Thursday, August 29, 2013

Coming Soon to a Bookstore Near You!

September is going to be a very exciting month for new books!  Especially books that I learned about through Netgalley but couldn't get my hands on there.

First, foremost, and up front, we have Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein, a companion book to the absolutely lovely Code Name Verity.  It's another story of a woman pilot in World War II, with, I gather, some more being captured by the Germans in there.  Verity was so different, so wonderful--still able to bring tears to my eyes when I think of that one line that Verity shouts at the end--I'm not going to be able to wait a minute for this one.  This is one I'll buy when it hits the market, immediately.

 Usually, Netgalley won't give you any preview of the book--you're going in blind.  For All Our Yesterdays, by Cristin Terrill, though, they gave us a teaser of about 30 pages.  Which I read.  Which was AWESOME.  And now, even though they didn't give me a galley, I want to read the darned book so bad--so bad!  I'm not sure what's going on--there's time travel and a prison and a lot of death defying.  It's time travel where you can change the future, I guess, or something--I'm sort of reminded of Ruby Red only much less teen angst and more trapped in prison and might die at any moment angst, which is in my opinion better angst.

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell.  I've told you what I think of the Rainbow Rowell books that I've already read, and I cannot wait to read this one.  I have no idea what it's about (besides the basic idea of the story that's implied in the title), but Rowell's ability to charm me is pretty well proven by now, and her ability to put some meat on those bones is also well established.  And if, yeah, there was a creepy element to Attachments, the fact that the book was so charming AROUND that element speaks volumes to me.

After Impossible, which took the strange and supernatural and made it warm and practical, comes Unthinkable, by Nancy Werlin.  This is a sequel, but promises to be very different, as it takes place in the land of faerie and the title character is the enchanted several-greats-grandmother of the previous book's heroine.  I won't say I love every Nancy Werlin book, but she does things differently, and I can't wait to see what she's going to do here.

From Gene Luen Yang, author of the excellent American Born Chinese (which, how did I not review that?) come Boxers and Saints, two graphic novels about the Boxer Rebellion.  I don't know nearly enough about this part of history, and the structure intrigues me. Both books tell the stories of Chinese youth caught up in the Boxer Rebellion; one is a converted Christian, the other has joined the rebels.  I love the idea of the author taking on both sides of the story like this; it's so easy, when we look at a conflict like this from the distance of time and neutrality, to feel like everyone should just get along, and I can't wait to see what he does with the fear and turmoil that are involved in living through an event like this.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black.  I know nearly nothing about this one, except what one of my Goodreads friends said: "Keep hearing that vampires are over but this is how they should have been done all along."  Must read now.

And guys, that's just September!  In fact, that's pretty much all September 10!  I CANNOT WAIT.  I will not get into what's coming in October (at least until a future post). 

I do think it's interesting that almost every one of these (except the Yang) is something I wanted from Netgalley but didn't get, presumably mostly because of my small (but dedicated! and brilliant!) readership.  All I'm saying is that if nothing else, Netgalley is an effective way to market books to me. Well played, Netgalley, well played.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bernadette at Book Club

Get it?  'Cause the title of the book is Where'd You Go, Bernadette?  (By Maria Semple, just to sneak that useful information in there.)

Poor Bee; her mother has disappeared.  The novel is composed of a collection of documents--mostly emails and letters from Bee's school, from Bernadette to her new personal assistant in India, from her neighbor to the blackberry abatement specialist.  The portrait that emerges is an unflattering one of a brittle and neurotic Bernadette.  The other players don't fare much better, from the overearnest parents at the school to the absolutely nutballs neighbor/parent who hates her.

The first time I picked the book up, I put it down after 30 pages.  I hated pretty much all the characters, and I was pretty sure the author hated them, too, and wanted me to laugh at them with her.  They were all just so sad, though, I stopped reading.

But when I read it for book club, my opinion changed.  I loved this book, and Maria Semple loved her characters.  She saw how they screwed up, but she also saw how much screwing up doesn't make you a bad person, even when you do it repeatedly and over a long period of time.  You could say the big message here is that it's never too late, and my word do I like hearing that sometimes.

