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jmills01

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Don't Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems
David Rakoff
Lock and Key
Sarah Dessen
How Music Works
David Byrne
Gone
Michael Grant

The Eternity Cure (Blood of Eden)

The Eternity Cure - Julie Kagawa With The Eternity Cure, author Julie Kagawa has managed a rare feat. I read the first novel in this series, The Immortal Rules, and found it lackluster. The first half was very promising, but the second half was bogged down by a plot that involved a lot of wandering through an apocalyptic wasteland, listening to the nattering of a really creepy preacher/cult leader. It also involved a super lack-luster love interest in Zeke. I was pretty much done after that book, but I decided on a whim to try the sequel.

I don't know how she did it, but the sequel manages to totally fulfill the promise of the first half of book one, while leaving out the irritating bits (no more wandering or adorable children - yay!) She even managed to make me care about the heroine's relationship with Zeke, who shows admirable backbone now that he is away from his people.

The biggest surprise to me was the return of Jackal. I had to look up who he was because I couldn't remember him at all from the first book, but he was a delight. I'm guessing that the author is a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer because Jackal is totally Spike, down to wearing a duster and complaining about being bored all the time. I'm not upset about this - Spike was my favorite character, and it's not as though anything else in the book reminds me of the show - I just thought it was a fun reference!

The ending was amazing, not at all disappointing in the way that series books sometimes are - I don't mind if something is "To be continued...." so long as there is some resolution, and I got it here. Speaking of that (ending spoiler ahead!) Zeke is totally going to be a vampire now, right? I can't really think of any other way that ending scene plays out. So excited for that!

Highly recommended, but you need to read the first book before this one - there are too many references to the first. I'm really happy that I made myself read this one - maybe now it's time to start Kagawa's Iron Fey series?

Jar City: A Thriller

Jar City - Arnaldur Indriðason, Bernard Scudder I'm not precisely certain that I like Arnaldur Indriðason's Icelandic mysteries, but I certainly can't stop reading them! I enjoy the Icelandic setting, which feels very different from what I'm used to in the US (or in the British mysteries that I love.) Like many European novelists, Indriðason seems more concerned with setting backstory for each of his characters than solving the mystery, It feels very similar to PD James (who I adore, though her latest novels haven't been quite up to snuff) in the way it deals with a dysfunctional detective and his team. I loved the detective's relationship with his daughter. The mystery itself was easy to solve, but that isn't bad exactly - I just wish there had been a little more rising action, as the book felt rather sleepy on the whole.

I read "Silence in the Grave" after this book, which is from the same series. I did not like it nearly as much - the story ended abruptly, and it was never really hidden who had committed the crime. It also lacked interaction between the detective and his daughter. Even so, I'm planning to read more - they are easier to get through than a Jo Nesbo or Stieg Laarson, but they have the same dark feel. I recommend the series.

Great and Terrible Beauty

A Great and Terrible Beauty - Libba Bray I enjoyed this, but it isn't up to the standards of Libba Bray's newer books. I was disturbed by how quickly our heroine joins forces with the mean girls, and the story felt recycled from a Lois Duncan book I read in the 7th grade (Down a Dark Hall, which is fabulous in a retro way!) I am rather sad, as the idea of it was great - a story about supernatural goings on in the Victorian era is totally my bag. But, alas, this was not all it could have been. I might read the others, as I bought the set - I would imagine they get better, as Bray is one of my favorite authors now!

Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids

Because I Said So! : The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids - Ken Jennings I admit, I find Ken Jennings amusing. I loved him on Jeopardy, and I really enjoyed his last book, Maphead. This book doesn't do it for me though. After the 10th example I started skimming - too many examples that I already knew the answers to. He does have my eternal gratitude for crediting Cecil Adams and the Straight Dope, but even so it was a bit much.

Down a Dark Hall

I read this long ago, but Libba Bray's "A Great and Terrible Beauty" reminded me of its existence. I loved Lois Duncan as a teen, and this boo is deliciously creepy!

The Snowman: A Harry Hole Novel

The Snowman: A Harry Hole Novel - Jo Nesbø 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4. The Snowman is the seventh book in Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole mysteries. I haven't read any of the other books, but I didn't feel that kept me from enjoying this one!

Jonas wakes early one morning to find his mother missing, the only sign of her a pink scarf worn by the Snowman that has suddenly appeared in the yard. Norwegian detective Harry Hole believes this is not the first such crime, but rather the work of a serial killer. There is much made in the novel of the idea that there aren't serial killers in Norway, which does stretch incredulity a bit, since this is so obviously the work of such a killer.

My biggest problem with this book was that I figured out who the killer was halfway through. It's possible that this is because I read books from an analytical standpoint, and I couldn't figure out any other reason for that person to exist in the story. The killer's reasons for killing were perhaps a bit suspect, but I can forgive that because he is, after all, rather mad.

