31 October 2010

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer; Lish McBride

Hold Me Closer, NecromancerHold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

No book should ever make you hear Elton John every time you look at the cover. Just sayin'.

Anyway, this book was really interesting, if a little chaotic. Sam (short for Samhain) is a college drop-out, flipping burgers at Pudgy's and hanging out with Brooke, Frank and Ramon. One day they get on the wrong side of a guy (they broke his taillight during a game of potato lacrosse) and, well, it gets complicated from there. There are necromancers, witches, fey hounds, werewolves, Harbingers, Ed and a talking head - oh, and a zombie giant panda - it just felt like one thing after another was poured into the plot to keep things going. The Big Action Sequence towards the end felt a bit rushed, with a completely different pace than the rest of the book.

Despite that, it was fun getting to know Sam and his friends and to wonder what it would be like to assume you're "normal" and then find out that there's this whole scary world out there. The pop references were an interesting choice, as they weren't all up-to-the-minute current (a good thing, not a bad thing!). My hope is that the vague-ish ending is just that, an ending, and that this isn't going to be a series.

The whole book is grittier than other fantasy books, but readers of The Demonata series will find it tame.

ARC provided by publishers.

View all my reviews

29 October 2010

Girl, Stolen; April Henry

Girl, StolenGirl, Stolen by April Henry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Imagine you're blind... sick... and suddenly carjacked. Or that you're trying to prove to your father that you can play with the big boys by stealing an expensive SUV, only to find that you've inadvertently taken a girl along with the car. That sums up the story of Cheyenne and Griffin.

The problem is that the device of telling the story through alternating points-of-view doesn't quite work: the voices are too similar, ditto their reactions to the external characters (Ray, TJ and Jimbo). It also wasn't a surprise that Griffin turns out to be a good guy, or that Ray is worse than he first appears. The final interplay between TJ and Jimbo did come as a surprise, one of the few in the book.

So why three stars? I can see teen readers enjoying the story and wondering about "what happens after". It also raises some questions about doing the right thing, and presents being blind (particularly when sighted at birth) in a way readers can relate to.

ARC provided by publisher.

View all my reviews

28 October 2010

The House of Dead Maids; Clare B. Dunkle

The House of Dead MaidsThe House of Dead Maids by Clare B. Dunkle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written as a sort of prequel to Wuthering Heights, this has just the right amount of creepiness for the Hallowe'en season.

Tabby is an orphan working at Ma Hutton's knitting school when she's 'chosen' by a woman to work in a house in some remote location. Remote means a long trip (including a boat ride), and only one village (filled with strange people) nearby. She ends up at Seldom House and isn't quite sure if she's the maid, a guest or something else. Adding to her questions is the fact that she's locked into her bedroom at night and that there's only Mrs. Winter, Arnby and Mrs. Sexton around. Oh, and then there's Izzy, also from Ma Hutton's, who seems to be a ghost.

A few days later a "heathen git" arrives. He's somehow the master of the house, and completely uncontrollable. Tabby's responsible for taking care of him, including protecting him from whatever's going on. Without spoiling this too much, let's just say that there's an escape from Seldom House and that Tabby ends up (after a while) as maid at Haworth Parsonage, home to the Brontes. That formerly nameless "heathen git" becomes Heathcliff.

As I said, there's a definite creep factor: shiver inducing, not necessarily nightmare category. The shortness of the book helps, as does the tight storytelling. If you know Wuthering Heights, the ending will make more sense but even readers who don't will enjoy it. The author has also provided a website that explains some of the mysteries/questions raised by Bronte.

ARC provided by publisher.

View all my reviews

27 October 2010

I am Number Four; Pittacus Lore

I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacies, #1)I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A student cam running in to the library to tell me about this book - we looked it up and I immediately purchased it. She was so excited... until she realized it was the first in a series. Now, she's not sure she'll read it.