Unfortunately, this book being so all-around enjoyable meant that our discussion at book club was not as spirited as usual.  It's also not as rich in questions for future book clubbers in need of a reader's guide.  (By the way, there was a reader's guide in the back of my copy.  I was not terribly impressed.)

Anyway,  here's what we thought was worth talking about.

1) Answer the title question.  At the point in the middle of the narrative where (is this a spoiler?) an actual disappearance takes place, what zany ideas did you come up with?  I had a whole bunch, and they're really cool, but they're very spoiley, and I'm not sure how to keep spoilers from showing up in an RSS reader, so I will put those theories in a paragraph at the very end of the review.  That's where the spoilers live.

2) Talk to me about religion.  How did religion fit in with Audrey's character arc?  With Bee's?  Were there undercurrents besides the obvious "religious" things, or did the religion thing seem tacked on?  By the characters (tacked onto their lives) or by the author (tacked onto the story)?

3) What do you see going on with gender relations in this book?  There are some really interesting subquestions and ways to look at things here--Elgie's vs. Bernadette's roles in their marriage vs. the expectations of those roles; Elgie as kind of the token man in the story overall; Bernadette's career and subsequent collapse are all very "feminine" in both cool and not-cool ways.

4) Talk about mothers.  Bernadette's relationship with Bee, Bernadette's history with trying to get pregnant, the other mothers at the school and their relations to each other, other kids' reactions to Bernadette, Audrey as a mom, Soo-Lin as a parent.  Is Bernadette a good mother?  Is she a better mother than she might appear to be?  Appear to whom?  And hey, what about Elgie--is he a good father?

5) There's a really cool conversation to be had if anyone reading this book knows anything about: Seattle; intense, participatory schools for crunchy, high-achieving families; working at big, exciting, cult-like organizations.  5b) If you read this and Mr. Penumbra, compare the latter's depictions of Google with Bernadette's depictions of Microsoft.

Okay, that's all the questions.  Now the next paragraph has my spoilers of Theories I Had In the Middle of the Book about Were Bernadette Actually Was.  Don't read it if you haven't read the book!

I thought she might be: hiding out in the desert with Audrey; trading identities with Audrey and hiding out in the desert answering Soo-Lin's emails; down in Los Angeles wreaking vengeance on the reality TV dude who ruined her house; building a new house somewhere weirdly under their noses in Seattle; building a house in Antarctica.

Was I right?  Well, read the book!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Einstein Tensor Tattoo

I've read way too many YA books that all look the same; there are a ton of red flags that stop me in my tracks (instalove, hot guy who changes the main character in the first five minutes, boring teenagers).  Relativity, by Cristin Bishara, dodged pretty much all of them; it started out fresh and smart and kept it up pretty much all the way through.

Start with Ruby, who kicks butt. She's smart, independent, well-read, and rational.  She has a tattoo on her neck and  a crush on her best friend, and is incredibly frustrated that she's had to move from LA to Nowhere, Ohio, because her dad got married in a whirlwind romance.  And her new stepsister, Kandy, is pretty awful.

Through one thing and another, she finds herself wandering through different universes--places where history has gone very differently than it has for her.  Her new family, the loss of her mother when she was young--what does life look like with these factors changed?  Or if Thomas Edison didn't invent the light bulb?

I won't say that the science was unassailable; there's definitely some fate stuff happening here.  But there's some good science discussion, some nice handwaving bits about how the multiverse might work.  More importantly, though, when Ruby has a phenomenon to investigate, she grabs a notebook and a digital camera, goes to the library to do background research, and works hard to figure things out.  The girl is THINKING. When she does make less-than-stellar decisions, it's in situations where I don't blame her--stress, panic, and the sheer bewilderment of what she's learning--heck, I wouldn't have done as well as she did.

Anyway, I had a blast with this book.  Definitely among the best straight YA I've read in a while.

(Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley for a review.  If you think this is why I'm giving it four stars, you should check out my other ARC reviews.  I am not that easy.)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Audio Renaissance

My commute to work now consists of two options: biking and driving.  I can't bring myself to take public transportation that involves a connection.  Well, it's not just the connection—it's that the second leg involves catching a very occasional bus at its busiest stop.  There's just no way for that to be comfortable, and a very strong chance of having a long, uncomfortable wait that makes me late for day care pickup.  (I will admit that day care pickup is the non-selfish-sounding reason I use to justify the fact that I hate that commute.  Day care is pretty flexible since my normal pickup is not at closing time. Full disclosure, you know.)

It's actually a lovely little Hobson's choice, if I'm using the phrase correctly, in that both options are quite nice.  In good weather, I ride my bike, get some great exercise, and generally have a very pleasant trip.  The only downside is that I have no access to any kind of books on my bike ride (yes, I really and truly think that way, it's not just facetiously put on for my book blog).

In poor weather, I take the car.  This is slightly faster, and has the bonus of my newly reinvigorated love of audiobooks. I was discussing The Dresden Files recently, which I was enjoying, but I've put them down.  Brenda pointed out that she hated the Murphy character, and I didn't agree in the first book, but halfway into the second one, I do.  Harry's kind of a sad sack, which was making me gloomy, but it doesn't help that every time something bad or scary happens, his best friends jump to the conclusion that it's his fault.  Poor Harry doesn't know the difference between a friend and an acquaintance who feels sorry for you.

God, I'm making myself sad just thinking about it.

So I switched over to Sarah Waters's The Little Stranger.  I've been wanting to read Waters for a while, having heard many glowing reviews; she writes a lot of historical fiction with lesbian characters.  This one is not quite in her usual realm, in that it's billed as a more standard ghost story.  20% of the way in we're just starting to get hints of what might be the ghosts, but I don't mind at all.  We've got the crumbling local manor, and the very class-conscious doctor who's befriended the genteelly (spell check says I can say that) impoverished widow and her two grown children who live there. 

The narrator is the doctor, and the voice is provided by Simon Vance, who does an absolutely wonderful job with it.  His lower class girls are a bit of a struggle, but everyone else just shines.  This is a case where hearing the audio does this lovely job of polishing up the unreliable narrator for you—his voice is so solid and trustworthy that it comes as quite shocking when he says something that reveals his bitterness at his working-class origins.  I think in a lesser book, I would be struggling with this, because I have a real problem with picking out unreliable narrators, but this is really well crafted, and the subtext is clear without being explicit.  I don't need to be talked down to, but I do need to be confident when I'm drawing conclusions.

(God, I remember the time I was talking to someone about how I didn't like the movie The Hours because everyone was just so gloomy and the person I was talking to said, "Wow, you really don't have a lot of sympathy for people suffering from depression, do you?"  And I cannot tell you how embarrassed I still am to say that I didn't realize the story was about depression till that very moment.  I'm dim, is what I'm saying, and I like my art representational and my themes well-constructed.  Also, in my defense, that lunch was very awkward even before we started discussing The Hours.)

I'm rambling.  I was talking about The Little Stranger, and how I'm not very far in but I'm very much enjoying it.  And I don't care if it rains tomorrow or if the sun is shining; my commute will be lovely either way.

Friday, August 16, 2013


I'm casting about for the next thing right now, and that makes me frighteningly acquisitional (acquisitive? My spell checker says acquisitive).  I have more library books (like, the hard kind, with paper) than I have since I got my Kindle.  I'm flipping through all the Kindle books I've acquired for the ones I most coveted when I acquired them (and then never got around to reading).

Luckily, book club is keeping me focused; next week's meeting is about the red hot Where'd You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple.  Now, this is a prime example of what I was discussing last time—I picked this book up a few months ago and then gave it up as "not for me." But so many people loved it, and I so wanted something perky and funny for book club this month, I was thrilled when we chose it.  And you know, now that I'm reading it on purpose, without any sense that I'm deciding whether or not to stick it out, I admit it's growing on me.

Of course, Bernadette will get its own post after the book club meeting.  Given the huge pile of library books and my embarrassing addiction to Netgalley, I'm trying to stick firmly with choosing from those lists, rather than from my big electronic pile of "things I have that have looked good for ages."  Things like The Scoripo Races, The Woman Who Wouldn't Die, The Crown of Embers, Finnikin of the Rock, The Curse of the Chalion, Chime.  Every time I'm reminded of something I was SO EXCITED about a while back, I move it to the top of my Kindle list.  And then the next one moves up, and I'm up to three pages of super-exciting urgent reads—none of which I'm reading, because there are books on paper that I should be reading! 

