30 November 2009

Still Life; Louise Penny

Still Life (Armand Gamache, #1) Still Life by Louise Penny

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My first impression of this series was that Ms. Penny really loves description: almost too many adjectives for my tastes. I say "almost" because after a while I barely noticed them as the story took over.

This falls into the not-quite-cozy genre, a rather gentle mystery in the "Midsomer" mold. M. Gamache's first foray into the world of the Anglais Three Pines is, I hope, a hint of equally good books to come. It feels odd to say that, because my recent mystery reads have been darker (Stephen Booth, for example) yet something about this one spoke to me. And the solution? It was not telegraphed, and even a bit surprising.

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Everything Asian; Sung J. Woo

Everything Asian: A Novel Everything Asian: A Novel by Sung J. Woo
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Another memoir that I just couldn't find a good reason for; the change in perspectives was unnecessary, and the anecdotes weren't that interesting. I felt as though I'd read similar stories before.

Copy provided by publisher.

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29 November 2009

I'm Down; Mishna Wolff

I'm Down: a memoir I'm Down: a memoir by Mishna Wolff
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I'm sure that it was not easy to grow up as the only white in an all-black neighborhood, nor can it have been easy to have lived with the father and sister that Ms. Wolff had. However, her memoir reads more like a series of semi-bemusing anecdotes told by a friend's relative than anything else. YMMV, of course.

Free copy provided by publisher.

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Birthmarked; Caragh M. O'Brien

Birthmarked Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Set about 300 years in the future, after the "cool age" (which seems to represent both the time during which we were dependent on oil and possibly pre-serious global warming), this dystopian novel hits all the usual notes: babies born with genetic problems (here, due to inbreeding), a division between the haves and have-nots, babies taken from families are reared elsewhere, etc..

The Enclave's insistence on perfection is what ultimately saves Gaia (yep, the name is significant), who has a disfiguring scar on her face. She's also saved by her naivete and intelligence, and by her non-unexpected knack for getting people to help her (even when they'd be at risk for doing so). None of the characters feel real, they're more like character sketches that still need to be filled in.

While the ending, and the uncertainty of what the rest of America is like at this time, lends itself to a series, my hope is that this is a one-off.

ARC provided by publisher

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28 November 2009

Things We Didn't See Coming; Steven Amsterdam

Things We Didn't See Coming Things We Didn't See Coming by Steven Amsterdam
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Apocalypse Blah... Apparently, Y2K really did crash the grid and we spend the next 30-odd years living through the food shortages, weather disruptions (massive rains, fires, hurricanes, etc.), cancers and other catastrophes, thanks to our unnamed narrator.

Starting on New Year's, 1999, he and his parents load up a survivalists amount of stuff and leave their home to stay with his grandparents. Dad leaves to wait at some secret location in the woods, and we're off. Surviving by his wits (theft, mostly petty) and several government-related jobs (Relocation, mostly), he finally ends up - many cancers and relationships later - doing tours for the nearly dead and dying. The final tour takes a detour to Dad's house, a veritable eden with clean water, air and food. It is there we (and he) end this tale.

While some of the images are interesting, it seemed more of a mish-mash of every The End Is Coming scenario than taking readers on a new journey.

Free ARC provided by publisher.

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Under a Red Sky; Haya Leah Molnar

Under a Red Sky: Memoir of a Childhood in Communist Romania Under a Red Sky: Memoir of a Childhood in Communist Romania by Haya Leah Molnar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This memoir reminded me of Leaving Glorytown (they're even set at a similar time), exploring what it was like living under a Communist regime and what happens when you decide the Worker's Paradise isn't, well, paradise.

Here, Ms. Molnar's family is a group of Jews (something she's unaware of until about age 8) living in Bucharest. Her father was in a Nazi concentration camp and then Soviet lagers, her mother's family survived the war in Romania. Her stories of the deprivation they suffered (although the fact that they had a maid belies real deprivation!), and her experiences at school (she becomes a proud member of the Communist Pioneers) and with the non-family members she meets (her neighbor, Andrei, feels her head for Jewish horns) are engaging enough to interest readers a little tired of this genre.

One of the things I appreciated most was that in the foreword, we're told that the stories are based on memories enhanced by others' comments/stories: we are not expected to believe that at this remove, all dialog and events are remembered exactly as they happened. It would be great if other memoirists included the same disclaimer.

Free ARC provided by publisher.

