An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green (27 April)

Obviously, after the slow but interesting Murder, as I think I will call it from now on, I needed to go back to the YA brain candy. So I did. And it was good.

An Abundance of Katherines, as the title suggests, is about a kid called Colin with a lot of Katherines in his life… as of his high-school graduation, he’s been dumped by 19 of them. Nineteen! Of course, some of these are third-grade (third-grade!) relationships, but they still count because every single one of them has been named K-a-t-h-e-r-i-n-e. Not Kate or Katie or Catherine. Katherine. Yes.

This last Katherine having been his girlfriend for 11 months and eight days, Colin is understandably upset about this breakup. So, in the grand tradition of all high-schoolers everywhere, Colin and his best friend Hassan go on a road trip. From Chicago to middle Tennessee. Where they go on a tour of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s grave and then make friends with the also high-school-aged tour guide, whose mother gives the boys jobs and invites them to stay in her house. Right.

So then adventures occur and all the kids discover new things about themselves and, you know, come of age, as you do. Also Colin tries to develop a Theory of Underlying Katherine Predictability which will tell him how long a relationship will last. And there is math and footnotes and it’s all kind of ridiculous but you go along with it because why the hell not, we’re adventuring!

Seriously, it’s good stuff. I continue my *heart*ing of John Green in happiness.

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

Mistborn: The Final Empire, by Brandon Sanderson (3 April — 9 April)

Hmm. What to say about this book. Well. It’s one of those epic novels, and the first in its trilogy, so there’s something. The general plot follows a rebellion: the nobles are subjugating (as they do) people called skaa, who are not really different from the nobles but hey, someone needs subjugating, yes? And there are some skaa who don’t like the life they have and who want better. And there are some crazy skaa who decide to rebel. But not just like, “Hey, let’s rebel!” but like, “Hey, let’s rebel in like a year and spend that time making this rebellion AWESOME.” So they do. But things, of course, go right and wrong on a whim, and then there is epic fighting. Sweet!

So that was good.

Now, the fantastical conceit in this novel irked me for about the first three or four hundred pages. It is this: certain noble people who have some good genes can use magic. And even certain-er noble people with excellent genes can use lots of magic. But the magic comes from, um, swallowing metals. And then “burning” them. So, like, you can “burn” iron to pull on something made of metal, like a coin or a piece of armor. And you can burn tin to enhance your senses. And you can burn bronze to see if other people are using magic metal flakes. Not so irksome, you say? But, see, I know these things because Sanderson KEPT TELLING ME EVERY TIME SOMEONE USED A STUPID METAL. “Oh, this guy used pewter and got awesome strong!” “Falling was okay, because her pewter-enhanced muscles were awesome strong!” “If only she had some pewter, so she could become awesome strong!” Oh. My. Gosh.

But then at the end it seems Sanderson decided to trust the reader, and of course then I got confused about whether a metal was being used or not. -sigh-

Whatever. The end of the book was totally worth it, and it was great that his main protagonist was a girl, and I definitely want to know what happens to all these cool characters in the next book. But I swear, if I get babied about again, I’m going to swallow some pewter and then throw the book in the general direction of Brandon Sanderson.

Rating: 7/10
(Chunkster Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

The Fourth Bear, by Jasper Fforde (10 March — 13 March)

I can’t help it. I love Jasper Fforde and his novels. And now I have to wait several months until his next book comes out! Oh no!

The Fourth Bear is the second in Fforde’s Nursery Crime series, in which nursery rhyme characters are real(-ish) and subject to actual laws. Our main participants this time are Goldilocks and the Three Bears and the Gingerbreadman, who has escaped from jail and is again on a murderous rampage. DCI Jack Spratt and his sergeant Mary Mary are not on the case, as they’ve been sidelined after letting Red Riding Hood and her grandmother get eaten by the wolf. Oops.

