The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
The friend who shares my love of The Queen’s Thief series suggested that if I like Rogues with a Heart of Gold™, I ought to give Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles a try. Twenty pages in, I was overwhelmed by the Scottish history and lingo, but a deluge of rabid Lymond fans on Twitter encouraged me to keep going. One hundred pages in, I was ready to call this (mostly unread) series the best in the world. It is beautifully and cleverly written, both at the sentence level and in terms of the over-arching twisty plot. Lymond himself is awful and complex and SO AMAZING, but the huge cast of supporting characters more than live up to his level. I adored this book, and I can’t wait to read all the others in the series!
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
Although this book has an interesting premise in creating a world in which a special few magically talented girls are revered for their ability to beautify humans that are born with grey skin and red eyes, I just couldn’t buy into the full picture this novel tries to paint. Why is this ability so important that literally the whole country and political structure revolves around them? Why are Camellia and Amber friends, when throughout the book we only see them arguing or being annoyed with each other? Big points for a creative concept, but that’s it.
American Panda by Gloria Chao
Although distinctly Chinese-American, this book speaks to the universal transition of a college student learning to differentiate herself from her parents. I loved watching Mei struggle to decide how she wants to live her life as she both appreciates and resents the omnipresence of her parents in every aspect of her existence. I was also extremely interested in the Chinese-American culture presented here, and I can only imagine how funny and gratifying and meaningful this story must be to readers with immigrant parents.
Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
I loved Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, and I adore Renaissance art, so this book was an obvious go-to for me. Isaacson once again tells the story of a man’s life with clarity, appreciation, and enough fanboying that the 500 pages flew by. Da Vinci is famous for his artwork (specifically his Mona Lisa and Last Supper paintings), and I loved reading about how they came to be. But even more, I enjoyed reading about da Vinci’s obsessive observational skills, and how they led him to discover more about anatomy and machinery than anyone else in his era (or for centuries after him). He was a genius because his passion for life married art and science, a combination I hope we see more of today!
Gunslinger Girl by Lyndsay Ely
A post-apocalyptic story that veers into classical Western tropes of brothels and gunfights, I really enjoyed this book until its last act. I liked Pity and her conflicted feelings about both enjoying and fearing her new dangerous home. I appreciated that the stakes were high, with characters actually dying almost from the word go. But I never really believed the romance, and I thought the ending devolved into stereotype when it could have easily been more interesting. This seems to be set up for a series, and I won’t be reading more, but this first glimpse into Ely’s world was pretty fun.
Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle
The Illinois Caudill books are out, and this was the first I picked up. It is a hilarious and endearing story of a sensational pre-teen sneaking off to NYC to audition for a Broadway musical. I loved seeing the city through his eyes: when he’s excited, all the chaos is beautiful, and when he’s disappointed, the same things are suddenly dreary or scary. Nate is a BIG character, overwhelming the story and the characters within it with his personality. It’s easy to see both why he is bullied in school AND why those exact same qualities are going to win him fast friends and success once conforming stops mattering so much. This is a great book about family, friendship, and first steps toward self-awareness.
What Light by Jay Asher
This is a schmaltzy YA Christmas romance, and I was not into it. The girl works on a Christmas tree farm one month every year, and she falls in love with the “bad boy,” whose badness is boring and is in actuality the most Do Gooder teenager on the planet. I was super unimpressed by this one, but it’s a nice thoughtless feel good story if that’s what you need in the moment.