Saturday, January 31, 2009

2008 (belated) end of the year round up.

I read 80 adult fiction books, 10 adult non-fiction, 45 YA, 5 graphic novels, and 6 essay collections for a total of 146 books which I believe is my highest total since I started keeping track.

My 10ish favorites (in vague order of when I read them):

1. Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You by Peter Cameron. I ran right out and bought myself a copy as soon as I finished it.

2. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. I'd been saving this one because I knew I'd love it. I love all his books.

3. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Probably the best mystery I read this year.

4. The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much by Leslie Bennetts. Fascinating and thought-provoking.

5. Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O'Malley. I love them all.

6. Getting The Girl by Susan Juby. This one made me laugh more than anything else I read this year.

7. The Speed Of Dark by Elizabeth Moon. And this one made me cry more than anything else I read this year.

8. The Thief, The Queen Of Attolia, and The King Of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. The first one is good and the next two are even better.

9. Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. Fascinating world and a genuinely scary thriller.

10. PopCo by Scarlett Thomas. What other novel includes a list of prime numbers and a recipe for cake?

Final 2008 push!

Ellen Wittlinger's Blind Faith has been on my to read list for a while and while it was good I think I expected more of it because so many people said they loved it.

Robin McKinley's Chalice, I'm sorry to say, didn't have much of a chance from me even thought I wanted to love it. See, I love The Hero And The Crown and The Blue Sword like whoa, but I don't think she's written anything else as good as those. And when you add in the whole land sense aspect of it that in my mind forever belongs to Patricia McKillip (in an untouchable trilogy I love even more), well, like I said, it didn't really have a chance. That's not to say it wasn't good - it was. Just not as good. Which I'm sure only makes sense in my head.

The Disreputable History Of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart was like a YA version of Prep with a dash of The Skulls. I had a lot of fun reading it.

I did a lot of eye-rolling during Gail Carson Levine's Fairest, a retelling of Snow White. It was okay I suppose, but was no Ella Enchanted. Aza was annoying and because all her focus was on wanting to be pretty I disliked her for pretty much the entire book. Why get so hung up on something you can't change? Move on!

Graceling by Kristin Cashore has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention and I enjoyed it a lot. I liked the whole concept of the graces and the characters were cool and thankfully not stupid - they came to realizations not too long after I did, which I appreciated.

But I loved Susan Juby's Getting The Girl: A Guide To Private Investigation, Surveillance, And Cookery. Total love. I laughed at something on nearly every page. If Brick had been a teen comedy it might have gone something like this. But at the same time I appreciated the genuine sense of menace about what was happening to these girls when they got shunned. It was surprisingly effective and worked to give the book depth. Seriously, LOVE.

Dooley Takes The Fall by Norah McClintock is another teen mystery, but without the laughs. Dooley is a complicated character and I liked how we got to know him with his back story being released gradually. The mystery was nice and twisty and I liked the tone of the book.

While I was visiting my parents over Christmas I dug into my mom's Elizabeth Peters books and read Borrower Of The Night, Street Of The Five Moons, Silhouette In Scarlet, and Night Train To Memphis in preparation for the new Vicky Bliss that came out last year. (We couldn't find her copy of Trojan Gold though or I would have read that one too.) I also read Die For Love which is one of my favorites of hers. You know, reading these again after so many years was funny - I no longer have to wonder where my feminist inclinations come from. I started reading Elizabeth Peters when I was eight or nine and she was pretty much my favorite author after that and her books are full of strong, intelligent women who are very staunchly and outspokenly feminist. Mystery solved!

I read Sean McMullen's Souls In The Great Machine quickly, gulping down the excellent science fiction of a future Australia where a computer made up of human components is constructed to deal with the complex politics and war on the continent. It had really cool world-building and while the characters tended toward the cartoonish at times, it was a fun read.

Last book! The Subject Steve by Sam Lipsyte was a little disappointing. It wasn't nearly as funny as Home Land and the plot and overall message reminded me of American Desert by Percival Everett. It did have its moments though and I liked it well enough.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Don't You Forget About Me by Jancee Dunn was okay, although I hope I was not supposed to like the main character Lillian all that much because she annoyed me for almost the entire book. But then, I'm not someone who views high school as the best time of my life, so maybe I'm not her target audience. I don't think so though because by the end Lillian does realize that she turned a blind eye to a lot of bad situations and that she needs to move on. I did like a lot of the supporting characters though.