It's a lovely problem to have.  Even better would be a couple of hours trapped in a comfortably air conditioned elevator just after a trip to the bathroom during which to put a dent in a few of these things.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Book Snob? Me?

Well, maybe I am a snob.  There are so many ways to be a snob, after all.  Then again, I always think of a snob as someone who judges people by their taste, which I don't think I do, even with books.  I mean, I don't mind when people don't like my favorite books, and I don't feel that embarrassed when I don't click with theirs.  And when someone tells me that Twilight is their absolute fave, I mostly feel a kinship, because they have an absolute favorite book that they want to talk to me about.  That makes them part of the family, and I can say with a straight face that vampires aren't really my thing; I'm more into zombies.

So by that definition, I really don't think I'm a snob.  But of course, I do judge the books themselves, and there are definitely books that aren't good enough for me.  I no longer feel a compulsion to finish the ones I don't care about, so I go through a lot more stops and starts than I used to. 

These days, a lot of those come from Netgalley. This is mostly because it's the only place I get books where there's no way to read even a sample before you get the book.  You get a cover and a blurb, and that's about it.  You do know the name of the publisher, which can be a clue—the self-published ones are not as good a bet.  (Wait, is that snobbish?  I don't think so—prejudiced, maybe, but the fact that something's been through the screening process that is professional publishing seems like an inevitable sign of some baseline quality, right?)

I picked one up recently that had a neat premise—a housemaid as a spy in the castle—but I'm finding I just can't go on with it.  The weird thing is, though, that it's not BAD.  I don't hate it.  It's just not quite good enough.  It's got characters, but they're stock characters, and there are way too many of them; it's got detail, but it's clich├ęd detail, straight out of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.  There's a plot, but I'm not sure where it's going.  

I can think of five authors who, if they had written this story, I would be reading it right now.  I kind of want to recommend the book to someone, because I feel bad for not liking it, but I don't.  It's like breaking up with someone after the third date, not because they're not nice, but because they're nothing more than nice.  I want to set it up with someone, but probably not my best friend or my sister.

Sorry, Tale of Maddy Biddle.  Not my cup of tea.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Paddy Ness

I started a post when I was in the middle of More Than This by Patrick Ness, then finished it in one quick burst.  I really want to talk about it, but I'm not sure how to, since there are a lot of twists and turns to the plot, and the uncertainty is a big part of the point of the whole thing, bot from a narrative perspective and thematically.

So hm, what can I say about this?  This was not a mediocre book--it had some really great stuff and some unimpressive stuff.  The first thing I can safely say without spoilers is that it starts off with a strong mystery and then starts to drag.  Seth dies--he drowns--and wakes up in an abandoned town.  Houses are empty, weeds have grown up in the streets.  This is not the town he lives in, but it's the town he grew up in until he was about 9.  He explores the town, finds food--all the basic survivor stuff.  Pretty good.

Then this goes on.  And on.  And you get some flashbacks into his life before he died, which provide good character insight, but the abandoned town thing started to drag for me.  I was 40% into the book and just about to give up with the situation changed--and given that I was enjoying it, that says something about how little forward motion there was in that section.

I can tell you that the change involved other people, it involved a few answers and a lot more questions about why things are abandoned, what he needs to do, and how he got where he is.  The answers are very much like a very famous movie that you've seen and that I can't mention because of spoilers--if you've read the book you know what movie I'm talking about.  You've already thought of it, compared the two.  Fortunately, while the premise is almost identical, the plot and themes and characterizations and everything else are entirely different.

So here's the part where I can't tell you much, because wondering about it is a lot of what's driving the book.  But some of the major questions here are about what is real, and what it means to be real.  And you know, I think Ness said a lot of things that I think make sense here--things that seem so intuitive to me that they don't need to be said, but things that most fiction addressing the issue of reality don't actually admit.  It's very much like a late night freshman year discussion that I actually had about how maybe we're all just brains in jars, and does that make reality any less real?  Dude, my mind was blown.

