18 October 2014

The Soul of Discretion; Susan Hill

The Soul of Discretion (Simon Serrailler, #8)The Soul of Discretion by Susan Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow. So dark. So very, very dark. Not just the Simon main story but Richard's side story - it did make me wonder why we needed both in one volume (and dropped this to a 4.5). Hill frequently "goes there" with darkness, yet this felt a little more than usual. Richard's part felt a little forced, despite our seeing him increasingly as a bully and potentially an abuser.

So the main story? Disturbing to say the least: Simon enters the world of child pornography, and while we don't "see" anything, his reactions to what he's watching and hearing let us know exactly how bad it is. And coming just after his really negative reaction to Rachel's moving in (which he's ok with, except for her moving furniture or adding her own touches... let alone her suggestion that they move)? Poor Simon. I've often thought of him as a new version of Adam Dalgleish and this just cements that.

There's so much fallout being held over to the next book (what's going to happen with Rachel's bookshop? is this the last we'll see of Judith? how will Cat move forward? what will Richard do now?) that I'm hoping it's already partly written. Given the ending, however, I suspect that we'll join everyone several months (or longer) in the future with this book still resonating but well behind everyone. Can't wait!

The Pierced Heart; Lynn Shepherd

The Pierced HeartThe Pierced Heart by Lynn Shepherd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Less of the vampire theme than I'd expected (hence the 4), but the atmosphere is wonderfully creepy and suspenseful. What's going on in the mysterious castle Charles Maddox visits? How is any of it related to what happened to the various girls being killed (in Ripper-esque style) in London? Is the Baron for real, let alone human (he never seems to eat, avoids sun, etc.)? These questions lie at the heart of this book, and the conclusion does seem a bit too coincidental and convenient to be completely satisfying. Because this is an hommage, the characters are a little flat and sacrificed in service of plot and setting.

I don't remember great detail about the previous Maddox book's writing style (my copy is in storage just now) but it does feel as though this book's style differs - Shepherd seems to mimic the style of the genre/author she's riffing on (Austen, Shelley, Dickens/Conan Doyle, now Stoker). That can be off-putting to some readers, particularly those who are used to modern pacing and sentence styling. And I do need to go and read the two earlier books I haven't yet read...

ARC provided by publisher.

Tear You Apart; Sarah Cross

Tear You ApartTear You Apart by Sarah Cross
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I do love me some fractured fairy tale, and this one works. Yes, it does sound a little like a condensed novelization of a "Once Upon A Time" episode arc, but I can over look that. There's a blend of tales here, deliberately so, and it's that blend that allows Viv and Henley to find a loophole in the Snow White tale. I didn't realize this is a series and now I'm going to check out the earlier book (when I say "series", I mean "books set in the same world with some overlapping characters" not books that need to be read in sequence; you know how happy I am about that!).

ARC provided by publisher.

The Way of Tea and Justice; Becca Stevens

The Way of Tea and Justice: Rescuing the World's Favorite Beverage from Its Violent HistoryThe Way of Tea and Justice: Rescuing the World's Favorite Beverage from Its Violent History by Becca Stevens
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Very close to a DNF but I did find that skimming (very very quick skimming) got me some interesting information. The subtitle and blurbage suggest that this is about tea and its history, while the vast majority of the book is about the author's travels and Thistle Stop Cafe and social justice. She experiences a tea ceremony, yet we don't get to experience it through her eyes - that's the point when I said, SKIM.

ARC provided by publisher.

Prince of Shadows; Rachel Caine

Prince of ShadowsPrince of Shadows by Rachel Caine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Using Romeo and Juliet as a basis for a story is guaranteed to provide teens with an initial understanding of the milieu for the book, as well as immediate familiarity with the characters. In this case, Romeo is a sidekick of sorts and Juliet barely enters (stage left or right): Benvolio is Our Hero. It's almost a teen "Rosencrantz and Guilderstern" but not as well-written.

