Thursday, October 31, 2019

Review: Monday's Not Coming

Monday's Not Coming Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Claudia returns from her summer vacation at her grandmother’s looking forward to seeing her best friend, Monday; and not looking forward to eighth grade. Her best friend, almost sister, will make being at school better.

But Monday isn’t at school. And there’s no answer at her house. Her mother and sister are around, and Claudia hears different stories: Monday is at an aunt’s. Monday is at her father’s. Monday is being homeschooled. Monday doesn’t want to be her friend anymore.

Claudia’s worry grows, even as the adults around her dismiss her concerns.

This is told beautifully, in different sections of time: Before. Before (that is, last year.) And After. Claudia is telling the story, always, but from different points of time: now, then, flashbacks. It is confusing at times, but Claudia is also confused, as she tries to find her best friend and tries to see if there were clues in the past, and also tries to survive a year without her best friend – a year without her only friend, to be honest.

In addition to a chilling mystery that made me go back and start rereading immediately, this is also a story of a close working class family in Washington DC, full of local details about places, music, food. Part of the details includes how willing the police and other adults are to ignore the pleas of one young black girl to find another young black girl.

Tiffany D. Jackson is now one of my favorite mystery authors. I recommend this highly; and to sneak in another recommendation, her book ALLEGDLY about a nine year old accused of killing an infant.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Review: Agatha Christie: A Mysterious life

Agatha Christie: A Mysterious life Agatha Christie: A Mysterious life by Laura Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A biography of Agatha Christie.

Christie was born in 1890 and died in 1976. I love a biographies because they tell about a person I'm interested in, but also, in so telling, tells me about the times they lived in. For example, I'm always intrigued by the certain class of folks who were not rich yet had servants, because there's no way one would do their own cleaning or cooking. Or, the education that women did or did not get. Or, I guess I should say, the formal education.

Reading this inspired me to read and reread Christie's mysteries.

Some background on me: I was one of those who, as a teenager, went through an Agatha Christie phase. Now, I know that the books were sent when they were written; or, in other words, decades before I read them. Some were written closer to when I read them. But I have to say I never quite realized that; that sometimes, I was being show a lifestyle that no longer existed.

Anyway, now I'm going to read and reread; and I've decided to start with Miss Marple.

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Thursday, October 24, 2019

Review: Leah on the Offbeat

Leah on the Offbeat Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A companion to Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda; center stage is one of Simon's best friends, Leah.

It's senior year; Leah is bisexual, but hasn't come out to her friends. So she's going through her senior year -- people assuming she's only into boys -- working out friend dynamics -- and having a crush on a girl who is straight. Or is she?

I love how Leah addresses Leah's being bisexual, and why coming out matters, and how having this secret means she is never wholly herself around others.

I love Leah's crush and the heartbreak and how it resolves.

This book also addresses the particularities of a high school friends group and those dynamics. I'll be honest: as an adult reading this, I just wanted to say at times "folks, you all need to chill a bit." But this book isn't written for me, a fiftysomething adult.

But a teenager reading this will identify so much. Of particular, how invested friends can be in each other's relationships, and that so-and-so have to be together always, and what it means to the connections if so-and-so break up. The intense feelings and drama. The belief that it's all for always and forever. (Now that said... some couples were indeed together at the end, implying a certain amount of always and forever.)

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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Review: The Cheerleaders

The Cheerleaders The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Five years ago, five cheearleaders died in Sunnybrook.

Two were in a terrible car accident.

Two were brutally murdered.

And the last, distraught over the loss of so many friends in such a short time, killed herself.

The high school no longer has cheerleaders.

Monica is almost seventeen, a member of the dance team. Dreading the fifth anniversary, because of the reminders. The fifth cheerleader was her older sister.

This year is tough for Monica for many reasons. She and her boyfriend broke up because he left for college; she had a hot, secret summer romance with an older guy at her summer job that had consequences. She's feeling a bit disconnected from her friends, in part because of the secrets she kept from them.

And now -- Monica's discovered her sister's phone. And the questions she couldn't ask five years ago, the questions she didn't know to ask, are suddenly all around her.

What really happened five years ago? Did her sister really kill herself? Is there a murderer still out there?

I love Monica's investigation, in part because at time it is sloppy and doesn't always make sense, which makes sense for a teenager who isn't a detective. It's more intuitive; it's not realizing the questions to ask, the roads to follow, because she's not used to doing this.

As a reader, I had figured out certain things earlier than Monica, but that's because this isn't my first mystery. If someone is introduced into a book . . . well, there's going to be a reason for it. It's not just side candy.

Well worth the read; and I look forward to reading more of the author's mysteries.

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Thursday, October 17, 2019

Review: A Thousand Beginnings and Endings

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings A Thousand Beginnings and Endings by Ellen Oh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love retellings of stories. So when I saw this, reimaginings of folkore and mythology from East and South Asia, I said "yes, please."

I listened on audio; that was particularly satisfying, being told a series of stories. I loved the different ways the writers took the stories and made them their own, changing settings (the past; the future; science fiction; historical; the present.) Sometimes, even changing the outcome.

I was not familiar with all the source materials, but each story ended with the author talking about the tale they wrote. Especially since I was listening, I appreciated that this information was given at the end of the story, rather than at the end of the book.

