Don’t worry, NO SPOILERS!

I asked for (and got) Gone Girl last Christmas. Once I found out they were going to be making a movie of it, I thought I really should get to it soon. When the movie came out, I flew through it, desperate to finish it without being spoiled for anything. And I made it!

And I really liked it. There’s just so much going on – very twisty – that I can’t really talk about it too much without giving something away, so I’ll pretty much just leave it at that. I will weigh in on the somewhat controversial (so I’ve heard – again, I was desperately avoiding being spoiled so I didn’t actually click on any of the articles expressing outrage over the ending) and say that I thought it worked. I thought it was a good way of leaving things – maybe not very satisfying, but very real for everyone involved – at any rate, I definitely did not feel an urge to fling it through the nearest window as I’ve heard other people have.

My rating: A-

Beware the White Devil!

The White Devil by Justin Evans

Argh! I can’t think of what to say about this book. I was in the mood for another ghost story, so I picked this one up, but I was never really taken in by it, even though I toughed it out to the end. I think it was that the characters didn’t particularly click for me – none of them were very likable, didn’t make good decisions, and, honestly, I didn’t think that they were very well fleshed out or consistent. The ghost was certainly creepy – and frankly, a little gross toward the end – but I didn’t really buy his motivation. So a kid shows up at Harrow who looks like Lord Byron and the ghost of his spurned lover goes nuts and starts killing people? Just because somebody looks like his old boyfriend? I don’t know.

But I did manage to finish it, so I guess it can’t have been all bad – near the end I was skimming just to find out what was going to happen (not that I cared about the characters it was happening to). Frankly, I’d say that if you want a good ghost story, pick up Anna Dressed in Blood instead of this one.

My rating: D+

New Year’s Resolution #2

Read. More. Books. (For fun, that is.)

Skulduggery Pleasant: Kingdom of the Wicked by Derek Landy

This is Book 7 in the fantastic Skulduggery Pleasant series and it certainly doesn’t disappoint! It has all the characteristics we’ve come to expect from Skulduggery and Co. – witty banter, Dickensian names, fights, chase scenes, mystery, spying, and, of course, magic.

As usual, the magical world (and the mortal world) is in danger from a big bad (or in this case, a big good) who is trying to destroy it for various reasons and it’s up to Valkryie and Skulduggery to save the day. But I think we’re nearing the end of the series, or at least near enough that Landy needs to get his ducks in a row for the big final showdown I’m expecting and he certainly follows through – I had to read the very last chapter quite a few times before I was so excited that he was actually going to go there. It involves a character that I’ve always found a little creepy for, until now, unfounded reasons and I can’t wait to see what’s coming next!

My rating: A

Fiction

The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons

I bought this book because the blurb on the front said that it was for “people who like Downton Abbey“…which is me! I loooooove Downton Abbey and I was in the mood for more upstairs-downstairs-romantic-history-type stories when I stumbled across this book.

I’d say the blurb is a little misleading in that, yes, it’s about an English manor house and, yes, it takes place during major English historical events (namely, World War II), but that’s about where the similarities to Downton Abbey end.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still an enjoyable read! It took me a bit to get into it – the author’s writing feels a bit stilted at the beginning of the book and there are quite a few sentences that struck me as the kind of sentence that shows that the author is trying too hard to be evocative and, I don’t know, hyper-literary almost. But once I got into the author’s rhythms, I really found myself caught up in the story (well, the main romance I didn’t quite buy – I mean, I saw it coming and I wanted it to happen, but I didn’t really see where the emotions on the fellow’s side came from – the author did one of those tricks where the two mains meet and then, ta-da, we skip ahead a few months and they’re besties!).

It’s sounding like I’m being a little hard on the book, but it’s only because I was comparing it to Downton Abbey the whole time and it falls a little short of that, but as just a story, it was very engaging and it totally made me chuckle to myself and I was crying by the end, so I think, in the end, it was successful. I’d recommend it, but not necessarily in the same sentence as Downton Abbey.

Downton Arby’s, on the other hand, is a completely different matter. 😉

My rating: B-

Fiction: I’m not calling this LGBT Fiction on principle.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Heather and I made a deal – I would read her favorite book (Fingersmith) and she would read my favorite book (Three Men in a Boat). Clearly I love her more than she loves me because…voila! And I don’t see any reviews of Three Men in a Boat around anywhere, do you?

This book was really good! I’m not sure I bought the love story – the two main characters’ behavior did not convince me that they loved each other, let alone deserved to be together – but Sarah Waters really weaves a compelling tale. It’s also tres Dickensian – so many characters that seem unconnected and then one by one, everything clicks into place. And this book got me – I literally gasped and put it down and had to say “Heather! I just got to the part where (I’m not going to ruin it for you here)!” I think book 6 of Harry Potter was the last time a book made me do that (on a particular page turn), so that’s the company Sarah Waters is in.

My rating: A- (if the characters had been a bit more sympathetic, I would have upped the grade)

I have finally vanquished Scott Westerfeld’s trilogy!

Uglies, Pretties, and Specials by Scott Westerfeld

It was exhausting and took me waaaaaaay longer than it should have for me to get through these three books, but I finally triumphed!