The translation was excellent - unlike many books, I didn't feel like I was reading something a bit clunky. I would probably read another Nesbø book, but I won't be rushing out at once. Highly recommended for fans of dark thrillers (particularly if you, unlike me, don't care if you figure out the ending early on!)

Undone

Undone - Cat Clarke I have to be honest - I had some major problems with Undone. This novel tells the story of Jemima, Jem for short. Her best friend, Kai, has just committed suicide as a result of anti-gay bullying, and she is left behind. She is at the end of her rope when Kai's sister delivers a package to her. Inside are notes, one for each month of the year, left for her by Kai. As she reads them, she decides to take her revenge on the group of popular kids she believes drove him to his suicide. Her method? To become one of them, and hurt them from within.

I almost didn't start this book. It seemed like it might be a message book, and I find those are often heavy-handed. But Jem seemed (at first) to be an interesting character, so I stuck with it. The whole revenge plot is basically Mean Girls, not that there can't be another, but I found it distracting.

Kai is, unfortunately, a bit of a Magical Gay Person. He comes across less of a real person than a convenient plot device. Naturally he is an expert on ladies (going so far as to give Jem a makeover from beyond the grave. His letters really bothered me - they didn't feel a bit like someone who was about to tragically end their life. I just didn't think that the character would have spent the time to write out chatty notes in which he gives hair and makeup advice while contemplating his own gruesome death in a few hours. In fact, I had a hard time believing his suicide at all. I know that suicide is an act that doesn't often make sense from the outside, but as someone who actually had a close friend commit suicide for similar reasons (minus the online bullying, obviously, as I am old) it didn't seem real.

I appreciate positive portrayals of gay teens. I think it's very important for gay or questioning young people to be able to read about teens in similar situations. What I don't think is helpful? The number of times the gay characters in these books wind up dead. I would never recommend this book to a gay teen (what would I recommend? Well, I'd start with [b:How to Repair a Mechanical Heart|16102490|How to Repair a Mechanical Heart|J.C. Lillis|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1350926753s/16102490.jpg|21913214]. This book shows teens struggling, but also living. And it's funny. Sometimes I just can't read another tragic book.)

Speaking of that, I hated the ending (ending details behind spoiler tags) Seriously? That's the ending? I saw the twist coming from the first time Max was introduced, so I don't know how that was a shock. But I was really upset by Jem's death, though I didn't ever connect with her. It just felt like tragedy for the sake of a sad ending, and I was not down. It didn't feel organic for her character, who ended up in the same place she started, as though the middle of the book hadn't happened.

It's hard to write a negative review of a book that has a message that can't be argued with (anti gay bullying). I must mention that the writing itself was good, and I would certainly read another book by this author. It's really more Jem's story than Kai's, but I was unable to get past his character. I wouldn't recommend it, but I will seek more from the author!



No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood

No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood - Henriette Mantel, Nancy Van Iderstine In spite of a few reservations, I'm giving 4 stars to this compilation. As a woman in her 30s who doesn't have (and doesn't plan to have) children, I was really excited to read this book. I think there is a lot of unfortunate demonization of women who have made this choice, and I welcome anything that normalizes this choice.

That being said, there were a few things that bugged me. I agree with the previous reviewers when I say this: There were entirely too many essays that started out by the author explaining how much they love children... but...... yeah, we shouldn't have to explain that. No one would ask a man to do the same, and so I reject the notion that women should have to declare their love for babies in order to decide not to have them.

Of course, all the women in the book are products of our society, and our society does expect women to say this, so I understand it. I also respect that they aren't all in the same place I am - some express sadness at ending up childless, and that's ok too. I would have liked to have seen a wider variety of viewpoints, as I didn't find anyone I could exactly relate to.

All the women in the book explain themselves well. I am really glad for the opportunity to review this book, and I hope to see more discussion of this topic in the future. I find that it is not something that is easily discussed, although studies show that more and more professional women are opting to be childless.

Paper Towns

Paper Towns - John Green After all the awards heaped on John Green's "The Fault in our Stars," I felt I should give one of his novels a try. I didn't want to being with Stars because it's about people with cancer, and quite frankly I don't enjoy being sad. So I picked up this one instead, which promises a quirky coming of age story.

Quentin is in love with Margo, and has been for most of his life. She's a bit of a stereotypical wild child, a popular girl who has some hidden secrets. When she disappears (after one night of mayhem with Q) he sets out to solve the mystery of her disappearance.

I really enjoyed Quentin and his friends, who were nerdy band geeks. I liked that they were smart and funny, though they didn't always sound like actual high school students.

