26 April 2009

City of Bones; Cassandra Clare

City of Bones (Mortal Instruments, Book 1) City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Having read Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely series, as well as Need, Strange Angels and a host (pun intended) of other human/non-human books, this book didn't stand out for me. It's good, don't get me wrong, but it just didn't W.O.W. me.

At times it felt as though Clare was tossing in all the images, demons and tropes she could remember from her previous reading and mashed them all together into something not-quite-new. For example, I figured out Jace's secret well before the reveal, Some of the names were really Potteresque, and the Silent Brotherhood was a little (in looks, anyway) too like Buffy's Gentlemen.

What saved it from the utter pastiche of, say, Paolini's Inheritance series, is that there is an intelligence there that might lead to something more in the next book (or books) in the series. We'll see.

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23 April 2009

ghostgirl: Homecoming; Tonya Hurley

ghostgirl: Homecoming (Ghostgirl) ghostgirl: Homecoming by Tonya Hurley

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those "horror lite" books - Charlotte has graduated from Dead Ed. and is stuck in customer service (which consists of waiting for Those in Need to call in for help, at which point she's supposed to act as that small, still voice that gives them good advice). She's living with Maddy, who appears to be one of those controlling friends that doesn't want Charlotte's old friends to be a part of her life; those old friends have reunited with people from their pasts and seem to be settling in to eternity rather well. Enter Charlotte's still-living BFF Scarlett, whose sister Petula is in a coma and whose boyfriend Damen isn't around as much as she'd like... By the end, Charlotte has "grown" as a dead person, Petula is slightly nicer, Maddy's been vanquished and Scarlett and Damen are solidly a couple.

While the book is, for the most part, quite charming, and those that know the horror genre will enjoy the shout-outs to horror Names (Charlotte's an Usher, for example), the ending is a bit unsatisfying. Charlotte's solving a problem like Maddy seems to be a little abrupt: there's nothing in the previous chapters that would allow one to make the leaps that she makes in terms of understanding what's going on, and I hate solutions that take place off-stage with no hope of following along.

Still, for those for whom that isn't a problem this will be a really fun read. And count me in on hoping for another in the series.

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21 April 2009

alibaba: the inside story behind Jack Ma...; Liu Shiying and Martha Avery

alibaba: The Inside Story Behind Jack Ma and the Creation of the World's Biggest Online Marketplace alibaba: The Inside Story Behind Jack Ma and the Creation of the World's Biggest Online Marketplace by Liu Shiying

My review

rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book should have been far better than it was: the lead author is a Chinese journalist, and the secondary author is an author/translator. So, where was the editor? Why no footnotes supporting the claims, quotes and statistics cited? Why no complex sentences?

Given the importance of China, this book could have been a Must Read for businesses looking to figure out how/what to do in that country. Instead it's a 288-page essay written by someone in the 8th/9th grade. Ma "feels", "knows", "states" but there's no evidence (other than the author's say-so) that he actually does so. There is an index, a glossary and a timeline, but no citations - critical if this is to be taken as more than mere hagiography.

Why Collins Business felt that this was a finished product eludes me. Yes, I read the ARC, but the changes needed for me to recommend this as a resource would have resulted in a completely new book.

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19 April 2009

Leaving Glorytown, One Boy's Struggle Under Castro; Eduardo F. Calcines

Leaving Glorytown: One Boy's Struggle Under Castro Leaving Glorytown: One Boy's Struggle Under Castro by Eduardo F. Calcines

My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this memoir, mainly because the author doesn't rely on others' memories to do his work for him. By that I mean, it's clearly what he felt, saw, remembers rather than what he's been told he felt, saw or remembered from that time - the memories are stronger the older he gets.

Life before Castro is barely memorable to Eduardo, but he does clearly remember all the gatherings, the sense of family, and the richness of that life; after Fidel takes power, he's aware of the Voice, the food shortages, the changes in daily life and slowly of the failure of the Glorious Revolution. The stick of Juicy Fruit gum (ok, a small eighth of a stick) that he makes last for weeks drives this all home. What strikes me is that what he experiences is universal to any culture/people under a dictatorial regime, and I think that the audience for whom this book is intended will see that, too.

Ending as they enter American airspace, you can sense the possibilities that he's feeling. The epilogue hints that the transition might not have been easy, but it's clear that his concept of American the Free has never wavered.

A good read to "celebrate" the 50th anniversary of the revolution, and the recent opening of travel to Cuba. If Mr. Calcines goes back, it'd be interesting to see how his memories of Glorytown compare with what's there now.

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18 April 2009

Sahwira, An African Friendship; Carolyn Marsden

Sahwira: An African Friendship Sahwira: An African Friendship by Carolyn Marsden

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Good YA Historical Fiction set in 1964 Rhodesia - Evan (an American living on a Methodist Mission and attending an all-white school in town) is torn between his life on the Mission and his friendship with Blessing, the Minister's son. To his school friends, he's a kaffir-lover; to the Mission kids he's an example of white privilege. When a white farmer is killed by some rebels, he makes a choice that could lead to disaster for the others on the Mission.

