Books I’ve Read – March 2013

Maisie Dobbs – Jacqueline Winspear

maisie dobbs(*** of five)

There’s a certain something about detective stories that people can’t seem to get enough of. This is the first in the series about Maisie Dobbs, intrepid female investigator in the late twenties and early thirties. When I grabbed this off the shelf at the thrift store I really had no idea that it was part of a series, and I’m not sure I feel the need to run out and get the rest, but I did enjoy this first installment. This book had it all; mystery, wayward love, gentile life complete with country estates and town houses, and war. That seems like a lot to pack in to one small volume but it all fits well and all facets enhance the story.

It starts with Maisie Dobbs, educated, proud, and just starting out her own detective agency. The year is 1929, the shadow of the Great Ward hangs over everyone, even ten years after Armistice, and Maisie is presented with a case that appears as simple as an infidelity. But soon Maisie discovers it goes much deeper than just that. Her attention is brought to a place called the Retreat, a place for those with injuries, both physical and mental, can exist together in harmony, though Maisie suspects something more sinister at work. She is brought to mind of her upbringing, her work at a maid in a big house, her apprenticeship with private investigator, Maurice Blanche, her education at Cambridge, and finally her experiences as a nurse in France.

The thing that frustrated me about this book was that it was very slim and yet for some reason I had a very hard time getting through it. It felt like it took forever. There were plenty of parts that were great, but many that were giving information without any real feeling. I loved the parts where she was growing up and her experiences at a maid and in the war, they sped by. And, of course, when the mystery really dug in I could hardly put it down. But there were a lot of spaces in between. The beginning, in particular, I enjoyed reading but didn’t care much about when it wasn’t in my hand. I didn’t need to get back to it and found myself choosing to watch TV sometimes. Not the best recommendation. But, in the end, this book was engaging and very original in this overused genre. Maisie is fresh and whip smart, she’s hard not to like, and the war was weaved throughout the present very well. Much research was obviously done and it was clear the author cared about this facet of the story. Well done. But ultimately not enough to engage me in the long run.

The Ivy: Scandal – Lauren Kunze & Rina Onur

scandal(**** of five)

Sigh. The end of the series. I probably shouldn’t be so involved in a young adult series, but I loved this one. Probably because it was just the right mix of realistic college experience and absurdity. It’s no surprise that authors Lauren Kunze and Rina Onur attended Harvard University because at a lot of times this reads like a peak inside America’s oldest institution of higher learning. But at the same time it’s just a little too glossy. Still, this world of Finals Clubs and rivaling newspaper editors is delightfully engaging.

Callie Andrews thought everything was finally on track. She had a promising career ahead of her at the Harvard Crimson, she had finally confessed her feelings (and had them returned) to Gregory, and made up with roommate frenemy, Vanessa. But after stepping off the plane from Spring break everything suddenly collapses. Gregory disappears overnight amidst his family’s Ponzi scheme scandal and Callie is accused of being the “Ivy Insider” that wreaked havoc last term. Callie knows she’s innocent but the only way to prove it is to find out who actually is behind the scathing articles. With the threat of expulsion over her head and a missing almost boyfriend, Callie’s final term of Freshman year is sure to be a doozy.

I think I spent half my reviews of the first three Ivy series books defending my choice to read them. I wont bother to do that here. Despite the fact that this book was written for young adults there is really a lot of love about these. The characters are well developed and diverse, the pace is quick, and the plots are a good mix between adult and teen, leading to the appeal for probably a large group of readers.

The thing that really sort of impressed me about this series was that the guys weren’t too perfect. Okay, sure, there was Clint but it was clear that his too perfectness was suspect. Gregory, Callie’s other suitor who continually seemed to be out of step regarding communication with the protagonist, was flawed despite the fact that he was perfect for Callie. He jumped to conclusions too quickly, was somewhat arrogant, and was a pretty hardcore womanizer when he wasn’t pining for Callie. In other words, he was a little more real than the perfect gentlemen young adult fiction is often faced with.

