27 April 2015

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up; Marie Kondo

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and OrganizingThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is such love for this book, and while part of me sees that, part of me is a little annoyed with the KonMar Method. The idea that everything in our homes should give us joy makes sense - sometimes it's a little impractical, but it's definitely sensible. And the way in which she suggests that we clean out and then tidy our possessions also makes sense. But the touching of everything? Perhaps not. And thanking things for supporting us, doing a good job, whatever at the end of each day? Again, perhaps not. That touchy-feely part just doesn't sit well with me (YMMV, obviously). I'm taking most of this as "suggestions" not "prescriptions" (right now, I can't put clothing in drawers because I simply don't have room for a dresser but when I can use the one I have in storage, I will use her method for storing many items; I read more than most and get many books at one of two conferences, so only having a few "to be read" is simply not practical). To be honest, that's my biggest quibble over all, the dogmatism she has about This Is The Only Way And It Will Always Work In Every Situation.

Our Souls at Night; Kent Haruf

Our Souls at Night: A novelOur Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've loved Haruf's work since Plainsong, so perhaps I'm pre-biased in favor. Recently I've read similarly quiet books but for some reason, Haruf is the master of this form of writing.

The idea of two elderly people, each alone and each vaguely aware of the other due to living near by, getting together at night simply to lie in bed and talk? How appealing. How human. That this casual relationship develops into friendship and caring for each other is equally human and realistic. It was also so true-to-life that others do not see things that way (particularly Addie's son). At times I found myself trying to read slower so as not to run out of book. But, as with all Haruf's works, this has no padding, so that end eventually came.

ARC provided by publisher.

21 April 2015

As Night Falls; Jenny Milchman

As Night Falls: A NovelAs Night Falls: A Novel by Jenny Milchman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There's something to be said about a book that keeps you up long past your bedtime. Despite many "why are you doing this stupid thing?" moments (of course, those are part and parcel of the genre), something kept me wanting to read it all now. There was also a little too much actual violence when the threat of violence would have been enough, and the ending really didn't ring true (no spoilers, but I didn't think it could have ended the way it did).

ARC provided by publisher.

The Book of Speculation; Erika Swyler

The Book of SpeculationThe Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Generally a good story - somewhat eerie, somewhat magical, often with tragic overtones. Why did the bookseller send this broke reference librarian a book with his grandmother's name in it? Who was his grandmother? Is there a curse? Why is his sister reacting the way she is to the book? And what about the boyfriend? It's all a rather good melange but... well... maybe there could have been a little less pulling together of the loose ends at the very end? If that part had been a few chapters earlier, it might have been stronger as a "WHA??" moment for readers and allowed Simon time to react.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Last Bookaneer; Matthew Pearl

The Last BookaneerThe Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Maybe it was just me, but this dragged quite a bit. There were parts I liked (the history of the bookends, the copyright issues, stories of good "gets") but then, in the middle of Samoa, it just stopped. There was too much time spent there, too little going on. The narrative scheme, like the first half of Wuthering Heights, is told by a participant to someone, which mostly works. There is sometimes a hint of the unreliable narrator because of that, but mostly what we get is Clover's listening to Fergins' tale and his near stalking of Feigns to get all of it.

Clover was a little problematic for me: he's a mulatto, so there's some prejudice (as when he tries to visit Feigns' residence), but beyond that it's mentioned a few times to no real effect. I also didn't quite buy the ending with him joining the merchant marines and sailing the world. For some reason, that part didn't quite blend with the earlier story.

ARC provided by publisher.

12 April 2015

Everybody Rise; Stephanie Clifford

Everybody RiseEverybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Rounding up from 1.5 stars - so close to being a DNF! Perhaps it's because I know the world the author is trying to illustrate that the problems leap out, or perhaps it's because the main character is simply unlikeable, not the sympathetic outsider that I think Ms. Clifford is going for. Let's start with the setting, the Upper East Side (NYC) post-prep/post-college scene. There's a lot I didn't understand, like why she name dropped Spence and Brearley, but made up a school in lieu of using Lycée Francais, or explaining that "Hollins was a horsey school in the 60s" but failing to mention that Dorrian's was infamous due to the Preppie Murder. When Push says she went to "Miss Porter's in the 1960s, it's clear that research wasn't done (anyone from that time would have said "Farmington" - yes, Mad Men got it wrong, too). And really? Did anyone in that world say "cray cray" in 2006? Evelyn's fall didn't inspire anything more than "yes! we're near the end". I did like Preston and Charlotte, despite their being one-dimensional characters.

ARC provided by publisher.

11 April 2015

The Girl at Midnight; Melissa Grey

The Girl at Midnight (The Girl at Midnight, #1)The Girl at Midnight by >Melissa Grey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are major parts of the book that are derivative, and the ending feels wrong because it is so clearly intended to lead to the next book rather than being some sort of conclusion. The love/lust triangles were part of what cost this points: Does Echo want Rowan or Caius? Would Rowan go for Ruby if given a chance? Is Dorian going to be with Jasper, or carry a torch for Caius? Sigh. And the whole firebird search (could/should have gone on longer, imvho) gets resolved without a full explanation, particularly of Rose's part. The better part was the evocation of the worlds of the Avicen and the Drakharin, and how Echo interacts with the human world. Having said all that, I think only readers tired of endless triangles and who are looking for something very different will really complain.

ARC provided by publisher.

06 April 2015

5 to 1; Holly Bodger

5 to 15 to 1 by Holly Bodger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, if you're going to differentiate between two voices, making one poetry and the other prose is as good a way as any to accomplish that. It's unclear why one worked better as one, not the other, but that's the author's choice.

