reviews

Genre Round-Up

One of my 2017 reading goals is to read more genre fiction, since it’s generally out of my comfort zone, reading-wise.  Since January is wrapping up, this is the genre fiction I read this month:

71811Moon Called by Patricia Briggs (Urban Fantasy): I’ve been meaning to read the first book in this series for years, and I finally ended up listening to this on audiobook.  The narrator was great, and she managed to do a variety of accents for the different characters in the book without ever veering into the totally preposterous or distressingly bad.  The novel itself is a pretty decent foray into urban fantasy: Mercy Thompson is a car mechanic who mostly keeps to herself, but she’s also a shifter who turns into a coyote. Her closest neighbor is the leader of a werewolf pack, and when his daughter is kidnapped and he’s dangerously injured in a fight, Mercy gets pulled into the supernatural world in an attempt to save him and his daughter.

Briggs has created vivid characters and a world that feels lived-in and compelling. But there are so many characters elbowing in for some page time that it starts to wear down the plot. It’s possible that as the series gains traction, the plots get stronger, but this first entry into Mercy Thompson’s world was enough for me. I did like how strong she was and how capable she was of taking care of herself.

Keep Me Safe by Maya Banks (Romantic Suspense): Romantic suspense meets supernatural in this “thriller” 20910177from Maya Banks, who is a bestselling author but not one that I’ll seek out again. Psychic Ramie can find victims of serial killers by touching personal artifacts, but it comes at a great physical and emotional cost.  Connected to the victims and the killers, she experiences everything they do and it has taken a toll. Hiding from the rest of civilization, she thinks she’s as safe as she can be until Caleb Deveraux finds her and forces her to help him find his sister. Realizing the pain he’s caused her, Caleb vows to protect her in the futuer. But she’s made a connection with the would-be killer, and she can’t seem to sever it.

It might be that romantic suspense is just not my genre, or it might be that I chose very poorly when it came time to select a romantic suspense title, but this was not for me in any way, shape or form. Setting aside how problematic the general premise is, there’s no character development to speak of, no chemistry between the leads, and the plot is preposterous. I’ll have to delve into some other romantic suspense titles to get a better handle on the genre–I’m taking suggestions!

25760151Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins (Historical Romance): Beverly Jenkins’s historical romance centers on Rhine Fontaine, a man who is passing for white in Nevada not long after the end of the Civil War. He meets Eddy, an African-American woman on her way to California under unfortunate circumstances, and he finds himself inexplicably drawn to her. He knows that their romance is forbidden so long as he remains in hiding about his true race, but the repercussions of coming out are great.

There’s a lot to love about Jenkins’s historical romance featuring characters of color in the old west, and much of it is related to how much care she gives her characters. She knows them and clearly likes them, and the result is fully-realized characters with actual chemistry that leaps off the page. Jenkins also doesn’t shy away from some of the messier politics of race, either, which is a surprising–and welcome–addition to the traditional romance fare.

On the whole a very enjoyable read and recommended for lovers of historical romance.1601773

Triptych by Karin Slaughter (Mystery/Thriller/Suspense): The first in Karin Slaughter’s Will Trent series, this one is not for the faint of heart, because it is super, super violent. In Atlanta, women are being murdered by a serial killer who has a particular affinity for mutilation. Detective Michael Ormewood is on the case, but he’s pissed when they bring in FBI agents, including Will Trent, whose closing record is astronomical.  There’s also an ex-con who might know more about the murders than anyone else.

Slaughter’s books are fast-paced, compelling, and very violent. They’re definitely for the reader who likes their novels suspenseful, gritty, and gorey. I didn’t like this one as much as I thought I would, and I found it too long in parts, but on the whole it was an exciting novel that kept me guessing.

 

 

books and reading · reviews

The Week in Picture Books

These are some of the notable picture books I read and discovered this week:

25861929Tell Me a Tattoo Story by Alison McGhee: On the Hennepin County Library’s list of best books for children this past year, McGhee’s (a Minnesota author) sweet, simple story about a father telling his son the stories behind each of his tattoos is beautifully illustrated by Eliza Wheeler.  The prose is simple and sparse, making it a quick read for story time or bedtime, and the last little bit is so sweet that I actually teared up. I really enjoyed this contemporary tale and think it’s a versatile read.

27206454The Storyteller by Evan Turk: Another one that I saw on a best-of list somewhere, this story feels a bit like the 1001 Nights tale, only this time, it’s a boy who listens to a storyteller tell a continuing story each day relating to water during a time of drought. A much longer picture book than the other ones on this list, this is best used for older children who can read on their own (but it would still make for a great read-aloud together!). The illustrations are layered and collage-like, and they’re very vivid and different. There’s lots of good stuff here.27409559

Wake Up, Island by Mary Casanova: The simple prose about the natural things on an island waking up after a night’s sleep is fairly lovely and would work as a title for a science or nature themed storytime or lesson. The book uses painted woodcuts for illustrations, and some of them are absolutely gorgeous, especially when featuring birds taking flight, but others are jarringly weak in comparison.