David Sedaris' When You Are Engulfed In Flames is his latest collection of essays. They were funny, blah, blah. It's David Sedaris - I'm sure you know already if he makes you laugh.

I loved Spaceman Blues by Brian Francis Slattery so I was excited to read Liberation: Being The Adventures Of The Slick Six After The Collapse Of The United States Of America. It was similar in style, with a free-wheeling, musical feel to it. I didn't like it quite as much as his first book, but it was still really good.

Kory loaned me Elizabeth Moon's The Speed Of Dark which I loved. It was amazing. It's set in the near future where Lou, an autistic man, is being pressured by his company to join a drug trial that might possibly cure his condition. The book is told from Lou's perspective and Moon does an unbelievable job at placing the reader inside the autistic experience. I really can't recommend this book highly enough.

I didn't think Chelsea Handler's My Horizontal Life: A Collection Of One Night Stands was as funny as her latest, but it still had many funny moments.

I've had Blackburn by Bradley Denton on my shelves for ages and finally pulled it down to read. Blackburn is a serial killer who reacts to modern annoyances (getting ripped off by mechanics, door-to-door salesmen, etc.) with extreme violence that starts to seem reasonable. It was darkly funny and I enjoyed it.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel! I might actually catch up this week. My new year's resolution is to not get so freakin' behind again.

Okay! This entry is dedicated to Claire, without whom I would have missed out on some awesome YA this year. Mwah!

Sarah Beth Durst's Into The Wild and Out Of The Wild are pretty cool. Julie, Rapunzel's daughter, has to save her mom and her other fairy tale friends when The Wild (which has been living under Julie's bed ever since her mom defeated it, setting everyone free) escapes and spreads all over town, trapping everyone inside its fairy tales. Out Of The Wild continues right where the first one let off, this time with the entire US in danger of being consumed. The second had a couple of annoying editing mistakes, but other than that I thought both were clever and exciting.

Next up is Megan Whalen Turner's amazing series that starts with The Thief. Gen, the self-proclaimed greatest thief in the world, is captured and taken to steal a stone from the gods themselves. The next book, The Queen Of Attolia starts out fast-paced and never lets up with all the political intrigue. It even manages to work in a very unconventional love story. My favorite of the three is probably the third book, The King Of Attolia. It rather brilliantly shifts the point of view to an outsider, making the dramatic irony so much richer and the payoffs to the reader that much more fulfilling for not having been privy to the planning. I'm not saying any more because I don't want to spoil any of the twists, but I loved these books and I can't wait for the next one to come out.

Claire couldn't believe I'd never read Gene Stratton-Porter's A Girl Of The Limberlost and after having read it I understand her surprise. It's totally the kind of thing I would have loved as a kid. Reading it as an adult though was a different experience, I'd imagine. It was good, especially the nature parts, but I prefer my heroines to be a little more rough around the edges. The character of Elnora is too perfect to really love. I kept comparing her to Anne Shirley, whose messy enthusiasm causes as much disaster as it does success and who we love for both. Elnora just didn't inspire the same empathy in me because she was never allowed to be selfish or fail. I'm glad I read it, though I think I'll stick with Anne.

Oh my gosh, only 20 more 2008 books to go! Yeah!


Sunday, January 18, 2009

I really liked The Summer Of Naked Swim Parties by Jessica Anya Blau. It's about a teenage girl of hippie parents who is struggling toward that necessary separation of self from her parents. But what do you rebel against when there are no boundaries? How do you have a sexual awakening when everything is frank and upfront?

I read a couple of Elizabeth Scott books. The first, Stealing Heaven wasn't quite as good as Bloom, but I did like it. Dani and her mother are thieves and initially Heaven is just another job, but when Dani starts making friends and feeling like she might have a place there, she has to choose between the life she wants and the only life she's ever known. I liked Perfect You for the most part. Kate's best friend Anna, who managed to lose 70 pounds in 3 months (through magic, I suppose), suddenly got popular and hasn't looked back. Meanwhile Kate's father, after having an epiphany of some sort, quit his job to sell vitamins in a kiosk at the mall, causing tension in the family.

Kiki Strike: Inside The Shadow City by Kirsten Miller was a lot of fun. The pace drags a little here and there, but for the most part I really liked the adventures of Kiki Strike and her team of girls as they explore the Shadow City that exists under New York City.