As for my reading, I think the idea is good. Of course, it's vaguely like Superman, except John/Number 4 has a Lorian 'minder' to help him survive and the Mogodorians apparently arrived on Earth around the same time he did. The idea of being tied in to ninesix people, with your survival depending on never being able to meet them despite having complimentary Legacies.

Forgetting about the alien overtones and Legacies, John's life on the run means that he learns to keep as insignificant as possible; in Paradise OH that's not possible from day one. He's the victim of a bully, as is Sam. Together, they need to negotiate the hell that is high school social strata. John's life is even more complicated because he's falling for Sally, ex-girlfriend of the bully-in-chief.

This mixture of realistic look at high school and aliens on earth makes me think of "Smallville" (really, the links to the whole Superman saga just kept coming back to me). Because of that and the cliffhanger ending and the expectation that we'll be looking for yet another series to add to our shelves, I'm not inclined to give this a five-star rating. It just didn't feel as though this was anything really new and different, plot-wise, and I'm tired of series. On the other hand, the fact that this is more boy-friendly than other series might be reason to purchase for work.

View all my reviews

21 October 2010

Dick and Jane and Vampires

Dick and Jane and VampiresDick and Jane and Vampires by Laura Marchesani
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think there should be a rule: when you get to the Dick and Jane treatment, the genre is officially over as a trend. I declare the glut of vampire books to be, henceforth, superfluous.

In this installment, Dick and Jane, Mother and Father and Spot (and Tim and Sally? when did they arrive?) are all playing, reading, running and - oh oh oh - they see something. Sometimes. Great fun for all ages. And I do mean all ages.

Copy provided by publisher.

View all my reviews

Voltaire's Calligrapher; Pablo de Santis

Voltaire's CalligrapherVoltaire's Calligrapher by Pablo de Santis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'd enjoyed The Paris Enigma, so when I was asked if I wanted to read/review Voltaire's Calligrapher, I said "yes". I'm so glad I did!

Historical fiction is tricky at best, particularly if you start inserting real people and events into the plot. Our hero, one M. Dalessius, is an orphan who has not quite been taken in by his uncle, the marachel Dalessius. His uncle created the Night Mail, a nighttime coach with the dead as passengers, and thus has some influence. He secures his nephew a place at the most prominent school for calligraphers, and expects him to make his way thereafter. After a "mistake" transcribing a court decree with disappearing ink, Dalessius accepts a position with Voltaire.

After a slight mishap, Voltaire sends Dalessius to Tolouse, where he (Voltaire) is interested in the facts of the Calas case; while there we meet Koln, the executioner. Later, we're in Paris where Voltaire is again agitating against the Church. Calligraphy, automatons, the jockeying for power between the Dominicans and the Jesuits, and a beautiful girl, Clarissa, who is included to go completely immobile complicate Dalessius' mission.

There's no happy ending, rather it's man looking back on a period of time in his life when he was in love and in danger. I liked that the historical events are inserted in a way that implies that of course you, the reader, know all about them (I didn't - I actually looked up some of the references to see if they were real or fiction). That sparseness is a wonderful device in a mystery/thriller of this type.

As this is a translated work, I don't know if the different in tone and the deftness of the prose are the work of the author or the translator. No matter which, this was a better read than his previous book (although I do recommend that as well).

Copy provided by publisher.

View all my reviews

19 October 2010

Payback Time; Carl Deuker

Payback TimePayback Time by Carl Deuker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I know kids like Mitch - kids with drive, with passion, intelligence and curiosity, who want to change things during their last year or so of school.  Mitch's determination to go to Columbia for journalism, leaving Seattle behind, sounds like so many students I've met.  His relegation to sports after he loses the newspaper editor election rankles at first, but the way in which he embraces the task (a by-line in the Seattle Times doesn't hurt, ditto the promise of a summer internship).

It also doesn't hurt that he's working with Kimi, a very cute photographer.  Their partnership also feels very real: the negotiations between boy/girl, American/immigrant, reporter/photographer are like those I've seen many times before.