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24 November 2009

13 Treasures; Michelle Harrison

The Thirteen Treasures The Thirteen Treasures by Michelle Harrison


My rating: 3 of 5 stars
While exploring the same kind of world as Wicked Lovely and Strange Angels, this book is a younger version and will be a great way to get those readers into this genre. The themes of the changeling child, Seelie/Unseelie Courts, second sight, faeries and all that will be new to younger readers; however, for older readers, there's no new twist.

The world Tanya inhabits feels familiar to any reader of Nesbit or Eager (or Boston or pick another faerie fantasy author) and yet because there's no modern technology (cell phones or computers) it will also feel foreign to today's readers. That's ok, because the story will keep them interested and engaged. It's also clear that this book will have a sequel, and I wonder if Harrison can keep things as interesting as she did here. Why do I think there'll be a sequel? There were enough ends left deliberately loose for me to believe it was sloppy writing/editing.

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23 November 2009

Kiss; Jacqueline Wilson

Kiss Kiss by Jacqueline Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What happens when your BFF is the boy next door - the boy you're in love with - and that boy is in love with another boy at school?

Sylvie and Carl's Glassworld seems to rip-off Bridge to Terebithia and The Secret Language, but that's a minor complaint. Far more important is the way Sylvie grows up with her new friend, Miranda, and learns to accept change (like Mom dating). Carl's "secret" is handled sensitively, although I did wonder whether having his family (and Sylvie and Miranda) accept him as gay so easily was realistic. Paul's reaction felt far more honest.

A definite "to buy" for our GLBTQ-friendly collection.

ARC provided by publisher.

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20 November 2009

Finding My Place; Tracie L. Jones

Finding My Place Finding My Place by Traci L. Jones
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Yet another in the "girl starts at a new school/grade/town" genre; the twist this time being that she's Afro-American (in the 70s) and she's just moved to an all-white neighborhood. So her family, while fitting in in terms of economic status, is *not* like the other families - her parents sat-in at lunch counters, and they have high expectations for Tiphanie (pronounced Tiffany).

Years ago I read Mary Jane, another story about a black girl integrating a school. Because this one was written far closer to the time, the language and situations rang truer to me; in one passage Tip talks about her name and how her parents were at the forefront of the movement that altered spellings of names. I'm not sure that any teen in the 70s would be aware that this was going to be a lasting movement - to me that feels like a revelation that would come later in life, something one might say in one's 30s (although I could believe that there might be some teenaged eyerolling about the strange spelling and being embarrassed about having to explain her name to people).

There were many such moments, ones that felt as though either Tip was preternaturally aware of what would happen in the future and could comment on it in the past or language that felt more modern than the time in which the book is set. On the other hand, Tip's sense of being alone, of trying to fit in and her friendship with Jackie Sue do feel real.

ARC provided by publisher.

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16 November 2009

The Chosen One; Carol Lynch Williams

The Chosen One The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams


My rating: 3 of 5 stars
What is it with the polygamist Mormon theme? Is it because of "Big Love"? This is the third book (The 19th Wife and Latter-Day Cipher being the other two) that explore that realm.

First of all, this is not an easy read - much like Sold is not an easy read. And because it takes place in America there's not that comfort level of thinking it's about another, completely foreign culture. We know that there are these groups, we know that this sort of life does happen.

Kyra's life among The Chosen Ones is not idyllic, but it is relatively normal, except for her feelings for (and flirtation with) Joshua, and her "sin" of going to the mobile library to read forbidden books. Her six mothers seem to get along, and she's close with her many siblings, caring for them as though they were all her biological family. And her father appears to be kind and loving. But when she's Chosen to marry her 60+-years-older uncle, she rebels, and in the processes potentially destroys her family.

I'm not sure I'd recommend this to younger teens.

Free copy provided by publisher.

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Witch and Wizard; James Patterson

Witch and Wizard Witch and Wizard by James Patterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Last night I had to stop myself from staying up well past my bedtime to finish this book - it's that engrossing. The dystopian society is Handmaid's Tale-esque, and the magical touches will make it more fun for students to read. Obviously I can't say too much because of the spoiler issue, but this will be a huge crossover hit (at MPOW, Patterson really only appeals to boys, but girls will enjoy meeting Wisty).

One non-spoiler (and a taste of the book's appeal): in the New Order, the book Pitcher in the Wheat has been banned. Gotta love it, right?