It’s an intriguing premise and Westerfeld’s a good writer, but the reason it took me so long to finish these books is that I didn’t care about the characters. Not a single one. The main character, Tally, is not very bright and just gets lucky most of the time. She makes terrible decisions and doesn’t seem to learn from her mistakes. Her friend, Shay, is wasted – she starts out a protagonist, but then turns into a selfish, whiny, reckless (and not in an interesting way), flat character who doesn’t seem to have any motivation behind her actions. I’m still not sure if she ended up a good guy or a redeemed bad guy somehow.

By the third book, when Westerfeld opens up the focus of his world to include other cities and governments, I found that more interesting – probably because he was expanding upon the aforementioned intriguing premise – but still could not have cared less for the fate of any of his characters. What a waste.

My rating: D+

YA Fiction

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

It’s here – it’s finally, finally here! The third and final book in the Hunger Games trilogy. And I’m going to be good and talk about it under a cut tag so as not to inadvertently spoil anyone!

The short answer to whether or not I liked it is ‘Yes, but…’ The long, spoilery version is…

Continue reading

IR Fiction: Sci-fi/Fantasy

Artemis Fowl and the Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer

ONLY ONE MORE?! Only one more. Granted, I thought the last one was the last one, so when someone mentioned they were reading the new Artemis Fowl, my response was ‘WHAT THE NEW WHAT?!’ and off I hastened to good old .co.uk and got myself a copy (I liked the UK cover better than the US, but only super-slightly – whatever happened to my design solution covers?!).

And, as always, my only complaint is that there wasn’t enough Artemis (and Holly)! This time we had quite a few other points of view – Butler and Juliet (who I’m not a huge fan of – and I miss Butler being Artemis’ Butler) and the bad guy as well as a Not!Artemis (who was hilarious for a little while, but I soon found myself missing the real Artemis).

It’s clear from this one that it’s meant to be a cliffhanger (I think, anyway) to the next, and final, Artemis book – all is not well in the mind of Artemis Fowl at the moment. And even though I’ll miss him after the next/last book, I thought the previous book was the final one, so it’s nice to have a bit of a reprieve. And in the meantime, I’ll have Skulduggery to keep me company!

My rating: B+

Fiction: Graphic Novel

Scott Pilgrim, Vol. 6: Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Just in time for the movie! Although now I know how it ends… But still!

I don’t want to give away anything in case any of you are going to see the movie – I know I am – so this is going to be a fairly short and vague review! When we last left Scott, he had hit a pretty low point. There was really nowhere to go but up! And even though things may or may not (I’m not giving it away!) work out for Scott and his friends, it’s a surprisingly thoughtful and insightful ending – I mean, look past the fights and surreal dream travel and trust me, it’s there!

I was sad to see it end, but I’m really looking forward to the film now (as long as they don’t screw it up, of course)!

My rating: A-

Fiction: Romance

Goddess of the Hunt by Tessa Dare

I think I say this every time I post about a romance novel, but I hardly ever read them anymore, except for Julia Quinn. But someone – and I’ll be honest, I have no idea who – recommended this one and I needed a mass market to get me over the free shipping limit on Amazon a while ago, so I tossed this one in my cart.

There’s nothing revolutionary going on here, but it’s certainly enjoyable enough. The hero is suitably brooding and handsome (though I have to wonder why there aren’t more easygoing, funny heroes in romance novels – much more appealing!) and the heroine is suitably likable and spunky (and here I have a slight bone to pick – how are we, the readers, supposed to identify with these constantly petite and gorgeous heroines who think quickly on their feet – where is the tall, average-looking at best, socially awkward heroine [i.e., me]?).

I think I came in in the middle of a series, though, as there were obviously other characters who had already had or were imminently destined to have their own romance novels – not that you particularly need to have the backstory to enjoy this one. The ending felt a bit rushed – I’m not sure Jeremy won’t lapse back into grumpy and overbearing once the honeymoon’s over – but it was an enjoyable enough bit of fluff.

My rating: C+

Fiction: What the hell did I call this last time?

Changeless (Book #2 of the Parasol Protectorate) by Gail Carriger

But before I read all those other books…I had to finish this one. And MAN, was it hard work! Harder than I’d been expecting, considering how much I enjoyed the first one.

Really the only thing I have to say is that, despite having a new mystery to solve, the introduction of a new and intriguing character, and more steampunky gadgets and even dirigibles, things seemed to kind of plod along. Also I’m being shallow here – and not taking it into consideration for my rating – but I didn’t like the cover as much as the first one.

Basically, I think this suffers from bridge book syndrome (also a distinct lack of Professor Lyall) and am more than willing to give the third book (Blameless, out in September, I think) a read.

My rating: C+

IR Historical Fiction

Quest for a Maid by Frances Mary Hendry

Liz lent this to me ages ago and I kept forgetting I had it! Finally this weekend, I sat down, determined to read it so I could finally, finally give it back to her. I was a little wary of it because of that cover – it does not look like a happy book, does it?!

