what her fate is to be.  The only way for Nemesis to save her is to take her place.

Okay, so this is a fish-out-of-water story about someone bluntly practical trying to imitate royalty, which is TOTALLY MY JAM. I was all over this, and it generally did not disappoint, in many ways soared far beyond my hopes for it, and in one way really made me mad--partly because it was otherwise SO GOOD why did you use Literally The Worst Trope? Why? (Note: I will spoil in "The Bad" section below. Warned!)

What was good: The complicated political games Nemesis has to learn how to play.  She's more of a trouble-comes-punch-it type of person, but she knows full well that she can't show that or everyone will know she's not Sidonia, so she takes her lessons very seriously. There are many layers to alliances and manners and invitations and appearances, and they are treated with the solemnity they reserve, which is to say that everyone knows they're ridiculous, but they dictate how the world is run, so you have to play them.  This isn't about how snobs are shallow; it's about how snobs are cutthroat.

What was even better: I find that futuristic stories that try to hinge on manners and mores and appearances the way Victorian novels do tend to be unbelievable.  It's very hard to convince me that a romance in the future is shocking in its impropriety. But Kincaid made the silly, meaningless rules of court hugely important.  Honestly, it was almost Dune-like in how it folded real politics into frivolous appearances. 

Also, Nemesis's explorations of what it means that she's not human, the fact that she doesn't just discover that she's really a human being after all, but that she gets to be who she is--not human, but a person.  Something different, but still someone worthy. The things that make her different make her better not just in the ways they are intended--strong, brave, loyal--but also in unexpected ways--perceptive, just, sympathetic.

The bad: Again, this is the spoilery section.  I saw the plot thread coming for ages, but I'm so mad about how it ended.  Sidonia and Nemesis had such a lovely relationship--it was complicated by a lot of factors, but I really hoped it would turn into a romance.  Even later, after the male lead showed up, I had my hopes. And you know, I can live with not getting a lesbian romance out of this. But you know what happens to lesbians in The Worst Trope, right? Yup.

So, aside from that one big, glaring caveat, this book was amazing.  I highly recommend it, really, even if you have to brace yourself for The Worst Trope.  In so many ways it's a sharp, fast, smart story that really thinks about personal relationships and what they mean.  

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Quick Review: Avalanche!

I read a bunch of books over the holidays this year that I haven't had a chance to review yet, but I lurved them and want to share the glory with you. So: a series of brief review posts!

Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies, by Lindsay Ribar. I read a review of this one from the Booksmugglers and it sounded weird and fascinating, and I'm sorry but is that not the best title?

Aspen Quick is visiting his aunt and grandmother for the summer; they need a third family member to help with the ritual.  Their family has powers--they can use objects to pull things from people--and they use them to keep the cliff that looms over the town from collapsing and destroying everything.  Every few days, the cliff trembles and the family makes an offering. They take something--one kid's competitive spirit; another woman's enjoyment of rowing on the lake. They offer these to the cliff to keep it quiet.

But Aspen can take things any time. He can take away his friend's anger when he's done something obnoxious, or a girl's desire for him to go away.  It's easy, and it makes life easy and smooth.  He just can't figure out why his father wouldn't take away his mother's desire to move out.

So good.  Aspen is exactly the kind of privileged kind-of-brat that having a power like that would make you. He doesn't seem like a jerk, really; even from the first page, you're reading this likeable guy, and he says some things that you think you must have misunderstood in the rush of worldbuilding.  But as you go along you realize, no, he just has no idea what's going on outside of his own head.  And so you follow Aspen through the summer when he basically learns what it means to be a good person. It's such a good story, with lots of sad parts, and also lots of parts about how hard it is to be a good person that, I'm sorry, I could really relate to.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Code Switch

I was drawn to Lucy and Linh, by Alice Pung, because a fish-out-of-water story at a fancy-pants private school is exactly what I want to read, thank you.  I got the book from Netgalley (for an honest review; thank you, Netgalley!) and I got started, and it is definitely about a fish out of water at a fancy-pants private school--but the pants might be too fancy, and instead of water, the fish is kind of in a murky cesspool of malevolence.

Lucy's family came to Australia from Vietnam when she was a small child; they're ethnically Chinese.  She lives on a poor side of town and goes to the local Catholic school, where many immigrants send their children to get a better education than in public school.  Her father works at a carpet factory and her mother does piecework, sewing clothing at home while taking care of her baby brother.

