Somehow I didn't get around to publishing my reading roundup in February on time, so I decided to save it and do both months together. Almost all of the books I've read during the last two months have been finalists for the Whitney Awards. I have a few more to read during the next month so you'll be seeing some more reviews of those next time.
If I Lie by Corrine Jackson
This was an interesting book, even though I figured out the complication in the plot fairly early on during my reading. The main character was almost just a bit too unpleasant for me, but her prickliness was understandable given the circumstances. Mostly, I liked it and thought it was a good, quick YA read.
Shadowed by Stephanie Black
I thought I'd be proactive and read this before the Whitney finalists were announced, since Black has been a finalist for most of the last few years. Then after I read the book I realized that she wasn't eligible this year. Oops. I actually thought this book was one of the weaker ones I've read by her. I felt like most of the plot was advanced through dialogue; rather than actually doing stuff and finding things out for herself, the protagonist just spent a lot of time talking to people and having them tell her things. That didn't really work for me. At least it was a quick read.
My Loving Vigil Keeping by Carla Kelly
I have really fallen in love with Carla Kelly and her writing. Her books are always filled with rich historical detail, unique and interesting characters, and solid writing. This book was no exception; my only complaint with it was that the ending felt both rushed and incomplete. I think that's because the ending hinges on a major disaster and there really wasn't a good way to write about it. On the one hand, I wanted more details; on the other, I didn't want to know about how many of the characters I'd come to know had been killed. It felt like there might be a sequel in the works and I really hope there is.
Smart Move by Melanie Jacobsen
Jacobsen is another author that I really enjoy reading. I still think that both her books published in 2011 were better than the two published in 2012. I liked the fact that in this book the conflict between the protagonists was complicated by both personal issues and work loyalties. I'm still not sure I understood all the legal ins-and-outs of the work issues, but I did have fun reading the book anyways.
The Innocents by Francesca Segal
I thought it was a nice break to read a nationally-published novel in the middle of all the Whitney finalists. This was the perfect sort of book--I think it may be one of my favorite novels of the year. It is based on Wharton's The Age of Innocence, but set in contemporary London among a community of Jews. I think I actually enjoyed it more once I stopped trying to find all the parallels between Wharton's novel and this one--I think the author did a great job updating the story and retelling it, but the book is just as readable if you haven't read Wharton's work. There is a moment of revelation later in the book that parallels the one in Wharton, and was just as unexpected and powerful.
Of Grace and Chocolate by Krista Lynne Jensen
This book is in the Romance category in the Whitneys, but it would fit just as easily in the Suspense category. I wasn't really expecting that. On the one hand, I liked that this book covered some darker stuff and didn't give easy answers to some of the characters' problems. On the other hand, the action, and particularly the romance, felt rushed and unrealistic for the amount of time given, plus some of the characters really weren't well-developed.
Paige by Annette Lyon
I found this book interesting--I haven't read any of the others in the series but might now that I have gotten to now the characters through this book. I feel like I don't have a lot to say about this book--it wasn't bad, but it didn't blow my mind either. There were also some parts that were a little painfully close to my own personal situation and recent divorce; I might have enjoyed it a little more if it didn't hit so close to home.
Lady Outlaw by Stacey Henrie
I thought the cover and the title of this book seemed a little cheesy; thankfully the writing actually wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I thought it was interesting twist on the historical romance, with the woman as the 'bad' character that needed to be 'tamed', even though there were enough mitigating circumstances given that the protagonist ended up being portrayed more as a victim of her life situation than an actor in her own life.
Espionage by A.L. Sowards
I wrote a little bit about this book over at the AML blog last month. I didn't dislike this book--the plot was interesting and the writing was polished and easy to read. But, I mostly just felt like it was somewhat flat and boring. It could have been better.
Within the Dark Hills by Sian Ann Bessey
I felt pretty much the same way about this book as I did about Espionage--it wasn't bad and had some interesting ideas in it, but it was also a little boring. Too much straight-forward, exposition heavy third-person storytelling.
The 13th Day of Christmas by Jason Wright
I really don't like didactic, inspirational fiction that is written just to make you 'feel good'--what that usually means is a book with a plot based on some sort of horrible life tragedy that can be overcome through inspirational platitudes. That basically describes this book, and most Jason Wright books I've read, but I actually enjoyed it a lot after reading several somewhat boring books. At least Wright can create unique characters and has a particular voice in his writing that makes it fun to read.
Line of Fire by Rachel Nunes
I haven't read any of the other books in this series, but am not sure if that would have helped me enjoy this book more or not. The writing was clunky and the characters were odd and difficult to understand. Not one of my favorites.
The Five Books of Jesus by James Goldberg
I'm still deciding how I feel about this book; that's usually a good sign--at least that the writing has been complex enough to make me think about it two weeks after reading it. On the one hand, I liked the writing style a lot; I really felt immersed in the world of the book. Paradoxically, I felt sometimes like the main character was somehow removed from me as a reader; I did not feel an emotional connection to Jesus like I had thought I would. The book also reminded me that it's been a long time since I last studied the New Testament and that I need to do that. I think I would like to re-read this book in the future when I'm not so pressed for time and in the middle of reading so many other books.
Reached by Ally Condie
I had read mixed reviews of this book, but loved the rest of the series (especially the first book) and wanted to finish it out. (This is not a Whitney finalist--I just happened to get it from the library and needed to read it before it was due.) I liked this book a lot; it was different from many similar types of books since it has a slower pace and focused more on what can happen after a revolution rather than what it takes to get there. Two other things I really like about Condie's writing are her use of poetry and exploration of ideas of creativity and communication, as well as her poetic use of words and descriptions.
Banana Split by Josi Kilpack
Although I've been meaning to start reading this mystery series for a while, I never got around to it. This was such an enjoyable book I might go back and take the time to read the rest of them. Sadie is a spunky, fun character and the writing is really solid. I liked all the delicious recipes too.
Spinster's Folly by Marsha Ward
This one really had me wondering how it managed to make it to the finals in the Whitney Awards, especially since I can think of several great historical novels published during the last year that didn't make the cut. The writing was really all over the place in its tone and word choice, the main characters were unpleasant and their actions incomprehensible, and I had to force myself to finish it.
I don't think this movie should have won the Oscar, but it was still quite enjoyable. I don't like Ben Affleck much and I still liked him in this.
There Will be Blood
Stylistically, this is a great movie. However, if you're looking for something to make you feel happier or to have a great payoff in the end, this is not the movie for you.