There's a good sense of place and ambiance here, particularly how the two Houses brawl and roam around fair Verona. It might confuse readers when the clothes are being discussed (what? shirts have removable sleeves?), but that's the way things really were. It was interesting hearing such a realistic view of the role of women back then rather than having someone who breaks the rules. As for Tommasso, I was uncomfortable with that addition because while it gives some context to his "plague on both houses", his reason felt very forced, as though it wasn't enough to riff on the R&J story from a different point-of-view, we also need to subtly promote tolerance for gays. That part could have been left out with no loss to the plot, or, had the author wanted to make that statement, told this from Tommasso's point-of-view.

For Real; Alison Cherry

For RealFor Real by Alison Cherry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wasn't sure about this one because the premise sounded, well, a little lame. So glad I was wrong! Ok, yes, there's a huge degree of predictability here but there is a great twist at the end that makes up for much of that.

Teens today are into reality shows and the shows are getting more and more bizarre, so the ones that Claire is so well-versed in actually sound plausible. It's also highly plausible that the producers would change the format and premise of the show Claire and Miranda are on (just think about all those ambushed guests on shows like Dr. Phil!). I won't go further because 1. we all know what to expect from reality shows and 2. I don't want to spoil anything.

This feels like a great read for any teen.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing; Sheila Turnage

The Ghosts of Tupelo LandingThe Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A worthy follow-up to the first book, Three Times Lucky. The sense of place and the characters far outweigh the mystery, and it's the plot problems that dropped this to a four.

Lucky's search for her Upstream Mom is not as front-and-center here, but there are still letters that appear regularly from Lucky (they don't seem to be dropped into a river but are in a diary; perhaps I misread that). In some ways I was glad that was a little less stressed, as it shows she's comfortable with her place, and in some ways I hoped we'd resolve that part of her mystery and then could move on. Perhaps next book?

06 October 2014

King Solomon's Carpet; Barbara Vine

King Solomon's CarpetKing Solomon's Carpet by Barbara Vine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Vine's psychological mysteries (or are they purely suspense?) are always a good read - this one suffered from the huge amount of added-in information about the London Underground. Some of that was interesting, but it dragged the action down to a stop at times when it shouldn't have.

The characters here are a curious mix of apathetic, pathetic and impulsive. Take Alice: after one impulsive move (leaving her husband and child), she gets stuck in an apathetic rut of living in the School, busking, practicing her violin and planning to resume her studies but never quite has enough initiative to do it properly. Her relationships with Alex and Tom seem less like real relationships and more like something she's just fallen into.

The other problem is that the motivations, the suspense factor, seem more muted than in other of her books (The Dark-Adapted Eye, for example). Still, for an end-of-cold-and-don't-want-to-think-too-much read this was perfect.

Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly; Conrad Wesselhoeft

Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to FlyDirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly by Conrad Wesselhoeft
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The end was rather surprising, which raised this from a three to a four. Beyond that, a teen from a dysfunctional family with an exceptional skill at video games? Yawn. It's the ethical decisions that Arlo makes, and his acceptance of the consequences that are different - they may lead readers to question what they would do if presented with the same opportunities.

ARC provided by publisher.

Lost for Words; Edward St. Aubyn

Lost for WordsLost for Words by Edward St. Aubyn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Patrick Melrose novels have been on my To Buy/To Read list for a while now, but when this book crossed my path I decided not to wait for those to become acquainted with St. Aubyn's oeuvre. And am I glad I didn't wait!

If you aren't familiar with overly pompous English-literature-speak, some of this won't make a lot of sense. But if you are, it can be quite funny reading the arguments about why each book submitted to the Elysian Prize committee is worth, or unworthy. And Benoit! I swear I've worked with him... The problem is, to explain more would be to delve into textuality and satire and all those other pretentious buzzwords, so let's just say I enjoyed the read and am looking forward to reading his other works.