Rumors a Luxe Novel Anna GodbersenFollowing on the heals of Godbersen’s delightfully trashy novel The Luxe, Rumors continues the stories of several Manhattan socialites at the very end of the nineteenth century. It is also delightful, decently-written trash.

Sometimes, that is just what I need.

Unlike its predecessor, this volume is a bit scattered. The characters who were so deeply enmeshed in each others’ lives and troubles were pulled apart by the events of the first book, so this time their concerns are less shared and even the social events rarely include the entire cast of main characters. On the other hand, while the villainess remains one-dimensional, it’s rather fun to watch her try to act good, chaste, and well-behaved. Plus, there are pretty things (dresses, accoutrements, people) under discussion, emotional intensity of both good and bad varieties, and Victorian-era snarkiness.

Best of all, she ends it by raising the stakes not once but twice, and bringing those scattered characters back to a more focused point just in time to convince me that yes, I will read the third book.

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Rumors
My review of The Luxe

The Last Olympian is the fifth and final volume in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. My reviews of the first four books are here, here, here, and here. The bare-bones explanation: Percy Jackson is a half-blood, the son of a human mother and a Greek god. There’s a prophesy that when he turns sixteen, he will make a decision that will determine the fate of the world, whether the gods will continue to shepherd humanity or if the titans will destroy the gods and reclaim ultimate power over Earth.

We get almost nothing by way of exposition, and not much of the quest-type action that characterizes the earlier books; there’s a little bit of ominous preparation and then we’re dropped right into the climactic battle. For the most part this is just fine; the battle has its own plot arc, and its placements fits well into the overall plot arc of the series. The bit of questing that takes place at the beginning of The Last Olympian is important but feels a bit rushed, squeezed in on our way to demigods and titans duking it out around the Empire State Building.

Yep, the Empire State Building, entrance to Olympus and focal point of the novel. The first four books take some pretty awesome road trips around the United States, always coming back to New York. This one sticks close to home, with a clear love for Manhattan (and a casual disregard for the rest of the city; the Brooklynite in me bristled a few times.) It also sticks close to home emotionally; everyone Percy cares about is at risk. The details are solid and often surprising—the identity of the last Olympian, for instance, or the issues surrounding the Oracle—and the writing is likewise solid. There is less exploration of Greek mythology in this volume, but the world Riordan painstakingly crafted in the first four is rich and consistent. Basically, The Last Olympian is a well-crafted novel and a satisfying conclusion to an consistently excellent series.

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Rick Riordan
My reviews of The Lightning Thief (Book 1), The Sea of Monsters (Book 2), The Titan’s Curse (Book 3) and Battle of the Labyrinth (Book 4)

When You Reach Me Rebecca SteadThe 1978-1979 school year is perfectly normal for Miranda. Except that her best friend stopped speaking to her, there’s an apparently crazy man who sleeps with his head under the mailbox on her corner, a naked man is seen running by her school on several occasions, and weird things keep happening. Like her spare house key goes missing and three days later she finds a note asking her to write a letter in which she mentions the location of her spare house key.

When You Reach Me is very good. The writing is excellent and the eye for detail is amazing. The mystery aspects, mysterious and mundane—what’s the deal with the strange notes Mira gets? Why did Marcus punch Sal? What’s up with Annemarie and Julia?—are dealt with well, with excellent pacing and delicacy. It doesn’t just balance the ordinary life and the time travel elements; it melds them. I found the discourse on time-travel a bit tedious, especially as Mira was stubbornly not getting it, though it did serve to establish how time travel works in this narrative.

This was almost a one-sitting book for me. It wasn’t, partly because airplane turbulence plus fasting (it was Yom Kippur) does not equal happy reading time, and partly because I was enjoying it so much I didn’t want to be done with it. That said, had there not been jostling to disrupt my reading, I probably wouldn’t have been able to pull myself out of the book and pace myself.

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When You Reach Me ~ Rebecca Stead ~ Rebecca Stead’s Blog

Wondrous Strange Lesley LivingstonKelley is a seventeen year old redheaded actress, who recently moved from The Sticks to The Big City to try to break into the wide world of theatre. She got herself a job understudying Titania in an off-Broadway production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and, low and behold, the annoying celebrity actress with the role broke an ankle a week and a half before curtain, so it’s up to Kelley to save the show. Of course, Kelley gets herself distracted by a kelpie who follows her home, a handsome stranger who follows her home, and a bunch of revelations about faeries, changelings, Central Park, and her own heritage.