My problem with the book? It was Margo. Although she comes across fairly well at the beginning, by the end of the book she has revealed herself to be selfish and (quite frankly) not very likeable. Not that she has to be, but I get the impression that we are supposed to sympathize with her - Quentin certainly does.

The book aims at some deep thoughts and conclusions about life, but I fear it doesn't actually get very far beyond the trite. It's true, we don't ever really know the inside of someone, but what of it? The book doesn't tell us much beyond that observation. And as Margo was treading dangerously close to Holden Caulfield territory, it wasn't to my taste. (Please note: I loathe "Catcher in the Rye" beyond all books, so I avoid any similar characters.)

I might try a different John Green novel, but I worry that I just don't enjoy his formula. Maybe I should try the sad one?

Arabella

Arabella - Georgette Heyer I went on a little Georgette Heyer reading binge this week. She wrote so many novels that I still haven't read them all! Arabella, while not matching my favorites, was an excellent read.

Arabella has been sent to London for a season by her mother. She is staying with her Godmother, and she knows she must contract a good marriage, so that she might bring her younger sisters out later. By a series of deceptions, all the Ton believes her to be an heiress, so she despairs of marrying. Fortunately, there is Mr. Beaumaris, who is a quite typical Heyer hero. Although cranky at first, he does bend under the love of Arabella (who is, quite naturally, not such a normal lady).

This does follow the Heyer formula, but it's short and fun to read. I liked the characters, and wanted to see them together. Not my absolute favorite, but well worth the read!

Frederica

Frederica - Georgette Heyer In spite of my lackluster review, I remain a big fan of Georgette Heyer's novels. I always recommend them to Jane Austen fans looking for something similar, as they are quite a cut above the standard regency romance. Frederica, unfortunately, was simply not my favorite.

Frederica is a slightly older young lady (24 years of age) who considers herself to be on the shelf. She assumed the responsibility of her younger brothers and sister at a young age, and now she desires to bring her beautiful younger sister, Charis, out into london society. As they have no great fortune, they appeal to a distant relation (Lord Alverstoke) to help to find them a sponser.

It is apparent from the start that Alverstoke and Frederica will end up together. That's not a bad thing. What is bad is the nearly 600 pages of plot that come before they get together (on the last page). We are treated to the usual zany characters - an adorable urchin, a large playful dog, an eccentric older aunt - but the book seems mostly made of their stores.

I found Frederica frustrating - why would she be so determined to never marry? I didn't really buy that she would wish to care for her brothers, as they would be gone in a few short years. I was not even convinced that she loved Alverstroke at the end, for while we were inside his head, seeing his slow realization, from Frederica we got nothing similar. She never declares her love, and instead we are left wondering why she agreed to marry.

There was an entire subplot with a hot air balloon that I found tedious and could have been cut. This is not the book I would recommend to someone new to Heyer - go read "The Grand Sophy" instead, as it is a complete delight. Since I generally love her novels, this is a rare ho-hum example.

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook - Deb Perelman I don't usually review cookbooks, but I had to give a good rating to this one! I've made three recipes from this cookbook this week, and all were excellent - two were, in fact, so good that I've had to add them to my list of stapes!

I'm a sometimes vegetarian, so I was especially interested in the large number of meatless recipes. I recommend these:

Shaved asparagus pizza:

This was a revelation. I don't really make pizza at home, but she suggested using a frozen dough. I bought a whole wheat dough from Whole Foods. The pizza is topped with parmesan and mozzarella (I used lite mozzarella) and thinly shaved asparagus, tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper. It was so simple, but it was excellent - easily one of the best vegetarian pizzas I have had!

Sugar Snap pea salad with miso dressing

The salad is good (I love sugar snap peas) but it's all about the dressing. I'm obsessed with japanese restaurant salad dressing, and this one manages to be even better! I could have seriously eaten it by itself. I think with the addition of grated carrots and a little less honey it could be exactly like the restaurant dressing, but it might be even better this way.

I'm going to make more recipes from this one. I'm wary of blogger cookbooks, as some of them are just awful, but Deb Perelman really delivers!

Uglies (Uglies Trilogy, Book 1)

Uglies - Scott Westerfeld

My review is for the series as a whole. Uglies is the story of a dystopian future. All people go through surgeries at 16 to become pretties - before that they are called uglies, and live apart in special dorms. Tally Youngblood is an ugly on the eve of her 16th birthday. The trilogy tells her story, as she finds a group of people who have not gone through the operation.

Uglies is fairly compelling. I liked tally, and I was interested in her story. The world itself seems pretty poorly realized, as is often the case for dystopia. Maybe I'm being strange, but I really like to see books with economies that make sense. The world of uglies doesn't seem to have an economy - other than a few doctors and scientists, most pretties seem to party all the time.

