Pinch Reviews: March 2014

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I managed to slow down slightly for March (is 7 instead of 10 really slowing down?), and I had much better luck this month with reading books that I loved. I didn’t read anything this month that I gave a low rating and, depending on tastes, I would recommend all of these books to the right person.

It always makes me feel bad when I have advance copies but don’t read them in advance, so I have two upcoming books to talk about this month: LEAVING TIME and BAD FEMINIST. Of course, neither of them goes on sale until later this year, so for now, a pinch review will have to do. More extensive reviews to come as we get closer to their release dates.

THE SHINING GIRLS (Lauren Beukes, 4/5 pinches)

This has been on my Kindle for a really long time, and I’d tried to decide if I really wanted to read a book about a POV serial killer who murders women, even if it does involve a sort of Doctor Who-type time travel. In the interest of clearing out my unread books, I gave it a try and was pleasantly surprised. As it turns out, the POV character is Kirby, one of the “shining girls” whose name is in the time-traveling murder house and, coincidentally, the one who got away. When she starts interning with the reporter who covered her case, she starts to unravel the mystery, finding the clues out of place and time that lead her to solve her own attempted murder.

I thought it was really pretty fantastic. I probably didn’t need so much murderer POV, but it did bring the grit and hardness that Beukes obviously strove to include. Really enjoyed it. If you like literature with teeth, this is good.

VERONICA MARS: THE THOUSAND DOLLAR TAN LINE (Rob Thomas, 4/5 pinches)

Well, obviously, right? Veronica Mars is one of those franchises that just gives me eternal life and the book is no disappointment. The early-2000s show focused on blonde teen PI with an attitude and an aptitude for solving mysteries, and the recent movie and book pick up ten years later. College girls are disappearing during spring break in Neptune, and Veronica is on the case, backed up by all of her old pals. It’s not a full five pinches because, as a follow-up to the movie, it drops some of the more interesting stories and launches into several other mysteries (new and old). Overall, I really enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to the second, but I hope the universe gets pulled together a little bit better next time.

This book does contain all spoilers, since it takes place two months after the events of the movie, but if you’re not interested in starting from the beginning, it’ll fill you in. Read my longer review here. You really should see the movie, though.

LEAVING TIME (Jodi Picoult , 3/5 pinches)

Work perks: getting to read the new Jodi Picoult early. I’ve been a fan of hers for a while, and while her books haven’t changed my life, they’re always interesting, twisty, and teach me something I didn’t know before. LEAVING TIME is the story of 13-year-old Jenna, now finally old enough to start pursuing her mother’s alleged death, who picks up a couple of friends on her path. Simultaneously, Picoult tells a story of the science of elephant grieving, which Jenna’s mother studied for years. Though some might find the elephant chapters to be a bit much, I thought they were fascinating, and it’s inspired me to learn more about elephant empathy. And, as always, there’s a twist at the end that really brings it home. I don’t know that I loved the twist, but I did really like this book.

Out from Ballantine in October.

THE ACCIDENT (Chris Pavone, 4/5 pinches)

Pavone’s second book, following 2012’s THE EXPATS, follows a confidential manuscript about one of the biggest media moguls of our time over the course of a day as the characters involved try to get it published (and, naturally, the villains try to stop it, by any means). A thriller about book publishing? It may sound cheesy, but it got a stellar NYT review and I personally thought it was fantastic. I don’t usually read thrillers, so I found the pace to be a bit frantic, but it was really fun and kept me guessing.

BAD FEMINIST (Roxane Gay, 5/5 pinches)

The much-anticipated essay collection from Roxane Gay landed in my inbox the day it became available for advance reading, thanks to friends in high places, and I started it almost immediately. Overall, I loved it, fanatically. Gay has been a favorite writer of mine for a couple of years now, and her essay collection speaks to the questions that are being asked in our current feminist climate, like, What does it really mean to be, or not be, a feminist? or What is the intersectionality of feminism with race and class, and how can we make smart, inclusive choices? She speaks a lot about current pop culture, as that is one of her areas of expertise, with a sharp wit that lays out both her own views and what she sees as current issues in pop culture.

If I had one tiny complaint, it would be that perhaps it dwells too much on the pop culture of the last two to three years, but since this is undoubtedly not going to be Gay’s only feminist book ever, I’m fine with it. In fact, I relish it.

Seriously, get this book. Out in August from Harper Perennial.

WHERE THE STARS STILL SHINE (Trish Doller, 5/5 pinches)

On recommendation from dear friend Anna, I read this in a flash. When Callie and her mom are pulled over while driving, her whole life is ripped away as she realizes that her mom stole her from her dad as a child and has been on the run ever since. Placed with her dad’s family in a small Florida town, Callie must learn to navigate the real life she never had.

This is a sad, sweet story of a real teen girl with real problems, and Doller does not disappoint. Nothing is easy for Callie, especially when, now, it should be. As a sophomore novel, this is a roaring success, and if the premise sounds appealing to you, read this because you will not be let down.

IDENTICAL STRANGERS (Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein, (4/5 pinches)

I’ve been on a kick lately for learning about adult sisters, and this book immediately drew me in. Twins Elyse and Paula were adopted separately at birth, as part of a secret twin experiment conducted in conjunction with Louise Wise Adoption Services in NYC. Thirty or so years later, they found each other by inquiring into their backgrounds, and have to adjust to not only having a sibling, but a twin. The book is written in alternating perspectives, and it’s really interesting to hear their voices and thoughts on whether they initially wanted to uproot their lives to get to know their twins.