Usually I’m happy when series end after just a couple books because it makes them more manageable, easier to begin when there is an end in sight. When I started this I had no idea if it would be the final book or not, and then I found myself disappointed at the end when I realized it was the final installment. It’s probably for the best, but this series will be missed!

Admission – Jean Hanff Korelitz

admission(*** of five)

I read this book now because the trailer for the movie spoiled it majorly and since it has been sitting in my pile for over a year I thought now would be the best time to read it. This was a very strange book to categorize. It wasn’t exactly chick lit, but it wasn’t not either. It wasn’t happy, it wasn’t sad. I honestly don’t know what it was. It was informative, definitely. But, I don’t see how they made a movie of this book.

Portia Nathan lives the sort of everyday life that normal people cut out for themselves. She has a boyfriend who she’s lived with for sixteen years, a good job as an Admissions officer at Princeton University, and the new, coveted territory of New England. Everything she’s ever thought she wanted. But when Portia makes an information visit to Quest School in New Hampshire, graduating their first class, Portia’s faced with parts of her past that she had thought she’d laid to rest. Now, with her home life in turmoil and her senses unraveling Portia must decide what, and whom, she wants and what she’s willing to do to change fate.

I did like this book quite a bit, actually, though I can see someone hating it. There is a well of information about the admissions process to an Ivy League school within these pages. Portia jokes that every admissions officer writes an insiders guide for hungry parents and ambitious students after they retire and perhaps this is just Jean Hanff Korelitz’s. We are informed in her carefully structured bio that she read admissions at Princeton for a year (and I sort of assume she went to Dartmouth, as she was pretty knowledgeable of the campus, the school, and Hanover in general). There were long sections that I found interesting relating to what was expected by the university, what admissions officers themselves are looking for, and how the process has changed in the past twenty years. Luckily for me, this is why I read this book. I, like many who weren’t smart enough to attend one, have long been fascinated with the upper echelons of higher education.

The plot, when it was the feature, was rapid and engaging. Portia felt pretty three dimensional to me, though she wasn’t always likable  She clearly had issues that were pretty deep rooted and cemented her inability to connect to people fully. Her relationship with Mark was difficult to put a finger on. We were given the fact that these two were together, and that their relationship worked, but not shown much love. Of course, walking in on the tail end of a relationship can be like that. They were so used to each other that there was very little passion and more problems than either of them wanted to talk about. I did like John Halsey. His appearance only existed in about one fourth of the novel, which I think is best because he’s just a great guy. You know the sort, that join the Peace Corps, who teach at experimental schools, and help bring our heroine out of her shell. If he had been a character that graced every page this would have been very annoying and just sort of typical, but he wasn’t and there was also enough of his past to counteract the effects totally. Jeremiah was a pretty awesome dude.

The big surprise… wasn’t because I saw the stupid movie trailer, but even knowing I felt as if it didn’t destroy the story. The logistics of it were a bit absurd, but that’s okay sometimes. The failing, I thought, was that I couldn’t understand how the pieces were put together. An inkling and thought, sure, but knowing is quite another story.

This book was definitely good and probably deserves a portion of its accolades but it wasn’t life changing or another like that. This book is what it is, not quite chick lit, but not too far off.

The Sixes – Kate White

the sixes(*** of five)

I picked up this book because it has my favorite things in the plot. Murders, college settings, writers, and secret societies. What I was unaware of was the author. Perhaps it’s just because I’m not a connoisseur of this sort of pulp fiction. The crime novels, thrillers, mysteries of the John Patterson ilk. It’s not that I have a problem with them, really. I think they make excellent movies. There’s just something in the quick writing and generic characters that bugs me. I’d never heard of Kate White. Apparently she was the editor in chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, a fact loudly toted in her bio. I think, had I read that before I picked up this book, I might have had second thoughts. For me, that’s not a selling point. But, read it did and even though this book was not great, it was pretty entertaining.