The underlying mystery in this book (who is Angel Marichal) and Mitch's determination to solve it are fun, but for me, watching Mitch grow was more fun.  His mistakes and successes didn't feel as though they were there just to move the mystery along.

ARC provided by publisher.

View all my reviews

17 October 2010

The Distant Hours; Kate Morton

The Distant Hours: A NovelThe Distant Hours: A Novel by Kate Morton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How can you not love a book that includes the following: "After all, it's the librarian's sworn purpose to bring books together with their one true reader."?

While the blurb calls this "gothic literature", it's more goth lit lite - the scary isn't there to the degree that I'd expect from that genre. Think more Rebecca than "Fall of the House of Usher." The switching between 1941 and 1992 helps, I think, keep the tone light. Of course there are some Dark Family Secrets that get revealed, and a Literary Mystery gets resolved.

Edith's trip to Milderhurt and the Castle is, at first, accidental but it's clearly fate, thanks to her mother's year-ish there during the Blitz. The Sisters Blythe (honestly, the characters are really well named here!) aren't quite as Miss Havisham as they originally are made out to be, but the Castle certainly is trapped in time. That Edith is ultimately able to unravel the past, not to mention bury it (in a manner of speaking) is not what you'd expect from the start because there are all sorts of Portents and Clues that lead the reader to think that Something with Happen to Edith.

This isn't quite what my friend Wendy would call a "comfort read" because of the gothic overtones, but it's definitely on that continuum (and there is an Aga!).

ARC provided by publisher.

View all my reviews

16 October 2010

The 10 p.m. Question; Kate de Goldi

The 10 P.M. QuestionThe 10 P.M. Question by Kate de GoldiMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

At first I thought this was going to be a book about a boy with some form of OCD or on the Asperger's Spectrum - it's not. Frankie's life is just, well, complicated.  Sometimes there's no bus money... sometimes he has to do the shopping... and always he has to take care of Mom. He family is a little different than most, but that's ok because he has Gigs, his best friend. Until Sydney comes, asking too many questions and ultimately creating a crisis for Frankie.

What's wrong with Mom is never quite explained: it could be 'merely' agoraphobia, or it could be something more. The two times he went to live with the Aunties hints at more, and it also explains his so-called 10pm question, wherein he goes to his mother's room and asks questions about things that worry him unduly (like the rash on his chest, or if they have enough put by in case of swine flu).

Like Diary of the Madman Underground, you know that Child Services could/should be called in, but you also know that Frankie (unlike Karl) does have adults in his life that have taken care of him since he was very young. It's just that most of them don't know what's going on because he, Frankie, won't tell them about the "rat voice" in his head, among other things.

I particularly liked the language that Frankie and Gigs make up, and his addiction to cricket. His relationships with his brother and sister felt very real, but I was unhappy about Uncle George's being so left out when it's clear that he was a part of Frankie's life.

ARC provided by publisher.

View all my reviews

12 October 2010

Six Men; Alistair Cooke

Six MenSix Men by Alistair Cooke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mr. Cooke uses words so well... These six portraits are of men whose names are familiar us (Bertrand Russell and Adlai Stevenson, to name two) but whose lives and personalities are no longer on our radar.

These aren't biographies, more sketches of the life at a certain moment with glimpses of the past and present. Each selection is rather personal, with the author interacting in some way with each person. Most of the time he's an observer, listening to the pontifications and musings (which in the case of Russell and Mencken is really quite interesting).

Recommended as an entry into these six lives

View all my reviews

10 October 2010

Toads and Diamonds; Heather Tomlinson

Toads and DiamondsToads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I particularly liked the Indian overtones to this updated fairy tale; while the story is familiar, the setting is different enough that it made me wonder why we don't read more tales from that part of the world.

The question of whether the "gift" of Naghali is the lesson of humility or whether it is a representation of the inner person is left somewhat unanswered.  It didn't appear that Tana was deserving of the toads and snakes, but it also didn't appear that Diribani was so saintly that jewels and flowers were deserved.  Both girls seemed rather equal in that regard, but the tale's structure meant that one got one gift, etc.. 