I think that at the beginning of the book, I thought the premise was strong but the plot was weak.  By the end, the plot was much stronger, but some of the fleshing out of the premise was less impressive.  And I'm not going to spoil the book by going into detail, but if you've read it and would like to discuss, please let me know.  Please, actually.  Really--I have questions I want to ask you.

The only other book I've read by Ness was The Knife of Never Letting Go, which I appear never to have reviewed on this blog, which is a crying shame.  But while the books were very, very different, my feelings can be summed up similarly: this was a very good story that pushed too hard on one element (in More it was building on the themes, in Knife it was the relentlessness of violence).  That too-muchness weakened what was otherwise a very strong and in many ways original story.

(Note: I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.)

Monday, August 05, 2013

What Kind of a Name Is Buffy, Anyway?

Guys, let's talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer.


The blogosphere did a watch-along last year that I wasn't aware of till the tail end.  But it occurred to me while looking for a show to watch that I had only watched the last few seasons of the show when it was on the air, and I didn't remember much.  And since then, I've become a good, loyal Joss Whedon fan.

So early this year, I started watching Buffy.  And I very, very quickly became addicted.  Like, I'm not kidding, it might not have been healthy.  I spent a sick day (for the record: I was legitimately sick) doing nothing but watch the show--7 episodes before day care let out.  I kept getting distracted in real life by the question of the moral volition of vampires and the nature of the soul.  I got almost painfully frustrated with the notion that anyone could prefer boring, broody Angel over witty, twitchy Spike.  I couldn't figure out why Joss Whedon is so convinced that Buffy having sex was such a Bad Bad Thing.

I cannot even begin to tell you all my thoughts about Buffy.  If anyone would like to tear the canon apart with me over a drink some night, I will discuss this in gory detail.  I will buy the drinks.  I have things to say about the scene where Giles kills Ben, about the scene where the potentials vote Buffy off the island, about the difference between catty Willow and Dark Willow.  About what it means to be Xander in general.  EVERYTHING.

So there's no chance that I'm going to be wrapping all this up in one post.  This is the post where we go over the syllabus.  I guess we've had a few of those already, but I'm feeling my way around this subject.

Lately, I've been re-rewatching some of Season 6, where Buffy's back from the dead.  It's not the most fun season (though it is the sexiest), but it really hit me hard when I watched it earlier this year.  Her feelings during that season--being disassociated from her life, distant from her emotions, alone among loved ones, overwhelmed by the day-to-day problems of life--this is something that really hit home with me.  At certain points in my life, I've been right where she was, and that blank, hunched feeling is very familiar.

Also, for the record, I ordered volume 3 of Angel & Faith today.  I don't want to own it--I really dislike Angel--but I want desperately to read it--because the story seems to share my feelings about Angel, which is that his brooding is not normal or healthy, even for the guilty undead.  So I'm going to buy it, read it, and then donate it to the library, where I hope it will go on to live a long and happy life spreading the joy to other fans out there.

I really should watch Angel.  I've heard really good things.  The first season is pretty lame, though, and what with disliking the main character, I've never really put my heart into it.  I know it gets better, though--I can tell just from the little I know about the other characters who show up in later seasons.  And knowing it's still out there waiting for me is soothing.

Buffy rundown, check.  Season 8 review is up next.  After I tell you about all the other books I've been reading!

Friday, August 02, 2013

Not an Excuse, Just a Reason

Let me just clarify:

These are the library books I have checked out right  now.  I'm very excited here, but perhaps a WEE BIT overcommited.  Especially since my book club book and the other two I'm currently reading are actually on my Kindle and not even represented here.

Lots of Dorothy Gilman, some of Buffy comics, a bunch of things I've waited for a while for.  A little nonfiction (Dan Savage! Mary Roach!), a book of shorter pieces by Laini "Smoke 'n' Bone" Taylor, some great sequels, some buzz books.  I'm tempted to list them all out, but I haven't read them yet, so I don't know what to say.  Except: squee!