After a plagiarism scandal, disgraced celebrity biographer Phoebe Hall takes a job at a small Pennsylvania college, Lyle, which her best friend, Glenda, runs. The Manhattanite is bored nearly stiff in the small town until the body of nubile young co-ed Lily Mack is found floating in the river. Soon Glenda asks Phoebe to apply some of her investigative experience to finding out about a secret society of girls on campus, called the Sixes. How long they have existed is anyone’s guess but when a hysterical student fled campus the year before babbling about the group the cat is let out of the bag. But Phoebe needs to find out more. Was Lily a member and is her death a result of their dangerous practices? What about the disappearance of her boyfriend, Trevor, the year before? Soon Phoebe is receiving threats in her home, a serial killer may be on the loose, and a new romance with psych professor Duncan Shaw may be in the air. But will Phoebe make it out of this investigation alive?

Yes, it sounds cheesy, and it was. I loved the secret society idea, but it would have been much better if it featured them more fully and left a lot of the lame subplots alone. Honestly, this might have been better if it ditched it’s popular fiction format and went for a much more gritty plot from the point of view of the students. But, of course, that’s not the book White was writing. Phoebe herself was completely one dimensional. She existed solely as the glamorous New Yorker with suede boots and a quick brain. She gets herself in countless absurd situations and misses so many glaringly obvious clues. I knew exactly what was going to happen from halfway through the book. But, is that White’s fault or mine? She wrote a quick reading thriller that was probably geared towards the same demographic as the magazine she edited. If I had done any research I might have realized this was the case, but I didn’t. This book wasn’t really for me. But that’s not to say it didn’t have some merits. There were moments I felt real peril, and I definitely wanted to see if I was right in my guessing. The Sixes were interesting, though their outcome was lame, and the secret society that tortured Phoebe in boarding school, Fortuna, would have been interesting to know more about. This plot had potential but it wasn’t nurtured well. It ended up typical when it could have been far more interesting.

The Twisted Thread – Charlotte Bacon

twisted thread(*** of five)

I actually really liked this book and I had a hard time with the rating. I liked it better than a three but that’s probably not proportionate to what it deserves. This book is right up my alley; academic setting, secrets, dead girl, and a vivacious young teacher to latch onto, but it had some major flaws that I couldn’t quite reconcile with a four star rating.

On a regular morning at the end of the school year at the prestigious Armitage Academy alpha girl Claire Harkness is found dead in her dorm room. Even more bizarre is the fact that Claire has just given birth, a fact none of the faculty were aware of, and the baby is nowhere to be found. Soon the faculty, students, and townsfolk are drawn into a mystery that they become increasingly sure wont have a happy ending. As secrets about teachers, students, and the relationships between come to light and old traditions are called into question it’s clear that when the investigation is over Armitage will never be the same again.

This was one of those books that I usually groan at that are told from many points of view. The sort that give you full picture instead of focusing on one main character. By the end I usually understand everything pretty well, but it takes me a while to get there. That wasn’t really the case for the book. I was instantly engrossed with our first protagonist and felt on board with everyone that came after. There weren’t so many it was difficult to follow.

The main problem was that most of the action took place off stage which led to very little excitement and a lot of what a two hundred level creative writing instructor would warn against; showing and not telling. We are told pretty much everything. Characters that factor heavily into the plot are often seen in periphery until they come forward and crack things wide open. We see pretty much nothing first hand. A whole side story is dedicated to a custodian, his budding relationship with his boss, and his elderly mother that’s role seemed unnecessary, except you knew it couldn’t be. Scotty Johnston, a character you’re pretty sure will be important in SOME way, is repeatedly described as an asshole, a jerk, and despised but all we ever see from him is passivity, some cockiness, and actually a lot of grief. I believed he sucked, because he was a stereotype of that sort of privileged, future Olympian, never had to worry about anything in his life sort of guy. But that’s not enough, I needed to see something. There was a lot of sloppy writing like this.