Also left unanswered was whether or not the plague ends; the ending, with the "gifts" rescinded (and no crushing moral to take away) is a little vague.  That's not a negative, and could lead to some interesting questions in a readers circle.  The same applies to whether or not the girls go back to their town and live normal lives, whether they meet their Prince/Trader, and what was the lesson each girl was supposed to learn (if there was one).

The religious differences were interesting, particularly since they seemed based on real beliefs and practices (they aren't).  And, of course, seeing only a brief glimpse of the good part of the Believer's religion meant that one comes away slightly biased in favor of the followers of the twelve. 

View all my reviews

Tender Morsels; Margo Lanagan

Tender MorselsTender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was definitely one confusing book - at times I was unsure who was narrating, which Bear was which, and whether we were in Liga's world or in the real world. I'm also unsure if this was based on a story I should have known, since it was part of a "updated fairy tales" list.

Liga's very difficult life was dealt with relatively sensitively: the incest, abortions and gang rape are not graphically depicted but it's clear what's going on. Her "heaven" appeared, at first, to be almost a dream but it was a real place, a place that she and her daughters escaped to when the real world because too much.

As with all heavens, there are bad things, like the leetle man getting eaten, second-Bear's relationship with Branza, and Urdda's desire for something more. When Urdda is able to return to the real world, Liga's heaven suffers a huge rift from which it will not recover; one 'real year' later, she and Branza are reunited with Urdda in the real world.

While Liga seems to accept this change, I got the feeling that was not actually the case. She tries to recreate her heaven by restricting her interactions with others and by keeping to the lifestyle she created 'elsewhere'. At the end of the book, when Davit proposes to Branza (who accepts) and with Urdda living in Rockerly, I wondered if Liga would try, again, to find her heaven - this time with Davit as her husband and her daughters permanently young.

Despite the confusion, I liked this modern fairy tale - although I would not recommend it for younger readers.

View all my reviews

09 October 2010

When Will There Be Good News; Kate Atkinson

When Will There Be Good NewsWhen Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Jackson Brodie mystery series are always delightfully complex, with seemingly disparate threads finally tangling into one nice web.

The story of Joanna Hunter, nee Mason, and her family's slaughter when she was 6... Reggie, orphaned and yet making an attempt at a "normal" life (despite her brother's best efforts)... Louise in her somewhat surprising marriage... Joanna's husband and his bad business choices... Jackson's desire to find his son and make is second marriage work... the train crash... the kidnapping... and the ultimate solution to all this at first seems as though there are too many strands to tie together.  Yet Ms. Atkinson's deft storytelling does just that, in a way that leaves some threads not quite finished. It was also fun seeing Edinburgh from a point-of-view other than Ian Rankin's.

View all my reviews

06 October 2010

Sacrifice; S.J. Bolton

SacrificeSacrifice by S.J. Bolton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was vaguely disappointed in this, probably because the jacket led me to believe that this would be a Harvest Home type "mystery". It isn't. That's not to say there isn't a creep factor, but it's more a thriller than weird.

Tora has moved to the Shetland Islands, birthplace of her husband Duncan (not related to the King, but still... ). She's an ob consultant surgeon, and rides horses. He's, well, something in business. They're trying to have a child. One rainy day she discovers a body buried in the peat on their property - curious, she starts to help with the investigation and slowly uncovers (with much risk to personal health and safety) a conspiracy that includes her husband, her boss, the local police and others.

This conspiracy has its roots in local legends about switched babies and Trows (aka trolls), but the reality is much more gruesome: the kidnapping, impregnating and murder of women to continue the race of Trows (who aren't trolls, just a group of men who think they're somehow very special and blessed in a way that ordinary mortals are not). There's also a subplot about late-term abortions and selling the "terminated" babies (since the later the abortion is, the more likely it is that the child could survive outside the womb, the same as any premie).

While the questions about late-term abortions are interesting, I wanted more creep, more olde folke tale stuff than this book provided. Serves me right for believing the jacket copy.