Much of the book is about their experiences getting to know each other and attempting to learn their backgrounds. I had thought there might be more information included about the history of the experiment they were involved in, but as we learn, the results are locked up until 2066, so there isn’t really much to say at this point. A really solid book, sad at some points but mostly happy, and really quite unique and interesting.

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The standout this month was likely BAD FEMINIST, but honestly, all of these books were great. What did you read in March?

Keep up with my reading progress on Goodreads, if you’d like.

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Pinch Reviews: February 2014

Apologies for the delay in pinch reviews this month: it’s been a hectic few weeks as far as computers go, and I didn’t have a spare moment until now. Work is picking up, too, so when I have a minute to think about this, I have to grab it! Without further ado, pinch reviews. As always, if we aren’t friends on Goodreads, add me.

UNINVITED (Sophie Jordan) – 1/5 pinches

It’s not often that I really hate a book. I wrote a very spoiler-filled and extensive review for this on Goodreads, but for the sake of brevity (pinches!), suffice it to say that I thought the concept was brilliant and the execution was terrible. I love the idea of the discovery of a “kill gene” that indicates probable homicidal tendency, and the aftermath of the idea; however, it seems like Jordan got too excited about the save-the-cheerleader-save-the-world trend that tends to trap YA series right now, and forgot to invest in the science, the characters, and plausibility of plot. Overall thoughts: do not read this unless, you know, it’s killing you not to.

GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY, HOLLYWOOD AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF (Lawrence Wright) – 5/5 pinches

Now, back on to the books that I loved, which is the rest of them. GOING CLEAR, a 2013 National Book Award finalist, is a thoughtful non-fiction discussion of Scientology, from its foundation with L. Ron Hubbard to its current existence and membership. Not only did I feel that Wright left no stone unturned, the book also filled in sociopolitical gaps from the last fifty years for me. There were moments here where historical events just clicked together for me, and it was easier for me to see why some things were the way that they were. If you have even a passing interest in Scientology, you’ll be unable to put this down. There’s a reason it was on the NBA shortlist.

CRESS (Marissa Meyer) – 3/5 pinches

Cress is the third book in Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series (Cinder, Scarlet) that retells classic princess fairytales against a futuristic sci-fi YA landscape, and it’s exactly as awesome as you think. I liked CRESS a lot, but I have to say that I didn’t like it as much as the first two. I found Cress to be a rather weak character compared to Cinder and Scarlet, especially in our post-Tangled Rapunzel world. Meyer clearly has the rest of the series plotted, if not written, though, and while this book wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped, it’s perfectly interesting and serviceable to the greater story. Read CINDER first (duh).

THE MOON SISTERS (Therese Walsh) – 3.5/5 pinches

I have a lot of feelings about this book. I’ll probably write a longer review just because I’d waited until its release to talk about it, as I usually try to do with books I read in advance. Sisters Jazz and Olivia Moon both come of age and find each other emotionally as they deal with their mother’s suicide in the different stages of grief. The sisters were so full as characters that everyone else fell a little flat, and at times I was irritated that other characters were interrupting the growth of the sister relationship. This book is sad and beautiful and interesting in its own way, and I’d probably recommend it. It would be a great book club title.

THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE (Audrey Niffenegger) – 5/5 pinches (annual)

One of my favorite books, THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE makes it around to the list about once a year. I just can’t get enough of the story, and every time I read it new details stick out to me. I find myself in a different place emotionally each time I reread it, and the layers in this book are just truly complex and lovely. Listening to the audio book is really wonderful, too, since the alternating chapters are read by a man and woman. If you haven’t read this, drop everything else.

THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER (Leslye Walton) – 4.5/5 pinches

I received this on Net Galley in exchange for a review, and I wasn’t sure what to expect at all. I sat on it for about a month, and decided to give it a try—and then I fell in love. Less about Ava and more about the generations of a family who immigrate to the US from France, the story entwines magical realism into a spellbinding story written in nearly poetic prose. Walton wrote this book for adults and it was sold as YA, so it tends to the more serious. Truly loved this book—look for it.

A LONG, LONG SLEEP (Anna Sheehan) – 3/5 pinches

There’s just something about sci-fi retellings of fairytales that I can’t step away from, this time being Sleeping Beauty. Rosalinda Fitzroy is woken up after sixty years in a chemically-induced coma and must readjust to not only the world around her and high school, but with coming to terms with the fact that everyone she knows is dead, she’s the heir to one of the world’s largest corporations, and that perhaps not everything that happened to her has been an accident. If this sounds like your jam, read it; if not, you should probably skip it. What finally hooked me was an interview with Sheehan where she said she’d like to know what happened to Sleeping Beauty after she woke up, and what she did then. It’s great in most regards, though at times seems to try too hard. If you read YA regularly, you’ll probably like this.

WE WERE LIARS (E. Lockhart) – 5/5 pinches

I can’t say much about WE WERE LIARS, given that I don’t want to give anything away for you. Lockhart weaves together fairytales and classic stories as coping mechanisms for our protagonist, whose memory of a night years ago she must recover with the help of her family and friends. This isn’t typical YA, and I’d recommend for any audience. Really sad. Really beautiful. Really perfect. It comes out in May—order it now and read it immediately.