I’m afraid it’s a bit of a jumbled mess. It lacks sufficient emotional connection between the rehearsals for the play and the main plot. Instead of providing a parallel to the plot and illuminating Puck, Oberon, and Titania’s characters, the play mostly serves as Kelley’s day job. It also lacks sufficient emotional connection between the romantic leads. Seriously: no chemistry. He’s into her because she’s hot and she was super-enticing while running lines in the park, not knowing he was watching her. She’s into him because he’s hot and she had a strange, completely unexplained dream during rehearsal. I know they are hormonal teenagers, but still, a reason to care about their romance would be appreciated. Especially as I think we’re supposed to believe it’s the forever kind.

A handful of minor characters distinguish themselves—Puck particularly—but while bit parts can upstage bland leads, they’re hard pressed to rescue an entire production from mediocrity.

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Wondrous Strange ~ Lesley Livingston

The LuxeThe Luxe is Gossip Girl set in 1899, right down to the commentary from the newspapers’ society columns.

It’s actually well enough written to be an enjoyable read, spiced up by descriptions of pretty dresses (I will admit it: I’m a sucker for a good ballgown) and some hot scenes. Moreover, I was surprised by the end to discover that I actually cared about some of the characters. This was a long time coming; at the beginning, they’re all pretty despicable. While they’re still deeply, deeply flawed, for the most part the heroes and heroines spend the book developing a better balance between their needs and wants and the needs and wants of other people – which sometimes means paying less attention to their own immediate wants, and sometimes more. The villainesses, however, remain one-dimensional throughout, and I’m really hoping they get their comeuppance in the sequels. Because yes, there are sequels, and yes, I totally have to read them.

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The Luxe ~ Official Site

PeepsYes, it is as trashy as it looks.

Vampirism – though you’ll rarely find the v-word in the book – has nothing to do with magic. It’s a parasite. Parasite-positives (peeps) are super-strong (in effect), have excellent night vision, an aversion to carbs, and cravings for protein – the meatier and bloodier, the better. In most peeps, this manifests as cannibalism. In the lucky one in a hundred who are carriers, they just really like the Atkins diet. And are really horny. All the time. And the parasite is viable in just about all bodily fluids, including saliva, and is small enough to slip through latex condoms. So the responsible carriers, like our narrator, must be completely celibate with anyone who isn’t also a carrier. And at 19, Cal’s the youngest carrier by a hundred years or so. So he’s totally celibate.

I call foul on a book narrated by a nineteen year old male who’s horny all the time, does not have a moral stance against premarital sex, and is celibate by necessity, in which masturbation is not mentioned once.

Anyway, Cal infected several woman between being infected himself and when the Night Watch, which deals with peep containment, found him, explained why he suddenly had night vision and such, and trained him as a hunter. And sent him off to track down his now-cannibalistic exes and send them to the containment facility in Montana. So far, so good. Except when he tries to track down the mysterious woman who infected him, things start to get a bit weird – a possible new strain, a possible conspiracy in the Night Watch, possible new infection vector, strange things coming up from deep under New York. Now Cal doesn’t just need to track down the woman who infected him, he also needs to figure out what’s going on and save the world!

It’s really trashy.

That said, it’s also pretty fun. Vampirism-as-STD is pretty hokey, but he uses it to come up with some pretty nifty explanations for various parts of the vampire mythos, like cruciphobia and the mirrors thing. Fighting vampires with Elvis memorabilia, a boombox of Ashlee Simpson, and a Garth Brooks tee-shirt is nicely campy, as, really, vampire things should be. There are chapters on real-world parasitology, which are interesting and short enough to not get boring or detract from the narrative flow. (Though I call foul there, too: a teenage boy explaining the evolution of human head lice and body lice without mentioning human pubic lice? Especially since the evolution of human pubic lice is even more interesting?)

Do not pick up Peeps expecting anything thought-provoking or revelatory. Pick it up if you want some fun trash.

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Peeps ~ Scott Westerfield ~ westerblog
From Unshelved, my favorite description of Peeps

Brooklyn Bridge

I will admit it, Brooklyn Bridge made my heart glad with all its obvious love of Brooklyn, especially Prospect Park, but that’s far from the only reason to like the book: it’s good, solid historical fiction with elements of the supernatural and an eye for the details in history. For the most part, it’s about Joe, son of the Russian Jewish immigrants who invented the Teddy Bear. His is generally a good life, and he knows it – he’s secure in housing, food, and family – but he’s a kid, and gets grumpy about the time he needs to spend making bears instead of, well, being a kid. Or going to Coney Island.

Opposite Joe are short sections about the homeless kids under the bridge. They’re short enough that the main focus stays on Joe, but long enough to make you care – and wonder – about the kids under the bridge, so that when the big reveal comes and links the two threads, you’re ready for it.

The narration is sappy at times, in both sections, but the book’s fast past keeps it under control; you’ve built up enough momentum to get through the sap without getting stuck in it. And I always love the sense of wonder surrounding Coney Island and the World’s Fairs in the early 20th century. It’s like magic and science, all rolled into one.