6527979The Thingamabob by Il Sung Na: By far my favorite discovery of the week, this clever picture book offers readers simple text and absolutely beautiful illustrations. An elephant has discovered a thingamabob, but can’t figure out what it’s for. The series of attempts to discover the use of the thingamabob will delight youngsters and adults alike. It’s a perfect pick for storytime, and I can’t wait to use it for just that purpose.24612727

Monster Trouble by Lane Frederickson: A cute, rhyming book about a girl and the monsters she faces every night at bedtime. The illustrations are bright, vivid, and would lend themselves well to being animated, and the upbeat story deals with scary things without ever veering into the truly frightenting.  The silly ending will have kids laughing, and the book is on the whole a total delight.

books and reading

Book Review: Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

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Ted is a lonely writer in his early 40s, and his longtime companion is his dachshund named Lily.  The two spend much of their time together, playing board games, talking about which boys they think are cute (Ted likes Ryan Gosling; Lily likes Ryan Reynolds), and watching movies.  One day, Ted notices an octopus on the side of Lily’s head, and the two embark on an adventure to try to defeat the sinister eight-legged creature.

The octopus, of course, is really a tumor, and the book is really about love, loss, grief, and all the stuff in between.  Rowley’s debut novel is funny, smart, weird, and blisteringly sad at times (this reviewer ugly cried through much of it), but it’s also a celebration of the unique bond between human and canine, and it’s ultimately a very beautiful tribute to dogs everywhere.

Some readers are going to struggle with one of the novel’s central issues: the “octopus,” which Ted refuses to call by any other name, and the willingness of those around him to also refer to the tumor as an octopus.  There are moments where this becomes a little grating, but the novel’s venture into magical realism helps sell it. Even if it didn’t, the book’s strengths far outweigh this sometimes irritating affectation.

Far and away the book’s strongest moments are the ones in which Rowley creates a fully-realized character in that of Lily, a dog who loves her owner as much as he loves her. She’s a lazy little snuggler, a lover of ice cream and turkey (TOFURKEY!), and she’s stubborn, too, in the best ways that dogs can be.  She talks to Ted, and she sounds exactly as one would expect a dog to talk.

Rowley is a gifted writer, and this is a strong debut. He’s one to watch, and this excellent novel is one to stay up late reading (and crying). Recommended.

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowely. Simon & Schuster: 2016. Library copy.

 

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Book Review: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

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Amanda Hardy is new to Lambertville, Tennessee.  Determined to have a fresh start for her senior year, she wants to make friends and fit in.  But she’s harboring a secret and a past that threaten to disrupt her new life, and she’s determined to keep her secret safe so that she can remain safe.  But she doesn’t bank on meeting Grant Everett, and she doesn’t plan on falling in love with him.  Grant seems different, and the two have an undeniable connection. She wants to share everything with him, but she’s not sure she can share the one thing she wants most to tell him: she used to be Andrew Hardy.

Hailed as one of the best YA books of 2016, Meredith Russo’s debut novel about a trans girl trying to make a new life for herself after a brutal attack has earned its extensive praise. This novel offers trans teens and adults a story that is at once sweetly romantic while also very believable, grounded in enough realism without ever veering into the horrifically tragic. The novel offers enough friction in the plot to offer readers insight into the real dangers that Amanda faces as a girl without ever overwhelming the narrative.  There’s good writing here, although at times the dialogue feels a bit clunky, and the exploration of new friendships helps flesh out the narrative beyond the typical romance.

The plot moves quickly, the characters are engaging and interesting, and this is a necessary novel for all readers.  It’s one to stock your shelves with and push into the hands of teens.  There’s lots to discuss here as well, and it’s going to garner those discussions.  Highly recommended.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo. Flatiron Books: 2016. Library copy.

 

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Book Review: Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

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In Furiously Happy, Jenny Lawson entertains readers with stories about her strange, wonderful, and weird life.  Tackling issues such as depression and anxiety as well as a bizarre number of anecdotes about encounters with wild possums, Lawson’s memoir is full of stories that will make readers laugh uproariously and commit to being as furiously happy as Lawson is herself.

Like most collections of essays, some of the pieces in Lawson’s follow-up to Let’s Pretend this Never Happened are stronger than others, and some are much, much funnier than others, but all of them maintain Lawson’s unique voice and particular brand of humor. In this collection of essays, Lawson devotes much of her attention on living with a variety of mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety, as well as spending some time talking about some of her other ailments, including rheumatoid arthritis.

Lawson’s voice is authentic and unique, but it won’t work for all readers, as some might find her crude or even a bit grating at times.  But there’s a brilliance to many of her offbeat observations about the world, even as they spiral out into the truly weird.  Her personality is juxtaposed by her much more grounded husband’s logic, and the conversations Lawson includes between the two of them are some of the book’s best moments.

The strongest moments are when Lawson digs deep into the symptoms of her depression and anxiety and explains how they impact her day-to-day life. There are moments of deep insight and clarity as she goes into detail about how her symptoms manifest (this is especially true of scenes in her therapist’s office, which some readers might find deeply uncomfortable).

There’s a lot here that’s genuinely funny, and Lawson is a good writer, but there are moments where the content feels a bit thin, and reading all of this at once only serves to underscore that weakness.  Much of this works better in smaller doses (much like on Lawson’s blog), but that shouldn’t deter her diehard fans.  On the whole, this is a funny, frank, and sometimes moving look at mental illness.

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Terrible Things by Jenny Lawson. Macmillon: 2015. Library (audio) copy for review.

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Reading Goals for 2017

Last year, I read over a hundred books, but it was a slog. I stopped blogging, changed jobs, and found myself in a public library gig where reading diversely and outside of my comfort zone is essential to performing my job as best as I can.  This year, I hope to read more diversely than ever before, selecting titles from a ton of genres, including ones that generally don’t even interest me. I want to read books for all ages, including board books, early readers, middle grade titles, teen, and adult offerings.

I’d like to start blogging again, and reviewing what I read, because it makes me a better reader and it also helps me help patrons find what they’re looking for.  So here’s to 2017, and to reading widely and bravely.