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: January 2014

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Can you believe the first month of the new year is already over? Every year seems to go faster and faster. It’s pretty incredible, right? That said, I wasted no time in getting to work on reading new books for the year. I set my Goodreads goal at 75 books for the year, an increase over my ambitious and surprising 68 from last year, and so far it seems like I’m on schedule–and even a little bit ahead.

I’m going to try to do this kind of post at the end of every month, with a quick recap and a short review, so I’m going to call this Pinch Reviews. Just a little bit of a review, enough to get your attention and hopefully pique your interest. I try to stay fairly current with my reading, so I’m hoping this will put out some attention on some lesser-read books (although almost everything I read this month was wildly popular among the contemporary set, I think).

While it looks like I read 10 books in January, that’s not entirely true. I started reading THE BOYFRIEND APP (Katie Sise) on the plane back from Oklahoma at the end of the year and finished it in January, so I didn’t technically read all of it in 2014. Also, I started both I WAS TOLD THERE’D BE CAKE and ALL YOU NEVER WANTED last summer, read a few pages, then put them down and didn’t pick them back up until last week. However, on both of those, I read the majority of it this month, so I’m still willing to put them in the January category.

I was pretty pleased with my stats on this month, too–out of 10 books, 90% were by women authors and had women protagonists. Tim Tharp’s THE SPECTACULAR NOW was the only male-authored and -lead book from this month, but it was set in contemporary Oklahoma City, which I’m always a fan of.

THE BOYFRIEND APP (Katie Sise) – 2/5 pinches

I really wanted to like this book–a YA novel starring a geek girl who’s the best coder in her school, or close to it, and a plot that involves her using her smarts and skills to promote herself, all while working through family tragedy, social class discussion and teenage romance. And the first half is great! Then Audrey uncovers a greater conspiracy (this isn’t a spoiler because it’s on the jacket) with the company offering her a scholarship, which also sounds good, but it never really felt like Sise had a handle on what the plot was really going to be when it found itself. The second half just never felt real or grounded, and it ended predictably. It was fine, but unless you’re really into this type of book, you might lose interest.

THE SPECTACULAR NOW (Tim Tharp) – 3.5/5 pinches

This is a quick and easy coming-of-age story about Sutter Keely, an alcoholic teen who never got over his father leaving his family and who is trying to figure out what his future can be, and if he even wants one. There are things I found unbelievable about the characters, but overall this is a solid book intended to appeal to male readers, which is rarer than it should be in YA. This is more of a crossover book, too, in that I think many adult readers would enjoy reading this, since it is layered heavily in that it would mean different things to different people at different ages. It’s a good but sad book. I recommend it.

Plus, it takes place in my hometown of Oklahoma City, which is great–not every book in a city needs to be New York or LA, and I appreciate this. You might have seen the movie, starring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, and it was a National Book Award Finalist, which speaks heavily to its relevance.

DREAMLAND (Sarah Dessen) – 4/5 pinches

This is an oldie-but-goodie Sarah Dessen title that was first published in 2000, so I’m obviously behind here, but I bought it on an Amazon daily deal whim months ago, so I decided it was time to get down to it. This is another heartbreaking coming-of-age story about Caitlin, whose older-and-“better” sister Cass ran away, who starts dating bad boy Rogerson while drowning in her own impending depression. It’s a sad story, but it’s real–this is how things happen and how people fall through the cracks of their own lives when no one else is looking. It’s making me sad just thinking about it. I loved this book, but it is some heavy business, so prepare yourself.

LIFE AFTER LIFE (Kate Atkinson) – 3/5 pinches

Atkinson is a new author to me, known for her mysteries, but the concept of LIFE AFTER LIFE grabbed me immediately–a WW2 -centric book about Ursula Todd, who keeps dying and “resetting” to a certain point, basically until she gets it right. This sounds right up my alley, and I have to say that I didn’t love it. Once you get past Ursula’s childhood (about 120 pages), it picks up dramatically, and weaves an interesting series of tales with varying levels of involvement that come with living in Germany and being well-connected in early Hitler days. It’s interesting, to be sure, and it’s getting a lot of buzz, but it just fell a little short for me, personally. It’s more literary when I wanted it to be more genre, and more descriptive when I wanted more action. I am glad I read it, but I feel only okay about it.

