Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer (1 September)

Wow. Just… wow. This book was excellent. Amazing. Wonderful, even. So good that when I described it to Scott, he told me to let him read it next, and this guy usually has to be begged and pleaded to read a book I like. So, yeah.

The novel is presented as a series of journal entries from our protagonist, Miranda, and starts off like the journal of a normal teenager — her dad is having a kid with his new young wife, there are tests that must be studied for, she’s growing apart from her friends, her teachers are giving all sorts of extra homework because of some asteroid that’s going to hit the moon. You know. The asteroid thing is supposed to be pretty cool to watch, so there are lots of block parties and things like that, but when the event actually happens, there is panic. See, those astronomer fellows who said that everything was going to be okay misjudged the mass of the asteroid and it ended up pushing the moon rather closer to the Earth. Uh-oh. (I don’t know if this could really happen, but that’s what speculative fiction is for, yes?)

At first, nothing seems much different except that the moon is huge in the sky. But soon reports are coming in about stronger tides taking out coastal areas everywhere, including some offshore oil rigs. Everyone panics and buys out the supermarkets; the cost of gas goes up right quick; the electricity starts to blink out. But still Miranda has to go to school… until the school, with no electricity and no food and a decreasing student population, closes early. And then things get worse.

I loved this book and devoured it in just a few hours. Pfeffer could have gone for the “people helping people” saccharine view, or the “people murdering people” depressing view, but instead she wrote this incredibly realistic account of what you and I would probably go through if suddenly something like this happened. I was sympathetic not just to Miranda but to her mother and brothers and her father’s new family and her friends who’ve gone weird but who are still her friends, and I cried a whole bunch when some bad things happened to these good people.

And apparently there’s a sequel! Oh, goody! I love it when excellent books turn into series. It’s like some excellent whipped cream on an excellent scoop of vanilla ice cream. Mmm, ice cream.

Rating: 10/10

See also:
Book Nut
Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?
things mean a lot

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Android’s Dream, by John Scalzi (23 July — 25 July)

So, remember when I said that I’d never experienced a story/cover mismatch that bothered me? Well, now I have, and this is it. The Android’s Dream cover looks like this, and there are absolutely no androids in the novel! I was expecting androids, people.

But that’s not to say that this wasn’t an excellent book, because it was. And it was a good way to break up the Harry Potter hullabaloo, even if it’s really just jumping from one obsession to another (I love the Scalzi). And while it wasn’t about androids, it was about sheep, which is apparently another Philip K. Dick reference I need to go learn about.

Anyway. This is one of those books where the first lines just really set the tone for the story, so here they are: “Dirk Moeller didn’t know if he could fart his way into a major diplomatic incident. But he was ready to find out.”

Yes, really. And he does succeed, though perhaps not in the way he thought he would, and it falls to the State Department of Earth to rectify the slight against the Nidu race, one of their closest allies. Oh, dear. To do so, the Earth’s government must find and procure one sheep of the Android’s Dream variety (with electric blue wool, of course) for the Nidu ruler’s coronation ceremony, which cannot happen without such a sheep. Unfortunately, someone out there knows this and has been killing all such sheep. But then Harris Creek and his truly intelligent computer (which has the brain of Harris’s long-dead best friend, no, really) find the last remaining sheep, which is good, but Creek and the sheep are being well followed by some people who would like to see the sheep gone. So they go on a cruise. Really. And there’s more, but then you’d just get confused and not read this book, and I strongly advise against that.

This book is really funny and packed with pop-culture references of awesome and is in that spectrum of weird where, sure, this story could totally happen, maybe. I call it perfect light reading for these oddly cold summer days.

Rating: 8/10

Specials, by Scott Westerfeld (29 May — 30 May)

So you know I liked Uglies and Pretties, the two previous books in this series. And I did like this one, too, but really only because it finished off the storyline and was as engaging as the others.

Because seriously, there was just soooo much in this book! I was okay in the first book, believing in operations and people running away and other people wanting to maintain the status quo at all costs. Sure. Fine. And in the second, believing in “nanos” that can fix brain lesions and tattoos that move and that cutting yourself can make you “bubbly”… well, that last one was a bit much, but okay. Sure again. But in this book, I had to still be okay with cutting and then also with nanos that simply eat things and sneak suits that camouflage and unbreakable ceramic bones and people turning their pinky fingers into snakes and more cures for brain lesions and Tally switching alliances for the umpty-seventh time…. It was just. Too. Much.

Right. Anyway. Basically, Tally is now a part of Special Circumstances as a “Cutter” — the youth brigade. And she wants Zane to be with her, and Shay wants to destroy the New Smoke, so they set out together to lead Zane to the Smoke and kill two birds and whatever. And they get there and find out that part of what they did to get Zane to the Smoke caused a war between two cities, which is bad because war hasn’t happened in forever and also that one city didn’t do anything to deserve getting itself blown up. So Tally, perpetually ruining things and then fixing them, goes off to fix it. Yay.

If you’ve read the other books, you will read this and really should read this, but I wouldn’t go starting the series just to get to this one. 🙂

Rating: 6/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

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)