Instead, they’re on the hunt for the missing Goldilocks, a journalist with an eye lately for cucumber news who was last seen in a baby bear’s bed. The trail leads, well, everywhere. Giant multinational corporation (no, not Goliath), porridge smuggling, explosions, closet-heterosexual member of Parliament, Agent Danvers (Danvers!)… it’s all there, and mostly makes sense. Oh, also, Jack buys a car from Dorian Gray. That’s smart.

I liked the story, here, but it was a little back-loaded answers-wise. Things just keep spiralling out of control until all of a sudden, poof! The answer! Convenient! But the writing is fun enough that I will forgive it. A quote I put up on Twitter when I started out: “He was seven foot three, and she was six foot two. It was a match made perhaps not in heaven but certainly nearer the ceiling.” Strangely, that’s 140 characters exactly.

One other thing I didn’t like about the story is that there’s a point where everything is going wrong and it’s looking bad for Jack and then he’s like, “But wait! This is just a plot contrivance! I will convince those involved in this situation to just, ah, ignore it, and then I can go back to detecting!” I get that in this weird Fforde universe, the characters know they’re in a book. But generally, they’re meant not to let everyone else know that, so this is just lazy. Ah well.

Rating: 7/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge, Orbis Terrarum Challenge: Wales)

Christine Falls, by Benjamin Black (8 March — 9 March)

Hmm. I’m not sure what to say about this book. I picked it up because I loved Tana French’s Irish crime novels (as you well know by now!) and I was like, “Oooh. More Irish crime novels!” But they aren’t the same at all, and I’m not sure I’d even classify this book as a crime novel, since I’m not clear what crime has been committed even after reading the book (it’s possible I should know, but I don’t… please tell me what it is if you do!).

The novel follows a Mr. Quirke (no first name given), who catches his quasi-brother Mal (Quirke is adopted) messing with a file at at the hospital where the two work (that’s a crime, I suppose?). Quirke finds the name Christine Falls on the file and, wondering why Mal would need to be writing things in a dead girl’s file when Quirke is the pathologist, starts asking around about the girl and how she died. Mal tells him to back off, which of course makes Quirke even more curious about the thing. His search leads him to the woman who was taking care of Christine before her death, who is shortly murdered by some alleged robbers, and on a hunt for the baby girl Christine died giving birth to, who has recently been sort-of adopted by a family in Boston. There’s all sorts of complicated things going on.

But, like I said, I got to the end and I still had (nor have) any idea what really happened. The book is more focused on religion (it is set in 1950’s Ireland, after all) and Quirke’s weird relationships with his family than it is on the “mystery” part of the plot, all of which is interesting but which I still find lame. You may differ.

Rating: 7/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge, Orbis Terrarum Challenge: Ireland)

The Ghost Brigades, by John Scalzi (6 March — 8 March)

I finished up this book really early this morning (really, how does one wake up at 7:30 EDT on the first day of Daylight Savings when she doesn’t usually wake up until 8 or 9 in the first place?), and I must say that I was pretty much ready to move on once I did. I liked the book, for sure, but it suffers from that second-book-in-a-series problem of wanting to keep the story moving but also wanting to get people ready for a third book. And maybe I’m too ready for the third book, since the book that started me on this whole thing (the fourth in the series) is a retelling of it.

But it was good! Scalzi abandons John Perry for the moment to focus on Jane Sagan and, more particularly, a new Special Forces soldier called Jared Dirac. Dirac is special because he was created to house the consciousness of one Charles Boutin, who turned traitor on humanity but conveniently left a copy of his consciousness behind (he does consciousness research, it’s not that far-fetched…). It doesn’t take, and Dirac is just trained as a new SF recruit under Sagan, who knows his history and is understandably upset and skeptical about his abilities.