Then Lucy applies for the first ever scholarship position at the incredibly posh Laurinda Academy, and, to her own shock, gets in.  Suddenly she's going to a school where everyone else is rich, and white, and very, very snobby.  At the point where I am (not quite halfway through the book), most of the story is about the politics and social life of this school.

Which is awful. Every single person there is horrible. From the very first moment, when we learn that the very expensive uniform must be purchased from a certain very expensive store and the headmistress doesn't seem to notice that this might be a hardship, to the firm label of Charity Case that she seems to have stuck on Lucy's head, the whole school seems toxic.  There is a popular crowd who walks the halls in slow motion with a wind machine blowing their hair back--they are called The Cabinet and they rule the school but are evil, evil, evil, playing random pranks designed to crush people's spirits, including one on a teacher that results in a nervous breakdown.

These people are so evil I don't believe them.  They do not seem to have any interiority; unlike, say, Before I Fall, the mean girls don't seem to have any personalities or desires or emotions that drive them.  They just enjoy ruining lives.  They're sociopaths, basically.  And a lot of the attention of the school--and of the book--is devoted to them.

I wanted more about Lucy.  So far she's mostly an observer; she's tried to talk to one or two other students about things, but they don't get it or won't talk about it.  I'm frustrated for her, because she seems like the only sane person in the crazytown of this school, but she's got a Nick Caraway vibe going on, in that she doesn't really seem to have much of a role in the story yet.

The format of the book is interesting, too--it's addressed to Linh, who seems to be a friend of Lucy's from her old school, someone she left behind. Linh is in all of her memories from her old school, and sometimes backs Lucy up when she's, say, on the phone with someone from school, but her actual role isn't clear at all.  I'm pretty sure at this point that the epistolary nature of the novel is a bit of a gimmick; it doesn't seem to be adding anything to the story, and I think it's working more as a metaphor.

I really wanted to like the book better.  I did listen to the Reading the End podcast episode about it (warning, there are some spoilers there--but it's worth listening to for the sharp observations about how evil cliques work in real life vs. stories), and they felt the same way I did: there's some good potential here, but the story focuses way too much of the mean girls at school.  I do love Lucy's family--her lovable baby brother, her dad who takes time of work whenever he needs to for her, her mom who sews all day and loves her children fiercely.  Her family is great, and if the book is trying to paint them as awkward in the fancy world Lucy now inhabits, it's failing, because her parents seem pretty rational and the adults at this school are all on some kind of crack.

So I think this book is not for me.  I'm pretty sure I really like what it's aspiring to, but it's strayed a little too much into caricature to work, in my opinion.  I'm only partway through it, so maybe that opinion will change, but I also might not finish it at this point. 

Thank you again to Netgalley for the review copy.  I'm never sure about writing about a review book that I'm not sure I'll finish, but I really wanted to talk about this one, because the ingredients of the book aren't adding up to everything it could be. 

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Dusk or Dawn, Dark or Day

Or rather Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day, by Seanan McGuire, which is a lovely title for a ghost story with many lovely aspects but that is, ultimately, Not For Me.

I picked the book up (from Netgalley, for review; thank you, Netgalley!) because of how much I loved Every Heart a Doorway. I knew it was about ghosts--as in, a story about the "lives" of ghosts, from their point of view, which is a hard world to build, in my opinion.  If you're going to show me a vision of the afterlife that looks pretty much exactly like being alive (these are ghosts who live in apartments and have jobs and eat sometimes), I'm already pretty skeptical. There's an element of "moving on," though--you only stay as a ghost if you go before your time--another concept that I'm kind of fuzzy on, but I'm not bad at suspension of disbelief.

Jenna died too soon--when her sister Patty killed herself, Jenna was distraught and died in an accident. Now, years later, Jenna has moved from her small town home to New York City, where she works at a suicide hotline, "earning" her extra time back to get closer to the right time for her death.  So, this is the first confusing thing--ghosts can "steal" time from living people. Now, what I think when I hear this is that the person's life gets shorter--maybe their death date moves up or maybe they get older. But what it actually means is that the ghost takes some of the person's age--the person gets younger, winds back the time that the ghost takes, and the ghost gets older, closer to their death date/moving on.

Ghosts can also give time--get further from their death date, stay on earth longer, and by giving those minutes or hours or years to a human, cause the person to age.  Apparently most ghosts are eager to move on, so they steal time from people in a win-win situation--people get younger, ghosts get older and move on sooner. But a few ghosts want to stay, and they tend to find bad people and give them back time to keep away from their death date.

