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broodings from the burrow

November 8, 2015

january 2015 reads
posted by soe 2:26 am

Once upon a time, back in the early days of my blog, I decided I’d review the books I read here. I was better about it at some points than others, but it used to get done, for the most part. But three years ago I took part in the judging for the Cybils Award and it broke my reviewing mojo. I have some theories about why that happened, but mostly it’s unimportant. I’ve never actually enjoyed the process of reviewing what I’ve read, but I love having the record of them to refer back to.

I’d like to get back into that habit and intend to do so more fully and contemporaneously in the new year. But in the interest of better being able to share a favorite reads list at the end of this year, I thought some capsule reviews might suffice.

Here’s what I read way back in January:

My True Love Gave to Me, edited by Stephanie Perkins. 2014. 321 pages.
A dozen holiday-themed, romance-filled stories from some of the most recognized names in YA, including Perkins, Rainbow Rowell, David Levithan, Holly Black, and Jenny Han. I’d read and enjoyed books by most, although not all, of the contributors, and so had suggested it might make a nice Christmas present last year. Some of the stories are contemporaries, while others have a fantasy setting. Some are, as with any collection, stronger than others, but not always the ones I would have expected based on the authors’ novels. I especially enjoyed “It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown,” from Perkins and Kiersten White’s “Welcome to Christmas, CA,” but I can totally see myself re-reading some or all of the stories every holiday season or two. If you like the current YA novels, enjoy winter holiday (especially Christmas)-themed stories, or like teen romances, I recommend the buying or borrowing the collection.

The Amazing Thing About the Way It Goes: Stories of Tidiness, Self-Esteem and Other Things I Gave Up On, by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. 2014. 224 pages.
The Yarn Harlot offers up a collection of humorous essays that don’t have to do specifically with yarn. Instead, they have to do with a range of modern-day topics, including parenting, email, invasive skunks, messiness, and personal appearance. Another Christmas present last year, I enjoyed the essays while reading them, laughed aloud at several, but overall didn’t love them the way I do Stephanie’s blog or her previous knitting-related collections and had to leaf back through the book to have any recollection about what she’d written about. Good for a chuckle, but I’d probably check it out from the library, rather than buying it.

2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas, by Marie-Helene Bertino. 2014. 272 pages.
‘Twas the day before Christmas and nine-year-old Madeleine, despite having the best voice in her grade (and neighborhood) and a recently dead mother, will not be singing the solo in the holiday concert that day. In fact, the day is about to go so sideways, that by afternoon, she’s been expelled from school. Her fifth-grade teacher, Sabrina, just ran into a woman she once knew at a bakery and now has to go to a dinner party with a group of old friends that includes an estranged, now-married flame. And Lorca, the owner of The Cat’s Pajamas, one of the most famous nightclubs in all of Philadelphia, is in danger of losing the club because of a gigantic fine for fire code violations and his teenaged son to inattention. Alternating between their perspectives, we inch closer to a holiday none of them are looking forward to. But before it arrives, they’ll all experience a night at the jazz club they’ll never forget. I was really looking forward to reading this book during Advent last year, but my library copy didn’t come in until January. The idea behind Bertino’s debut novel was a strong one and her characters were well-plotted out, and it’s clear she was trying to make the book’s structure resemble a jazz piece, with recurring motifs and story lines that looped back into one another. But, that said, it was hindered by inadequate editing, which might have reined in her love of vocabulary and flowery phrases (again, I imagine this was intended to be reminiscent of some of the complexities of jazz) and tightened up the time frame. Ultimately, it was just an okay book.

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal, by G. Willow Wilson with art by Adrian Alphona. 2014. 120 pages.
The first collection of Ms. Marvel comics features Kamala Khan, New Jersey high school student, comic book fangirl, and Muslim daughter of Pakistani immigrants. Sneaking out to a party one night, Kamala undergoes a transformation where she gains superpowers that include elasticity, super strength, and the ability to change her appearance and rescues one of her classmates. (If you watch Agents of SHIELD or any of the later Marvel movies, you may recognize Kamala’s symptoms as making her one of the Inhumans, a human with recessive alien DNA that, when triggered by some external force, gives the person one or more super powers.) Kamala deals with this transformation on her own for a while, trying to figure out how to be a teenage crime solver, but eventually loops in her best guy pal, who helps her with her costume and by serving as someone who knows her whereabouts in case something goes wrong. But even with his help, it’s still tough solving crime when you still have to get your homework done and you sneak out of the house past your very strict parents. If you like comic books, you’ve probably already read this, as it’s probably the highest touted new series out in the past couple years. If you haven’t, though, or if you like graphic novels or YA with feisty heroines, grab this one as soon as you can. I read a library copy, but bought Volume 2.

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