Michele Jaffe's Kitty Kitty transports Jas and her crime-solving skills to Venice where she tries to find out who killed her new friend. These books are like MacGuyver crossed with Clueless. With a big helping of CSI in there. It took a bit to get started, but once Jas' friends arrived, the action (and laughs) were non-stop.

Debbie Harry Sings In French by Meagan brothers was pretty fantastic. Johnny, who has gotten himself shipped off to stay with his uncle after running into trouble at home, discovers love and acceptance when he dares to follow his heart. Initially it felt a little slight, but that might just be because I liked it so much that I wanted more of the story.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Someone arrived here by searching for Scott Pilgrim fan fiction. That totally just made my night.

Which naturally leads me to Jennifer Crusie. No really, it does. Anyway. Bet Me was decent and had its moments but there wasn't a whole lot of depth there (unlike, say, Marian Keyes) and the coincidences and luck thing as the two main characters got together kinda went over the line into cloying once or twice.

But I was willing to give her another shot, which I did with Agnes And The Hit Man, co written with Bob Meyer. This one was legitimately laugh-out-loud funny and pretty cute and I spent the whole time re-casting it in my head as an AU (totally not my fault at all - Agnes wears red-framed glasses! It had to be done!). I liked it so much that I wish it hadn't been so predictable.

Then I read another collaboration between the two, Don't Look Down which wasn't as funny, but still enjoyable. It was a similar storyline and I didn't necessarily buy the ending.

After that I got a bunch of her others probably because I was still hoping for another one as good as Agnes. Which they weren't. But they were still funny enough and fast reading so I kept going. Welcome To Temptation made me realize Crusie definitely has a formula that works for her and it's an appealing one. This was definitely an earlier work though. Also firmly in the earlier work camp: Anyone But You and Getting Rid Of Bradley which were both short and not as well-developed with jumps in the story that felt like there were scenes missing. Crazy For You was better than those, although at one point toward the end one of the guys is a little too... okay with? understanding of? the stalking the ex-boyfriend was doing. Totally not cool. That broke the spell, I guess. Although I did fall off the wagon at Christmas time because the bookstore had What The Lady Wants for, like, a dollar. That one's technically a 2009 book, but I feel like I should group it in here with the earlier works.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Claire recommended Wild Girls by Pat Murphy to me and I thought it was great. It's about two preteen girls who meet each other in the woods and become friends. They start writing stories together and help each other through some tough family drama.

I know I'd heard of Holly Black's Tithe a long time ago and I don't quite remember what prompted me to finally pick it up, but I was pleasantly surprised at how dark it was. These were not the sanitized version of fairies, but rather the vengeful, cruel, and beautiful fey of the old legends brought into a modern setting. I liked it more than I thought I would.

The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba was pretty awesome. I was surprised at how funny it was, not in a laugh-a-minute slapstick way, but in a nicely sarcastic way that fit the bitter estranged siblings quarreling among themselves while trying to maybe save the world.

I had high hopes for Naomi And Eli's No Kiss List given that Rachel Cohn and David Levithan wrote the fabulous Nick And Norah's Infinite Playlist. Coming after that one though, anything less than amazing would be a let down and Naomi And Eli, while pretty good, wasn't amazing.

Margaret Peterson Haddix's Palace Of Mirrors was about a girl who was brought up believing that she was the true princess sent into hiding when she was a baby for her own protection. When men come to kill her she barely escapes to go to the capitol to take her rightful place on the throne. It took a while to get going, but the last half wasn't bad, especially once Ella (from the much stronger Just Ella) showed up.

I've always enjoyed Martin Millar's books with their slightly skewed urban fantasy vibe and Lonely Werewolf Girl was no exception. Kalix is the werewolf girl in question, a drug addled mess of a teenager whose extended family is fighting over leadership of the clan. It was a lot of fun. I loved the smartass dialogue and the characters despite the fact that almost all of them were at best selfish and cruel.

What hasn't already been said about Cory Doctorow's Little Brother? In the vague near-future another terrorist attack on the US, this time in San Francisco. The government cracks down on freedoms, Patriot Act style, and a handful of teenagers form a loose, underground resistance to having their liberty taken away. I enjoyed it even though I found the technical explanations a little clunky at times and some of the characters were pretty flat.