But Jenna's odder--she has somehow decided that she has to earn the right to move on. So she works at a suicide hotline, and whenever she talks someone into living longer, she logs that time and only then allows herself to take that time from someone. This was really my first sticking point; I really can't figure out why Jenna would put this artificial gate between herself and the thing she wants--to be with her sister Patty. I didn't get a feel for Jenna's relationship with Patty, either, which was supposed to be the driving force of the novel.

The actual story begins when ghosts start to disappear from the city. Jenna and a few allies are the only ones to investigate--her ghost landlady, a local witch, a homeless woman.  They follow the trail which leads them, for some reason, into Jenna's past.

Talking it through, I think this was part of the trouble I had with the story--there were a lot of different pieces that ended up dovetailing for no particular reason. Jenna's personal story and the problem of the missing ghosts are mostly unrelated, except for a lot of ways they're related.  A lot of the plot is driven by coincidence, in the end, which doesn't work as well for me.

What I will say, though, is that Seanan McGuire can write.  The day to day moments of Jenna's life are smooth and lovely to read, and if I didn't understand a lot of the emotional content, the way it's described was not the problem. I didn't love this book, but I absolutely want to read much more by this author.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Whole New World

I don't even remember when I started reading 52 Book Minimum, and we have very dissimilar taste in books, but I actually kind of love reading book reviews for books that I'm never going to read, and I love people who take the time to fill their reviews with gifs.  So, despite the fact that she doesn't like Squirrel Girl, I continue to read her blog all the damned time.  I don't usually add to my to-read from there, though, because she reads a lot of, as she puts it, porn.

But I was recovering from the Death Flu and I read her review of The Wingman by Natasha Anders, which was glowing, and which ended with the point that it was available to Read Now on Netgalley, and here we are.  I read the porn. I am a reader of porn. Your finer contemporary erotic romance.

Nah, I'm just kidding. I mean, I'll admit that I usually get my porn from fanfic, because I don't have to worry about anyone making me care about their characters.  But as promised, this book was adorable.  Daisy is so likeable, and her sense of herself as the not-attractive one is really well-told.  She's the "other sister"--not the pretty one, not the cute one--and in their small town, that kind of thing sticks.  Mason would normally never look twice at her, but when his brother wants to chat up  her sister, he agrees to play you-know-what.

So, here's the thing--being hit on by the wingman is not by definition a bad thing.  I mean, sure, a guy who isn't actually attracted to you  was chatting you up, so maybe it's...dishonest, a little? But no, even that, you had a conversation with someone who didn't want to take you home--that's not inherently gross.  I will admit, however, that the way it went down was uncool, so it makes sense that Mason feels like a heel and Daisy feels like he owes her one, and sexy hijinks ensue.

There was a decent amount of the usual stuff that makes romances eye-rolly--Mason is ex-military and pretty fond of barking orders, and I'm sorry but boundaries are not a starting place for flirtatious negotiations--but overall this was really about two people who realize they like each other and become more attracted to each other as they get to know each other.  How about that, huh?

In sum, everything that Kelly said in her review, and please enjoy this picture of Daisy's dog, Peaches.

(I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley for honest review.)

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Influenzed

Naturally, right after an author tweets something incredibly flattering and links my review, I immediately come down with the flu and can't post for a week. All of my descriptions for how sick I was sound like hyperbole--I was barely able to get out of bed, I kind of felt like I was dying. But yeah, the flu is not a joke--I had chills and the doctor gave me IV fluids and even after I was feeling better, I could only read for half an hour at a time before my head would loll back.

But!  Here I am, in between naps, back in action. I've read so many books in the past month that I want to write about, it's a bit overwhelming, but I'm also trying to decide whether to finish an ARC that I'm not that into, just because I want to talk about why I'm not that into it.  I generally try not to review advance copies unless I finish them, since it seems unfair--especially if the book seems mostly okay, just not for me.  But I really want to discuss this one.  I'm pretty sure, by my own personal ethical system, that means I have to finish the book.

Anyway, I hope to get back on my normal posting schedule this week, but I wanted to say hi and that I'm wheezing but surviving over here. And I'm reading the cheesiest romance novel, an incredible sci fi novel, and a Terry Pratchett novel, so life is, overall, not too bad.

I hope you can say the same!