In the second book (warning, spoilers!) we spend a lot of time in pretty town. Unfortunately, the author chooses to have the pretties use a really horrid form of slang. Yes, I know why, but if I had to hear something called "bubbly" one more time...

My recommendation is that the first book in decent, but the others squander all that promise. And since the first book ends on a cliffhanger you will want to continue. Don't - it is so not worth it.

The Beautiful Mystery: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel

The Beautiful Mystery - Louise Penny

I just couldn't finish this one - maybe I need to start earlier in the series? I couldn't get invested in the characters.

Untimed

Untimed - Andy Gavin Charlie has never been like the other boys. For one thing, it seems that no one (not even his own mother) can remember his name. His father and Aunt Sophie are historians, stopping at home to visit him only for a month every year. So it's not an enormous surprise when it's revealed that he comes from a long line of time travelers. What is a surprise? The fact that he (and his father) are suddenly on the run from a series of strange clockwork men, who seem determined to change the timeline.

Transported back to the 1700s, Charlie meets a lady fellow traveler (Yvaine) and sets on an adventure to rescue his father and right the timeline.

I received Untimed to review from the publisher. Thank goodness - otherwise, I sincerely doubt I would have picked it up. I like the idea of time travel and steampunk, but both are so frequently done poorly. Gavin has constructed a very interesting system of travel. Men can only travel downstream, and women can only go upstream. Therefore, most time travelers travel in pairs (such are Charlie's father and aunt). Time travelers can't kill anyone, but situations can be manipulated to change the past (this is what the tick tock creatures are trying to do!)

I hesitate to categorize this novel as steampunk, as it is set in our own world. But there are clockwork creatures, and eventually we are taken to a world full of clockwork and steam powered machines, so I think it counts. Generally, my problem with steampunk is that it makes no sense - why are these inefficient machines in use instead of electricity? But in the case of Untimed, the manipulations make sense with the plotline.

Characterization is strong. Charlie is a sympathetic character, who shows an admirable ability to make hard choices for the greater good. Yvaine is perhaps not quite as well conceived, but she's certainly more than just another love interest. We meet famous figures such as Ben Franklin, who have their own personalities, and even minor characters shine.

The plot moves quickly. I felt as though the world were very well described, down to the way things smell (in fact, smell is very important - the author makes a point of telling us how different time periods smell.) I was never bored, and read the entire book in one sitting. I am looking forward to the next in the series - the book ends on a cliffhanger, and I really want to know the conclusion! Highly recommended to readers looking for well plotted YA steampunk with a male protagonist.

On the Island

On the Island  - Tracey Garvis-Graves Romance novels get a bad rap. It's true, they can be trite and formulaic, but it's not fair to condemn the entire genre. There are some gems out there, but I regret to inform you that On the Island is not one of those.

I still can't quite figure if this book is being marketed as romance or not. I thought it was not, which is why I picked it up. I don't care for contemporary romance or for chick-lit, and I think this book is some unholy amalgamation of the two. True, at its core it is a love story between an older teacher and her younger pupil. They are stranded on an island together, and over 3 years gradually fall in love. As a plotline, it's not without merit, but the potential largely goes to waste.

The two main characters were a problem. Anna, the teacher, has the personality of a wet towel. I swear to you, if I read one more book where the main female character pines over babies from page one, I'm going to give up on books with romance entirely. From the moment her baby fever was introduced (in the first chapter, as naturally this defines all women) I knew this was going to be a source of conflict in her relationship with TJ.

TJ was, quite frankly, too good to be true. He's incredibly noble and caring, always putting Anna's needs before his own. He spends about half a chapter acting like a normal teenager, and then immediately transitions into a caring (and boring) 30 year old once they land on the island.

The book alternates chapters between TJ and Anna. This would be a great idea, if they in any way sounded like different characters. I kept having to check and see whose chapter I was reading. They're also boring - their entire relationship they have maybe one mild fight. All their conflict? Comes from loving each other too much. Not kidding.

The island scenes are not as interesting as they might have been - we are treated to endless descriptions of eating breadfruit and showering (isn't it lucky how all their supplies managed to wash up on shore, and how Anna had apparently packed enough shampoo for 3 years?) Also, for a romance-ish novel the sexy times are super vague. I read a review where someone was complaining how filthy this novel was, to which I respond "Please send me your copy, with the filthy sexy-times, because mine only contains vague allusions to what's going on."

Once they leave the island it goes entirely off the rails, with tons of the aforementioned "I must leave you, because I love you too much!" types of conflict. We are also inexplicably treated to Anna's newfound love for volunteering and helping the homeless, which added nothing to the plot.

Then there is the epilogue, which is cheese-o-rama.

So yeah, I don't recommend this one. I gave it 2 stars because I did finish it, but the more I think about it the less satisfied I am with the book.