I'm actually rounding up here because there are some interesting issues that are raised, just not dealt with as deeply as they might have been. We're in a future Indian subcontinent, where the ratio of boys to girls is incredibly high; a break-away country, one fiercely dedicated to women's/girl's rights, has been established. But - and this is the crux - does this new country do things better than India? or do they remake the mistakes, only in reverse? That could lead to some really interesting exposition and discussion, but perhaps those ideas aren't supposed to be considered by the target readers? Hence the four, really 3.5, stars.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Invasion of the Tearling; Erika Johansen

The Invasion of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, #2)The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As sequels or middle novels go, this isn't bad in terms of padding, although at times the Lily sequences threatened to take over. And the plot does move forward, with the Tear attempting to repel the Mort invasion (the rattlesnakes were inspired!). But... the spousal sexual abuse and the cutting really bothered me. Not in the "it's good we're raising these issues" sense but in the "this feels, at times, like a rip-off of The Handmaid's Tale and an attempt to make a fantasy series issues-heavy" sense. Kesea is increasingly unlikeable - is it the sapphires? or just her character development? - which also detracts from what could have been an otherwise good trilogy. I did appreciate learning what led to The Crossing (and how it happened), and more about the Mort Queen, and several characters were more interesting Kesea, the Mace and the Fetch (not necessarily a good thing, series-wise). Of course there are serious unanswered questions to be followed up in the next book. With luck that book will return to the feel of the first.

ARC provided by publisher.

05 April 2015

The Wrong Man; Kate White

The Wrong Man: A Novel of SuspenseThe Wrong Man by Kate White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Decent escapism, but really a 3.5 rather than a 4. Here's why: I constantly asked, "why is this otherwise intelligent person making such stupid decisions?" Not the one-night stand ("no regrets!"), because, well, ok, I could buy that. But once Kit discovers that the man she's slept with isn't actually "Matt Healy", her brain seems to turn off and that bothers me. Even if she had gone straight to the police, keeping them in the loop, the suspense quotient could have been as high as it is. But if you can get past her questionable choices, this is a decent suspense outing.

ARC provided by publisher.

04 April 2015

Nearly Found; Elle Cosimano

Nearly Found (Nearly Gone, #2)Nearly Found by Elle Cosimano
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My initial thought was that this was going to be like Barry Lyga's series, but there's less about the serial killer's thoughts than hoped for. There is some forensics, and more would have been great, but mostly this is character and confusion about relationships (especially the relationship between Nearly and Reece, which seems to be forced more for plot purposes than anything else). There was also the completely unnecessary addition of Nearly's ability to sense what people are thinking/feeling when she touches them - why? what real purpose does that serve, given the plot and needs of the mystery?

ARC provided by publisher.

Harm Done; Ruth Rendell

Harm Done (Inspector Wexford, #18)Harm Done by Ruth Rendell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another first read for an established author; I'm not sure if the series needs to be read in order (somehow I doubt it) but luckily I'm not that compulsive! There are several mysteries here, with one or two fading in importance as others come to the forefront during the year or so the book covers. The question of what to do with released pedophiles is covered, but not answered fully, as I suspect there is no real answer to this (can they be rehabilitated? can they truly pay their debt to society?). I'm now going to have to look for other Rendells and see whether they work as well for me.

Fell of Dark; Patrick Downes

Fell of DarkFell of Dark by Patrick Downes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What a weird, odd book: are Erik and Thorn the same person, just different personalities or aspects in one insane mind? Are they two different people, both mentally damaged in some way? Over the course of four years, at two year intervals, we check in with the two, seeing how they develop and what their lives are like, until at the end they collide. It's unsettling to say the least, and there are passages, at the end mostly, where one has to re-read to understand what exactly is going on.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Gracekeepers; Kirsty Logan

The GracekeepersThe Gracekeepers by >Kirsty Logan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is such a different book - not really dystopian, but definitely in a future version of our world where the seas have risen to an incredible degree. Society is riven between "damplings" (those who live at sea) and "landlockers" (those who live on land). One of our main narrators is a dampling, a circus performer who has trained - but not tamed - a bear, and the other is a landlocker gracekeeper, someone who performs at-sea burials for damplings. Their stories intertwine as they both seek, but don't necessarily find home and haven.

What made this a 5 is that the world is so well-realized, and the past (aka "the world we now know") is almost a casual given, not something we hear a lot about. There is an air of mystery of sorts, why and how Callanish and North have ended up in the lives they now lead, with the answers not always given but the end of the book. The pacing is slow, allowing the lives to unfold without forcing action. There's something about this book that truly sticks with you long after you finish reading.

ARC provided by publisher.

Raven Black; Ann Cleeves

Raven Black (Shetland, #1)Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A friend of mine has been reading, and enjoying, the Ann Cleeves books for a while and finally passed one along to me. The mystery here, as in the Peter May Lewis trilogy, takes almost a backseat to the setting (here, the Shetland Islands) and the way people there live. The "traditions" (some dating as far back as the Victorian era), the boarding out for high school, the social stratification and isolation all take on important roles given the nature of the mystery, that of a girl found murdered near the home of a gormless man - plus, she lived in the home of a girl previously gone missing ten years before.

Can't wait to read the rest of this series!

Between You & Me; Mary Norris

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma QueenBetween You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having heard the author speak about her book, I was excited to read about life as a copy editor and page editor at The New Yorker - and, ok, I'm one of those grammar geeks so it wasn't just about where she worked but how she worked. Lucky for me, therefor, there's more about the latter than the former, but others looking for more of an inside scoop will be disappointed. This is more Eats, Shoots and Leaves than "Behind the Scenes at A Really Famous Magazine". Oh, I did want that, too but... There are some anecdotes, and the discussion about how decisions (copy editing, fact checking) get made is interesting. Ditto what the magazine thinks about profanity, the Oxford comma and other nitpicky things.

ARC provided by publisher.