So why did I like it? These things were certainly annoying and at times even pulled me out of the story, but not enough to overlay the things that I did like. I really liked Madeleine, for one. We didn’t spend a lot of time getting to know her, but I was okay with that. So often in books like these characters start investigating things for reasons that are completely unknown. In this Madeleine’s information gathering seemed organic. It made sense that she learned what she learned and drew the (not always correct) assumptions that she did. Plus it helped my understanding of her character that she, in a miraculous feat of mystery books, kept in pretty much constant contact with the police. It probably didn’t hurt that detective Matt Corelli was by all accounts easy on the eyes. His character, as well, made sense to me. Educated at Armitage but graduated under a cloud of suspicion Matt’s life didn’t follow the typical Armitage graduate, even if he did end up in one of the lesser Ivies. (Is that fair? Are there really lesser Ivies? It was Penn.) I felt, while reading this, that I understood what it was like teaching at a boarding school and I felt like I understood that awkward gap between the town and the school up the hill. These are both pretty vivid things and I thought Bacon pulled it off pretty well. And throughout the book I honestly had no idea what had happened. I couldn’t figure out who had the baby, I didn’t know who the killer was. Looking back, it would have been difficult, given the structure, to guess, but I still loved the feeling of not knowing. Of being riveted to my seat trying to get to the part where we finally figured out what happened.

I found this book because several people compared it to ‘The Secret History’. I’ve long since given up believing that line when it’s offer, since nothing really compares to Donna Tartt’s novel of murder in a quiet college town, but I have found that I tend to like those books pretty well on their own right. At least while I’m reading them. This one actually reminded me a lot of a Carol Goodman book (unsurprising as she blurbed the front cover), sans the explosive endings I love Goodman for. This was quieter, for sure, but still definitely worth the read if you’re into this sort of thing.

Secret Society Girl – Diana Peterfreund

secret-society-girl

(**** of five)

The problem with this book was it’s terrible title (bleh), and that might be it. I’m not claiming this book is perfect, not by any means, but it by far exceeded my expectations. It was a generally engaging and sometimes fascinating look at the goings on of an elite secret society initiating its first female members. This was a series that kept coming up as recommended because some of the other series I’ve read (The Ivy, I imagine) so I’d been aware of it for awhile. It’s lame title kept me from picking it up before now. The reason, in the end, was really because after putting down ‘Admission’ I realized that this year I had read books that took place at Harvard (the Ivy series and ‘Penelope’), Dartmouth (‘Red Leaves’), Princeton (‘Admission’, ‘The Rule of Four’ and, hell, ‘This Side of Paradise’), and Brown (‘The Marriage Plot’). Columbia, Cornell, Penn, and Yale had been woefully neglected. I’m now on a quest to rectify this situation.

Amy Haskell’s about to become a senior at Ivy League Eli University (cough, Yale) and is pretty sure she’s about to be tapped into Quill & Ink, a respectable society of literary types, she is the editor of the Lit Magazine, after all. But when her tap comes it’s from a different organization, the shadowy and powerful Rose & Grave, who usually tap exclusively men. But with progress comes resistance. Just as Amy, and the rest of her tap class, are settling into their new lives as Diggers it becomes alarmingly clear that not everyone agrees with the decision to go co-ed. Soon Amy learns to what lengths some people will go to keep things the way they were and that friendships can sprout from the strangest of places and the most unlikely of circumstances.

A funny thing started happening awhile ago, a good portion of the Young Adult writers started writing about, well, young adults instead of teenagers. That is to say college. Where the quick reading slim volumes used to feature the exploits of, usually overprivileged, high school kids now they seem to attempt to capture the college experience. Which is fine. Great, actually, because they usually make a lot more sense.

I’ve long since realized that there are three things YA books can be about; sinister plots that only the one intrepid teenager can solve, mythological creatures battling it out and usually saving the world, and dramarific tales of bad breakups and angst. This series is probably in line with the latter, it is called Secret Society Girl after all, but there’s a lot more going on here than just that. This book actually addresses some much bigger questions about elitism, sexism, and self importance. Though it never stops being fun.