View all my reviews

05 October 2010

Doors Open; Ian Rankin

Doors OpenDoors Open by Ian Rankin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rankin has moved on from his Rebus series, but he hasn't missed a beat: Open Doors is as good as anything he's written before.

There are gangsters, effete art world people, innocent bystanders and - of course - a plodding cop looking to put disparate threads of a crime together. Professor Giddings has created what he thinks is the perfect crime: replace stolen artworks with quality forgeries. Not just any artworks, but several stored in a warehouse because there's no room on the museum walls. He ropes in Mike (a bored multimillionaire) and Allan (a banker), and the crew grows to include a local gangster and an art student. Of course, something goes wrong and, well, you'll have to read the book.

View all my reviews

04 October 2010

A Curse As Dark As Gold; Elizabeth C. Bunce

A Curse Dark as GoldA Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rumplestiltskin is definitely a "problem" tale with many questions left unanswered - I loved Vivian Vande Velde's The Rumplestiltskin Problem because each story posits answers to those questions. Here's another take on the story, with a very different twist.

The mill at Stillwaters has 'always' been run by Millers, but there is no father-to-son succession due to mysterious deaths. Charlotte and Rosie are the last in the Miller line, inheriting the mill when their father dies. Except... their uncle Wheeler shows up, a 2,000 pound mortgage is due, and the mill seems to have a mind (and problems) of its own.

The interweaving of olde Englishe folkways into this story brings a level of interpretation that I hadn't expected. While at times there were Dark Things hinted at that got resolved a little too easily, in general the addition of Jack Spinner made many of the problems inherent in Rumplestiltskin go away.

View all my reviews

03 October 2010

Dracula in Love; Karen Essex

Dracula in LoveDracula in Love by Karen Essex
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's been a while since I read Dracula so I'm not sure how closely this follows the original's Mina and Lucy backstory. The language and general tone try to mimic that of a 19th century novel but there were moments when it was clearly a 21st century work.

Told through Mina's eyes, the tale of Lucy, Morris, Van Helsinger, the Count and Harker become part of an Irish Sidhe tale, adding another layer to the vampire story. Mina's involvement with the Count apparently spans centuries, and in each of many lifetimes she has visions and other supernatural feelings that eventually lead her to him; in this one, she experiences vivid dreams in which he appears. These dreams continue throughout her life, through her engagement, and then marriage to Jonathan Harker.

The scenes Whitby, with Lucy's illness and obsession with Morris Quince and those in the asylum (that water cure is particularly horrific are quite well written; the ones in Ireland and with the Count are a little over-the-top. This disparity makes for a slightly jarring read.

ARC provided by publisher.

View all my reviews

01 October 2010

The Business; Iain Banks

The BusinessThe Business by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The more I read Iain Banks' work, the more I appreciate it. His way with words aside, it's the fact that no two books are exactly alike in tone or style, but they share a common quality that makes me go "yummm".

In The Business, Banks introduces us to Kathryn, a Level Three in The Business, but who knows from personal experience what the hard life actually is - she's from the "schemes" (Scots for "projects") and only by dint of natural cunning and adoption by Mrs. Telman does she get out. The Business is one of those shadowy, semi-secret, incredibly long-lived organizations, predating the Roman Empire and essentially running the world in whatever era it is. Kathryn's a computer/IT geek, but she's also intelligent and has caught the attention of several Level Twos and Level Ones because she's also caught the eye of the Prince of Thulahn. The Business, it appears Has Plans.

The other characters in the book are well-drawn, but definitely secondary to Kathryn (a trait that many of Banks' books share). The plotting and counter-plotting, the games and tricks are interesting, and while I guessed what the Big Plan was, it's never explicitly stated, even at the end. I also loved how Kathryn could go from mushy about her "pillow children" (especially Dulsung) to quite, well, frightening in her last encounter with Adrian.

Any of Banks' books makes for a great adult read.

View all my reviews