But holy cow! They do NOT write books like this anymore. That’s meant to be a compliment if it’s not clear. It was amazing. I think it was written in 1988 or 1989 and it definitely has that quality of late-90s middle grade fiction. And again, that’s meant to be a compliment. Something about it – and I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to put it into words – made me think of classic books like Caddie Woodlawn, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Last Silk Dress, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, On Fortune’s Wheel, and, another one of my all-time favorites, A Murder for Her Majesty. And now I’m a little bit grumpy with my childhood librarian for never recommending this to me – I was 8 years old when it came out, exactly the right age to be reading this!

It took me a couple of chapters to really get into it – Hendry writes her characters’ dialect which is fairly thick Scots and it took me a while to be able to stop reading aloud in my head sometimes – but then I was hooked! The main character, Meg, is feisty and noble, as she should be and the secondaries are all very well fleshed out – evil when they should be and loyal when they should be. And, man, can she write a sailing scene! After the chase scene in Hugo Cabret, I think the last four or so chapters were the fastest I’ve turned pages in a long time.

My rating: A

Fiction: Graphic Novels

Scott Pilgrim, Vols. 1-5 by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Your annoying friend strikes again! Scott Pilgrim keeps coming up in recommendations for graphic novels (p.s. – if you have any, feel free to leave me a comment or an e-mail with them!) and when I saw that it was going to be a movie starring Michael Cera and directed by Edgar Wright (of Space, Shaun of the Dead, and Hot Fuzz fame), I couldn’t resist any longer. Not that I was resisting, I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet…

I bought the first one just to see how I liked it. Mistake! They take about an hour to read and then I was left longing to know what happened next for an entire night! I bought and mainlined the remaining five (the final, sixth volume will be released July 20) the next day.

So awesome! Scott Pilgrim, despite actually being kind of a jerk (as Kim Pine points out), is really likable and so are all his friends who are super-cool – the kind of cool where you really would love to hang out with them, but you’re probably not cool enough, but somehow that makes you want to hang out with them even more. And it has a touch of the surreal about it, but everyone in the book just accepts it as the norm which I really like.

If you’re a twenty-something indie slacker who’s in a band and destined to fight your girlfriend’s seven evil exes, this is the book for you! And even if you’re not, it’s still the book for you.

My rating: A

IR Fiction/Graphic Novel

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

I literally spent the entire last weekend reading. As you’ll gradually see over the course of the week. First up was this one which I’ve been meaning to read for absolute ages! What finally spurred me into action? A friend of mine mentioned that Hotson Jude Law was going to be appearing in Martin Scorsese’s adaption of this book. Well, if you know me at all, you know that I like to read the book before the movie comes out – for no reason other than to be that annoying friend you all have who says ‘Have you read the book?’ when you start discussing the merits of the movie.

I don’t think the movie’s even started filming, but I was also procrastinating reading a book that I have to read before Claire leaves, so I thought I’d dive right in.

And Oh. My. God. It’s brilliant. You’ll notice that I classified this as both fiction and a graphic novel (not that graphic novels aren’t fiction, but you get the distinction, I’m sure). There is text, but there are also large sections that are only illustrations – at one point, there’s a chase scene and I swear I’ve never turned pages so fast! Selznick’s style is very pencilly and cross-hatchy – I would liken him to Shaun Tan’s Arrival and Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris K. Burdick (two of my absolute favorites, by the way – if you haven’t read them, I don’t think I can be your friend [also, forget The Polar Express, Harris is Van Allsburg’s masterpiece]).

Oh, yeah, and the plot is quite good, too, but mostly I think this book is about the visuals and it’s a stunning example of a blending of illustrations and text. It totally made me cry at the end.

But in a good way. You should definitely read it.

My rating: A

YA Fiction: Sci-fi/Fantasy

Lament by Maggie Stiefvater

I hate myself for liking this book. It won’t make you feel quite as dirty as the Twilight saga (I liked the first one, but by the end of the second, I just wanted to knock some sense into Bella and tell Jacob and Edward that they’d be better off with each other), but it is problematic.

And yet I want to read the second one – what’s wrong with me?!

Mostly, I feel like this is a book I would have written in high school; in fact, I’m sure I started writing a book very much like this when I was in high school. The heroine is Mary Sued up to the teeth – gorgeous, super powerful, amazing harp player, amazing singer; the two guy friends are gorgeous, super powerful, and amazingly talented musically; and there are faeries and Celtic  mythology everywhere!

Also:

  • The love triangle doesn’t quite work – Luke figures much more prominently in the story than James does, so we don’t really get to know James very well or see him interact much with Deirdre. In fact, he confesses his love to her via text message and then they basically don’t share a scene for the rest of the book.
  • The pacing is a bit off, too – everything builds very slowly up until the last fifth of the book and most everything suddenly gets resolved. A few plotlines are left unfinished, but I assume they’ll be addressed in the second book in the series.
  • I don’t really like Deirdre that much. She’s a bit too mopey and ‘Why me?’ and makes a few really stupid decisions. In fact, I had to put the book down before the last 75 pages and walk away for a week or two (to read Kathy Griffin’s book) before I could manage to go back to it.

And yet. I’m totally going to read the next one. Seriously, what’s wrong with me?!

My rating: C