I’m not sure what author, Diana Peterfreund’s, involvement was or is with secret societies. My guess is not much because I honestly can’t imagine she would be writing this book if she was really a member of one of these societies, or (let’s not be coy here) Skull and Bones, which is what Rose & Grave is obviously based on. As far as I can tell they really do take the secrecy pretty seriously. So, it’s completely possible that this book isn’t even the the slightest bit realistic or accurate. I will never know. There are, of course, non-fiction works written about them and I am guessing between those and staring at the Skull and Bones tomb for four years was enough for her to feel comfortable publishing. It’s sort of an interesting question, but by no means dampered the enjoyment of this book for me. I, frankly, ate it up. Even if the author did apply Kitty and Levin to ‘War and Peace’.

Under the Rose – Diana Peterfreund

under the rose(**** of five)

You know when you read a series that you just love and when it finishes you feel a keen sort of loss? Something like nostalgia mixed with boredom? That was sort of how I felt about leaving behind the crew from Lauren Kunze’s Ivy series. So naturally I immediately searched around for a replacement. I had never read Diana Peterfreund’s ‘Secret Society Girl’ because it’s title was so awful (as detailed in my review of that book). But I am glad that circumstances finally led me to the series. I LOVED it. And yes I am writing this review after I have finished all the books, sometimes I read faster than I type.

At the end of her junior year Amy Haskell was tapped to join Rose & Grave. Yes, that Rose & Grave, the formerly all male, ultra powerful, magnificently rich, super secret society at Ivy League Eli University (Yale, I mean, she doesn’t even try to mask it). Now she’s a senior with a new set of friends, a strong sense of community, and a batch of annoyed Patriarchs. So when someone starts selling Digger secrets and a new female member disappears things start to look bleak. Amy is determined to fine their brother at all costs, even if it means teaming up with the odious Jamie Orcutt and battling White House Chief of Staff, and Rose & Grave Patriarch, Kurt Gehry. But Amy will soon find, the problem might be even closer to home than she was anticipating.

Out of all the books in this series this one stayed the most true to the first book. Problems that began in ‘Secret Society Girl’ continued here without being more of the same. The characters we were introduced to in the first book became the current knights of Rose & Grave instead of the tap class. We were faced with the issues of being thrown together with a group you feel loyalty to but don’t know very well, yet. Which seem like they would be very complex relationships. I feel like Peterfreund expressed the complexity well without it being bogged down in exposition or explanation. These books are light reading, for sure, but emotionally sort of complex.

The central mystery I felt was strong enough. There weren’t any gasp worthy moments, though there were surprises. Amy is ensconced in a very non-traditional love affair in this novel, which I felt worked very well. It’s rare in these sorts of stories that there isn’t a clear “hero” of the story for the girl to hook up with by the end. Though their is an inkling of romance to come, if the reader is perceptive enough (thank god the author doesn’t feel the need to make this over obvious).

‘Under the Rose’ is a strong sophomore novel in a series. I’m not sure how great it would be standing on its own, but it’s not supposed to. And I couldn’t put it down.

Rites of Spring (Break) – Diana Peterfreund

rites of spring break(**** of five)

Third installment in the ‘Secret Society Girl’ series and it really picked up. While I loved the first two books, this one upped the game and gave the characters a dose of real peril where there was only play peril before.

Amy Haskell, knight of the order of Rose & Grave, is headed on spring break. With school work piling up in their last semester at Eli University, a feud with Dragon’s Head heating up, and Amy’s personal heartbreak regarding an old boyfriend she hadn’t quite forgotten the Diggers are more than ready for a vacation. And it’s a good thing their society owns a private island off the coast of Florida called Cavador Key. But when old nemesis, White House Chief of Staff Kurt Gehry, is embroiled in a scandal and flees Washington for the private island with his family it’s pretty clear this trip wont be completely relaxing for our current Rose & Grave knights. With conspiracy theorists just begging to check out what’s going on on Cavador, a few bitter Patriarchs, and a new… surprising romance this is one Spring Break that’s sure to be memorable.