Monday, January 12, 2009

In the interests of actually having a 2008 roundup before the end of January I'm going to try very hard to catch up this week. Onward!

I really loved China Mieville's Perdido Street Station despite the, uh, "insect p0rn" as my friend so delicately put it, that happens in the first chapter. Sure, it was a little overwrought at times and the style could be a bit much, but once I rolled my eyes a few times and adjusted to it I definitely got caught up in the story of a rogue scientist attempting to make a creature stripped of its wings fly again. There was genuine terror during the attack scenes and I was anxious and upset at certain developments. There was great world building and I went right out and bought more of Mieville's books.

I loved Clare B Dunkle's trilogy that I read last year, so I was excited to read The Sky Inside, but unfortunately it wasn't terribly original science fiction. It was slow to get started with lots of set up and not a lot of action. I will probably read the sequel, but I won't rush to get it or anything.

I watched Blood Ties when it was on TV because I can't not watch a TV show with vampires. I figured I should read the Tanya Huff books it was based on, but when I discovered she had a trilogy featuring a gay wizard who worked on a syndicated vampire TV show filmed in Canada (Hee!) I knew those were the ones for me instead. Turns out the main character was a spin-off from the vampire books and Henry, the main vampire, was also in these. Smoke And Shadows was the first one and it wasn't great writing and definitely a little silly, but it was a fast and enjoyable read anyway. Plus surprise Bi!Henry, so that was cool. The next one, Smoke And Mirrors was way better than the first with some genuinely creepy moments and was probably my favorite of the three. Smoke And Ashes finished up the trilogy and was better than I expected. I'm sure I'll get around to her vampire books at some point.

More vampires! (It seems to be a recurring theme this year.) I actually couldn't wait to get Charlaine Harris' From Dead To Worse because of the huge cliffhanger from the last book, but it felt like an attempt to bridge the gap between the fall out from the last book and the setup to the next book rather than a novel with its own storyline.

Heck, might as well finish up with Stephanie Meyer. Breaking Dawn was probably my least favorite of the series, if time taken to read it is any indication. This one took me at least three days versus the three or four hours each of the other books in the series did. I was never particularly attached to the characters so I didn't have strong feelings one way or another about the way it ended. I did actually genuinely like The Host though. I liked the conceit, the world building, the point of view, etc. The writing still isn't great and the characters could use more oomph, but I hope she does a sequel.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

From worst to best: PopCo by Scarlett Thomas. I loved this book. It was like a fantastic Douglas Coupland and Neal Stephenson collaboration. It's got cryptography, pirates, corporate retreats, buried treasure, and a kickass geeky heroine who works for a toy company and is intelligent and interesting. When Alice gets a simple coded message, "Are you happy?" it starts her on making a change in her life.

We had Scarlett Thomas' mysteries, so I grabbed them as soon as I could. There are three of them all featuring Lily Pascale, a part time literature professor. I didn't find the first one Dead Clever particularly outstanding. The mystery wasn't hard to figure out at all and the italicized sections told from the other perspective were mostly annoying and did nothing but give away the mystery. The second, In Your Face was the strongest of the three. In that one the switching points of view actually worked well and even though the mystery was no harder to figure out, it held together better. Seaside was my least favorite of the three and the switch in point of view was entirely superfluous and I pretty much gave up on it half way through and just skimmed the rest.

Thankfully Going Out was pretty enjoyable even though the ending seemed rushed and somewhat abrupt. But I enjoyed the journey and the characters.
"What the hell are we doing here? I mean..."
"What, why are we standing on the edge of Epping Forest with a Scooby Doo van, a Lottery winner, a guy with cancer and someone dressed in a space-suit - that we made - having just waved a tearful goodbye to a domineering retail-assistant who's just gone into the woods to 'fulfill her destiny' and learn how to channel her humongous witch powers?"
"Yeah," says Julie.
Hee. Like I said, I enjoyed this one quite a bit.

I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about The End Of Mr. Y though. It's about a graduate student doing research on scientific thought experiments who comes across a book that's said to be cursed - anyone who reads it, dies. She can't resist reading it and soon finds herself exploring the "Troposphere" where she can enter people's minds, sort of like Being John Malkovich, but with a more philosophical and literary bent to it. It didn't grab me like PopCo and I didn't like the characters as much as those in Going Out, but I did enjoy it for the most part.


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