21 March 2015

Palace of Lies; Margaret Peterson Haddix

Palace of Lies (The Palace Chronicles, #3)Palace of Lies by Margaret Peterson Haddix
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A number of years ago I did a year of Cinderella stories with my 4/5 grade class; one of the books we read was Just Ella and the class was divided about it (they liked Ella's resourcefulness, but the method of escaping the palace grossed them out). Where was I when the sequel came out? Who knows. Now I have to track that down. This book, the third in the series, is good both as a stand-alone and as a continuation. We're in a different kingdom, with different problems and different characters, but Ella and Jed make an appearance.

As far as the plot goes, it hits all the right notes: daring escapes, wicked plotters, possibly mistaken identity. There were a few moments when I hoped for something different, but that's because I've been reading these types of books for so long. The target reading group? They'll love this.

ARC provided by publisher.

Uprooted; Naomi Novik

UprootedUprooted by Naomi Novik
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So conflicted about this book. On the one hand, the heroine is resourceful, strong, etc.. On the other... This really reminded me of one of the old Harlequin romances I read when I was in high school (I think they've changed the formula since then), with the plucky female being put under the care/supervision of the remote, disdainful plantation owner/banker/guardian, trying to prove she's not a ditz/worthy of his notice and then, after some incident that proves it, sexytimes. Except he can't admit it, or she's too young for him, so the frustration continues until the end when he realizes he needs her. I'm not saying that's a plotline-by-plotline spoiler, but there are serious similarities between those books and this. Differences? The man is never a wizard. The girl isn't a wizard, either. Magic isn't an issue. Nor is the fate of kingdoms.

Maybe I'm going to be the only reader who was disturbed by the relationship between Agnieszka and Dragon. The thing is, with a better relationship, for me this would have been a much stronger book and one I could recommend with ease.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Alphabet House; Jussi Adler-Olsen

The Alphabet HouseThe Alphabet House by Jussi Adler-Olsen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So very different than the Department Q series - historical fiction for most of the book, then suspense/thriller towards the end. There were times I thought of DNF'ing it, but there was just enough going on (in the beginning) to keep me going. Less about the train and perhaps tighter plotting in the Alphabet House itself would have made this a little better overall, since there is a definite shift in pacing when we get to the modern day. On the other hand, that might have been a translation choice?

ARC provided by publisher.

Spinster; Kate Bolick

Spinster: Making a Life of One's OwnSpinster: Making a Life of One's Own by Kate Bolick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another memoir where the non-memoir part was much more interesting than the life under discussion. The author's descriptions of her life as a spinster were somewhat lacking, in that perhaps "spinster" is the wrong term - yes, it means "unmarried woman" but I didn't get the sense that she was truly comfortable being alone (perhaps it's all the men in her life?). I admit that it was a bit surprising that the author, younger than me, got a very different message about what was expected (marriage, being settled) for women than I did growing up. Beyond that, though, her exploration of the lives of several women who had really interesting careers and were truly original is worth it. It may even lead to a more general rediscovery of these women! The book also serves as a reminder that there is no one way to have a relationship (or not have a relationship, if that makes sense).

ARC provided by publisher.

Word Nerd; John D. Williams Jr.

Word Nerd: Dispatches from the Games, Grammar, and Geek UndergroundWord Nerd: Dispatches from the Games, Grammar, and Geek Underground by John D. Williams Jr.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a committed word nerd, but not a Scrabble player (seriously? I'm not a good speller, which is kind of a prerequisite for playing), this was a pretty interesting read. The tricks, tips and word lists made me wish I did play, but there's no way I could compete. The disappointing part was that I wanted more about the players, the Scrabble culture, etc. and less of the memoir. Yes, I know that this is a memoir, so I should have known better. Still...

ARC provided by publisher.

The Truth About Us; Janet Gurtler

The Truth About UsThe Truth About Us by Janet Gurtler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not much to say here, except this is a good read for teens looking for romance - there's nothing really unique to make this stand out, but nothing to complain about either. It hits all the usual notes, which will keep fans of the genre happy.

ARC provided by publisher.

A Reunion of Ghosts; Judith Claire Mitchell

A Reunion Of GhostsA Reunion Of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

How often do you read a book written in the first person plural? The conceit here is that this is the suicide note of the three Alter sisters, so their individual voices are muted into one general "we" tone. Does it work? Perhaps 80% of the time, which isn't bad when you think about it. There were times that it felt as though it would have been ok to hear from a sister on her own, particularly when discussing their personal lives.

Because the sisters want us to truly understand everything about their lives and their history, the plot(?) drags a bit in places. There's also a lot about how important the curse is in their lives ("the sins of the father...") and yet we spend more time on their daily lives than on that part. More about how it affected the previous generations, less about the chemistry and current day, and this would have been tighter.

Also, the ending didn't quite work. There should have been a different sounding voice then (no spoilers as to why) and it just sounded the same as before.

ARC provided by publisher.

08 March 2015

The Unraveling of Mercy Louis; Keija Parssinen

The Unraveling of Mercy LouisThe Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija Parssinen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sigh. Not only do we have two POVs, we have two different types: one first person, one third. It's not just adjusting to the new person, it's adjusting to a different writing. Sigh. And, of course, when you're writing in the first person, the first trick should be to make the characters sound different - not the case here. Mercy's voice is too sophisticated, to writerly, much better suited for a third person voice than first. Illa's makes sense the way she's written, but not Mercy.

So, the plot. There are a few competing hooks: the basketball focus, the Bible-belt Purity Ball and church life, the town's decline, the refinery's affect on the environment and, finally, mother-daughter dynamics for both Illa and Mercy. Add in a tinge of Cajun folktales and this is quite the jam-packed book. At times I wished for just a little less range.

ARC provided by publisher.

The Pocket Wife; Susan H. Crawford

The Pocket WifeThe Pocket Wife by Susan H. Crawford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For once the blurbage is right: this is akin to Before I Go to Sleep, but I'd toss in "Gaslight" and leave off The Silent Wife (which I DNF'd).

Dana's has bipolar disorder and is in a manic phase, spinning out of control. One afternoon she gets drunk after hearing bad news from a neighbor/friend and that evening that neighbor/friend is murdered. So: did she, or didn't she? Not even she knows. Of course, given her mental state, she makes some bad decisions, not helping her cause.

The missing star is due to the switching of POVs between Dana and Jack Moss, the detective assigned to the case. Obviously it's necessary to do that to give a fuller picture of the investigation and how it progresses, as well as to steep us in Dana's world and mental state. Still, it's something I'm reading far too often, as though there's some memo or mandate. I also had the thought that this was both a great one-off and the start to an interesting psychological mystery series a la Barbara Vine.

ARC provided by publisher.

07 March 2015

Mosquitoland; David Arnold

MosquitolandMosquitoland by David Arnold
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I so wanted to love this book - the disparate elements work, but for some reason as a whole I just didn't feel it. Mim? She is nicely realized, a well-rounded creation. Her trek? Just the right amount of realistic adventure (although I do know that Greyhound has stricter rules about unaccompanied children now then they did when I was Mim's age). More about Walt would have been nice. And it was interesting to see that at the end, Mom wasn't quite what Mim expected/anticipated. But despite all that, I was left with a sense of "meh" when I felt that perhaps there should have been more.

ARC provided by publisher.