Thus the first half of the book takes a good look at the Special Forces (also called the Ghost Brigades) and what it means to be part of it, with lots of speculation about the soullessness of both the Special Forces soldiers and those who made them. Then, when (spoiler alert?) Dirac finally unlocks a bit of Boutin’s consciousness, it’s time to go track down the traitor and figure out whether Dirac or Boutin or anyone, really, is the ethical person in this shenanigan.

Rating: 7/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

Cursor’s Fury, by Jim Butcher (17 February)

The third in the Codex Alera series.

Tavi gets into yet another scrape in this book! Surprised? With the First Lord still thinking about kicking the bucket maybe someday in the future, the high lords of Alera have been bickering about who will succeed his heirless-ness. The First Lord wants to just get the whole uprising thing out of the way, so he chooses one of the two front-runners to become his legal heir in an attempt to draw out the other, Kalare, and force him to fight early. It works far better than the First Lord intended, and soon there are a lot of dead people lying about.

Tavi is away from the fighting this time, serving as the First Lord’s spy in the military even though there’s no way Tavi can fight (no furies, remember!). Luckily, he’s assigned to a prototype Legion made up of soldiers from all parts of Alera, a Legion that is not meant to see battle. Except… Kalare is not just fighting on his own. He’s brought in a race called the Canim (dog-like creatures, naturally) to do some of the dirty work for him and it falls on the First Aleran to fight them, mostly under the unexpected command of Tavi.

Other stuff happens, too, of course, but I think the Canim battle is the most interesting part, especially with Tavi leading the way. The book also finally settles Tavi’s lineage (which made me go, “Duh! Should have seen that one!”) and shows you much of the First Lord’s cunning, something that the characters are always just arguing about. Well done, all in all, except for this little tiny major thing that happens at the very end and makes me want to scream in frustration. Bah. We’ll see where Butcher goes with that in the next book…

Rating: 7.5/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2006, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

The Adventuress, by Audrey Niffenegger (11 January)

I’m not sure I can really count this as a book read, since a quick flip through the pages tells me this book is maybe 120 pages long, with exactly half of those pages illustrated and half with but a few words on each. I picked it up because it’s by Audrey Niffenegger and I love The Time Traveler’s Wife (soon to be re-read because it’s awesome), but when I heard it was a “novel in pictures” I was thinking more graphic novel when it’s actually more picture book.

The story, if there is one, revolves around an unnamed “she” who is created by a scientist and wears only a skirt. Not a book for little kids, here. Her adventures include a foiled marriage, a relationship with Napoleon, giving birth to a cat, and going to a nunnery. These are all supposedly interrelated.

I’m really indifferent to this novel; it’s sort of like how I feel about modern dance. I don’t really get it, but it’s interesting to watch nonetheless. Plus, it only takes like 10 minutes to read, so why not?

Rating: 5/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2006, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne (18 December)

Well. Hmm. I was home sick yesterday and watched about 12 episodes of How I Met Your Mother (awesome show, btw) instead of starting this book. I felt silly at the time (I haven’t spent so much time watching TV since I had finals to procrastinate!), but I think I’m pretty glad I didn’t read this until I felt less like vomiting.

Note: John Boyne (the author) thinks that books should be read without knowing what’s going to happen in them. In the case of this book, I would agree. If you’re planning to read this with or without my notes, please go do that now. It won’t take long.

This is a very short book (200 pages of large type, YA reading level, took me 3-ish hours to read), so I can’t say much about it without giving away the whole darn thing, but here’s a synopsis: our protagonist, Bruno, moves to a place called “Out-With” in 1943 as his father, a newly promoted commandant, has been assigned to a new job there. He’s not terribly pleased at leaving Berlin, but learns to get along in his new home with only three floors and not five, especially after he goes on a walk along the fence by his house and discovers a new friend called Shmuel, who wears striped pyjamas* like the rest of the people on his side of the fence. Then the climax happens and the book is over.