ARC provided by publisher.

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15 November 2009

The Book of Samuel; Erik Raschke

The Book of Samuel: A Novel The Book of Samuel: A Novel by Erik Raschke

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Not being that Bible-literate, I have no idea how closely this Book tracks that Book of Samuel, but I'll bet that the heavy religious overtones create quite the controversy. This story of a boy (Samuel) growing up in Denver, with a father who has "found religion" (enough to leave the family and go off to preach the Word of the Lord), a mother suffering physically from the after-effects of polio, and the encroachment of Mexicans on his lower class American life has something to get under everyone's skin , be it religion, language, race or violence.

Beyond that, however, the plot is in that "nothing new" category, which is too bad because it could have been a far better book had the author chosen to go outside the coming-of-age convention.

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13 November 2009

The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To; DC Pierson

The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To (Vintage Contemporaries) The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To by DC Pierson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, this is a first: blurbage that actually tells the truth! The "normal" part of the book (which is to say, the first two thirds) is spot on regarding the lives of teenage boys, particularly those that are too geeky to be jocks or belong to some other well-defined clique.

Darren's take on what it's like to be in high school, to want be cooler then the social dregs, to find a girl, and to be obsessed with Alien Mythology just feels completely right. The oddity of his friend Eric's inability to sleep gives their relationship just enough of a twist to keep it from being the standard buddy book, and that's without the whole problem of Christine.

What made this a three-star, rather than a four-star was the final third, wherein our two heroes become escapees from The Man, the aliens appear to come to life and Things Happen. It felt rushed, and while the lack or realism was probably intended, it just didn't work as well as the earlier parts of the book.

Free ARC obtained from publisher.

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11 November 2009

Fallen; Lauren Kate

Fallen Fallen by Lauren Kate

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

How to review this without giving major spoilers (pub. date is next month)? Not sure that's possible, but I'll try.

Luce (Lucinda) has spent most of her HS years at Dover Prep, a New England prep school, making friends and doing normal teenage stuff. One day, she and Trevor go into a cabin and start making out. Something happens - she's not sure what - but a fire breaks out and Trevor doesn't survive. Turns out that for years she's been seeing these shadows hovering around, and her time at Dover was part of an attempt to "cure" her (she'd been on meds, seeing shrinks, etc. to no avail).

After the fire? There's no choice but to send her to a reform school, Sword & Cross, near her parents. There she's schooled on "meds, beds and reds", and meets Cam (the gorgeous boy she just might get) and Daniel (the equally gorgeous boy she seems to remember from before but who clearly wants nothing to do with her). There's the usual girls being teen girls, and of course the typical HS rebellion (as much as you can rebel in a school where you're under constant surveillance).

Any more would be spoilers - but if you liked the Wicked Lovely series you'll probably like this one; however the writing isn't quite as good and the characters not as strongly drawn.

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08 November 2009

The School of Fear; Gitty Daneshvari

School of Fear 1 School of Fear 1 by Gitty Daneshvari
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The cover and the blurb led me to believe this would be one of those whimsical books mashing-up the Mysterious Benedict Society and Allbright Academy with perhaps a smattering of Unfortunate Events. And it did start out that way: the extreme ways in which the four children manifest their fears, and their parents reactions hit just the right notes.

It's when we arrive at the School that things fall apart. Miss Wellington and Schmidty are just too grotesque, the "learning" too odd, the food too awful to sustain a reader's interest. There are no lighter moments, no sly winks at the reader to tell them that "it's ok, this really isn't as awful as it appears".

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01 November 2009

Freaks and Revelations; Davida Wills Hurwin

Freaks and Revelations Freaks and Revelations by Davida Wills Hurwin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is another one of those difficult to read books. Difficult in style (figuring out who is who, and when) and difficult in ideas (would a mother really kick her gay 12-year-old son out? how can anyone get that high and hate that much? can you really forgive?). Like The Hate List, this is a book that teens should read, if only to understand how twisted people can be inside and how sad our world really is.

Doug's journey from an abusive home through drugs to Punk Rage to skinhead to working to protect others from people like him is far more dramatic than Jason's, and in some ways it's his story that stays with you after the book is done. Jason, a beautiful gay boy living on the streets, first in The Castro and then in L.A., is easier to reach but no less heartbreaking. The events that lead to their collision seem so random, both the first time and the second, adding to the discomfort that one feels when reading this.

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