Review: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North (text) and Erica Henderson (art)

On to the next Read Harder challenge! It will probably not shock you to learn that I was a big fan of comic books and related media as a teenager. Suffice it to say that my brother and I collected Marvel Comics trading cards.* But I hadn’t read an actual comic book in a long time when I decided to tackle task #6: read an all-ages comic.

Squirrel Girl was originally introduced as a joke in a one-off Iron Man comic. She’s young mutant with ridiculous powers–the proportional strength and speed of a squirrel, plus the ability to talk to squirrels–who nonetheless managed to help take down Dr. Doom. She’s appeared as comic relief in some other Marvel adventures. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is her solo debut. Since I wasn’t particularly in the mood for angsty superheroes this seemed right up my alley. I was not disappointed.

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Review: Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Since I started Read Harder 2017 with an obvious (for me) pick, I wanted my second book of the year to come from one of the categories that took me further out of my comfort zone. I picked #4: “Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author.” Mexican author Laura Esquivel’s debut novel Like Water for Chocolate quickly caught my eye.

Mama Elena is a widowed rancher who runs her large household with an iron fist. It has long been tradition in her family that the youngest daughter remains unmarried in order to care for her mother in her old age. That duty now falls to Elena’s daughter Tita, a sensitive teenager who is also a gifted cook. When a young man named Pedro falls in love with Tita, Mama Elena informs the couple that Tita will never be allowed to marry. Pedro then proposes to Tita’s older sister Rosaura in order to stay near the woman he loves–with both joyous and painful consequences for all involved.

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Review: Hold Me by Courtney Milan

24348034I was on the fence about trying the Read Harder challenge until I got to #20 on the list: “Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel.” That tipped me firmly into the “yes” column because I had the perfect book on my wish list: Hold Me by Courtney Milan, one of the smartest and funniest writers I’ve encountered during my long blog hiatus. Hold Me is set in the same world as my favorite Milan book, Trade Me, and I couldn’t wait to pick it up.

I liked Hold Me and recommend it, but with a caveat: you kind of have to ignore some early missteps if you want to root for this romance.

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Review: Frontier Magic Trilogy by Patricia Wrede

Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles is one of my favorite comfort reads. I discovered this YA quartet in middle school and read and re-read it obsessively. I loved the fractured fairy tale humor, the engaging protagonists, and especially the physicality of its system of magic–I could imagine how it would feel to use magic in Wrede’s world. I’ve enjoyed other Wrede books tremendously, especially the Mairelon the Magician books and Sorcery and Cecelia (co-written with Caroline Stevermer), but none quite lived up to the Enchanted Forest Chronicles for me. I think it’s always hard to replicate the experience of encountering just the right book at just the right time.

All of that brings me to Wrede’s Frontier Magic trilogy: Thirteenth Child, Beyond the Great Barrier, and The Far West. These YA charmers are quick reads and contain some truly marvelous worldbuilding in an alternate-universe version of the nineteenth-century United States. But I finished the trilogy a bit disappointed by the pacing and characterization, two things that Wrede usually excels at.

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Review: Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews

First, I would like to say that I am omitting the cover image from this review on purpose. I put this cover and this cover on my blog, but I draw the line at this one. I have SOME pride.

Nevada Baylor* is a private investigator running her family’s detective agency following the death of her father. Nevada has a handy magical ability: she can sense when people are lying. In a world where other people can use their magic to levitate, throw heavy objects, or light things on fire, however, Nevada knows her limits. She sticks to cases that won’t get her killed — at least, she tries to. But at the beginning of the book Nevada is strong-armed into tracking down Adam Pierce, a powerful magic user with a penchant for burning things to the ground when he doesn’t get his way. In order to accomplish this task, Nevada reluctantly allies herself with Connor “Mad” Rogan, a former soldier and reputed war criminal who wants to find Pierce for his own reasons.

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Review: On the Edge by Ilona Andrews

In order to write this review, I am going to have to make an embarrassing confession. When I was in college, I went through a paranormal romance novel phase. Many of these books involved either sexy demon hunters who needed women to help them break their curses, or time travel and brooding Scottish lairds (which I think explains my inability to take Outlander as seriously as Diana Gabaldon clearly wanted me to take it).

Eventually, I grew out of the genre — not because I decided paranormal romances were bad or dumb, but because of the lack of surprise. A romance novel can, by definition, really only have one ending: Guy and Gal profess undying love. I started to crave books where I didn’t know how things would turn out, and where everything didn’t hinge on two good-looking people falling into bed together.

All of this brings me to On the Edge, a paranormal romance written by the Ilona Andrews team. I didn’t quite realize the book’s genre when I checked it out (one nice bonus of Kindle checkout: I generally don’t prejudice myself or spoil plot developments by looking at covers), and I’m glad I didn’t because I probably wouldn’t have picked it up.

On the Edge is, without question, the best paranormal romance I’ve ever read. I devoured this book in a day and a half because I literally couldn’t put it down — at one point I was stirring dinner with one hand and holding my Kindle with the other, anxious to find out what would happen next.

But I have a really unfair criticism of it. I wish it wasn’t a paranormal romance.

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Review: Storm Front by Jim Butcher (Book 1 of The Dresden Files)

I’ll be honest. We’re three weeks away from the release of the new Kate Daniels book and I am desperate to find things that will tide me over until I can get my hands on Magic Breaks.* The obvious nicotine patch was The Dresden Files, one of the most popular ongoing urban fantasy series. It didn’t hurt that my husband (whom I have successfully hooked on Kate Daniels) has been advising me to read Dresden for months.

Book 1 of The Dresden Files, Storm Breaks, introduces us to a modern Chicago that’s just a tiny bit different from our own. Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is the only wizard in the Chicago phone book, and most of the calls he gets are from cranks who want to mess with him. He gets by, however, because Detective Karrin Murphy of the the Chicago Police Department calls him in as her consultant when a crime scene is just a little too weird.

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