Did I have particular favorites? But of course! "Olivia's Table" by Alyssa Wong and "The Crimson Cloak" by Cindy Pon.

Olivia's Table is a ghost story unlike any other ghost story I've read. Olivia's mother has died and Olivia is carrying on in her mother's steps by cooking a meal for ghosts. It's scary and cathartic. I don't know if scary is the right word: it's not horror story scary. It's, I'm not sure what will happen next scary.

"The Crimson Cloak" tells the story of love between a goddess and a mortal. It's funny and hopeful and clever; and in particular, takes a story of love trapped and makes it love chosen.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Review: Summer of Salt

Summer of Salt Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Practical Magic meets Nova Ren Suma’s Imaginary Girls and Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap"? Of course I had to read this!

And better yet: it delivered.

It's the summer after graduation from high school. Georgina Fernweh and her twin sister, Mary, have been raised on an island and Georgina is looking forward to many things:

First, going to college on the mainland.

Second, her 18th birthday. Well, is "looking forward" the right way to phrase it? All Fernweh women have magic and their magic shows itself by their 18th birthday. Some, like Mary, have their magic from birth -- Mary can float. Others, like Georgina, wait. And wait. And wait.

Third, the annual return of a hundreds year old rare bird, only ever seen on the island in summer. Family lore says an ancestor had the magic to turn herself into a bird -- and never turned back.

Fourth, meeting a girl, because she's on a small island and the other out lesbians are either taken, someone she already dated, or someone she's not interested in.

I don't want to give spoilers, of course, but I love how the magic worked, how the family viewed their magic, and how others on the island treat these magical women. I was surprised by the sudden turn mid way through.

There are two things I figured out early, but that's more because of the type of reader I am; also, the author gave us clues and I put the dots together.

I did wonder how the practical elements worked -- I'm the type who wondered just how isolated the island was, and the infrastructure, and about how often new folks moved permanently to the island.

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Thursday, October 10, 2019

Review: Mr. Kiss and Tell

Mr. Kiss and Tell Mr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the second Veronica Mars book (and sadly, the last as far as I can tell) Veronica is hired by a local hotel to investigate a woman's claims that she was raped on premise.

The woman was assaulted, yes; but it was so bad that she had no memory, and the hotel suspects her recent recollection isn't accurate. (So, yes, while I liked this book and love Veronica Mars, this does involve some of my least favorite things in a book. Rape, false accusations, slut shaming.)

Things I liked: how past characters were brought into the story and revisited. Which makes sense for Veronica Mars, because since she's in her home town, the place she lived her entire life, it makes sense that people from her past resurface.

Also: I totally miss guessed who the bad guy was! I'll discuss in comments, if you want.

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Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Review: Girl Made of Stars

Girl Made of Stars Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mara and Owen are twins; Owen is dating her friend Hannah. And then Hannah accuses Owen of rape.

Readers expect a certain something from a plot like that, and this delivers. Conflicts, questionings, different sides of the same story, people taking sides.

I was intrigued to read this and how the author handled this, and I was mostly satisfied.

But, with a book like this, you can't get away from at least a discussion of "girls lie" or "girls change their minds." And that's always a bit of a tough one for me to read, because it seems like in trying to be "fair" or "equal," well, it's not fair. But that is more me than the book. And the important thing is: this book says what it will do, delivers it, and also provides a satisfying conclusion.

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Thursday, October 03, 2019

Review: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line

The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's nice to read a book in a series that you are familiar with; to know the people, the places, what makes them tick.

And it's nice to see Veronica again.

This really gets her point of view, her voice.

The mystery: spring break at Neptune, two girls have disappeared. One has a surprising link to Veronica.

A solid mystery; I didn't guess the resolution. Veronica Mars' fans will like this.

I'm a bit torn about the reappearance of a certain character; and I wish more attention was paid to Veronica's student loans; and the more I read, and ponder, (and haven't seen season 4), the more I wonder... how could so many in Neptune be corrupt and Keith Mars be so good? Was there ever a darker version of Keith?

Anyway. Back to the book. Read it.

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Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Review: The Rival Queens: Catherine de' Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom

The Rival Queens: Catherine de' Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom The Rival Queens: Catherine de' Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom by Nancy Goldstone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Look at me, reading history that isn't English!

Confession: part of the reason I wanted to read this was from watching REIGN, and loving Megan Follows as Catherine de Medici.

I liked this book and the story of Catherine and her daughter Marguerite (who I mainly know from the movie Queen Margot.)

So. I liked it, I liked the details, and I ended up mad impressed with Marguerite.

But, I wanted more about Catherine and once Marguerite came of age, this became more her story than Catherine's. And, at least in this book, Catherine isn't presented very well. (That said, it would be hard to be sympathetic to Catherine because of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. But, still.) And while I understand that historically speaking Catherine's sons and Marguerite were more important than the two eldest surviving daughters, so little was given about them -- well. It seemed that Catherine's biography only mattered in terms of what it meant to Marguerite. Heck, even her grandchildren are barely mentioned.

So, I want more on Catherine.

That said, this was terrific in what I learned about Marguerite. And, having watched REIGN, now agree with those who said Claude in the TV show was basically given Marguerite's life.

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