Winner, Goodreads Choice Best Historical Fiction 2013

WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? (Maria Semple) – 4.5/5 pinches

The beginning of the year started off fairly mediocre for me, bookswise, and this turned it around entirely. Protagonist and sometimes-narrator Bee is trying to figure out where her mother, Bernadette, disappeared to when they were about to leave for their cruise to Antarctica, and finds more in the files than she ever expected. This is a book I fell in love with, a book told mostly in documents and communications, interrupted occasionally by the young narrator’s voice. This is an adult novel with a young protagonist–I think teens would enjoy reading this because of the novelty of the format and the interesting plot, but I think this is a book that older readers might appreciate more, for its discussion of adult family dynamics and mental illness. I thought the end was wrapped up a little too quickly for the problems presented it later in the novel, but overall I loved this book a lot. It’s worth every bit of hype.

THE DIVINERS (Libba Bray) – 5/5 pinches

Now, if we’re going to talk about favorite books, this is far and away the best book I read this month (and for a 600 page book, I read it in four days). Bray is a YA master with a wide, wide oeuvre thus far, but this epic urban fantasy proves she can still do no wrong. Set in NYC in the 1920s, the book features an ensemble of youths (led by transplant Evie O’Neill) with unique abilities who unknowingly combine forces to defeat Naughty John, a serial murderer returned to life by chance. It’s full of wit, slang and incredibly-rounded characters (with actual diverse representation!), and honestly, I don’t think there’s really anything bad to say about this book. It’s the first in a series that I am dying to read. It’s long, but if this even remotely sounds like your jam, you’re going to love it.

TAMPA (Alissa Nutting) – 4/5 pinches

This should have been one of the hottest books of 2013, and for some reason, I feel like it wasn’t. Maybe the subject matter, a young teacher who is sexually attracted to and seduces her young, on-the-verge-of-puberty male students, was too much for people. It is very explicit in many ways, but I felt like it was a book I needed to read in order to expand my reading horizons and escape my comfort zone. I had issues with the pacing of the book and with parts of the end, but overall I loved it. If you think this is something you’re mature enough to read, you should, because it makes strong statements on not only statutory rape (especially when it’s a woman preying on teen boys) but on the justice system. This book will make you think about a lot of things and will leave you grappling with your thoughts for long after you’ve finished, which is important. This is a book meant for discussion, and that happens less than it should these days. Recommend heartily, if you think you can read it.

I WAS TOLD THERE’D BE CAKE (Sloane Crosley) – 3/5 pinches

This is a collection of essays from writer Sloane Crosley, all about being an at-wits-end twenty-something in New York, something that you read about a lot these days. The stories are funny and well-written, and I enjoyed reading this book. Unfortunately, the stories could have been stronger and made sharper, and I thought they were out of place in the book. The book was fine and I’m not unhappy that I read it, but ultimately it didn’t seem like anything new, and it’ll probably get lost in the heap of collections like this going around right now.

ALL YOU NEVER WANTED (Adele Griffin) – 3/5 pinches

This is a short, quick YA about two sisters (with alternating narrator chapters) who are experiencing growing pains in their relationship as well as the confusion of going from rags to riches within a year. The relationship between the sisters was great, as was the development of their own personal issues. It was a fun and easy read that I finished in a couple of days. Ultimately, this isn’t the book for me, but I think this is a book that is actually intended more for a younger audience.

TIMEBOUND (Rysa Walker) – 4.5/5 stars

I finished this book last night, and I absolutely loved it. It’s in a similar vein to THE DIVINERS, which is partially the reason I picked it up (and that it was a Kindle daily deal a few weeks ago–I’m a sucker for those). Protagonist Kate Pierce-Keller is the granddaughter of a time-traveler, essentially, and when someone starts messing with the timeline, it’s up to her to set things straight and bring her family back from nonexistence–once she learns exactly how to time travel from her grandmother. It deals pretty successfully with time travel and history, including a visit to the 1893 World’s Fair and H.H. Holmes (murder!), and again, if you think this sounds remotely like your jam, read it asap. It’s great. It doesn’t get a full five stars because the end is kind of an info-dump, which, though interesting, is less exciting than it could have been. Otherwise, love it.

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013

As you can see, the end of my month picked up spectacularly, and right now I’m reading both Lawrence Wright’s GOING CLEAR and Sophie Jordan’s UNINVITED, so things are going quite swimmingly.

What did you read in January? Have you set a yearly goal for yourself–if so, how’s it going? If not, sign up for Goodreads immediately and add me!