The title of this novel is probably just as bad as the title of the first, ‘Secret Society Girl’. But, like a cover, I have found it’s best to never judge a book by it’s title. Especially this sort of book. I kept away from this series for far too long because of it and boy was that a mistake. This is top notch collegiate escapades. But then, this book went a little bit further than the rest. Sure, yes, we have a few between two secret societies, we have a romance on the rocks, we have not-quite-teen-anymore angst, but we also have the relationship with the current members of Rose & Grave and the past members of Rose & Grave, the Patriarch, if you will, who are still very much a part of the community. And finally, there’s a really villain who exhibits real danger, unlike the squabbling between factions in previous books (which, of course, seemed very important at the time).

***SPOILER***

When I started reading this series I just knew that Amy was going to end up getting together with Poe, er, Jamie. And I wasn’t happy about it. He was supposed to be a sort of an ass, of course, but it was just done far too well. This Darcy was just too… misogynistic. Which I seriously have a problem with. Like Amy I didn’t agree with his views and found his actions to be obnoxious. So, I wasn’t entirely looking forward to the romance. But then, like a good book is apt to do, I changed my mind. Jamie slowly changed in completely realistic ways so that I even began to understand why he was the way he was before. So that when Amy and Jamie finally did get together I was practically pumping my fist in the air. It felt pretty accurate to me, especially since it wasn’t a seemly transition into coupledom. Good job, Peterfreund.

Tap & Gown – Diana Peterfreund

tap and gown(**** of five) 

Unlike the titles for the first book, ‘Secret Society Girl’, and the third, ‘Rite of Spring (Break)’, I love the title to this installment. Punny but apt. This is what I’m talking about. But of course, a title does not a good book make so the real question is whether or not this one had the goods. And the answer is yes. In the final installment of Diana Peterfreud’s Secret Society Girl series the reader is given a good continuation of the story that started with Amy’s initiation into the first tap class of the secret society Rose & Grave to tap females her Junior year at Eli University (Yale).

It’s that time of year again, the time when every Digger (member of Rose & Grave) must find a new tap to replace them after graduation. Amy Haskell, as former editor of the Literary Magazine, as three clear choices; legacy Topher Cox, brainy Kalani, and down to earth Arielle. But after Arielle is tapped by Quill & Ink and Kalani is revealed to be a member of the three year society, St. Linus Hall, Amy is not quite pleased with her obnoxious leftovers. That is until she meets her science TA, undergrad Michelle who’s a possibility to take the final spot. But Michelle has a few skeletons in her closet that might just conspire to bring the society down. Between tap and her new boyfriend it’s clear that Amy’s last term at Eli will be one to remember.

I really enjoyed this final installment in the series. The tap process was laid out clear and interesting. The introductions of new characters were seamless and the characters themselves interesting. The whole series was an interesting view of a group that gets thrown together and what their learn about each other and the loyalty they share, but this book really illustrated that fact with showing what Amy went through in the first book from the other side. I loved the whole part with the taps. — was particularly great and though I initially didn’t quite get how she would hook into Rose & Grave I thought it worked perfectly. Particularly her reaction when she realized which society it was that was tapping her.

Amy’s relationships with those both in and outside Rose & Grave were very strong. Lydia, her roommate and best friend, continued to be a strong presence. I loved her inclusion and thought it was important to show that Amy does not forget her outside life just because she’s joined this society, that she can still have both. Brandon was hardly a character here, which made sense, but I was pleased there could be some resolution between them. Finally, Amy’s relationship with Jamie continued to grow and be challenged. I thought it was very organic and I thought the ending was perfect, if not convenient. It was the ending I expected, anyway, but I was still pleased when it came about.

Overall, this was a great conclusion to this series. My only complaint is that it was just that, a conclusion. I’ll miss Amy and the rest of the Diggers.

Advertisements

About Lindsay

I have a C'est Moi page, you should probably just read that.
This entry was posted in books and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Books I’ve Read – March 2013

  1. Emma says:

    The Twisted Thread stands out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s