There's a universal quality to this type of story - it could be a German boy and a Jewish one, or any other pairing of Elite Ruler and Other. Given that this is not a topic much studied in school, and that Zimbabwe is still a nation torn by war and terror, it's a good book for MS students.

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Secrets of Truth and Beauty; Megan Frazer

Secrets of Truth and Beauty Secrets of Truth and Beauty by Megan Frazer

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Dora's autobiography project turns into a diatribe about fat v. thin, I thought this would be a good companion book to Big Fat Manifesto. Instead, it's about two sisters reconnecting after 17 years (which isn't quite right, because until she was nine, Dora didn't even know that Rachel existed), about finding yourself and being at peace with who you are, not what your parents (or society) wants you to be.

I wish there'd been more reflection in the book, and that the plot wasn't quite so trite. Still, the setting and characters were well-drawn and I think older MS students will enjoy it.

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The Winter Vault; Anne Michaels

The Winter Vault The Winter Vault by Anne Michaels

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book feels well-written. By that I mean, a torrent of words, landscapes and emotions but... but... it feels that way, which to me says it ain't necessarily so. For me, a well-written book is one into which I can escape without noticing the craft of writing. This book doesn't quite do that.

The endless commentary on the "art" of building dams and flooding villages, how disruptive that is to nature and to people, could have been cut in half. Jean's obsession with botany at times reads like a lecture, not a plot point. And the very studied nature of the dialog and flashbacks were too studied.

It took me a long time to read this because I really wanted to like it more than I did (I'd taken a long time to get into Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet, too, and thought this might be another experience like that was). Unfortunately, every time I got interested, like when Aswan Dam finally starts flooding the valley - or when Jean starts going back to school - or the fate of Ramses' head, the book slowed down and I lost interest again.

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11 April 2009

Eco-Barons; Edward Humes

The Eco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers, and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet The Eco Barons: The Dreamers, Schemers, and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet by Edward Humes

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars

I've been reading good reviews for this book, which must mean that other readers have a higher tolerance for hero-worship, lack of foot-/endnotes, and generally sloppy reporting than I do. By that I mean that the dreamers, schemers and millionaires come in for unquestioning approval, while the Big Bad Other Side comes in for unremitting approbation. My guess is that there's a middle ground, and had this book been written there, it would have been far more instructive and interesting.

When I read that someone learned certain facts about a species or an area of the world, I want to know from whom? who's say-so? None of that is provided.

This trend towards "these people are great, take my word for (almost) everything I write" non-fiction is troubling.

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08 April 2009

Sworn to Silence, Linda Castillo

Sworn to Silence Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've really gotten into dark mysteries, and this fits the bill nicely (in other words, if you like cozies, stay away!).

We open with the internal monologue from the next victim of a brutal serial killer, and move quickly through her death to the start of the investigation of her murder. Turns out that there were a series of four similar murders 16 years ago, and the fear is that the killer has returned.

Our Chief of Police, Kate, is a woman, one who used to be Amish but rebelled and has lived as English since she was 18. A few years ago she moved back to her hometown to take this job, in part because she understands both cultures. I very much liked the fact that the Amish side isn't treated as "ooh... how quaint and odd and different" but as simply another culture in this town.

Kate has a secret of her own, which leads her to make some basic mistakes in the initial days of the investigation. Two victims (including the daughter of one of the town councilmen) later, she's removed from the job and replaced by someone from the County.

Before all this, she's met - fought with - and become intimate with - a very troubled man from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Through Joe, and refusing to stop working the case, she figures out who the killer is and manages to catch him (after being caught first, and tortured). It's the start of a beautiful friendship...

I hope this becomes a series, because I liked Kate, I liked the town and I
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05 April 2009

In Hanuman's Hands; Cheeni Rao

In Hanuman's Hands: A Memoir In Hanuman's Hands: A Memoir by Cheeni Rao

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an interesting, painful memoir. Cheeni Rao's tale of his life as an addict (one infected with Hep C, no less) and recovery rises from the trite to the incredible thanks to his interweaving of his family's Brahmin background, his faith(?) in Hanuman, his "conversations" with Kali, and his attempts to reconcile his family's curse.

Partly a book about India (Cheeni's first generation American), partly a book about religion, and partly a book about addiction, In Hanuman's Hands is something more than the sum of its parts. I could go on about the set pieces - his interactions with Salvatore, Sebastian, Jonas, Tav, Tats, etc - but that really won't do this justice.

Read it.

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02 April 2009

Immortal; Gillian Shields

Immortal Immortal by Gillian Shields

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm sure I've read this before... but perhaps it only feels like it. Evie is a part-orphan (no mother, father never home) raised by her grandmother; when Frankie becomes to ill to care for Evie, her father sends her to Wyldcliffe Abbey School.

It's clear from the very start that there's something Not Quite Right about the school, about Sebastian (the boy she meets as she arrives) and about who Evie really is. No spoilers, but if you don't get the main plot twists well before they're revealed, you're just not reading the right kind of books.

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