When I heard about this book, I didn’t realize it was YA (and apparently young YA, at that), so I guess I was expecting a little bit better characterization and plot — the characters are very flat and the plot saves itself all up until the end — but I did rather enjoy it nonetheless. I also would like to see the movie (is it out yet/still?), because I think that might help me out a bit — the author also doesn’t do much with descriptions, though I think there might be a point hidden in there about all of us being the same. Subtle.

Rating: 7/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2006)

*So this book is totally supposed to be called The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, but for some reason (the fact that it’s YA?) it’s been Americanized to “pajamas.” Strangely enough, the word “tyre” appears several times, and two instances of “pyjamas” are left unchanged. Is that “y” so difficult?

The Tenth Circle, by Jodi Picoult (29 November — 1 December)

You know, I really don’t know why I keep reading Jodi Picoult. I mean, My Sister’s Keeper was awesome, and so were a couple other of her novels, but after reading something like six or seven of them those fancy plot twists are getting a little predictable and also contrived and annoying.

And yet I still enjoy them. I think it’s the same love I have for watching Law and Order on Sunday nights… I know that I’m probably not going to learn anything in the end, but it’s just so nice to let the story flow over me.

This one, though, I don’t know. It’s about a 14-year-old girl called Trixie (no, really) who gets dumped by her boyfriend, Jason, and then has some breakup sex with him at her friend Zephyr’s (no, REALLY) party, after not playing a game of “let’s be whores and give everyone blowjobs.”

That’s where the bad started, I think. The book was written in 2006, so this girl and her schoolmates would be around my brother’s age, and unless things really changed in three years or that’s just how they do it up in Maine, I can’t really be convinced that giving blowjobs is a party game. I guess maybe my brother and I just weren’t popular enough to be whores. Crying shame, that.

But! Taking that as fact, we then have Trixie coming home and declaring that Jason raped her. Okay, that sucks. And since Jason is the star of the hockey team, everyone (including 13 anonymous teachers at their high school) supports Jason over Trixie. That’s also bad news.

Oh, and at the same time, Trixie’s dad, Daniel, is coming to terms with the fact that his wife had an affair and also penning a comic book/graphic novel (not really clear which) called The Tenth Circle about a dad who loses his daughter to hell and has to find her with the help of Virgil. Did I mention that his wife is teaching a class on Dante? And, of course, Daniel is also worried that his wild, ass-kicking past is going to come back in full force if he ever has to see Jason.

There’s just… there’s a lot here. And while the story is definitely engrossing, as are all of Picoult’s stories, it’s just not satisfying in the end.

Well. Anyway. To be honest, I really should have stopped reading when Picoult claimed there were yellow Pixy Stix. Let’s get some fact-checking up in here, people.

Rating: 5/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2006)

Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl (18 August − 3 September)

Ugh. This book. I can’t really decide whether I liked it or not, because I’m not entirely clear on what actually happened in the book.

Basically, you’ve got your protagonist, Blue Van Meer, an extremely smart and overly educated 16-year-old who travels around the country with her professor father, never living anywhere for more than a semester at a time as he moves on to bigger and better professorships. For her senior year, her dad gives her a gift − they settle down in Stockton, North Carolina for the whole year. She gets reluctantly adopted into a group of friends by request of the teacher they hang out with, Hannah Schneider, and she proceeds to have a really really weird year culminating in the death of Hannah and Blue’s investigation into it.

I can tell you that with no reservation because Blue tells us on the first page that Hannah dies… but the woman doesn’t actually croak until page 335 out of 514. Lovely. There’s certainly some interesting character development in those three hundred pages, and a lot of really good clues that build up for when we get to the mystery part, but oh. my. god. I really was just waiting for Hannah to die the entire time.

The story really drags up to page 335, and then all of a sudden it’s riveting, and then as soon as Blue figures out the mystery we jump ahead a couple of months and learn about those months through poorly exposited backstory. Sigh.

I’m not upset about having read the book, but I’m not thrilled about it either.

Rating: 5/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2006)